VILNIUS - A new verbal assault from a Russian official has caused yet another outburst of indignation and left many wondering how much lower Lithuanian-Russian relations could sink.
In an interview to BBC World on May 9, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov implied that Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus had fought on the Nazi side during World War II. He also recalled 1995, when none of the Baltic leaders attended the 50th anniversary of WWII, saying that this had gone almost unnoticed. This year, he added, one of them 's Latvia's Vaira Vike-Freiberga 's came while the other two refused.
"We understand the sensitivity of the countries and their leaders. Indeed, one of them is the only living head of state who fought on the German side," Chizhov said.
It wasn't long before the Lithuanian news program, Panorama, unraveled Chizhov's puzzling comments.
At the end of WWII, Vaira Vike was seven years old. Estonia's Arnold Ruutel was 17, and he went on to graduate with a university degree in agriculture and become head of Soviet Estonia's parliament.
Meanwhile, Adamkus participated in the war's resistance activity and moved to Germany with his parents in July 1944.
As he wrote in his autobiography, "Destiny's name 's Lithuania": "I have served the Lithuanian military division since the end of August 1944 until Oct. 10, when the Soviet army, in a strong attack, closed in on the town of Mazeikiai. I was in Seda when the Russian tanks invaded the town, sweeping everything from their sight. We had no guns and couldn't resist. I was lucky to break through to Kretinga."
Adamkus chose to ignore to Chizhov's assessment. "The president is surely not going to comment on another interpretation history," said his spokeswomen, Ruta Grumadaite.
Other officials, however, were not so diplomatic. Outwardly insulted by Chizhov's words, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis rejected the statement as "indecent and cynical."
"If [this statement] was alluding to Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, we must once again remind the public that Adamkus was a participant of Lithuania's armed resistance against the Soviet occupation at the time, and the resistance lasted until the 1950s," Valionis said.
Lithuanian historians remarked that such words echoed Soviet-era interpretations of history.
"Everything's allowed for the Russians, and the Kremlin tends to re-adopt Soviet vocabulary. Just like in Soviet times, everyone who doesn't please them is a fascist or a bandit," said historian Ceslovas Laurinavicius of the Lithuanian Institute of History.
"But the slander is turning vulgar because it's not an abstract interpretation of a particular process, for instance, but rather aimed at the head of state. This has gone too far," Laurinavicius said.
Mindaugas Jurkynas, a political scientist at Vilnius University, explained that many Russian politicians still long for the Soviet era and therefore invoke Cold War rhetoric.
"Many Russian politicians identify their country with the Soviet era, which seems like a golden age for the people. Adamkus and Ruutel did not come to Moscow for the ceremonies, and [the emotions] slipped through," Jurkynas said. "Political news as such identifies how reality is being perceived, and this news from Russia showed that the state regards us precisely that way."
Jurkynas added that such rhetoric could not provide anything beneficial to the countries' bilateral relations.
Laurinavicius agreed, claiming that this would only complicate future meetings between Russian officials and Adamkus.
"It was the president's personal decision to ignore [the statement], but citizens have a duty to defend the head of the state, and I, as a citizen, convey my contempt for Russia," said Laurinavicius.
Nevertheless, Raimondas Lopata, director of the International Relations and Political Science Institute, applauded the president's attitude and said that Lithuania should not involved itself in Russia's infamous game. In this way, he added, the country could demonstrate its dignity.