Dec 3 2010
The Banality of Denial
Justinas Žilinskas

I was probably one of the first to have read Stankeras’s article “The Nurnberg War Crimes Tribunal: The Biggest Legal Farce in History.” See, I have a friend who supplies large amounts of interesting information and having found something with the enticing title of “biggest legal farce,” he asked for my opinion immediately. I read it. I was surprised, but not very; the internet is full of this kind and similar kinds of writings, including the gigantic “academic” revisionism web pages.

Neither was I surprised that it was printed in Veidas. The magazine has long disappointed with its history pieces, back when Veidas on the July 6 holiday published a “special project” in its History section which, incidentally, also included a Stankeras article about the onset of World War II, which historian friends [comrade historians] also seriously criticized formally [for its inappropriateness]. That this article about the Nuremberg trials was also Stankeras’s, I still didn’t know (for some reason Veidas doesn’t indicate authorship in the internet versions of its articles [or just in this article?]).

My first opinion was that this was probably a translation from Russian of a text by “black hundreds” or some skinhead text (in terms of style) which made no pretense of hiding its sympathies for Nazi ideology. With the addition, of course, of several examples of [perceived historical] wrongs important to Lithuanians. So I wrote a small comment under the piece, stressing that the author was hopelessly lacking in objectivity, doing so without intending to get involved in deeper discussions. It was obvious to me that this was a case where discussion is doomed to hopelessness from the start.

I did share some of my impressions of the piece a little bit with acquaintances, we shrugged our shoulders. And by the way, a virtual acquaintance from the Veidas editorial office who has since become an active defender of the piece’s “Freedom of Opinion” and of Stankeras, initially shared my misgivings on the quality of the piece.

Right after, a conference on xenophobia and legal methods to control it took place at Vilnius University, which I attended. Listening to one speaker talk about banning “hate crimes,” I remembered the piece [in Veidas], and I presented a question about it to the lecturers who had studied the banning of such crimes in the legal systems of different countries. No one else [at the conference] had read the piece. While listening to the answers, it occurred to me that the bold phrase “the legend of the 6 million supposedly murdered Jews” might not be merely a hate crime, but Holocaust denial.

Later, in correspondence with fellow attorneys, we also considered the piece and more or less agreed that it would be almost impossible to apply Lithuanian criminal code article 170 to the author (whose identity we still did not know). The disposition of criminal code article 170 requires that denial or trivialization be done “in a threatening, aggressive or insulting manner, or that public order is disturbed because of it” (and this phrase was included exactly so that the criminal code wouldn’t hinder “historical discussions). So if, for example, something similar to “blood-sucking Jews” or “Zionists’ conspiracy” had been written, it would be much simpler. Now, insult or aggression has to be judged according to just the word “legend” and the now legendary (excuse the pun) “allegedly.” Which, as one could understand from the claims of Veidas publisher Sarafinas, the editors put in the wrong place. The editors? Does that mean that the word “allegedly” did not occur in Stankeras’s text at all? That’s the idea I get, at least.

In any event, my discussion and consideration of this piece would have ended here with a simply judgment. A biased, worthless publication aimed at creating provocation, especially for Veidas, which still considers itself very serious, although as I noted before, I have harbored no great illusions about some Veidas authors for a long time now. The author’s sympathy [empathy] for the Nazis is obvious to me, and the figure of 6 million didn’t even have to come into it. His accounts of Rudolph Hess, as a peacemaker, of poor oppressed Germany and of how horribly the leaders of Germany were treated at Nuremberg. And barely a word about what Germany and the Nazis themselves did to their victims, and why after all the Nuremberg tribunal descended upon her [made Germany face legal responsibility]. I thought maybe I would throw together a small text in reply about how it was with Nuremberg and its injustices.

But two days later a storm erupted among members of the New Left-95 movement and other people who had been angered after encountering the [Stankeras] piece. They took the matter much more seriously, even calling Veidas editor Sindeikis and publisher Sarafinas. Other writings by Stankeras were dragged out into the light which give the rather clear impression that the topic of Nazi Germany is the subject of more than just academic interest on the author’s part (e.g., an article about the swastika which, according to its title, should explain how the swastika was “compromised,” [twisted to nefarious purposes] but which nowhere else mentions that “compromising.”)

The whole thing progressed like a snowball rolling downhill: the letter from the ambassadors (singed, incidentally, by our closest neighbors, the Estonians and the Poles), [interior minister] Palaitis’s suggestion to Stankeras to resign voluntarily, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s invitation to bring Stankeras to account for Holocaust denial and, of course, the stirring of all [fascist/nationalist website] and other people fighting for racial purity and against civilized, democratic forms of life, their indignation over kowtowing to other countries, their sympathy [empathy] for “innocently guilty” Stankeras, their aversion to the “thought police,” and so on. Meanwhile several fellow attorneys distributed excerpts from at least several European Court of Human Rights cases which recognized that statements similar [to Stankeras’s] are to be treated as Holocaust denial.

And if initially it appeared to me that [interior minister] Palaitis’s actions in regard to Stankeras were rushed and unconsidered, now I think exactly the same thing, but for different reasons. Truly in a democratic state it isn’t appropriate to ask a person who is possible facing legal prosecution to leave their job. The individual is considered innocent until guilt has been proven. What really needed to have been done was to ask the Senior Commission on Public Service Ethics to determine whether Stankeras’s “off work-time” writings were consistent with his job. Now it has come about [in effect] that Palaitis has protected Stankeras from the Senior Commission on Public Service Ethics and has also left Stankeras without the opportunity to sue, for example, if his activity hadn’t been found to be in violation of public service ethics and he was fired for some other reason.

What will happen with a pretrial investigation and its results regarding Stankeras? I think it will be negative, because our article 170 of the criminal code it will be difficult. But to fail to perceive a denial in the infamous piece [by Stankeras] and according to the article of law, as Audrius Baciulis, Ricardas Cekutis and others have tried to claim, is very hard for me to understand overall. That impression was only strengthened by an interview with Stankeras on where he explains it this way: “Read carefully. Any rational, educated person will say that the author is only disputing the scale of the Holocaust in that publication. Perhaps six million Jews were killed. But perhaps ten million Jews. Am I not allowed to dispute this figure? Aren’t there many different versions?” Yes, one can dispute the numbers. But usually there is a different kind of behavior when the numbers are doubted. I think no one would have had big complaints against Stankeras if he had written: “During the Nuremberg process the calculation was first arrived at that Nazi Germany had murdered about 6 million Jews. Later research provided (such and such) numbers.” But to call the universally recognized numbers “legend”—that’s not doubt. You will likely agree that the word “legend” has a certain sense, usually [it is] intended to stress the incredibility or hyperbole of a phenomenon. At least I’ve never heard the metaphor of “legend” used to make the insignificant significant. For example, what would you think if a historian called the participation of Lithuanians at Zalgiris [the Battle of Grunewald] “a legend,” or, for example, this phrase: “In nationalist historiography all possible means are employed to support the legend that ‘forest brothers’ [partisans] allegedly fought Soviet structures”?

If the case goes to court (I think it will), the defense will doubtless clutch to the argument that this is a discussion of the exact number of victims and doesn’t concern the very essence of the phenomenon [doesn’t touch on the Holocaust itself], and likely will claim that such “doubts” are neither aggressive nor insulting. Of course, that’s a bit cleverer than Sarafinas’s hopeless statements that “allegedly” was inserted in the wrong place. By the way, the claim that the quotation is “taken out of context” is being made frequently. But taking the quote in the context of the piece just makes the author’s problems greater, not smaller. As I said before, the piece itself in no way resembles popularized academic material, and, excluding the segment about the “achievements” of the USSR (and this also contained errors: no matter how hard the USSR pushed for the Katyn massacre to be recognized as a crime of the Nazis, the tribunal did not do that), this is more like an emotional collection of revisionist theses. If you want to see how real studies on crimes committed by the allies look, read, for example, British historian Antony [Anthony?] Beevor.

On the other hand, clearly, it would be a shame if, for example, Stankeras were convicted for denial while much more horrid texts of simply atavistic hatred, for example, on the [Lithuanian Nazi website] “forum” were left out there with no attention from law enforcement. As and similar “information sources” will continue to operate. That, incidentally, illustrates yet another problem: the protection of anonymous unpunishability [the problem of prosecuting people for anonymous internet comments?]. Looking over the comments under Stankeras’s piece, it’s clear that there is much more there that is worthy of article 170 than the author’s words. To tell the truth, I don’t even have any illusions that they will be taught anything even if, let’s say, a guilty verdict came down in the Stankeras case. Maybe one or two would bite their tongue. But just bringing a person to account for a comment on the internet is much more complicated than it might seem.

Veidas’s position is completely incomprehensible to me. Both Sindeikis and Sarafinas’s “apologies” are weak, and Sarafinas’s is even pathetic (especially concerning that “allegedly,” a word whose placement doesn’t change the essential meaning). A serious publication would have taken such a controversial and, equally important, clearly unprofessional piece down immediately and put an apology in its place. Even unphilosophic [?] songs say: “Everyone gets a second chance, in order to say ‘sorry’.” This piece has “hung” on the internet until now [even now], as what? As a banner in the battle against “well-organized radicals” (Baciulis’s words on those who were angered [in his “Thought Police” piece on Veidas]? As a monument to freedom of speech? Or simply as a witness to insensitivity to the suffering of others?

And another question come sup here: why? Why, it seems, when curricula are talking about the tragedy of the Holocaust rather seriously, why do those who dream of global conspiracies, who circulate the theory of “double genocide,” always pop up? Is it perhaps because all education on the Holocaust (and other tragedies) is “governmental” [decreed top-down]? Without trying to think about it, without seeing the tragedy of the Jews of Lithuania as our common tragedy? After all one rarely [probably a typo, author means “often”] hears that it was “better” under the German occupation, since the Germans almost didn’t touch the Lithuanians, but the Jews... Those Jews are foreign. Why this is the perception, I think I know, partially. The Germans didn’t change radically the social structure, they “just” destroyed the people they selected, and moreover, they made use of Lithuanians [to do it]. And death, however frightful it is, especially when it doesn’t concern family, is quickly forgotten. Thus I understand, in part, why the Soviet occupation left a deeper trace of horror in the minds of Lithuanians: they had enough time to change everything, no one was left out. And it is only the rare person who realizes that after World War II of the people who had lived in Vilnius were practically no one was left, the majority of them had been killed. I really do get shivers from that, but maybe it’s just me being [too] sensitive.

And—if I consider this completely personally—I don’t believe Stankeras wanted to deny the Holocaust in his piece the way that refined and politically motivated anti-Semites do (e.g., Iranian president Mahmoud Achmadinejad). I think this piece was exactly a pure expression of domestic [everyday] Lithuanian anti-Semitism. I wouldn’t be surprised if the word “legend” had arisen automatically, without reflective thought, without considering its weight. As the traditional Lithuanian reply to all hard questions connected with Jews, their assets and their extermination: “What do those Jews want from us? They didn’t give up Dushansky [Lithuania requested the extradition from Israel of a former Soviet security figure alleged by some Lithuanians to have taken part or ordered the mass murder of a village of Lithuanians; Israel didn’t honor the request], they fraternize with Bolsheviks” and etc. Is this some sort of alleviating circumstance? No, I think it’s just a symptom of the general state of society. And, it seems to me, that’s worse than one individual denier, even if he is very active.

And after all, Stankeras’s writings and his defenders do also again serve pro-Russian (or even pro-Soviet?) forces: Paleckis and his supporters who are talking about an “anti-fascist front.” They will make the Kremlin quite glad.


Poklius 2010-12-03 11:04

Once at school during a history lesson we tried to add up the numbers of victims of the Jewish genocide. We got about 2.6 million. So if I doubt the authenticity of this number, does that mean I need to be punished?

wvaidas 2010-12-03 10:37

A horrible wave arose over a contemptible little article. Clearly the printing of such spam does Veidas no honor, but the reaction to this garbage is too hypertrophied [sic]. Zilinskas is writing the truth, but also (having written this article) he is also contradicting himself. On the one hand, he says the internet is full of candidates for article 170, and on the other, that Stankeras doesn’t merit so much attention. So why is there so much written/analyzed/discussed on a topic that doesn’t matter? Why when Radzvilas publishes his address, or Medalinskas invites [someone] to a forum to discuss truly important questions, there is either no reaction or almost none. And yes on Liaucius’s balvon [?] “hung” on the Green Bridge, or on this garbage, please, the internet is breaking under the burden of the amount of opinions and comments.

slapyvardis 2010-12-03 09:57

it’s interesting whether someone will analyze the “contribution” of the neo-leftist radicals in trying to create another scandal?

Vytautas Barva 2010-12-03 09:45

“By the way, the claim that the quotation is “taken out of context” is being made frequently. But taking the quote in the context of the piece just makes the author’s problems greater, not smaller.” I agree very much with this insight.

St.B. 2010-12-03 08:39

Stankeras has been analyzed exaustively Great! But not enough. I see a provocation dividing Jews against Lithuanians and I see another parallel provocation setting Lithuanians against Jews. I.e. Donskis’s article,where Lithuanians were very insultingly called naphthalic, operetic and other kinds of anti-Semites.and even “sceintifically”determined,that our patriarchs were anti-Semites.Who will analyze Donskis’s behavior?Who of all will stand against the incitement to hatred based on nationalism constantly taking place in our media?P.S.A very similar method with the Russians.As soon as there is an article in Lithuania against Russians then in parallel the same day there is one against Lithuanians in Russia.