The cost of R. Vanagaitė’s love

Indrė Makaraitytė
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

The day when the publishing house decided to have nothing more in common with Rūta Vanagaitė, I met with Efraim Zuroff. The only question I was interested in was what the documents being taken to Seimas contained, about which he spoke with members of Seimas for several hours trying to prove that A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas was not worthy of being called a hero.

E. Zuroff passed me three pieces of paper. It was an article from the website Defending History. In English. Its author – Evaldas Balčiūnas. And here are a few sentences from E. Balčiūnas’ article.

“Either way, there is still one more source which proves A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas was one of the resistance leaders and this source is his memoirs, A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas. Daugel krito sūnų [Ramanauskas-Vanagas: Many Sons Fell], Vilnius 1991.”

A. Ramanauskas wrote about how he led a resistance group nearby Druskininkai and in the city itself.

E. Balčiūnas makes the assumption that it appears to be the truth. “However his [A. Ramanauskas’] statements that he was unarmed are dubious, something that displays efforts to avoid accountability. A tale of unarmed rebels is something unbelievable. Meanwhile the Genocide Research Centre takes this as true. Of course if he was unarmed, he could not have participated in the killing of Jews. Much time has passed and likely it was hoped that no proof will remain that A. Ramanauskas had a weapon at the time.”

Who is this E. Balčiūnas, whose articles E. Zuroff presented to politicians as evidence? There is little information about this individual: a public figure in Šiauliai city, briefly a Social Democrat Party city council member. If this is the same person we are talking about, he has article published on the portal, for example about trips down the Venta River. He has also shared his experience as a beggar, not sparing advice on what to do so the homeless do not defecate wherever they may end up and would not bathe in fountains.

Perhaps this is not a bad individual, but he has little to do with academic research and its reliability. E. Zuroff does not share publically the memoirs and diary or KGB interrogator Nachman Dushanski, with whom he spoke much and who is mentioned by Arvydas Anušauskas.

However after spending a few hours waving about E. Balčiūnas’ article in front of Seimas newcomers, E. Zuroff announces on his social media profiles that A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas cannot be declared a hero of Lithuania.

Fake news.

We can say this in Lithuania. We do say it. Just no-one hears us because the hero of this painful scandal is still Rūta Vanagaitė and her books. Supposedly this is just advertising for her book, only because of this she spoke of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas’ links to the KGB. Meanwhile E. Zuroff is being left aside. And this confuses because it does not reveal the whole context.

Let’s be fair to at least ourselves – if R. Vanagaitė had presented her book about personal experiences without her new partner and without E. Zuroff’s demarche in the Seimas with that worthless article, I am almost certain that the accusations toward A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas would have been made far less meaningful.

But when KGB torture, Holocaust madness, E. Zuroff’s radical view of Lithuania and the legend and memory of the resistance leader were thrown into one pot, the cocktail exploded.

Exploded and opened a great deal up.

The topic of the Holocaust returned with strength and we are unprepared for it. Great tensions await us regarding this question. Tensions await with any historical question because the Homeland Union stands at the forefront of defending the tragic personality and sacrifice of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas, but the party is not united when Kazys Škirpa’s actions need to be evaluated. No-one else speaks up regarding these questions because they do not know what to say. Along the lines of yes, I believe, no, I don’t believe. If I say that I stand on one side today, tomorrow I’ll be accused I did not take that side.

People who condemn R. Vanagaitė today for such a cynical attempt at PR via prattle about torture that A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas experienced, admit that her book Mūsiškiai broke ice and was perhaps the catalyst for the march in Molėtai where people walked hand in hand along the path walked by Jews being taken to be shot. In that segment which was not reached by the work of historians, of which there is a great deal, but which is too difficult and uninteresting to the mass audience, R. Vanagaitė’s book caused shock and for many – repentance. If not for Lithuanian participation in the Holocaust, then at least for not knowing and dismissing.

But Holocaust questions have not been answered, the brightest minds of Lithuania see and admit this, while those who want ill upon Lithuania know this. Know that this act by R. Vanagaitė and E. Zuroff will cause a new wave of antisemitism, to which the West is very sensitive and this sensitivity is well used by the Kremlin’s jackals.

Another important issue revealed by the explosion is that R. Vanagaitė is the new pair of hands for E. Zuroff here in Lithuania. In Lithuania R. Vanagaitė presents herself as the author of the book Mūsiškiai. In foreign news media, for foreign audiences, when Mūsiškiai appeared, E. Zuroff was presented as the book’s co-author. This book is not only important to E. Zuroff because he is its co-author. He clearly states how important to him the role of R. Vanagaitė is in his work.

“My voice [about Lithuania] was heard in world news media, but no-one wanted to hear me in Lithuania where I was portrayed as an enemy. A person such as Rūta was needed for me to regain this voice,” E. Zuroff said. Because supposedly as per the February 2016 article in The Time of Israel, until R. Vanagaitė’s book appeared, there were no talks about the Holocaust in Lithuania and E. Zuroff became Lithuania’s enemy due to criticising the Lithuanian government, that there is so far none convicted here for killing Jews.

The aforementioned article contains one more piece of information which is important for overall understanding of what is happening.

R. Vanagaitė herself says about the uproar caused by Mūsiškiai that the Holocaust is a sort of taboo topic in Lithuania, if you take interest in it, you are either Jewish or a Russian intelligence agent. Dovydas Katzas who was also spoken to for the article stresses that Lithuania is the only state in Europe where Soviet crimes are viewed as equal to ethnic genocide, commemorations of genocide victims are a more important event here than commemorating holocaust victims and up to 2011, the Genocide Victims Museum had no mention of the Jewish genocide in Lithuania.

It is very important, the article notes, that the massacres of Jews are being talked about by a Lithuanian from a good Lithuanian family. This leitmotif is important to E. Zuroff, it is his phrase. Now it is also important that R. Vanagaitė talks about a lack of democracy in Lithuania for foreign news media and foreign audiences, that there are taboo topics here, which you cannot question heroes and that raising questions about the potential participation in massacres and cooperation with the KGB by a partisan leader destroyed her books.

That’s the broad context. And to not get lost in this context, so we know what is happening, it is likely most important to understand whether E. Zuroff works here in Lithuania through R. Vanagaitė’s hands as an individual who needs to find a new object for work because he cares about Holocaust matters and identifying those responsible for massacres or is this a part of a scheme directed against Lithuania after all? Because the Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem that he leads is an NGO. It is important to E. Zuroff to find niches for his work.

Truth be told, this is likely one of the most important questions. And emotional statements, denouncements, opinions for and against the publisher’s position to halt cooperation with R. Vanagaitė and cease using her books are no longer enough here.

But this is what we’re getting. Another dose of emotional rhetoric.

The Lithuanian military strategic communication analyst is outraged in an interview that R. Vanagaitė stands at the forefront of information war because when you have scandalous information about A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas, you should go to the prosecutor, not the Seimas. I can just imagine Andrius Tapinas, journalists Tomas Janonis or Mindaugas Jackevičius, or those journalists who wrote about MP Artūras Skardžius’ links to the Belarussians, primarily going to the prosecutors. You can only talk this way when you do not understand how news are born, even scandalous ones, whether analysts want it or not and when a person finds material, they write an article or book and only then it depends on the strength of their argument, whether their truth holds up or fails.

When a strategic communications analyst fails to understand this, everything is lessened. Information and knowledge of E. Zuroff’s links to the Russian intelligence agencies. Yes, there is information about such links, but the strategic communications analyst once again scattered a number of emotional musings.

“The organisation World Without Nazism is strongly supported by Russia. Of course it is not our competence to review these links – whether they are linked to any Russian secret services or not, but various questions could arise. Everyone makes their own conclusions and when you know the Russian KGB and its successors’ operational methods, I personally have few questions.”

I personally do have questions because such an important topic as Russian propaganda and working against Lithuania is brought into the personal experiences of the strategic communications analyst. Because equally personally E. Zuroff can easily shed this accusation. In 2010 he contributed to the founding of the Kremlin initiated organisation World Without Nazism intended to fight not just the remnants of “fascist movements” in the world, particularly in countries neighbouring Russia, but also defend the rights of Russian speakers in the Baltic States. However in a 2015 interview he admits that he withdrew from the organisation because he understood that the organisation was intended to further Russia’s political aims and states that Vladimir Putin needed it to be understood as a Jewish NGO.

Did E. Zuroff actually end his connections with World Without Nazism? Or is he still cooperating with the organisation and participates in its attacks on the Baltic States and Ukraine? And if World Without Nazism E. Zuroff’s only link to Russian intelligence agencies?

If the emotional statements by the analyst are what we have and know about E. Zuroff today and she isn’t just speaking because she simply wanted to appear in news media, then our minds will be left in chaos by just about anyone fur a long time. Even if it is actually just PR for a new book.

There were so many emotions that we are near drowning in them. We should just get back to work and cease politicking. Applies to the Conservatives as well.

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