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2019.08.23 14:00

Following protests, supporters of Jonas Noreika to hang new plaque in Vilnius

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Vaidotas Beniušis, BNS, LRT.lt2019.08.23 14:00

Supporters of Jonas Noreika, a controversial Lithuanian military officer known as Generolas Vėtra (General Storm), plan in early September to install a new plaque to honour him. The old one was removed from the facade of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius in July, leading to protests.

Jonas Burokas, chairman of the Lithuanian Union of Freedom Fighters, told BNS they had planned to put the plaque back on Friday on the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, but it was not produced in time.

"We hope it will be done in early September. It would have been symbolic [...] but we had to postpone. Maybe more young people and students will come," Burokas said.

The new bronze plaque is now being produced and, differently from the old one, it will contain an inscription that Noreika was a prisoner of the Nazi concentration camp in Stutthof, according to Burokas.

The controversial plaque to Noreika, which was in place for more than two decades, was removed in late July following the initiative of Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius. He said he made the decision due to Noreika, the head of Šiauliai County during the Nazi occupation, signing documents establishing a Jewish ghetto and expropriating Jewish property.

Read more: Accusations against Noreika are ‘outrageous’, but we shouldn’t ‘heroize controversial figures’ – experts

Jūras Banys, president, of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, does not support the initiative, saying that the organizers should '"take the legal way" and turn to the municipal commission making decisions on names and memorial plaques. They could also turn to court over Šimašius' decision, he added.

"When someone wants to hang something that's been removed, it leads to chaos. I am in favour of [...] taking the legal way," Banys told BNS.

Read more: Protest in Vilnius against mayor's memory policies draws several hundred demonstrators

Members of the Lithuanian Jewish community have for some time demanded the removal of the plaque honoring Noreika, who they see as a Nazi collaborator.

However, Noreika supporters claim he was a resistence fighter who had to make difficult decisions that cannot be judged in hindsight, and point to the fact that he fought both against the Soviets and the Nazis, and was later imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.

Read more: Lithuania's Jewish community divided over response to historical commemoration debate

In April, the plaque to Noreika was smashed with a hammer by Stanislovas Tomas who unsuccessfully tried to run for the European Parliament. It was later reassembled, and put back on the wall, and the municipality's representatives vowed to consult historians.

Read more: President calls for pause ‘on erasing historic memory’ amidst controversy over Vilnius memorials

In 1997, Noreika was posthumously awarded a 1st degree order of the Cross of Vytis.