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Rimvydas Valatka: 22 years later, Lithuanians still cling to Russia

Šaltinis: 15min

On 8 March, one would have been forgiven for thinking that Lithuania was celebrating the Independence Day: there were flowers everywhere, greetings and parties in offices, juvenile crows on the radio, the media flooded with “women's” news. Even the Ministry of Communication had an official celebration. Did any of these organizations, that had so willingly celebrated the Soviet one-tulip holiday, mark the 11 March in any way?


Did they congratulate their employees on our liberation from the communist empire? An employer like that – provided there is at least one to be found – should have an entry in the Lithuanian Guinness Records book. Perhaps that is an answer to the question why we still feel ill at ease in our own country? We do not appreciate what we've got 22 years ago, but obviously regret what we've lost, including our chains.

We commemorate holidays imposed upon us by occupying forces. We cherish, with bureaucratic piety, the Soviet propagandist art and architecture (monuments for the Red Army and kolkhoz on the Green Bridge; the remains of “Lietuva” cinema that have disfigured Vilnius Oldtown). Meanwhile, invaluable churches and monasteries are burning down.

While ordering a pint of beer in the “Green House” restaurant in the heart of Vilnius, think of this: businessmen have put so much money and effort into restoring the wooden centenarian house, but bureaucrats of the Cultural Heritage Department, even after the restoration, put back the old Soviet plaque saying, in Russian, that writer Žemaitė used to live here.

A similar plaque hangs on the building where M.K.Čiurlionis used to live – and many others. Mayor Zuokas keeps reviving, like Doctor Frankenstein, the Guggenheim museum project, but still, during his third term as Vilnius mayor, neglects to spot that many monuments in the Lithuanian capital remain “under the protection of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.” The state is long gone, but it still “protects.” What exactly? Nostalgia for slavery? Or perhaps our civil negligence?

Polish street signs in a few Polish-dominated villages send our 21-century nationalists into militant fury. The Parliament would rather explode than let a dozen of its citizens have an occasional “w” in their passports. Cyrillic signs, meanwhile, have not caught anyone's attention in 22 years. We've grown so much accustomed to Russian.

Prime Minister Kubilius has complained that the 11 March is becoming the focus of social discord and tension: “The Constitutional right to hold convictions and express them freely is not an excuse for criminal behaviour: inciting national, racial, religious or social hatred, violence and discrimination.”

Truthful words. But are they not uttered too late? Who were the ones who stood smiling in the Gediminas Avenue while skinheads chanted “Lithuania for Lithuanians!” several years ago? MPs from the Conservative Party ranks. The nationalists. Who brought them to Seimas? Kubilius. When the Conservative Party annexed the good-for-nothing Nationalist Union (Tautininkų Sąjunga) and gave them high rankings in the party list, not only did they provide them with a platform, but also lent legitimacy to their rotten ideas.

Why is it only now that Kubilius took it seriously? Up until recently, those who chant those slogans – that go against everything that the 11 March stands for – have been the conservatives' electoral base. When the Nationalist Union split from the Conservative Party, their followers will no longer cast their vote for Kubilius' party. So why not be politically correct?

Political correctness vanishes instantly, once the conservatives themselves come under scrutiny. When Parliament Speaker Degutienė's husband called the director of State Security Department a “cock,” the most motherly of the conservatives defended her spouse by saying he was a Siberia deportee and held strong values. Strong Lithuanian values excuse one for expressing them in a very Russian manner?

Discord and tensions that Kubilius is right to reprehend are old tricks in his own party's inventory. Russian tricks. Instead of accepting challenges, let's turn them into escalating propaganda wars.

Here's to rekindle our memory. The conservatives were very reluctant that the Parliament set up a committee to investigate the intricacies behind Snoras' nationalization and bankruptcy. They finally had to succumb, only because Degutienė's relatives became linked to the whole mess.

But the conservatives soon recuperated. With the help of the anti-corruption commission, they managed to turn the less-than-flattering Snoras affair into an issue about the career of two FCIS officers, suddenly promoted to heroes. And here we have the good old search for enemies, quarrels within the ruling coalition – even the President got pulled in.

But most importantly, the society quit talking about the 3.9 billion litas that vanished from Snoras – an inconvenient question indeed. Lithuania is now buzzing about who leaked the information about Snoras investigation – was it major Giržadas or deputy prosecutor general Raulušaitis?

Are we discussing the massive centrifugal force that is emptying our towns and villages, deteriorating demographical situation, energy security, unfinished reforms – particularly in health-care and social security – and the resulting imminent collapse of the entire welfare system?

We do not talk about that. All we do is march from one propaganda war unto another.

How much time have we dedicated to consider the taxing revolution that Kubilius and Šemeta carried out overnight, with MPs voting on it not only without reading the bills, but even without proper sleep? Instead, we had all our attention focused on the Garliava melodrama of Drąsius Kedys that split the entire population into “good guys” (the Kedo-philes) and “villains” (the imaginary pedophiles). It seems that the conservatives would not mind if the Garliava carnage went on.

“The Lithuanian society is sitting on a time bomb that will eventually split it into two mutually spiteful sides. The bomb is destructive to the entire society. Lithuania risks having two antagonized sides that hate each other,” Vytautas Landsbergis warned back in the times of Sąjūdis.

Only those with vested interests in social antagonisms can fail to see that national unity has long been sacrificed on the propaganda altar. About one thing, though, Landsbergis has got it right – the time bomb is ticking. And it has been ticking for much longer than we think. As long as the front-line goes across the garden of Garliava profiteers, very few Lithuanians will give any thought to the increase in national debt over the last three years or how much additional financial weight the current government has added tp the load on the aging population's shoulders.

Divide et impera. The only thing that surprises is that Landsbergis himself, who has steered the reconstitution of the state, is now on the side of those who are eroding the state institutions. And he is hardly alone in this. We witness the same phenomenon of creators destroying their own creations in the media and in business.

What have we done to deserve this? How to explain that creators attack their own creations? Such is the oriental way of thinking. If something that I built can go on without me, I'll do everything to make my critics and opponents even worse off than me. To teach them a lesson.

How did we come to be this way? It is the same mentality that makes us pay more attention to the 8 March than the 11 March. As philosopher Šalkauskis accurately noted 75 years ago, “after all, the ethnic Lithuanian character is of the oriental type and, in this respect, the Lithuanian nation is much closer to the East than to the West.”

Back in 1937, Šalkauskis raised a question: would we finally become a truly “western” nation? Celebrating the 22nd anniversary of our independence, a bad feeling persists that in 2012 we are much further from reaching this goal than we were in 1937. How much more time does global math give us?

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