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Lithuanian Fascism, Yesterday and Today

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COMMENT: One of the sources for the “Putin the Boogeyman/Russian Aggression” narrative captivating the American and much of the rest of the world’s media has been Lithuania. A former Soviet republic and now a member of the EU and NATO, that Baltic country has seen the resucitation of the Lithuanian Rifleman’s Union, a paramilitary group that lent support to the Nazi occupation.

This is–supposedly–in response to the Russian “threat” of invasion.

Missing from this scenario are a number of critical points of discussion:

  • Lithuania not only collaborated with the Third Reich, but was the second fascist nation in Europe, having followed in Mussolini’s footsteps in 1925.
  • The Lithuanian Rifleman’s Union served as military auxillary to the Nazi combatant forces, participating in the ethnic cleansing that followed the Third Reich’s occupation.
  • Like the OUN/B’s combatant wing the UPA, the Lithuanian Rifleman’s Union continued to wage guerilla warfare against the USSR after the formal conclusion of hostilities, drawing support from the OPC, an element of U.S. intelligence. This is discussed on side A of FTR #777 (excerpted from AFA #1.)
  • Lithuanian fascists found succor within Western intelligence, the CIA in paraticular.
  • Lithuanian fascism was re-introduced into that unfortunate nation as part of the destabilization of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This is discussed on side 1b of AFA #36.
  • The seeds sown during that destabilization have now sprouted, with Lithuania celebrating its Nazi/fascist heritage and generating alarmist propaganda about Russia.

“Russ­ian Threat Sees Rebirth of Lithua­nia Para­mil­i­tary Group” [Agence France-Presse]; Global Post; 9/2/2014.

In thick pine forests hid­den in the remote wilder­ness of east­ern Lithua­nia, young pro­fes­sion­als are ditch­ing their suits and ties for cam­ou­flage gear, and swap­ping iPads for rifles.

These week­end war­riors also proudly wear bracelets with emblems of green fir trees on their wrists, sym­bols of their small Baltic country’s wartime resis­tance against the Soviet Union, which occu­pied it in 1940.

Now, Russia’s takeover of Crimea and increas­ing signs of its involve­ment in Ukraine’s east, cou­pled with sabre rat­tling in its Kalin­ingrad exclave bor­der­ing Lithua­nia, are spark­ing a sharp rise in para­mil­i­tary recruits here.

Like oth­ers in the region, Lithua­nia is call­ing on NATO to put per­ma­nent boots on the ground in the Baltics to ward off any poten­tial threat from their Soviet-era master.

But while they await a deci­sion that could come at a key two-day alliance sum­mit start­ing Thurs­day in Wales, Lithuan­ian civil­ians are lac­ing up their own com­bat boots.

Stu­dents, busi­ness­men, civil ser­vants, jour­nal­ists and even politi­cians are among the hun­dreds who have joined the government-sponsored Lithua­nia Riflemen’s Union, a group first set up in 1919 but banned in 1940 under Soviet rule.

“The Vil­nius unit has tripled in size since the begin­ning of the cri­sis in Ukraine,” says Min­dau­gas Bal­ci­auskas, unit com­man­der of the groupwhich boasts about 7,000 mem­bers in the nation of three mil­lion, a num­ber almost on par with its 7,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel and 4,200 reservists.

– ‘Take up arms’ –

Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite, a karate black belt dubbed Lithuania’s ‘Iron Lady’ for her tough stance on Rus­sia, has also sworn to “take up arms” her­self in the unlikely case Moscow would attack this 2004 NATO and EU mem­ber of three million.

“Being in a para­mil­i­tary unit will give me priv­i­leged access to infor­ma­tion and make me bet­ter pre­pared than those who don’t join,” Arturas Bortke­vi­cius, a 37-year-old finance spe­cial­ist, told AFP, adding that he wants to learn the skills he needs to defend his coun­try and family.

Mem­bers spend week­ends on manoeu­vres deep in the woods or at a mil­i­tary train­ing range in Pabrade, north of the cap­i­tal Vilnius.

Lib­eral MP Remigi­jus Sima­sius says that while his place “would be in par­lia­ment” given a cri­sis, he joined the rifle­men in the wake of Russia’s Crimea land grab in the hope of encour­ag­ing oth­ers to fol­low suit.

Even some Lithua­ni­ans with Russ­ian roots have joined up amid the Ukraine crisis.

“I’m a Lithuan­ian cit­i­zen of Russ­ian ori­gin. I am who I am, and I am Lithuan­ian patriot,” pho­tog­ra­pher Vladimi­ras Ivanovas, 40, who also joined up, told AFP.

– Check­ered past –

The Rifleman’s Union “has left an indeli­ble mark on the his­tory of Lithua­nia,” says his­to­rian Arvy­das Anusauskas.

It was cre­ated after World War I in 1919 dur­ing a series of “Wars of Inde­pen­dence” fought by Lithua­ni­ans in 1918–1920 against Russ­ian Bol­she­viks, mixed Russ­ian and Ger­man forces and Poles.

Aside from Lithua­ni­ans, from 1919–1940 research shows its mem­bers also included Russ­ian, Poles, Jews and even Chi­nese, reflect­ing the eth­nic com­plex­ity of and ten­sions in the region.

Its rep­u­ta­tion is how­ever tainted by alle­ga­tions that cer­tain mem­bers were involved in a series of Nazi mas­sacres between 1940–44 that claimed the lives of an esti­mated 80,000–100,000 Jews, Poles and Rus­sians in Panierai, a sub­urb skirt­ing the cap­i­tal Vilnius.

The Riflemen’s Union was banned in 1940 by the Soviet Union when the Red Army swept in from the east to occupy Lithua­nia dur­ing World War II, but mem­bers fought a guerilla war against the Sovi­ets until the early 1950s.

Its revival in 1989 came as the Soviet bloc began to crum­ble and now its large new crop of mem­bers say they are will­ing to fight again should their coun­try come under attack.



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