True Lithuania

Are Lithuanians racists, fascists or Nazis?

Far from any of that. Lithuanians are far more often self-conscious and self-bashing than self-glorifying, being conscious of their country because of its perceived poorness compared to the West. Even the moderate nationalist parties (e.g. Tautininkai) have failed to enter the parliament, whereas the far-right National Democratic party had to disband itself due to low membership (compare that to the West). Neo-nazi opinions have no support whatsoever in the wider society and are considered radical even by the moderate nationalists.

Lithuanians are neither against Jews (in fact, there is now a great resurgence of interest in Litvak culture) nor they are against Russians (as an ethnicity). Russian culture, music, TV and other events are popular among ethnic Lithuanians as well (at least among the older generations that were universally taught Russian in schools).

That said, Lithuanians are often wary of the Russian politics (due to the history), especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the popular notion is that politics and culture should be separated.

How did the myth of racist/fascist/nazi Lithuanians appear?

This misconception seems to have several different sources.

The first is biased Russian media. It tends to put a heavy emphasis on extremely rare acts of hooliganism (e.g. a one-time smearing of a Russian consulate in black paint by vandals) by claiming that such acts prove some general trends or enjoy widespread support in Lithuania. Furthermore, it tends to show regular popular patriotic events in Lithuania (for example, grassroots independence day parades) as being racist or Nazi or Russophobic in nature. Western media often inadvertently picks up this narrative, because some Western journalists are still not evaluating the Russian media critically enough and use it as a possible source, despite it being especially biased. Furthermore, some of the strongly Russian-backed online sources are masked as an independent or even Lithuanian, making it difficult for an outsider journalist to understand who is who.

Independence day parade in Vilnius with people carrying Lithuanian flags. By the Russian media and the foreign media that recited it the same parade has been declared to have been fascist. Among the main arguments was that somebody shouted antisemitic slogans in a similar parade in the year 2009. In Russian media coverage of the event, however, such slogans are claimed to be 'common', and Western media sometimes picks up this narrative. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The second reason for this misconception is the ignorance in Lithuanian history. Those who promote this misconception typically claim that in Lithuania, certain Nazis (or Holocaust participants) are respected or even honored by plaques, street names, and statues. This is, however, simply not true. No Nazi and no Holocaust participant is widely (let alone officially) respected in Lithuania and none of those who are respected were murderers in a genocide (as much as it is known). The genocide perpetrators are punished severely according to Lithuanian law. The "honored people" in question are typically anti-Soviet guerillas and activists whose only "crime" is that they fought against the same enemy (Soviet Union) as Nazi Germany did but for entirely different goals (namely in the name of the freedom of Lithuania). Foreigners often fail to understand that World War 2 was a conflict of more than two sides in the Eastern front (see "Did Lithuania support Nazi Germany during WW2" myth), attributing all enemies of the Allies to Nazi Germany. Ultimately, the "Lithuania honors Nazi collaborators" claims also often (though far from always) can be sourced to Russian media.

The third reason is a rather subtle difference in the meaning of "Lithuanian" in English and Lithuanian languages (see the myth "Are Lithuanians unwilling to regard minorities as Lithuanian")

The fourth reason for the misconception is cultural differences. Lithuanians don't have the notion of "political correctness" that exist in the West.

So, while any real instances of racism undoubtedly get universally condemned by Lithuanians (e.g. attacks or persecutions based on race or ethnicity), Lithuanians would not see something that is simply politically incorrect in the West as racism at all. For example, in Lithuania, it is acceptable to talk about one's racial features or ethnicity and this does not cause an insult.

To many Lithuanians, the Western political correctness often seems to be inexplicable, akin to the "blasphemy rules" in the fundamentalist societies. Why is it acceptable in the West, for instance, to talk (or even joke) about someone's blonde hair or height, but not his/her skin color or "Asian eyes" - even if all of those actually are inherited traits? Why is simply noticing something that is plainly visible so frowned upon? Moreover, how could, in a free society, saying something that is neither damaging nor dangerous to anybody make a person lose his career, as so often happens in the West?

During Užgavėnės carnival, Lithuanians traditionally dress as "somebody else": animal or a person of different gender, ethnicity or social class, all of which are traditionally represented by masks (in this image, however, most people uses just clothing and wigs to represent the characters). While cross-dressing also became acceptable in the West, dressing as somebody of a different ethnicity is now frowned upon there due to political correctness, especially when there is an attempt to change one's racial features (e.g. blackface). Some Westerners who know little about the Lithuanian traditions thus have attacked Užgavėnės traditions in their media. However, the only targets are typically those who dress as Jews or (to a lesser extent) Gypsies. To Lithuanians, this is all baffling: why is it ok for a man to dress as a woman and even as a Hungarian but not as a Jew? ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A lot of these cultural differences could likely be explained by a different history. In the West, colonialism, slavery, and racial genocides are a historical fact. That likely made the Westerners to fear the history repeating itself to such extent, that instead of (or in addition to) targeting the "actual problems" such as discrimination (regardless of what group is discriminated against) or persecution (regardless of what group is persecuted), they began targeting the division of the society by certain traits (that were often a basis for such persecution) as unwelcome on itself, apparently seeking its disappearance through a forced silence.

In Lithuania, however, there was never a racial (rather than ethnic/religious) persecution, nor did Lithuania had any extra-European colonies or was involved in the slave trade, nor did Lithuania had significant minorities of the other races. To Lithuanians, therefore, skin color is just another physical trait of a person, like his/her height or hair color. Naturally, when rare, it may attract attention, in the same fashion an especially tall height would, for example.

Interestingly, as there were religious persecutions in Lithuania, religion is typically a much less acceptable topic for conversation than race/ethnicity and much less so than it is in the USA. Still, while jokes about religion may be unwelcome in polite Lithuanian society and remind of occupation-era-propaganda, Lithuanians tolerate more freedom-of-speech about religion than Westerners tolerate about race.

Final note: Obviously, like any country, Lithuania has some people who have real hatred against certain population groups. This article does not claim that there are completely no such people in Lithuania - rather, it challenges a myth that such radical ideas are somehow more prevalent in Lithuania than in the Western world while, in fact, the opposite is true.

Is the "racist/Nazi Lithuanians" claim insulting to Lithuanians and why?

In addition to the obvious reason for being insulting (no non-Nazi would like to be called a Nazi), such allegations are regarded by most Lithuanians as dangerous. In the case of Ukraine, Russia has used similar baseless allegations in its propaganda to turn its people and many people in foreign countries against Ukraine.

In order to prevent other countries or its own people from questioning its motives, Russia regularly accuses its targets of either Nazism or terrorism, as both of these are two are despised worldwide and may seem a genuine reason for an invasion to somebody who knows few real facts about the area.

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  1. eastern europe is very dangerous for non whites , i ve been attacked there and they almost killed me

    • Eastern Europe refers to a vast area of 23 countries and 400 million people.

      Conditions in different areas differ greatly.

      Lithuania was quite unsafe in the 1990s as well, but safety improved greatly since then. In some other parts of Eastern Europe, e.g. Siberian cities in Russia, the safety conditions are like in Lithuania in the 1990s.

      In these unsafe areas, there are often gangs of criminals or drunkards who may be „looking for trouble“ or a fight, especially so at night, or to steal a cell phone. While such gangs may seem to use something as a pretext, in fact, they would have attacked almost anybody in similar circumstances, just the insults to start the fight may have been different. Basically, it used to be so: a „troublemaker gang“ looks for a target (usually some lone guy) and then „adapt“ the insults to him to start a fight (if the person wears atypical clothes, then his clothes would have been insulted, if he looks uniquely, then his looks, otherwise the fight-starting quote may be „Why did you look at me?“ and such).

      I know numerous people who were attacked this way back in the 1990s and all of them are ethnic Lithuanians. In those days, one used to avoid walking alone late in the evening back then. That said, Lithuania changed lots since then, crime levels plummetted by the order of magnitude. I simply don‘t hear similar stories here in Lithuania anymore nor see such suspicious drunk gangs in streets and now feel safer walking in Lithuania than in many other places of the world.

      These stories still are more likely to happen elsewhere in the Eastern Europe (east of Lithuania), though.

      • You can see by his comment that there is still a great amount of racism against lithuanians and eastern-europeans, though…

  2. “Politically correct” Westerners frown upon whites dressing as black people/Asian people/Jews because those groups were always target of racial hatred because of their appearance and customs, which obviously doesn’t happen with whites.

    That’s why Europeans and people of European descent dressing up like them looks like a mockery of those groups, like they can do it without any consequences while actual people of color keeps being discriminated after many centuries because of the very traits white people are imitating, often with grotesque exaggerations like the “big-nosed Jew” (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C7rOmu7WkAEWpBq.jpg).

    Regardless, I do believe most Lithuanians don’t intend to offend or hurt minorities and are just unaware of the history and social problems of the West, or at least some aspects of it. It’s not really “political correctness”, but rather centuries of many, many wrongdoings of colonialism and bigotry that have seen almost no improvement.

    • Yes, but the same can be said about women who were also discriminated against, especially until the 20th century, while their way of thoughts/beliefs/appearances used to be mocked by men. And yet, in the modern West, it is perfectly acceptable for a man to dress as a woman (including as an act) – in fact, it is not acceptable to criticize or attack such cross-dressing.

      A lot more personal traits are/were common targets of ridiculing, bullying, hatred, etc. (obesity, short height, red hair, stuttering, etc.), and yet only very few traits are politically incorrect to “use in your act” in the West.

      What I am trying to say is that while there may be “official” explanations for “political correctness’, a lot here depends on culture and tradition and “trends” which cannot be logically explained. When you grow up among such “societal requirements”, they seem natural and yet the outsiders immediately spot illogicalities or inconsistencies.

      Of course, which groups were discriminated against and how much also differed and differs greatly across the world (for example, Lithuania was not anyhow exposed to other races until the late 20th century and had no history of being a colonial or slave-trading power).

      Yes, you are correct that many Lithuanians “don’t intend to offend or hurt minorities and are just unaware of the history and social problems of the West” but, unless those would be Lithuanian emigrants who hold their festivities in Chicago or London, why should alter their traditions because of Western history/sensitivities? It is impossible to incorporate every sensitivity of all the worlds’ nations (it is impossible to even know all them). Indeed, in its festivals, Western cultures do not do that (they do care only about the sensitivities of the particular groups that live in the countries in large enough numbers). So, by claiming that Eastern Europe needs to be aware of Western sensitivieties / history in its own festivities, while Western countries do not need to be equally aware of Eastern European sensitivities implies that Western culture and history is somehow more important.

  3. The way the Jews and Roma are depicted in Uzgavenes is very hard, if not impossible to defend. People dancing around in masks of monsters right along with Jews and Roma, being meant to “scare winter away” equates these ethnicities with monsters. If this is not so, then tell me why other ethnic traits are not included amounts the “scary” characters? You say that tall, fat, women, and red headed people are discriminated against as much as Jews yet I don’t see any overly exaggerated costumes of those groups being equated with “scary monsters”. Why not? Because the ridicule of these groups is not a tradition in LT, but degrading Jews and Roma is.

    When I came to live in Lithuania from America I quickly found that “political correctness” is not a big concern here. I actually appreciate this fact. Lithuanian people have had to fight to maintain their culture and even language for hundreds of years. You have survived multiple occupations with strength and great dignity. That is to be respected. However, when someone comes up to you at a party and tells a joke about Jewish, gays, or Muslims, completely out of nowhere it is a sign that there is a problem. I’ve had experiences like this on multiple occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Uzgavenes, and even a wedding. Is it as bad as being violent against someone? No. But it makes being violent easier because it plants the seed that these groups are not excepted as a true part of Lithuania. Treating a group as “other” is the first step towards exploiting and even exterminating that group. It’s high time Lithuanians come to terms with the bigotry of the past, deal with it, and move on. You have so much to offer besides imaginary monster.

    • The notion that in Užgavėnės people dress up as either Jews/Roma or monsters to scare off the winter is simply wrong.

      In Užgavėnės (which a carnival – just like many others in the world happening at the same time), one picks his/her character, dresses as him/her, and plays it. The opportunities in choosing a character are endless, just as in theater or cinema. It may be some famous person; someone of different ethnicity; different gender; or, it may be an anthropomorphic animal or something else.

      There are, however, „traditionally popular characters“ and this is based on the historic contacts Lithuanians had with other communities. The three most popular other ethnicities to dress as historically were Jews, Roma, and Hungarians – apparently because those three were the most culturally different communities that were still widely known to a pre-modern Lithuanian person (dressing up as a Latvian or Pole would have seemed dull as they were very similar to Lithuanians in terms of dress and way of life; at the same time, nobody even imagined how a Chinese or Japanese or Arab would live or act like).

      However, in Užgavėnės today, of course, you would see far more characters than in Užgavėnės of the 19th century as the world became smaller. Yet some people who tend to value tradition are keener on using the traditional characters and shun „Užgavėnės innovation“ (Westernization, Halloweenization, etc.) – so the traditions (traditional characters) are still disproportionally represented.

      As for Užgavėnės masks, indeed, the traditional masks may seem scary initially (whatever character they would represent) – but it is just a certain form of traditional art with its own style (just as, for example, Venice Carnival masks also have their own distinctive style). All the traditional masks (regardless of character) may look scary because of their style but this “scariness” does not mean they represent monsters.

      Yet again, today in Užgavėnės non-traditional characters, non-traditional styles of masks are also used, or people go unmasked (with just clothes / hairstyle to imitate their chosen character) – as in the image shown in this article, where the woman on the left is probably impersonating a Gypsy (without a mask). In fact, from what I see, the traditional-styled masks are very rare in today‘s celebrations (they are difficult to create too).

      „Winter, winter, go away“ song is a separate tradition of the Užgavėnės festival that is not directly related to masks – people in any mask (or unmasked) would sing it. It is related to the fact that Užgavėnės (Carnival) in Lithuania coincides with the traditional time when snow melts (something desirable). While masking/impersonation tradition seems to be quite universal mong carnivals worldwide, even if the exact masks/characters differ (Rio, Venice, New Orleans), the „shooing winter“ part is climate-dependent. There are other Užgavėnės traditions peculiar to Lithuania as well – e.g. children ask for sweets/pancakes (something that happens during Halloween elsewhere), people eat pancakes, etc.

      Unfortunately, the Western critics of Užgavėnės traditions often evaluate these traditions with the same mindset that 19th-century colonialists used to evaluate various non-Western traditions, quick to denounce them as „savage“ or „gruesome“ based on some bits of information and not even trying to understand the full picture, ideas, or philosophy behind that.

      In fact, that is also exactly the same way many 19th-20th century antisemites would have demonized Jewish traditions: by taking some things about Jewish culture and life out of context and „spicing them up“ even further, to make them even more appalling to the (rather ignorant) non-Jewish readers.

      The implied claim that „Lithuanians dress either as Jews, Roma, or monsters to scare winter“ is, as you can see, wrong on as many levels as those anti-Semitic demonizations or „Black/Asian-savage“ demonizations of the 19th century were:
      1) “A mask that looks scary to me“ does not mean „a mask of a monster“.
      2) Few people wear such scary masks at all these days.
      3) Jews/Roma are just a few of the traditional characters.
      4) Singing songs for winter to go away is another tradition where people participate regardless of the masks.
      5) Today minorities themselves also participate in Užgavėnės, so it’s not (just) ethnic Lithuanians who celebrate.
      Etc.

      As for Lithuanian jokes, we explain more here: http://www.truelithuania.com/lithuanian-etiquette-meetings-and-presents-5564 .

      Quote from that article: „Lithuanian jokes (“anecdotes”) have very few limits. Many are based on stereotypes: each ethnicity, gender, occupation and even anthropomorphic animals have stereotypes associated with them. These jokes are not meant to insult: everybody understands that they are laughing at stereotypical characters rather than at any real person, even if that real person has the same ethnicity or gender. In many cases, jokes are created by people of the group the jokes target, and Lithuanian ethnicity itself has a fair share of negative stereotypes associated with it in jokes.“

      These „Lithuanian jokes“ more or less connect various ethnicities in Lithuania: a Lithuanian, a Jew, a Russian, a Pole ar just as likely to tell the same jokes. However, the tradition of such jokes is not actually Lithuanian in origin. It covers much of Eastern Europe and ex-USSR. In fact, the stereotypical characters often take up the same roles in Lithuanian, Russian, Ukrainian, Moldovan, etc. jokes.

      What is even more important, from what I saw in the Western stand-ups, jokes about various groups of people are common there too. It’s just that some particular groups, e.g. Jews, gays, Blacks are typically „off-limits“ in the West – but, other than these groups, many things go and people definitely don‘t see it as a „first step to exterminating that group“.

      I remember a stand-up in a Miami-based cruise ship making a joke about this particular situation of „joke-censorship“ itself:
      STAND UP COMEDIAN: „Are there any Italians on board?“
      **Some voices in the audience shout „Yes“
      **The comedian tells a joke about Italians

      STAND UP COMEDIAN: „Are there any Hispanic people on board?“
      **Some voices in the audience shout „Yes“
      **The comedian tells a joke about the Hispanic people

      This trend continues for a while with different groups of people.
      Then, in the end:
      STAND UP COMEDIAN: „Are there any Black people among passengers?“
      **Some – a little bit annoyed – voices in the audience shout „Yes“
      STAND UP COMEDIAN: „Nah! I won‘t joke about Blacks! I may be an immigrant in America, but I am not stupid! I‘ve learned that!“

      So, we come back to the start again – the only reason why many Westerners would find problems with jokes about e.g. Jews or Gays is that these groups are off-limits for jokes in their countries of origins, so they subconsciously expect the same to be true elsewhere. Yet, at the same time, they don‘t find problems with exactly the same jokes told about any other groups or minorities and, should somebody say that e.g. „A joke about the Irish is the first step towards their extermination“, it would seem ridiculous to Lithuanians and Westerners alike. And Irish people definitely were targets of discrimination and persecutions in the past, with millions of them killed by the British-influenced famine.

      And, when looking to some “ignorant” Western commentaries about Užgavėnės, this „dual standard“ is clear as well: dressing up as Jews is attacked the most often, dressing up as Roma much more rarely, and dressing up as Hungarians are never mentioned at all. Even though all three are „traditionally-popular ethnic characters“ of Užgavėnės in Lithuania.

  4. Well.. they are racist..
    As a Jew I hear too many stigmas from Lithuanians and from middle-Europeans especially about being cheap ass or rich.
    They try conceal their racism but it exists.
    According to a friend her mother said she should be cautious about our friendship cause I’ll take all of her money.. which she doesn’t have 🤷🏼‍♀️

    • I think there are two issues here:

      The first is the “stereotype-based joke tradition” of Eastern Europe. In this tradition, every ethnic group has associated stereotypes, mostly negative. E.g. Estonians=Very slow / extremely phlegmatic, Lithuanians=Extremely jealous, Jews=Rich-but-greedy, Chukchis=Stupid, Georgians=Super-hot-tempered, Sudovians (people from southeast Lithuania)=ultra-frugal. These stereotypes tend to be understood all over the region, especially in the Ex-USSR. These stereotype-based jokes could be widely told by everybody, including by ethnicities in question. In general, people don’t actually believe these stereotypes (i.e. they don’t think that a person of the ethnicity would necessarily be like in the stereotype). However, they may mention a stereotype as a joke – which to an outsider could feel insulting but it is not meant to be. E.g. somebody may say to an ethnic Lithuanian (as a stereotype-based joke): “So, you are a Lithuanian, you must be celebrating that your neighbor’s car just got burned down, yeh?”. A person from within the region would typically laugh and reply something like: “Oh, that is such a minor celebration. Now, if his new house would also burn down…”.

      Both people would understand this is a stereotype and would not believe anyone would *actually* celebrate his neighbor’s misfortune. But, it creates a good butt for a small-talk joke given that *everybody* knows the extremely-jealous-Lithuanian stereotype.

      For people from the outside of the region, especially those imbibed with Western political correctness, these jokes may seem insulting / bullying / wrong (e.g. when somebody would “imitate an Estonian” by speaking his own language but extremely slowly or “imitate a Jew” by changing every dental/alveolar trill consonant to a velar trill consonant in his/her speech).

      Of course, I am not denying that there are people with real negative opinions about various ethnic groups in Lithuania – I am just saying that the majority of “seemingly insulting” sayings reported by foreigners (especially by the Westerners) tend to fall into the group of “misunderstood jokes” that would have been culturally appropriate within the Lithuanian / Eastern European context and would not insult neither the majority nor the minorities in the region.

      Not knowing the situation or the person (your friend’s mother) in question, I cannot comment more on your situation. It may have been a stereotype-based joke (as with the Lithuanian jealousy example above) but, however, it may have as well been so that the person in question truly holds anti-Semitic beliefs. Nevertheless, those who truly have beliefs against other particular groups tend to be a small minority, according to my own experience, not any larger than in the Western countries.

  5. Fredag hva skjera, I love lithuania, I from Norway. LIthuania WOOOOOOOOOOOOO

  6. In my experience every nation has some people who are very tribal, other people who are a little tribal, and other people who not only are not tribal, they do not care even about their own tribe.

    As to racism, or nationalism, there has been a determined effort by those who won power in WWII to smear every tribe that would like to perpetuate it’s existence and well-being.

    Those people, and their myriad supporters, will always point to a small percentage of people, in any nation, who are either anti-foreign, anti-alien, or can be misconstrued as such, in order to place a kind of taboo sign over the heads of that whole nation.

    My hopes are that those who love their tribe will learn to ignore the smear artists and just continue being who they are – no matter what the cost.

    Life is not for free, it is a fight.

    To fight is heroic, to surrender is sad – very very sad.

    Though I have not a single drop of Lithuanian blood, I wish them well at preserving their identity and sovereignty, as a unique people, stuck in between an aggressive totalitarian West, and a Russia that they will never again be able to trust.

    I do not envy the position of Lithuania, but, this is a bad time for The West, and my country is certainly no exception to this.

    Devils are on the loose, as bad, or worse, as they ever have been before.

    They only changed their faces and addresses.


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