TV interview shames Lithuania

  • 2001-02-08
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Last week, Swedish television broadcast an interview with arguably the most scandalous politician in Lithuania, Vytautas Sustauskas, during which he made several anti-Semitic comments. Politicians from the country's political parties are united in their condemnation of Sustauskas' statements.

Sustauskas is the only MP of the Freedom Union, a tiny political party that functions only in Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city. He was even mayor of Kaunas for several months last year until he managed to get elected to Parliament in October's elections.

Sustauskas said that the world's capital is owned by Jews. One of his phrases clarifying his views about the Holocaust was especially shocking. "I would be cleaning the shoes of Jews in Laisves Avenue (the main street) in Kaunas now if not for the Germans (the German occupation and the Holocaust)," Sustauskas said.

Sustauskas' interview was shown Jan. 31 on "Panorama," the main news program on Lithuania's state-owned television channel LTV.

On Jan. 31, the Center Union party asked Lithuania's prosecutor general and justice minister to stop the activities of the Freedom Union and consider the possibility of starting legal proceedings against Sustauskas. The Center Union is one of the smaller partners in the ruling Liberal/Social Liberal coalition.

On Feb. 1, representatives of the Freedom Union in Kaunas publicly condemned the anti-Semitic statements of their party leader. Earlier, Gediminas Budnikas, a member of the Freedom Union who took over from Sustauskas as mayor of Kaunas, met with leaders of Kaunas' Jewish community.

Gercas Zakas, the community's chairman, said that there are no problems within the Freedom Union, but that Sustauskas is a problem.

"Those who saw this interview on Swedish television really do not now have a good image of Lithuania," said Emanuelis Zingeris, one of the most active members of Lithuania's Jewish community, during a press conference in the Lithuanian Parliament on Jan. 31.

"Nobody should give the right to such a populist to speak in such a way," Social Liberal MP Gediminas Dalinkevicius said during the same press conference. He added that he would appeal to the Constitutional Court to ask about the possibility of forcing Sustauskas to leave his seat in Parliament.

Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas asked the parliamentary ethics commission to launch an investigation into Sustauskas' comments. "Sustauskas made the statement about shoe cleaning in Laisves Avenue five years ago when he was just a Ôstreet politician'. I wrote then in the newspaper Siaures Atenai that this was the right job for him," Markas Zingeris, a Jewish Lithuanian writer who lives in Kaunas, told The Baltic Times.

He said that it is not incidental that a politician like Sustauskas should live in Kaunas. "Kaunas is a specific town. Many of its inhabitants arrived from villages and became proletarians. Now the proletarians are degraded after the collapse of large old industries. It's good turf for Sustauskas," Zingeris said.

Sustauskas is usually referred to as "king of the beggars." He often organizes demonstrations in Vilnius and Kaunas to defend, he says, the rights of poor people.

It is usually the same group of 100-200 fanatical pensioners, mostly women, who make the journey from Kaunas to take part in the demonstrations in Vilnius.