They could take it when we were accepted into NATO and even when Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė described Russia as a terrorist, the reaction was less hysterical. Things were very different with the release of a short NATO video about Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian post-war resistance fighters.
That’s because it is significantly more frightening than Leopard tanks with Bundeswehr crosses in the Gaižiūnai practice range – NATO allies from Western Europe and the USA, as do the Baltics, understand the dark and bloody history of the XX c. the same.
There was a time when it appeared that history ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the the Soviet Union’s dissolution, while looking back at the past was a great discourtesy which insulted those whose forefathers had ended up on the wrong side, chose mistakenly or were tricked. It was impolite to demand a condemnation of Soviet war crimes because it made Europeans feel uncomfortable, having sympathised with local communist parties up until the end of the Cold War, having built barricades under Marxist and Maoist slogans in their youth.
We entered NATO and the EU, but up until the events in Ukraine in 2014, no-one seriously considered that the Baltic States would have need of any sort of defending. The expectation was that globalisation and the free market will transform former KGB colonels into law abiding businessmen and grannies with Stalin portraits above their beds – into a part of consumer society. But such a war appeared unimaginable in Europe, thus the Allies’ commitment to “die for Narva” was as if insuring a tourist home in Mikabaliai from a volcanic eruption.
The West should have understood earlier that the old myths did not disappear anywhere. Not in the Middle East, where the destruction of the Israeli state is the life goal of extremists who will accept no attempt to broker a peaceful solution. Neither in Russia, which has fostered its peoples’ hatred for the values of liberal democracy since Vladimir Putin came to power.
By announcing the annexation of Crimea, V. Putin spoke of neither its citizens’ civil rights or their future welfare. The basis of the conquest was a myth about duke Vladimir’s christening in Cherson, close to Sevastopol. The same one used by Imperial Russia in the 19th century to justify its pretences at Crimea, by building the St. Vladimir the Baptist’s Cathedral on top of the foundation of the Holy Mother’s Birth Cathedral.
The most important myth of the Great Patriotic War, which presents the Soviet Union as a country which enacted an exceptional mission to defeat absolute evil – fascism, could not coexist with knowledge of the Ribentropp-Molotov deal and cooperation with the Nazis in the occupation of Poland and the Baltics.
All this clowning about of pseudo-veterans and dressing kindergarteners in World War II infantry uniforms was timed alongside Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine for a reason. Announcing itself the inheritor of the Soviet Union, Russia also inherited the myth of fighting new forms of the ever resurrecting fascism.
Anyone who the Kremlin desires can be called a fascist – Western oriented Ukrainian politicians from the Right Sector to the moderate liberal parties, human rights observers in Russia itself and even Israel when it dares obstruct Russian ally Bashar Al-Assad. Of course the Baltic States as well, where legions of unbeaten SS veterans march in the streets and Russian speaking minorities are tortured by being forced to learn the local languages.
For a long time Russia managed to maintain its image as a country which defeated fascism and is worthy of respect for exactly that, avoiding memories of comradery with Adolf Hitler at the start of World War II. We would give the Kremlin propaganda opportunities ourselves to present Lithuanians as a Jew killing nation, did not know how to communicate our freedom fighting history in an appealing manner to the West.
The brief film about the Baltic States’ “forest brothers” which was distributed by NATO in social media is a symbol of a paradigm shift in the West that Russia is most afraid of. If our resistance fighters take their rightful place in Western historical memory alongside US independence fighters, the French resistance and the sacrifice of the Donetsk Airport “cyborgs”, we will become understandable and familiar to every American or Norwegian sent to serve in the rapid reaction taskforces and among decision makers in NATO headquarters. It is a clear sign that we will never be left to fight and die alone in our forests.
The propaganda campaign that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ has started against our resistance fighters, which was quickly opposed on Facebook by thousands of Lithuanians of all political leanings and was soon also joined by Ukrainians, was no spontaneous outburst. It is the conclusive struggle for the minds of millions, upon losing which the Kremlin can forget any hopes of employing the hybrid warfare methods tested in Crimea.