VILNIUS - The first reading of a draft amendment to the penal code, which provoked angry reactions in Moscow, took place in the Lithuanian parliament on Sept. 29. The draft states that a person who justifies Soviet and Nazi occupations could be sentenced to up to two years of prison.
The draft was passed in the first reading when 41 MPs voted in favor of it and 25 MPs voted against, while 13 MPs abstained. The draft must pass two more votes in the parliament to become law. On Sept. 29, the debate in the parliament was quite heated.
"I can guess that if ideologists of the Kremlin would come to Lithuania after this law's adoption, the Lithuanian law and order system would take care that they would not humiliate the Lithuanian nation," said Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene, the ruling Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats MP who initiated this law. She emphasized that the law would apply to public statements, not "some private talks in the street."
"It is worth it to learn lessons of history but it is not worth it to politicize history," said opposition Social Democrat MP Vytenis Andriukaitis, who voted against the draft. He said that Stalinism and Nazism should be condemned without use of the penal code.
The draft provoked a reaction in Russia, where recent official instructions given to state school history teachers recommends presenting Stalin as an "efficient manager."
"Stalin and Hitler are absolutely the same for Lithuanians," Nikolai Svanidze, famous Russian liberal journalist and historian, told the Moscow-based independent radio Ekho Moskvy on Sept. 30, in justifying the draft author's view on history. In 2008, Svanidze published the book Medvedev, based on interviews with the Russian president. Svanidze is also author of the TV documentary series Historical Chronicles, on the 20th century history of Russia where he condemned the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as well as Soviet aggression and terror in the Baltics, which is absolutely unusual for the Russian state TV.
However, the official reaction in Moscow was rather predictable. On Oct. 1, Andrei Nesterenko, the Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesman, described the draft as "cynical and immoral" and expressed hope that "common sense will win in the Lithuanian parliament."
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite on Oct. 2 visited the new exhibition on the Holocaust in the Center for Tolerance of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum in Vilnius, and held a short briefing to answer some questions on the draft.
"Discussions on totalitarian regimes already exist in the international area. Everything that will not contradict the international law will be done in Lithuania," Grybauskaite said rather vaguely adding that the current draft "will definitely not improve relations with neighbors." Nobody asked her to clarify, as everybody understood who that neighbor is.
In Vilnius on July 3, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) adopted a resolution entitled Divided Europe Reunited, which was written by Aleknaite-Abramikiene and a representative of Slovenia. The resolution condemned Nazism and Stalinism, provoking hysterical protests in the Russian parliament and state-run media in Russia.
Earlier this year, the members of the European Parliament decided that Stalin's USSR and Hitler's Germany were equal and decided to mark Aug. 23 as the Day of Remembrance for victims of Stalinism and Nazism.
According to Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, French historians and authors of "The Black Book of Communism," Russia-born communism killed between 65 and 93 million people around the world.