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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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