The Ethics and Procedures Commission of the Lithuanian parliament has adopted a resolution censuring MP Audrys Šimas concerning what appeared to be a sieg heil Nazi salute he made during a vote in the Lithuanian parliament’s National Security and Defense Committee last spring.
ETHICS AND PROCEDURES COMMISSION OF THE PARLIAMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA
ON THE BEHAVIOR OF MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AUDRYS ŠIMAS
September 30, 2020
The Ethics and Procedures Commission of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania (hereinafter Commission)–Antanas Matulas, Aušrinė Norkienė, Petras Čimbaras, Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, Virgilijus Poderys, Mazys Starkevičius, Dovilė Šakalienė, Ona Valiukevičiutė–having received a request from Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on May 29, 2020, to assess the behavior of member of parliament Audrys Šimas at the meeting of the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee on May 20, 2020, and based on article 78, part 1, point 3 of the Parliamentary Statute of the Republic of Lithuania (hereinafter Statute), presents this finding.
The Ethics and Procedures Commission determined:
A meeting of the National Security and Defense Committee (hereinafter Committee) took place on May 20, 2020. The third item on the agenda for the meeting was consideration of the Lithuanian Government’s financial report for the year 2019. When Committee chairman Dainis Gaižauskas called for a vote on approving the Government’s financial report, member of parliament A. Šimas extended his arm with two fingers extended. This Committee meeting was broadcasted publicly on a youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOA_Tm-uvWA&t=14066s).
The plaintiff in her request indicated Šimas had voted by giving a salute which existed during the period of Nazi Germany. The letter emphasizes people of Jewish ethnicity associate the raising of the arm in this manner (with two fingers extended) with glorification and worship of German National Socialist Party leader Adolf Hitler, and with the brutal debasement and murder of Jews.
At the morning plenary session of the Lithuanian parliament on May 28, 2020, when members of parliament Dovilė Šakalienė and Aušrinė Armonaitė publicly raised the issue of this gesture, member of parliament A. Šimas spoke out about his vote at the Committee meeting: “Honored colleagues, voting at a council meeting occurs by raising the hand. If people misunderstood my voting, I am very sorry, but it was not connected any actions and they weren’t directed against anyone. I raised my hand [“arm” and “hand” aren’t differentiated in Lithuanian–trans.]. I could now not raise my hand, I could vote in a different way from you, I could stand up with my hands in my pockets. There are no [voting] buttons during the meeting. During meetings voting takes place by raising the arm. The raising of the arm was really not connected with anything. I say once again, I am very sorry if someone misunderstood my voting.”
Member of parliament A. Šimas in the explanation he presented to the Commission on April 18, 2020, stated: “At the morning plenary sitting of the parliament of the Republic of Lithuania on May 28, 2020, I apologized to everyone for the vote which took place at the National Security and Defense Committee meetings of May 20 which raised real questions and doubts among some people. I explained and I apologized, saying I had voted numerous times at this meeting, voting by raising my arm, or raising my arm in order to say something. I am sorry if the movements of my arms appeared to you questionable or gave an impression susceptible to different interpretations. Because there is no electronic voting [system] in the hall where the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee meets, voting is done by raising the hand … Again I am sorry about the voting at the National Security and Defense Committee meeting. I pledge my behavior and [body] movements will not give rise to questions and doubts in the future.”
Article 25, section 1 of the constitution of the Republic of Lithuania states the person has the right to hold his own convictions and beliefs and to express them freely. Section 4 of the same article says the right to express beliefs and spread information does not include criminal actions: ethnic, racial, religious and social hate; calls for violence and discrimination; libel and disinformation.
Article 524 of the administrative violation code of the Republic of Lithuania assigns legal liability to people who publish or demonstrate Nazi and Communist symbols, but there is no criminal nor administrative accountability for making Nazi gestures in Lithuanian law.
The State Code of Behavior for Politicians gives the principles for behavior which politicians are required to adhere in public life: 1) the principle of respect for the individual and the state, requiring politicians respect human rights and defend them, based on the constitution and law of the Republic of Lithuania, and thus to increase confidence in the state and its institutions; 2) the principle of fairness [justice], mandating politicians to serve all people equally without regard to their ethnicity, race, sex, language, origin, social status, education, religious belief, political beliefs, age and other differences; 3) the principle of honesty, requiring of politicians they perform their duties honestly and conscientiously, adhering to the highest ethical standards, and avoiding situations which could affect the adoption of decisions which might cause doubts among the public; 4) the principle of transparency and openness, enjoining politicians to avoid raising the shadow of a doubt regarding their sincerity in adopting decisions, and also to present to the public the reasons for their behavior and decisions, always adhering to openness and frankness except for situations defined by law which limit the distribution of information, and to declare their private interests; 5) the principle of moral goodness, compelling politicians to act in accordance with the tasks with which they are entrusted, and to avoid situations where behavior by the politician could harm the reputation or authority of the institution where he performs his duties; 6) the principle of example, requiring politicians to act the appropriate way in public, and to conform to universally-recognized standards of decency, morality and ethics; 7) the principle of selflessness, requiring politicians to serve the interests of the public and the state and to avoid seeming and real conflicts of interest, and when these occur, to take all measures necessary to solve them quickly in a way that is appropriate to the public interest, not to use their post or status to influence another person’s decision which could be beneficial to the politician or someone related to him; 8) the principle of non-bias, requiring politicians not to be involved in contractual or other relationships which might hinder performance of the state duties of a politician or limit his decision-making freedom in adopting decisions, and also requiring politicians to be objective in adopting decisions and to avoid prejudicial stances; 9) the principle of responsibility, compelling politicians to answer for their actions in public life, for the decisions they make and compelling politicians to give account to the public (article 4, points 1-9 of State Code of Behavior for Politicians).
Article 9, part 2 of the State Code of Behavior for Politicians says the Commission may halt an investigation if the state politician recognizes his behavior as unethical or inappropriate to his duties or to the institution where he carries out his duties, and publicly apologizes for that reason, before the investigation has concluded.
The jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court says there is a requirement upon members of parliament which issues from the oath a member of parliament makes, requiring the member of parliament, among other things, to behave conscientiously and to avoid behavior which demeans the reputation and authority of the parliament as the representative of the nation (Constitutional Court finding of October 27, 2010).
The Commission requested expert assessment from the Human Rights Watch Institute and the Lithuanian Human Rights Center but did not receive any findings from these organizations.
The Senior Public Service Ethics Commission has noted repeatedly in its findings there are higher standards of transparency of action and responsibility applied to members of parliament than to regular state officials and public servants. The public has a well-founded and legitimate expectation members of parliament operate according to higher principles of morality and public service ethics.
It should be noted that the Holocaust was especially brutal in Lithuania. There were about 208,000 Jews living in Lithuania before the Nazi-Soviet war. The Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) community famous for its history and culture was almost completely exterminated during the period of the Nazi occupation: about 195,000 to 196,000 Lithuanian Jews were murdered.
The Ethics and Procedures Commission states:
1. Member of parliament A. Šimas voted at the National Security and Defense Committee meeting of May 20, 2020, by raising his right arm with two extended fingers. This sort of gesture caused public speculation about member of parliament A. Šimas’s attempt to imitate a method of greeting employed during the time of Nazi Germany.
2. Respect for and sensitivity to people who experienced the Holocaust and to the feelings of their family members, as well as the duty incumbent upon members of parliament as the representatives of the nation to adhere to higher principles of morality and ethics entails the responsibility of members of parliament to avoid acts which might be judged as dishonorable and painful to the people who experienced the Holocaust and other repressions under the Nazi regime, as well as avoiding acts which demean the reputation of the parliament as the representative of the nation.
3. In his statement which member of parliament A. Šimas calls an apology there is no regret expressed that the actions committed could have offended Holocaust victims and their family members. On the contrary, sorrow is expressed that others misunderstood the actions of the member of parliament. This kind of statement should not be considered [an apology] according to article 9, section 2 of the State Code of Behavior for Politicians.
The Ethics and Procedures Commission resolves:
1. Member of parliament Audrys Šimas violated the principle of respect for the individual and the state enshrined in the State Code of Behavior for Politicians.
2. To recommend to member of parliament Audrys Šimas he avoid behavior which could be judged as disrespectful, offensive or derisive towards different people or groups of people.
Vote total: 5 in favor, one against, two abstentions.
According to article 10 of the State Code of Behavior for Politicians, the Commission’s decision may be appealed in the manner prescribed by the Lithuanian Law on Administrative Case Procedure within one month from the day of publication of this finding or within one month of receipt of this finding by the state politician who is the subject of the finding.
Antanas Matulas, commission chairman
Full text in Lithuanian here.