Stepping back in time

November 24, 2016 23:25

I have once again personally witnessed the ugly manifestations of resurgent neo-fascism in the Baltic countries during the past 10 days.

Last Wednesday some 1,500 Lithuanians participated in a march organised by the Union of Nationalist Youth down the main avenue of Vilnius to mark Independence Day.

On Monday, approximately the same number of Latvians gathered in the centre of Riga to honour Latvian SS veterans who fought for a victory of the Third Reich in the Second World War.

The sights and sounds at each of these events were difficult to stomach, and conjured up other scenes, when the ideological forefathers of the marchers ruled the streets of these two capitals and were active participants in the annihilation of Lithuanian and Latvian Jewry.

These marches highlight the two major themes of current Baltic right-wing discontent. The first is a total lack of tolerance for the local minorities, whether it is Poles, Jews, or Russians. "Lithuania for Lithuanians" was the dominant slogan in Vilnius.

In Riga, the hostility towards Russians and Jews was explicitly expressed in signs, comments, and accusations. Two of the more unpleasant encounters I experienced at the march were with an elderly Latvian who insisted that "all Jews are murderers", and that it was Jews who were responsible for the collapse of the banks.

An elderly woman kept on shouting at me about thousands of murdered Latvian children ostensibly killed by Jewish Communists.

The second theme is related to the ongoing systematic efforts in post-Communist Eastern Europe, but especially in the Baltics, to rewrite the history of the war and the Holocaust in order to minimise or hide the crimes of local Nazi collaborators and promote the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes.

In Riga the march seeks to portray the Latvian SS veterans as heroic freedom fighters who paved the way for current independence, a thesis with three basic flaws.

First, the Nazis had absolutely no intention of ever granting independence to any of the Baltic states, regardless of the military contribution of the locals.

So the irony is that today's independent Latvia could never have been established had the Third Reich won the war, a goal which these SS Waffen veterans sought to achieve.

The second point is that fighting for a victory of the most genocidal regime in history is hardly a criteria for the status of heroes under any circumstances.

It is important to note that although the Latvian SS Legion itself was not involved in Holocaust crimes, among these soldiers were quite a few who prior to joining the Waffen-SS had actively participated in the mass murder of Latvian Jewry and thousands of foreign Jews deported to Latvia to be murdered.

In Vilnius, that theme was reflected by a slew of Lithuanian swastikas worn by the marchers and a large, black SS flag prominently flown.

Probably the best way to convey the dangers posed by these events on the one hand, and the utter sense of disgust I felt to watch these spectacles on the main avenues of European Union member states - ostensibly committed to human rights and tolerance - on the other, is to return to my encounter with the Latvian who was convinced that all Jews were murderers.

Totally exasperated by his senseless rantings, I asked him whether, had he been able, he would have joined the infamous Latvian Arajs Kommando, which murdered tens of thousands of Jews in Latvia and later in Belarus. He replied immediately, without batting an eyelash, in the affirmative.

November 24, 2016 23:25

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