Parliament law on wartime events provokes scandal

  • 2000-09-21
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
On Sept. 12 the Lithu-anian Parliament adopted a law on recognition of the statement, "Declaration on the Restoration of Lithuania's Independence," made by the Lithu-anian provisional government on June 23, 1941, making it a legal act. The law was passed with votes from the Conservatives, Christian Democrats and MPs of some of tiny right-wing parties. After a huge scandal, Parliament backed down and adopted a resolution suspending the enforcement of the controversial law.

The Sept. 12 law came under severe criticism from President Valdas Adamkus, Lithuanian historians, Jewish community and opposition parties.

On Sept. 15, Adamkus, visiting Sydney, read by phone his appeal to several Lithuanian TV channels. "A group of MPs have undertaken an attempt to write history without paying attention to the conclusions drawn by the Lithuanian History Institute and the Genocide and Resistance Research Center," Adamkus said.

Opinion of historians

The Lithuanian History Institute and the Genocide and Resistance Research Center voiced their protest against the decision of Parliament. "I don't agree with this law. It is necessary to behave very carefully with history," said Arturas Dubonis, a researcher with the institute.

Dubonis went over the events of 1941. When the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Central Europe was divided into Soviet and Nazi spheres of influence, the USSR occupied Lithuania in 1940.

Lithuanians, suffering from mass Soviet repression, waited for a breakdown in the strategic alliance between Germany and the USSR. The conflict between two totalitarian powers was seen as an opportunity to restore independence. Lithu-anian underground leaders had the best feelings toward Western democracies, but American and British interference in Lithuania was unrealistic at the beginning of World War II.

On June 22, 1941 the war Germany and the Soviet Union began fighting. Lithu-anians started an anti-Soviet insurrection. The Lithuanian partisans in some areas of the country beat the Red Army. The reestablishment of Lithuanian independence was announced on radio on June 23, 1941 and an interim government was formed in Kaunas.

German troops entered Lithuania, but the Nazis had no intention of recognizing an independent Lithuania. All Lithuanian political parties were banned, the provisional government was dissolved and the Nazi terror against Jews and the rest of Lithu-ania's population started. "The insurrection may have been more beneficial to the Nazis than to Lithuania itself," Dubonis said.

Dalia Kuodyte, director general of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center, also expressed her disgust with Parliament's behavior. "MPs had the intention to make a good step, but it was made as always," she said ironically.

Kuodyte emphasized that there are some anti-Jewish documents, issued by the Lithuanian interim government. "This period of Lithuanian history is not investigated as yet. Members of the interim government say that some of these documents of the interim government were falsified. It requires serious research," Kuodyte said.

She said that in 1975, U.S. Congress held special hearings on the activities of the Lithuanian provisional government during its short existence in 1941.

"The U.S. Congress investigated relations of the interim government with the Holocaust, because some members of this government emigrated to America after the war. The U.S. Congress decided that these people are not responsible for the killing of Jews. Nazis just ignored the existence of the interim government and had no relations with it. The activities of the interim government were banned after six weeks. Government minister Adolfas Damusis and some other members of the interim government were sent to Nazi concentration camps because of their protests against Nazi terror," Kuodyte said.

Damusis arrived from the United States and participated in Parliament's session on Sept. 12, when the controversial law was adopted. Kuodyte said that historians, not politicians, should write history.

Jewish leaders feel insulted

During the years 1941 to 1944, Nazis in Lithuania murdered some 220,000 Jews. It was 94 percent of the pre-war Jewish population. The law of Parliament on the interim government which indicates possible collaboration with Nazis provoked protest from Simonas Alperavicius, chairman of the Jewish community in Lithuania.

Alperavicius pointed out that Lithuania did not pass any legal acts in 1918-1940 and after March 11, 1990 restoration of independence, that would be offensive to Jews. The law of Sept. 12 is the first one of this kind, he said. Alperavicius emphasized that the so-called interim government of 1941 welcomed Adolf Hitler's "new order" in Europe. Lithuania is now creating a problem for itself, because "only some hundreds or thousands of its inhabitants" were accused of collaborating with Nazis, but after this law the entire country can have responsibility for the Holocaust, said Alperavicius.

Emanuelis Zingeris, a Conservative MP and one of the founders of the Lithu-anian Jewish Community in late 1980s and its first chairman, criticized his party colleagues for the controversial law.

"Lithuania's statehood was represented by Lithu-anian diplomats in London and Washington who refused to accept the Soviet and Nazi occupation. If we recognize the fact that Lithu-ania had restored rudiments of its independence during the first days of the Nazi invasion, then Lithuania would have to share responsibility for the violence that took place at this time," Zingeris said.

Reaction of politicians

Vytautas Landsbergis, parliamentary chairman and the Conservative Party leader, said that the law passed by Parliament was a "mistake." He said that the text of this law would be changed.

"The nation has a right for uprising against occupants, but independence wasn't restored in 1941 because other occupants, Nazis, came to Lithuania," Landsbergis said. He asked Adamkus to veto the law.

Adamkus stated that his veto "is not enough." He urged the Lithuanian people to render its opinion on the law. Center Union MP Egidijus Bickauskas condemned the law. Vytautas Kvietkauskas, candidate to Parliament from the New Union election list, described the law as "the last stage of brain illness for the Conservatives."

Gediminas Kirkilas and Aloyzas Sakalas, Leftist MPs and members of the Social Democratic coalition, used especially strong expressions. "The Conservatives are spoiling our relations with the West and the East," Kirkilas said. "Landsbergis is a disaster of Lithuania," Sakalas said.

According to political analyst Lauras Bielinis, the Conservatives had intended to use this law for their parliamentary election campaign, trying to please part of the elderly electorate, and are more concerned with the history rather than with the future of Lithuania. Rimvydas Valatka, columnist of the Lietuvos Rytas daily, states that the scandalous law harms Lithuania's integration into western structures and pushes Lithuania into the hands of Russia.