City authorities recently removed four groups of Soviet-era statues from the Green Bridge in central Vilnius. Columnist Ramūnas Bogdanas argues that it was a move in the information war that Russia has launched against the West, including Lithuania. The retaliation that followed targeted crucial moments and figures in the nation's twentieth-century history.
Ramūnas Bogdanas
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

After Vilnius removed the four rusted statues that were so important to Moscow, the retaliation was aimed at our delicate spots. Less than a week later, there appeared a flood of articles about Lithuania's post-war partisan fighter Jonas Noreika, a.k.a., General Vėtra. Our hero is allegedly a Jew killer. The country's most popular online news outlets republished materials from a little-known portal of doubtful repute where a colourful social democrat from Šiauliai had smeared General Vėtra. Previously, this same individual had put the blame for the the deaths of Druskininkai Jews on the partisan leader Adolfas Ramanauskas - Vanagas.

Accusations have turned into action. There are now petitions to "cleanse" ourselves of a monument for General Vėtra. A group of intellectuals light-heartedly put their signatures on a motion to erase the memory of this man. I personally know many of them, so I trust they are not doing so out of ill-will, but because they've simply accepted an opinion for a fact.

What kind of Nazi collaboration could it have been if Noreika was sent to Stutthof? Death at the hands of the occupant in Tuskulėnai is not an acquittal, but it's still a sacrifice for his country which obliges us to take a very careful look at the man's legacy. A man's good name warrants a more responsible approach. This applies to both the accused and the accusing.

Claims about Noreika's involvement in the Holocaust have been backed by the authority of Teresė B. Burauskaitė, the general director of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre. However, it turns out, she has not stated anything like she is said to have. On the contrary, she has told me that, according to documents, Noreika held the post of the superintendent of Plungė [during Nazi occupation of Lithuania] for several days only and this period does not coincide with the killing of Plungė Jews. Šiauliai Country Governor Noreika's order to protect Jewish property from looting is made to serve as a proof of Noreika's involvement in the Holocaust. Meanwhile people who saved Jews describe in their memoirs close relations with County Governor Noreika. For me, this suggest something entirely different.

Captain Jonas Noreika - Genera Vėtra with his future wife c. 1936, Photo LGGRTC
Captain Jonas Noreika - Genera Vėtra with his future wife c. 1936, Photo LGGRTC

The accusers also quote a passage from a memoir book by Jonas Pakalniškis [a priest who lived in the US]:

"'I have given orders to execute them all,' replied Lithuanian superintendent Captain Noreika. Out of respect for that wretched little German he was standing.'

Noreika, according to historians, was not even there at the time. Moreover, what was Mr. Pakalniškis - who was a clerk at the superintendent's office, i.e., a collaborationist during the killings - doing there himself?

Hitting at the pillars of statehood

This attack was aimed at one of the participants of post-war resistance, using one particular person to throw doubt on the memory of the entire partisan movement. Certainly, there have been people of all kinds, but their legacy must be judged after a careful investigation by historians, nut based on rumours. It is very easy to smear someone's memory, but what will we do when there are no more luminaries left? We will be guilty of taking down an innocent person and will have no one our young generations will be able to took up to. This is exactly the point of the current information war over our history.

Along with attacks against one of the leaders of the partisan movement, there was another propaganda offensive against Kazys Škirpa. A public servant at Kaunas Municipality, in charge of protecting cultural heritage, went into speculations about whether Škirpa was worthy of being remembered in Kaunas. Perhaps this nonsense has something to do with this public servant's desire to dispute the achievements of the city's previous mayor in order to ingratiate himself with the new one.

And if one has genuine doubts, one must ask historians for advice in order to substantiate these doubts. However, information warfare rulebook says that what matters is not truth but confusion. I hope that Kaunas has some immunity, but why are so irresponsible people put in charge of guarding its history?

During the war, Škirpa was not even in Lithuania, the Nazis had interned him for signing an anti-German memorandum.

This attack against Škirpa is more harmful than the one against Noreika, since Škirpa is a signatory to Lithuania's Independence Act and one of the first army volunteers. This baseless smear against Škirpa's legacy is a step towards throwing doubt on the very Independence Act of 16 February 1918, on the origins of the Lithuanian Army. Put together these two attacks against Noreika and Škirpa, against the post-war resistance and the interwar republic - and you'll see that retaliation for taking down the Green Bridge statues is aimed at the very pillars of Lithuania's statehood.

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