True Lithuania

Banned and controversial symbols

Lithuania's turbulent history of occupations, genocides, and wars led to some symbols being considered controversial in Lithuania or even officially banned.

Banned symbols

Firstly, the communist and Soviet symbols are banned in Lithuania. Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and suffered genocide under its rule and while this regime continued, it has forced the communist symbols upon Lithuanians. Lithuanian tricolor, emblem, and anthem were all replaced by new ones, rich in Soviet communist symbols. Currently, all such symbols are banned, and they include the hammer and sickle, the five-pointed red star, the official symbols of the Soviet Union, the official symbols of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. As neither of those symbols has ever been used for any other purpose than to promote communism, there is no "mainstream" excuse for their use outside of films or teaching materials. These symbols, however, may still be seen on some Soviet monuments to Soviet soldiers. Generally, these are the only Soviet monuments that were (albeit controversially) not demolished in Lithuania with an excuse that they glorify simple soldiers who just followed orders rather than decided to occupy Lithuania and kill Lithuanians by themselves.

Secondly, the Nazi symbols are banned in Lithuania due to Nazi Germany having murdered most of the Lithuania's Jews. There is mainly one such banned symbol: the swastika. However, only the Nazi swastika is banned (i.e. swastika within a red circle or when used in Nazi contexts). That's because in Lithuania, the swastika was widely used before the Nazi occupation and the birth of Nazism (akin to how it is still used in India, for example). The swastika can be seen on some pre-1930s Lithuanian sculptures, book covers, prehistoric Baltic jewelry. To those who know little about local culture even such uses of swastika may evoke similarities to Nazism, however many locals seek to reclaim swastika as it was used before WW2. While the swastika that was used historically is quite similar to the Nazi swastika (save for the red circle), to stay on the safe side, most modern users of swastika tend to stylize it more (e.g. have straight lines replaced by curved lines).

Nazi salute is regarded to be another Nazi symbol, however, only in Nazi contexts. This interpretation tends to be more relaxed than in the UK and some other Western countries. Lithuania was baffled when Lithuanian basketball fans were arrested during the London 2012 Olympics for "performing a Nazi salute" when a similar gesture is often used to welcome players into the Lithuanian arenas and is not seen as any different in this context from raising two arms, for example.

Despite the Communist and Nazi symbols being currently banned, this ban is controversial in itself. In the libertarian 1990s, no symbols were banned in Lithuania; significant numbers of people believe that a freedom of speech would require waiving the bans. However, as only some very small fringe organizations and dark-tourism-souvenir salesmen would actually use the symbols, the issue stays out of the mainstream attention and doesn't go beyond some articles in the media.

Controversial symbols

In addition to the banned symbols, there are some that are not banned, yet controversial. The most famous among those is the St. George strip, regarded by to be a symbol of Russian Imperialism. It is sometimes used by Russian nationalists to decorate their cars or clothes. This symbol gained both popularity and controversy after the 2015 Russian invasion of Ukraine when it became commonly used by those who supported the invasion. Whoever wears the St. George strip is often regarded to be a traitor by ethnic Lithuanians.

The Rainbow flag, used by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations in the West, is also controversial in Lithuania. While some people in Lithuania consider homosexual relations to be unnatural, many others who object to the Rainbow flag actually accept gayness. However, unlike in the West, where LGBT was a grassroots movement, in Lithuania this movement is generally top-to-down, funded and supported by various Western institutions that raise controversial demands (such as prosecuting their critics for "hate speech" or firing them from jobs). As such, to some, the Rainbow flag came to symbolize the curbs on the freedom of speech in Lithuania, imposition of foreign values upon Lithuania or simply shifting too much attention to issues that are regarded as "comparatively less important in Lithuania" due to the fact that Lithuania faces many other unique problems related to its Soviet past (more poverty, the Russian threat, the world-leading suicide and alcoholism rates, etc.).

Satanist symbols, such as the upside down cross, are also controversial. They are used by some subcultures yet they are heavily criticized by the Christian churches and seen as a proof of a "dangerous cult membership" by many less-religious people as well. After all, some of the most publicized uses of the Satanist symbols involves vandalism in the cemeteries.

Also on the borderline of what's acceptable is the slogan Lietuva lietuviams (Lithuania for the Lithuanians) as some outsiders tend to interpret this slogan as suggesting an expulsion of non-Lithuanians from Lithuania. However, in reality, this slogan has gained popularity during the occupations of Lithuania and generally meant that the people of Lithuania (rather than any foreign powers) should make the political decisions in Lithuania. Today some say that the slogan is dated and should not be shouted during the independence day parades; others claim that it either has a historic meaning or current meaning of protest against transferring more and more powers from the democratically-elected Lithuanian parliament to the European Union institutions.

In general, due to less "political correctness" and a more homogenous society, there tend to be fewer controversial symbols, words, and other things in Lithuania than in the Western countries (and those that are controversial are often controversial only when used in particular contexts).

The Lithuanian Ministry of Defense is adorned by this symbol representing Tatar (Asian) eyes since the 1990s. In most Western countries, such racial-features-inspired symbol would be politically incorrect. In Lithuania, however, this is a respectful nod to the local Tatar community, which had played an important role in the Medieval defense of Lithuania (the street where the Ministry of Defense stands is also named after the Tatars). Such use of racial features would only be controversial in Lithuania if it would be done for derogatory purposes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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