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Controversial nationalist Independence Day march took place in Kaunas

Eitynių dalyviai
Eriko Ovčarenko / 15min nuotr. / Eitynių dalyviai
Šaltinis: BNS

A controversial march organized by the Lithuanian Nationalist Youth Union to mark the Day of Restoration of the State of Lithuania took place on Saturday in Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania.

Police say 800-1,000 people might join the march.

Soon after the start of the march, chants "Lithuania!", "Lithuania for Lithuanians!" and later "Lithuanians for Lithuania!" were heard.

Professor Dovid Katz and Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, arrived in Kaunas to express their dissatisfaction.

"It's such a beautiful day not only for Lithuania but for the whole Europe. The Independence Day when in 1918 (...) Lithuania once again became a state. We commemorate this day but it's so tragic that Nazis and Fascists can take it over. It's so sad. I hope it won't happen," Katz told journalists at the event.

The nationalist march was met by counter-protesters. A group of young protesters were holding a banner saying "Do you know you are taking part in a Fascist march?" Another protester refused to get out of the way and made remarks towards participants of the march.

"I am glad this march, this celebration is taking place. In fact, everyone is happy and in a good mood. Those two people who came from abroad and are trying to spark some panic here, I believe, Lithuania's secret services, if they worked properly, they would have not let them into the country," Julius Panka, leader of the Lithuanian Nationalist Youth Union, said.

In his words, people of all nationalities are invited to join the march, and Jewish and Polish people are also taking part in the march.

"Neo-Nazism machine"

The Jewish Community of Lithuania deplored the march as fascist.

"We are voicing our strong protest against marches of similar character, chants, slogans and are calling on democratic powers to back us," Faina Kukliansky, acting chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, said in a statement on Saturday.

In her words, "the majority of young people who took part in the march do not understand that they are victims of the horrible neo-Nazism machine and they are being manipulated, and the democratic part of the society and politicians just forgot about them."

February 16 is a beautiful holiday not only for ethnic Lithuanians. It is also important and significant for Lithuanian citizens of all ethnicities, the statement said.

According to Kukliansky, the Jewish Community of Lithuania refrained from any comments "even after it emerged that Kaunas municipality issued permission for young people who call themselves nationalists, members of Lithuanian Nationalist Youth Union, to march through central Kaunas."

"We did not want to be accused of instigating or inciting the Lithuanian society as allegedly Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, or Professor Dovid Katz do, who, by the way, have never talked on behalf of the Jewish Community of Lithuania. On the contrary, we thanked the prime minister for expressing his position against inciting ethnic hatred. Bu now we already know that chants like "Lithuania for Lithuanians" were heard during the march and banners were being held "Yesterday Juden Raus, today Lithuania for Lithuanians". It supposes that participants of the march, with skinheads among them, consider Lithuania the state of ethnic Lithuanians and all others are second-class citizens," Kukliansky said.

In her words, participants of the march "clearly propagate the principle of an ethnic and not civil state, and that is unacceptable in the modern world." Such behavior, according to Kukliansky, runs counter to the clarification by the Constitutional Court that all citizens make the nation and not only ethnic Lithuanians.

"I think such demonstrations should not be encouraged, and they take place because of an ideological vacuum, because not a single party or organization has expressed a wish or has been capable of filling this vacuum. I believe such marches should be condemned and not encouraged. The police is powerless here. One could fine several people for hooliganism but the ideological and political damage to non-Lithuanians living in Lithuania, Lithuanian citizens, including Jews, has already been done. We are already humiliated and offended, and damage has been done to the name of Lithuania before the EU Presidency," the acting chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania said.

"People of Lithuania should think about the future of their country. History teaches us that such a beautiful country like Austria and the most beautiful part of Germany was the birthplace of the Nazi movement which brought Europe to ruin. People cannot lose vigilance at a time when neo-Nazis are uniting and become more active," she said.

Meanwhile Julius Panka, leader of the Lithuanian National Youth Union, said there were no anti-Semitic banners and chants during the march in Kaunas and he called the statement by the Jewish Community "slander."

"I have ambivalent thoughts that Faina Kukliansky is either misinformed or she is a victim in this case or a conscious instigator. I cannot give the answer to this myself now. But this disgusting lie that a banner "Yesterday Juden Raus, today Lithuania for Lithuanians" was carried during the march is vicious slander which doesn't do honor to any community, be it a Jewish, Belarusian, Polish or even, I don't know, seamstresses' community. Our organization would wait for an apology from Mrs. Faina over this slander," Panka told BNS in response to the statement by the Jewish Community.

In his words, the full chant "Lithuania for Lithuanian, Lithuanians for Lithuania!" does no damage to ethnic minorities.

"Quite a number of representatives of ethnic minorities took part in the march, including Poles, Tartars, and people of Jewish origin were also seen. And they saw no problem in that whatsoever. And we have said on numerous occasions that the chant "Lithuania for Lithuanians!" is about all citizens who are loyal to Lithuania and are creating out state together," Panka said.

Update February 18: On Monday, the Jewish Community of Lithuanian apologized over an inaccuracy in its statement on a nationalist march when it mistakenly attributed a banner saying "Yesterday Juden Raus, today Lithuania for Lithuanians" to the organizers. The Community, however, said it still objects to such events.

"If the Lithuanian National Youth Union has nothing to do with a banner saying "Yesterday Juden Raus, today Lithuania for Lithuanians", the Jewish Community of Lithuania apologizes for this inaccuracy. But the fundamental position expressed in the statement over the Kaunas march and chants and banners during it remains unchanged," the Community said in a statement on Monday.

In fact, the above-mentioned banner was carried by protesters against the march from movement Antifa in Vilnius in 2012 and was meant as criticism for slogans like "Lithuania for Lithuanians."

Kukliansky acknowledged to BNS on Monday she might have been mistaken as she used media references which might have been from previous marches.

Kukliansky told BNS on Monday the Jewish Community of Lithuania is considering to organize its own event to mark February 16 Independence Day next year.

"We discussed today that we might perhaps organize something next year to show our reverence for the Day of Restoration of the State of Lithuania. We will organize a commemoration of our own at the synagogue or elsewhere as now the social positions are conceded. This seems to be our fault, perhaps we need more positive things in showing our attitude to February the 16th," Kukliansky said.

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