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.


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