Partisan leader Ramanauskas-Vanagas buried amidst fanfare | True Lithuania
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Partisan leader Ramanauskas-Vanagas buried amidst fanfare

2018 10 06. Amidst one of the biggest state funerals in Lithuania, the leader of Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas has been buried in Vilnius today. Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas was effectively the leader of the Lithuanian partisan movement since 1951.

While Ramanauskas-Vanagas was tortured, mutilated and then murdered by Soviets back in 1957, Soviets buried him in an unmarked grave so he would never become a target for reverence. The Soviets have failed, however, as this year the remains were located and identified using modern technologies and DNA testing. They were now reburied in a much more respected location.

Troops leads Vanagas's coffin in Antakalnio street

Troops leads Vanagas's coffin in Antakalnio street

The funeral took two days, with Ramanauskas-Vanagas coffin being held in St. Johns church the first day. Then, on Saturday, a Holy Mass was held in Vilnius Cathedral followed by a funerary procession to Antakalnis Cemetery where several thousand soldiers, priests, and ordinary people have participated.

In a graveside speech today, president of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė has also condemned all the ongoing attempts to smear the Lithuanian freedom fighters and expressed her gladness that so many people came and, with their numbers, proved that they understand the Lithuanian freedom fighters for who they were - fighters against the occupation of Lithuania.

The mass of people that follows the coffin

The mass of people that follows the coffin

The "fight for the memory of partisans" explained

The main story that influenced this Grybauskaitė's remark was that of controversial writer's Rūta Vanagaitė's accusations earlier this year that Ramanauskas-Vanagas was collaborating with the Soviet regime (she attacked many other Lithuanian freedom fighters in a similar fashion). Such accusations drew a widespread condemnation from public figures and historians alike as completely unfounded - however, there were similar attacks against other Lithuanian key partisans as well.

How could these smear-campaigns against partisan leaders be happening at all though? There are numerous reasons.

1.Forged Soviet documents and false-flag attacks

Firstly, the Soviet Union was inclined to portray Lithuanian pro-freedom activist leaders as collaborators with either Nazi German regime or the Soviet regime itself, that way casting a doubt among Lithuanians and others in these partisans. This way, they hoped to make Lithuanians less likely to support the guerrilla war. In order to achieve this, the Soviet Union used to fabricate documents and disseminate them locally and abroad, sponsor false-flag operations in Lithuanian villages and report their own atrocities as partisans'. Some of these Soviet documents and reports about such operations are still used as a basis for conclusions, especially by people who are not historians and are not knowledgeable in KGB/NKVD methods, and especially by foreigners.

Such forged KGB/NKVD documents and actions would typically "assign" things such as betrayal of Lithuania, war crimes, murders of civilians to the partisan leaders.

Vanagas's coffin is taken off from the artillery trailer

Vanagas's coffin is taken off from the artillery trailer

2.Seeing the entire World War 2 through a Western-Front lens

Secondly, some Westerners, many Russians, and Israelis have an oversimplified view of World War 2 as a conflict between "Good" (Allies) and "Evil" (Axis), with no third factions. This belief, however, is based solely on the Western Front situation, where independent nations fought against the onslaught of Nazi Germany.

In Central-Eastern Europe, however, Lithuanians and many other once-independent nations were essentially caught between two foreign genocidal occupational totalitarian regimes, representing both the Axis (Nazi Germany) and the Allies (Soviet Union). An underground third-force, therefore, arose in Central-Eastern Europe, opposing both invaders and seeking to restore their own independent countries as they were before World War 2. Lithuanian partisans were that third force in Lithuania.

Those who over-simplify World War 2 into a war between two global alliances, however, typically "assign" the entire movements of Central-Eastern Europe's pro-freedom partisans to either the Soviet or Nazi German regimes, depending on whom-for their actions were supposedly more convenient at a given time. In Russia, for instance, all those who fought against the Soviet Union are typically equated to fighters of Nazi Germany ("fascists"), that way positioning the Soviet Union as a "just liberator" of Eastern Europe - a notion fervently denied in nearly every Eastern European country. In Eastern Europe and on the whole, the Soviet Union was more deadly regime than Nazi Germany (Ukraine's Holodomor alone killed 7 million, for example) - therefore, in the view of most locals, it is just as illogical to see the Soviet Union as having been "good" because it was allied with a democratic USA or UK, as it would be illogical to claim Nazi Germany was good because it was allied with a democratic Finland. Moreover, such notions are seen as greatly disrespectful for the victims of the Soviet regime (as they regard their lives as less important than those of Nazi Germany's victims) and, in turn, a kind of "hate speech" against the entire ethnic and religious groups targetted in the Soviet genocides.

The prominence of such over-simplification of World War 2 Eastern European theater is because of three main factors:
a)Naturally, humans subconsciously see the victims and events of their own nation, city, family as more important than those of others. As such, the nations that lost the much more from the Nazi actions in comparison to Soviet actions (Jews, French, British) tend to concentrate their history research on the Nazi crimes and care less about the Soviet crimes. The evils of the Soviet crimes and genocides may even be subconsciously compensated to them by the fact that Soviets also fought against the Nazis, whose crimes and genocides "touched more directly" and thus seemed as worse. However, the beliefs that essentially claim that "Central-Eastern European partisans should not have fought for their lives and freedom, because that may have made a fight for our freedom somewhat harder" themselves are effectively ultra-nationalist. It is understandable to subjectively remember "one's own" victims the most (e.g. by building memorials in the cities where their relatives still live), however, if we treat all human lives as equal, it is illogical to see some lives and victims to have been objectively more important solely due to their nationality, ethnicity, place-of-abode or religion (or the nationality, ethnicity or religion of their killer).
b)For decades, Central-Eastern European historians were heavily censored behind the Iron Curtain and were not able to present their own histories to the Western audiences. Even today, the limitations of language-knowledge and lack of networks often preclude them from this. As such, the history of Eastern Europe (as it still exists in the popular conscience of the wider world) was written by people who lived far away from the region.
c)Simpler versions of history and science are generally more popular than more complex explanations.

Still, despite a clear need for that, there are few coordinated efforts by the Central/Eastern European nations to teach the rest of the world more about the role of Soviet Union in the Central/Eastern Europe of 1930s-1950s and during World War 2, leading the old misconceptions to persist. Arguably, today that situation is even lesser known in the West than 30 years ago, when the Cold War still raged on and the Soviet Union was widely presented as an "Evil Empire".

It should be noted that when the term "collaborator" is applied to a Lithuanian partisan in this sense, it does not mean somebody who participated in a genocide or war crimes - rather, it means that somebody fought against one totalitarian regime at the same time as the other totalitarian regime did. Such claims of collaboration are based on this logical fallacy of undistributed middle:
Nazis fought against the Soviets
Lithuanian partisans fought against the Soviets
Therefore, Lithuanian partisans are Nazis.

The burial place of Vanagas

The burial place of Vanagas

3.Increased Russian influence

Thirdly, for a decade or more after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was pretty much on the sidelines of the global sources of information, abandoning any influence in the non-nearby foreign countries the Soviet Union once had. These days, however, Russia took an active role again to disseminate its beliefs to the entire world, establishing English-language media and using other means.

To Russia, the smearing of pro-freedom partisans of Central-Eastern Europe is important, as it helps to equally smear the modern campaigners against the Russian influence in the region. The conflict where that was used the most spectacularly was the War in Ukraine, where Russians regularly claimed that they are fighting "fascists" in Ukraine because Ukrainians would honor their own World-War-2-era pro-freedom partisans, regarded by Russia to have been fascists.

Sometimes, including during the Ukraine war, Western media reprints these Russian allegations inadvertently: not knowing the background of the situation themselves, Western journalists often just "present both viewpoints", giving half of the space to the Russian "viewpoint", believing that means they have written a neutral article. However, as Russian claims are often based on purposefully fabricated falsehoods, the mere fact that they are treated as "legitimate claims" alone is useful for Russia, as that puts them on an equal basis with what Russia says are "Lithuanian claims" or "Ukrainian claims" or, often, "fascist claims".

Just like during the partisan wars of the 1940s-1950s themselves, such allegations are useful for Russia in helping to erode support for its opponents in Central-Eastern Europe as, when doubt is raised, many "outsiders" choose not to support factions that "could be fascist" and put their effort elsewhere.

4.A change in generations

Fourthly, the generation that remembers Lithuania's doomed fight for freedom in the 1940s and 1950s is now passing away. Previously, whenever an unfounded attack was made, witnesses would soon come and explain the reality, while today Lithuania has fewer and fewer witnesses with each year. Accusations and misinterpretations thus fall on the ears of people who just heard those stories from their grandparents, at best (however, even that is unlikely for many Lithuanians as most of the partisans were killed and those who survived often feared to tell their stories well until the 1990s). Some of them have formed their own opinions based on foreign (e.g. Russian) media rather than on the local "collective memory".

Therefore, it is possible that these days are crucial as they will determine what history will be written about the Lithuanian partisans and how will they be seen by those who never will be able to meet them and talk to them. The grand funeral of Ramanauskas-Vanagas may thus be seen as part of that "fight to liberate Lithuanian history", and that's likely one of the reasons why so many people came to Ramanauskas-Vanagas funeral.

What is the difference between the smear campaigns and real investigations?

Just like in any military force, there have indeed been some Lithuanian partisans who collaborated with the occupational regimes or betrayed their own colleagues. With so much time passed, however, many of these traitors are already well-known. There are Lithuanian institutions specifically established to investigate the resistance, occupations, and genocide, to compile the lists of both victims and perpetrators, and these institutions continue that work for decades.

What makes these smear campaigns different from actual investigations is that they are often based on the same well-known-to-researchers documents and facts, essentially putting a media spin on them so it would seem that they prove something which they don't prove. As a side note, they usually disproportionally target key well-respected partisans, that way attempting to discredit the entire partisan movement and attract attention, whereas the real collaborators were generally much lower in rank.

Real investigations, on the other hand, could only be triggered by uncovering a new, previously-unknown document by a researcher that would genuinely show some partisan (or any other person for that matter) in a new light.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Excellent article
    Thank you
    Ed Mertz
    North Carolina

  2. Thanks so much for an explanation that I’ve been seeking for awhile now.

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