German historian evaluates R. Vanagaitė’s statements – there is a way forward

Dr. Christoph Dieckmann
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Writer Rūta Vanagaitė did not incite and encourage hatred or publically urge to kill. Instead of demonising her and segregating, instead we should find out whether R. Vanagaitė made use of sources by historiographically suitable means.

Such is the position held by famous German historian dr. Christoph Dieckmann. C. Dieckmann who works at the Fritz Bauer Institute at Frankfurt am Main, wrote the foundational piece German Occupation Policy in Lithuania 1941-1944.

C. Dieckmann has heard of the uproar caused by R. Vanagaitė’s statements about Lithuanian officer, resistance leader Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas. R. Vanagaitė declared that supposedly the resistance leader was a KGB agent and the director of the Jerusalem Simon Wiesenthal Centre Efraim Zuroff has supposedly even gathered documents about Jewish massacres.

R. Vanagaitė has been met with universal condemnation and the publishing house Alma Littera announced on Friday it has decided to terminate cooperation with R. Vanagaitė and will be removing all her books from sale. The publishing house has also distanced itself from any statements made by R. Vanagaitė.

“She did not incite and encourage hatred, did not publically urge to kill. No. She simply publicised documents from the Soviet secret police Lithuanian archives regarding a famous anti-Soviet resistance fighter. Those who disagree with her interpretation appeared, assuring that the sources she is using are untrustworthy and should not be trusted.

In essence this is an absolutely normal public and historiographical discussion, a part of democratic public life. Instead of demonising and segregating R. Vanagaitė, we should instead find out whether she made use of the sources by historiographically suitable means. This is exactly how we should act regarding any provocative statement based on historical sources.

How should we respond regarding German secret police statements from the nazi era? How should we evaluate the interwar Lithuanian “security police” statements? After all we would not take them for granted naively, just as we would not ignore them, in confidence that they distort the historical truth. No, we would evaluate them as any other historical source: we would analyse them based on available means and would discuss transparently and listening to one another in respect. The same should be done regarding the Soviet secret police sources.

Prohibition and demonization is not and cannot be the right way forward – only civic and open discussion,” C. Dieckmann said in his comment to Delfi, noting that sometimes history becomes a battlefield, or perhaps more precisely, memory does.

“What we know about the past, how we reconstruct events, how we analyse and interpret knowledge we have about the past in all cases is always a question of the chosen perspective and choices. Today everyone understands that there is no and cannot be any such thing as absolute truth, there is no incontestable objective historical truth which we supposedly must find. If you wish to adequately understand the past and its significance for the present, the best way forward is to discuss historical questions while making use of the best available means of analysis,” the historian stated.

According to C. Dieckmann, we should make use of all available sources, consult them a hundred times, review them a hundred times, make use of historiographical method and finally present the results with as much transparency as possible. The historian explains that the results of such open, democratic and scientifically controlled discussion is important in that one can hope that all involved will come to an understanding of not only the past, but also the present.

“The most unsuitable way would be to make use of the instruments of medieval religious persecution or borrow them from contemporary totalitarian regimes, in other words to use excommunication, various prohibitions or censorship.

With the opportunity to live in the European Union, must we really choose between open discussion and demonization and force? Unfortunately it is clear that the answer is yes, which is proven by the decision to pull R. Vanagaitė’s books from the bookshelves,” the author of the book German Occupation Policy in Lithuania 1941-1944 said.

Delfi reminds that on Sunday evening, R. Vanagaitė released a letter in which she states she did not want to throw any accusations toward this “very tragic personality.”

“If the questions I had regarding A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas in public sounded like accusations toward this very tragic personality, I certainly did not wish for that. I am unsure whether Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas is a hero, a martyr or simply a man broken by circumstance. Or perhaps all things at once,” R. Vanagaitė said.

About Mindaugas Jackevicius 29 Articles
Būti žurnalistu norėjau nuo 6 klasės. 2008 m. baigiau žurnalistikos studijas Vilniaus universitete, DELFI dirbu nuo 2007 m. Rašau politikos, žmogaus teisių, emigracijos, švietimo, žiniasklaidos temomis. 2014 m. pasiryžau nuotykiui ir pusmečiui emigravau į Australiją. Lietuvišką žiemą iškeitęs į Sidnėjaus paplūdimius, studijavau koledže ir paragavau padavėjo duonos. Būdamas Australijoje supratau, ką iš tikro reiškia būti emigrantu, ir tokią patirtį rekomenduoju kiekvienam.
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