Journalist V. Savukynas arranged a discussion on “Aktualijų Studija” regarding the reaction, mainly on social networks, to the organised June 5th youth protest against racism in support of the like-minded in the now out-of-virus feverish U.S. Mečys Laurinkus writes in lrytas.lt
I am not going to comment in detail on the thoughts expressed in the discussions, although in the cohesive and meaningful speeches of the participants, I heard many useful insights that help to understand modern Lithuanian society. Others may be surprised by the protest itself and that it is not just an act of solidarity with peaceful protesters in the United States; the problem of racism is also relevant in Lithuania.
A. Armonaitė, the chairman of the Freedom Party and Member of the Seimas, who took part in the protest together with young people, writes: “It is simply the racial hatred that exists in our society, which flows freely on social networks.”
I asked: what does such a saying mean? If what is written is correct, there is a concern. For me personally, there is no such problem and never has been. I was born and raised, albeit under special circumstances, in the Soviet era, where children of different skin colour from the school bench danced and sang in propaganda publications or on one “truth” television.
The all-black colour with curly bristles and glowing eyes was a lovely exotic. I remember an incident in Palanga when a young French teacher rushed to speak French, at least once in her life, with an Algerian who appeared on the bridge; and the local authorities who accompanied him did not allow anyone close to the guest.
Lithuania, except for the shocking facts of the Holocaust (a historical exception), has never been racist or xenophobic. There was no ideology that spread racist ideas, although in the 20th century in early Western Europe and even beyond the lagoon, it became a favourite topic among those who ruled the quill. The famous industrialist H. Ford published his essay “Jewish of the World”. Hitler’s Mein Kampf was translated into eleven languages and distributed in huge numbers. A popular gift for a birthday.
I do not know the course of this “virus” in the Klaipėda region, although there are many people greeting Hitler in Memel in old photos. However, in the broader Lithuanian region, psychological racist ideas did not fascinate the population.
When I twice became the head of the Department of Homeland Security after the Sąjūdis revolution, where various functions included gathering and analysing information about social processes, reports describing obvious and potentially disturbing acts of racism were published. Except for the occasional Nazi scrawl under a bridge, there was no need to emphasise individual cases that have no real basis in reality.
And what about now? Has anything changed in society? Did xenophobic moods exist but we didn’t want to notice them? Living circumstances are changing, so are people, but there are attitudes in our society that have been constant since ancient times, perhaps even inherited, and that will not change in the future.
At the political-institutional level, there has never been a problem of racism in Lithuania, of course, it is not now and one hundred per cent will not appear in the future. At the household level, let’s say that jokes about Chukchi can happen in any way, but individual excesses will not become a phenomenon. “Racist” remarks or texts close to them in social networks can also be attributed to the household level, which A. Armonaitė speaks about as a warning.
This does not mean that such texts need to be looked through, but the “thoughts” produced in the virtual world do not reflect the reality of human relationships. In fact, I was a little surprised by the harsh reaction of the Lithuanian police to the youth protest against a rather noble goal — against racism. In my opinion, it would have been enough to publicly demand to remove a poster that offended a police authority. Social processes are a complex phenomenon, requiring a considered decision in each case.
It is worth forecasting what awaits in the future. Processes of a similar nature may have to be encountered more than once. Furthermore, it is completely unclear when the current eruption from the US to Europe will end and what the impact will be (if any).
Vilnius is unsure about the monument to P. Cvirka, who wrote “inspired “gratitude to the Soviet government and Stalin in the days when dozens of wagons with Lithuanians travelled to Siberia. Meanwhile, in the transatlantic, union monuments of historical figures related to racism are being thrown to the ocean. For example, monuments to Christopher Columbus and W. Churchill are also receiving criticism for racist notions and being defaced as a result.
What happened in the US can best be commented on by those living there, but even well-known political scientists and experts seem confused. Conspiracy theories flourish.
There are those who believe that this is a coup d’ état using the technology of “chaos”. There are also episodes well recognisable to Lithuania from recent history — to occupy local government (USA) buildings and to make political statements from the stands. There are those who argue, and not without reason, that the ultimate goal is to confront power structures, first and foremost the police, with a society that would rise to revolution without the violence of “government”.
Revolutions always have their own heroes and martyrs. Floyd, who died as a result of the police’s cruel and reprehensible conduct in all respects, was almost canonised, even though he had used drugs and was convicted. He is already a superhero for teenagers. A very dangerous turn.
Lithuania will not be able to stay on the side-lines. It was rightly said in the discussion organised by V. Savukynas: Lithuanian youth already live in the world, and not only in a closed agrarian community. The only right way is to have and disseminate verified information to the public and not be afraid of debate.