Where is that Line?



O P I N I O N

by Leonidas Donskis

An unattributed piece that just appeared in the weekly magazine Veidas (it turned out the author does actually exist and even works at the Lithuanian Interior Ministry), intended to discuss the Nuremberg trial, and has become a new delimiter in our political life and public space. For the first time since the restoration of independence in 1990, the Holocaust has been publicly and openly denied in Lithuania (see here).

A few details for the esteemed reader. First, in this case (but this one only, and in no way any other) I am not prepared to obey the will of the standardizers of our language to write the word “Holocaust” without a capital letter. Not because the writer Elie Wiesel wrote and continues to write it this way, with reference to the modern meaning, and certainly not because it is written in this way only in English.

I will always write this word capitalized for two reasons.

First, I am the son of a Holocaust survivor, so behind this word stand my murdered family, and my father who remained alive only through a miracle, and not the technical arguments of politicians or language specialists.

Second, the total destruction of the entire Jewish community of Lithuania is contained in this word. If someone thinks this is a problem of my supposed political correctness, all I can say is I cannot help that person in any way.

So for the first time since 1990 the Holocaust is denied not in the yellow or tabloid press (i.e., not in Respublika or Vakaro žinios) and not on webpages of creators of conspiracy theories or specialists in universal control (e.g. Balsas) but in a serious publication (as it appeared to us), which had a good reputation.

Some sort of ill-fated logic in our political and social life is making ever narrower the circle of people and publications which we can trust and which deserve respect. Every day brings not new opportunities nor the arrival of new ideas and people to the public space, but the ever-growing weariness, disappointment and loneliness of those same old warriors — new combatants do not come. The ranks of fellow soldiers thin. They quietly emigrate or keep their silence, not understanding what is going on here. It is even more unfortunate when people who could be relied upon until now have allowed the repertoire of baseness to enter their field of speech and thinking.

What’s going on? Are we solving that same Russian dilemma, whose essence is the question: are our society and people so defective that any civilized and truly democratic politics is impossible (only its imitation and pseudo-democracy are possible). Is the country ruled by dark powers that are simply demoralizing society and people, who are only allowed the role of apathetic players of bit parts or cynical mouthpieces of idiocy and loathing?

Let’s set aside for the moment these hard-to-answer questions which time itself will answer, and let’s try to ask ourselves: how did the bounds of decency and civilization slide further than anyone had pushed them until now? We knew the theory that antisemitism in Lithuania is incendiary, operatic, Vaudevillian and volkish. The writings of Motiejus Valančius and especially Vincas Kudirka, warning Lithuanians of Jewish duplicity and the dangers they pose, have become symbols of this kind of naphthic and volkish antisemitism.

It appeared to us (and I’ll admit, to me personally) that refined intellectual antisemitism here, in Lithuania, simply doesn’t exist ― there isn’t even a deeper tradition of intellectual antisemitism. Even the humanist and anti-clerical Vincas Kudirka, who had read many and lampoons of the time by the French antisemites Francois Bournand and Edouard Adolphe Drumont translated into Polish, even though he wrote grotesque and poisonous things about Jews, never even approached the league of the classics of genial, refined antisemites: Richard Wagner and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Hatred also has its geniuses and its ordinary followers.

But of course it would be stupid to imagine Vincas Kudirka now as a liberal almost along the lines of John Stuart Mill, who simply didn’t like one of Lithuania’s ethnic minorities of the time. In any event, history itself solved the problem and left Kudirka’s homeland without this community.

Vytautas Kavolis in his youth did a study of Kudirka called Genesis of the Man: A Psychological Study of Vincas Kudirka and wrote of his antisemitic insinuations (‘Why don’t Jews eat pork?’): ‘Kudirka in this regard is a typical Lithuanian and had much hatred for Jews’ (page 44), and Kudirka’s biggest fault, he said, was his moral provincialism.

Of course, in terms of refinement and asking for hatred with one’s craft, Kudirka was far from equal to those who inspired him; the pamphlets of ideological antisemites, Bournand’s ‘Jews and Our Contemporaries’ and Drumont’s ‘Jewish France’,  ‘The End of the World’ and ‘Testament of an Antisemite’ are much further developed than Kudirka’s quasifolk demonology, from which it is only a small step to the miracles of wisdom and erudition on using the blood of Christian children in a Jewish religious ritual (especially Passover matzah).

Although there are several hints of modern ideological antisemitism in Kudirka’s texts, they are all book-based, and not alive. Kudirka was never a genius of hatred. He was more an average, mediocre follower. But at the same time, he was also a great Lithuanian patriot. How do we live with this mixed inheritance? Of course, it is possible to live with one’s history and to accept it. Just not at the expense of facts, truth and self-criticism.

Enough of historical parallels and hints. For a long time we harbored no doubts that it was impossible to deny the Holocaust in a country where the entire Jewish community was exterminated. It seemed there could be the understandable desire to make excuses, to refuse to believe it, to try to stand in solidarity with the fate of loved ones who fell into the meat grinder of history and geopolitics, but denial of the Shoah…

I remember a discussion with my friend, the noble political scientist Aleksandras Štromas who lived abroad (he himself remained alive through the Holocaust by a miracle, harbored and rescued by the Lithuanian Christian family of Antanas and Marija Macenavicius), during which I asked when the time will come when Western forms of refined antisemitism, such as Holocaust Denial, would appear in Lithuania. Štromas didn’t think this was possible. Anything could happen, he said, including the desire not to recognize the horrific facts of history, or the desire not to knock off the pedestal political and cultural heroes connected with criminal actions, but to deny the Holocaust in a country where the Final Solution succeeded in triumph — that would be impossible, he said.

It’s possible. Sadly. This was just proved by the Veidas piece.

Several questions. First, why? Did they really think that information intended for the fat and stupid consumer, who needs easy ‘tasty’ provocations and intrigues, wouldn’t faint from too much complicated and depressing information instead of a morning read?

Is this a sincere operation by ideological antisemites hoping for a reaction by ‘crafty’ Jews or Lithuanians who have not lost their conscience and dignity (i.e., liberals, or ‘pro-Jewish’ Lithuanians), a reaction that will stimulate a self-fulfilling prophecy, along the lines of ‘Well, what do those Jews want? To slander us?’

Or is this simply another in a line of provocations by Russia in order to discover for herself Useful Idiots, and with the knowledge that antisemitism is the weak spot of Lithuanians, this country’s true Achilles’ heel? After all, if you want to convince the EU and the West that the hated and treasonous Baltic states are crypto-fascist and hopeless, that their entire thinking is inspired by the ideological legacy of the Second World War, that their entire historical and political narrative is supposedly antisemitic, it suffices merely to make use of local mediocre followers of hatred, like a master painter finishing a work in his studio with several final flourishes when diligent understudies had done all the heavy lifting.

Or the least pleasant variation, which I don’t even want to discuss but which, unfortunately, has become impossible to hide anymore. It simply might be that we are ruled by sinister forces. Not by any means some manner of demons or as in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita where Woland with his entire retinue arrives. The demon or variation on Satan would be the very nicest folk, and would fit in perfectly with our determined efforts to portray ourselves as the heroes of a fabulous tale, battling dragons and black knights.

No. The new sinister forces are political and judicial technocrats and instrumentalists (which I clearly distinguish from politicians and jurists relying on democratic principles and human rights), who have broken away from even minimal democratic control and from society, for whom the nation’s history and present are merely the projection of the theater of war of their own power and influence. Grey political bureaucrats and governmental and social and political control experts have replaced long ago non-existent self-rule and local democratic figures in Lithuania.

They are simply instrumentalists. These people will never understand the drama of their own country concealed in her historical memory. They will simply try to look for technical solutions to eliminate the problem. One of those problems happens to be remembering the Holocaust and honest historical study of the Holocaust. It’s obvious that it has been decided to quietly eliminate this problem by relativizing, vulgarizing it, or simply by seizing it and dissolving it in other narratives.

So an article denying the Holocaust had to appear sooner or later. It might be that we are being tested and watched in an attempt to determine the limit, the line which we will not allow to be crossed in any case (incidentally, my ‘we’ is not in any way an ethnic group, but all proponents of liberal democracy and liberal patriots of Lithuania who perceive a distinction between xenophobia and love of country, between fascism and patriotism).

Crossing one line has been allowed already. The museum in Vilnius dedicated to researching the genocide of Lithuanian citizens managed to get the concept of genocide applied to Soviet war crimes and deportations, thus de facto eliminating the Holocaust from the field of genocide. We can rail against it in the press as much as we like, but white is white and black is black. Not only have shocked historians and war crimes researchers from Western countries reminded us of this, so have our own historians (thanks to Algimantas Kasparavičius).

We allowed another line to be crossed when our foreign minister Audronis Ažubalis said openly that dual citizenship is only useful to Jews. Let’s decide for ourselves how to react to the words of the chief of Lithuanian foreign policy that an exterminated community could become a stumbling block in solving a problem which, it turns out, is of no concern to more than a million ‘real’, in other words ethnic, Lithuanians living abroad. I call such things the Marquis de Sade effect: everyone is horrified that something which many think and do quietly has been voiced out loud.

Whatever the case, we have allowed this line to be crossed. I won’t raise the question of whether someone gave this ingenious insight to our minister, or whether he himself was visited by a muse of inspiration and such political vision. But in a country that differentiates barbarity and civilization, a minister who said such things either would have to immediately resign, or at the very least apologize publicly to the dying and once again brutally insulted Lithuanian Jewish community.

Final question: will there be the will and desire to apply Lithuanian criminal code article 1702 on public approval of international crimes ― Soviet and Nazi crimes — to Veidas and the author, the mysterious unknown author of the article who in his spirit is openly pro-Nazi and a fascist?

I have written and can repeat again that I have never been and am not a proponent of criminalization of the falsification of history (even the history of horrible crimes against humanity). We are somewhat different from Germany and Austria, which authentically seek to destroy the seed of Nazism and Nazi legacy in themselves from the depths of their political existence. Our attempts to criminalize the falsification of history objectively brings us closer to Russia and Turkey than to those countries. In Russia and Turkey laws mete out punishment for interpretations of history which belittle the country and nation (in Russia’s case that’s recognition of the political destruction of Eastern Europe and Stalinism and his crimes against humanity; in Turkey, that means the public mention of the fact of the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire).

Furthermore, I don’t believe the Veidas masterpiece will come to the attention of our servants of Justice. Article 1702 of the Lithuanian penal code was not created for that. The Holocaust and Nazi crimes were only useful here for creating the effect of Symmetry. I suspect this article [in the penal code] more likely will be applied to whoever doubts whether the Soviet crimes in Lithuania were as horrible as those of the Nazis, or whether it is in general acceptable and humane to apply the concept and term genocide, the same as the genocide of the Holocaust, to the occupation of a country and the destruction of a state.

If (or when) that happens, we will cross the final line. It would be better if we didn’t reach that line and turned back now.

Of course, we have to receive the magazine’s editorial board and its publisher’s position. After which the self-respecting reader can decide whether to read it, or work with the magazine or not. In Italy, Umberto Eco refused to work with any politicians and journalists who publicly defended anti-democratic and anti-human ideas.

That’s an example for us to follow.

Post Scriptum. When I was finishing this text I learned that Veidas decided too late to insert the name of the author into the text. It is Petras Stankeras. Just as information about the Veidas publisher’s sorrow and apology over this publication arrived. This is a reaction, and in its place there should have been prevention. In any case, it’s better than nothing. I won’t retract my statements and do not renounce them, because the entire context has been left unqualified.

www.donskis.lt

Authorized translation by Geoff Vasil of the 24 November 2010 version published at:

http://blog.delfi.lt/donskis/8040/


Posted in Free Speech & Democracy, Human Rights, Leonidas Donskis, Opinion | Comments Off on Where is that Line?

Comments are closed.