On Monday, 27 October, the bestselling author, historian and Yale professor Timothy Snyder was honoured with the Lithuanian Diplomacy Star during a ceremony at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, DC.
Lithuanian Diplomatic Star being awarded to Professor Snyder Photo Ludo Segers

Lithuanian Ambassador to the USA Žygimantas Pavilionis presented the medal on behalf of Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Linas Linkevičius. The "Lithuanian Diplomacy Star" has been awarded since 2010 and is presented to Lithuanian and foreign nationals and organisations for their outstanding contributions to broaden the name of Lithuania and thereby fostering the development of cross-border relations.

In his introduction, Ambassador Pavilionis gave a brief overview of the work of Professor Snyder. Timothy Snyder received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997 where he was a British Marshall Scholar. Professor Snyder specialises in the political history of Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Holocaust. He is currently a Bird White Housum Professor at Yale. He is probably best known for his multiple award-winning book ‘Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin’, translated into 25 languages, including Lithuanian.

Timothy Snyder, after receiving the Lithuanian Diplomacy Star, thanked Ambassador Pavilionis for the honour. He also replied to a remark given earlier by the ambassador about history as a pursuit of the truth, which Snyder describes as “a luxury activity in which historians are allowed to engage”. With respect to Ukraine and the Maidan, he said with regret that ”the pursuit of the truth is defensive in dealing with stories about the past”. And he went on to say: “The world would be a better place for Ukrainians and also for Russians, if we were not engaged in a war based entirely on lies.”

Addressing the audience with a lecture “Ukraine, Russia, and Europe”, Professor Snyder, addressed the facts as they have arisen during the last nine months in Ukraine, particularly the use of propaganda. Quoting Thomas Jefferson, he described a civil society as one that is based on rule-of-law. When rule-of-law becomes absent, a society becomes unpredictable, a type of situation that led to the Maidan. He went on the say that “The EU has an attraction to people in Ukraine as a social reality in that it stands for predictability, rule-of-law, properly organised schools, and businesses being able to carry trade on a daily basis”.

Snyder described how the Maidan had echoes from the past in ‘bourgeois’ revolutions that took place in the late 60s and 70s and even the Solidarity movement in Poland. The Revolution as a spontaneous event, but with a new twist in that it involved middle class, often Russian speakers looking for a better and a more decent life. As such, it also created the emergence of a new type of nationalism not based on ethnicity or Ukrainian language when Western Ukrainians discovered that Russian speakers from Kiev had joined the Revolution, according to Professor Snyder.

Timothy Snyder pointed out the difference between people in Russia and Ukraine talking about the conflict. In Russia 70-year-old myths about Ukraine are still rampant generally laced with fallacies and propaganda, ignoring the new reality. Professor Snyder suggested that “Russian speaking people in Ukraine demanding a civil society based on rule-of-law may lead to similar demands in Russia, represents a real fear for Russian authorities”. However, the reality goes much deeper, according to Timothy Snyder in that Russian government funds propaganda through a variety of tools and this represents a challenge, particularly for Europeans, Americans, and Russians. He described the gigantic scale that the propaganda war has taken on inside Russia. TV channels pretending to offer competing versions of the truth supply in reality a constant diet of the altered truth. He cited the example of a panel of ‘experts’ that commented on the downing of MH17 with none of the versions being true, whilst ranging from the ridiculous to the heinous. Taking part in such exercise, says Professor Snyder, is taking part in attacking the truth. It also leads people to question as to which channel or source offers the truth.

In closing, Professor Snyder wondered how far a society could allow fallacies to go whilst individuals can remain ‘themselves’, citing a number of examples of contradictions and fallacies such as ‘There is no Ukrainian State, while saying at the same time that the Ukrainian State is oppressive.’ “If we cannot address contradictions, doublethink and fallacies,” says Professor Snyder, “society will quickly lose decency and the rule-of-law, the very same basic elements that brought on the Maidan.”

After the lecture, Professor Snyder answered questions from the audience, many dealing with various aspects of propaganda undermining the pursuit of the truth.

Timothy Snyder recently completed ‘Black Earth’, a history of the Holocaust; his articles have appeared in many academic publications and The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers.

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