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Wednesday 08.04.2020 | Name days: Dana, Dans, Danute, Edgars

What is Lithuanian President’s main reason to skip Jerusalem Holocaust forum?

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Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania, Holocaust rememberance

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has unexpectedly flip-flopped on where and how to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. First, he said he will attend the commemoration in Jerusalem, but then changed his mind to pay homage to the Jewish victims in Auschwitz, in Poland. The reason? Well, there is no clear official reason for that – President’s Office did not provide one.

What is the true reason?

 Lithuanian analysts however speculate that Nausėda sided with Poland because of two reasons: to show solidarity to Poland against which Russian President Vladimir Putin railed recently and to possibly avoid rallies against Lithuania, which MP drafted a contentious bill on the Holocaust. Poland has been chastised internationally for its recent Holocaust legislation.

 «Nausėda is showing that relations with Poland are Lithuania’s priority. The other reason why he chose Auschwitz instead of Jerusalem is Putin. Imagine both bumping into each other in the Jerusalem event and the photo going viral?» quipped Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor of Vilnius-based Mykolas Romeris University.

Vladimir Putin recently said Poland was partly to blame for the outbreak of the second world war. Putin also last month branded the Polish ambassador to Nazi Germany an «anti-Semitic pig». Putin is slated to give a speech in the Jerusalem commemoration, meanwhile Polish President Andrzej Duda was rejected such right.

A last-minute reversal

Nausėda’s announcement came as a last-minute reversal and Antanas Bubnelis, the Lithuanian president’s spokesman, declined to comment on whether Nausėda’s decision was linked to Putin’s participation in the event and the row over Russian statements.  Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of the Seimas, will go to Jerusalem at the president’s request, according to the spokesman.

Established in the Nazi Germany-occupied territory of Poland, Auschwitz was the largest concentration and extermination camp. About 1.5 million people of different nationalities were killed there in 1940-1945. The remaining survivors were freed on January 27, 1945.

Other Lithuanian analysts also cited Putin’s particular status in the Jerusalem event as the main reason for Nausėda’s flip-flop.

Putin’s rhetoric blamed widely

«The late rhetoric of Putin and Russia’s attempts to re-interpret the World War II history have obviously come into Nausėda’s consideration. But there is more to it than just Putin’s participation in the Israeli event…That relations of Lithuania and most of Europe with Russia remain complicated was a factor too,» said Linas Kojala, Director of Eastern Europe studies centre (EESC).

Namely Poland was chosen for Nausėda’s first foreign visit, which attests the new Lithuanian president’s will to prioritise Lithuanian-Polish relations, the analyst accentuated.

«In fact, Nausėda has said many times that Poland is Lithuania’s strategic partner, with which many different projects are being implemented. Nausėda also has emphasised that both Lithuania and Poland assess the security situation similarly, so the factors were certainly important in deciding to go to Auschwitz for the Holocaust commemoration,» Kojala said.

History distortions

Agreeing with EESC director, Andžej Pukšto, associate professor of Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, noted that the hostile rhetoric the Kremlin and Putin himself amped up ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland had to «exasperate» Nausėda.

«Putin clearly wants to rewrite the World War II history; he denies the Ribbentrop- Molotov Pact and claims that the Soviet Union had nothing to do with it. Besides, he accuses Poland of commencing the war. This is audacious and preposterous,» the analyst told BNN.

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, officially known as the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939, by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, respectively. The pact included a secret protocol which defined the borders of Soviet and German spheres of influence across the territories of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. «By not going to Israel Nausėda is clearly solidarising with Poland. I believe it is a right thing,» Pukšto accentuated.

Lithuanian MP’s contentious legislative initiative

Meanwhile Vytautas Bruveris, commentator of daily «Lietuvos rytas» believes that Nausėda’s decision not to go to Jerusalem is a «grave mistake». «I certainly understand that Nausėda thus shows solidarity to the other Baltic states and Poland, too, but such solidarity in this matter does not seem right to me. I’d rather disregard the Putin factor and interpret it like rightly many others do – as Nausėda’s support for Poland’s stance on the Holocaust,» Bruveris told BNN.

To remind, in 2018, Poland passed law criminalising any references to Polish guilt in Nazi atrocities and those believing differently were facing jail time. Some historians and survivors say the Polish legislation has encouraged other European nations with far more sinister Holocaust records to attempt to whitewash their own participation in the genocide. Trying to mirror the Polish Holocaust law, a Lithuanian lawmaker from the ruling Farmers and Greens party, has drafted a bill declaring that neither Lithuania nor its leaders participated in the Holocaust, although Lithuania’s Nazi complicity was both widespread and a major reason why about 95 per cent of the country’s 250,000 Jews were wiped out, according to some Jewish historians.

«So my question is this: are we also solidarising with Poland on the approach to the Holocaust, too?” Bruveris asked rhetorically before adding: «Who can deny that Nausėda simply got frightened to see protests in Jerusalem erupt over the Lithuanian legislative initiative?»

«Not going to Israel for the commemoration can also be viewed by many as Lithuania’s demarche (a political step) against Israel. I do not think that it was right to side with Poland and defy Israel, especially that Lithuania was complicit in the Holocaust,» Bruveris concluded.

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  1. Captain Obvious says:

    Lithuania is so scared about Putin trying to rewrite history but the country is attempting the same thing with the bill being tabled to clear Lithuania of having any part in the Holocaust. Trying to be like Poland only makes the country look more backwards and shameful. What an embarrassment

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