2019.09.06 10:23

Protesters reinstall controversial Noreika plaque in Vilnius

Jonas Kisielius, Jūratė Skėrytė, BNS2019.09.06 10:23

Supporters of Jonas Noreika, a controversial Lithuanian military officer known as Generolas Vėtra (General Storm), on Thursday night reinstalled the memorial plaque, which was removed in late July following the initiative of Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius.

Several hundred people who observed the unveiling sang patriotic and partisan songs. Differently from the old one, the new plaque features an inscription that Noreika was a prisoner of the Nazi concentration camp in Stutthof and was executed on February 26, 1947.

Jonas Burokas, the former honorary chairman of the Lithuanian Union of Freedom Fighters, told BNS that a nationalist organization, Pro Patria, mainly took care of the production of the new plaque.

The memorial plaque to Noreika, a pre-war Lithuanian military officer and an anti-Soviet resistance fighter also known as Generolas Vėtra (General Storm), was taken down in late July following the initiative of Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius.

He said he made the decision because Noreika, the head of Šiauliai County during the Nazi occupation, signed documents establishing a Jewish ghetto and expropriating Jewish property.

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

The move was welcomed by the Lithuanian Jewish Community and parts of the society, but also led to protests by Noreika supporters who point to the fact that he fought both against the Soviets and the Nazis, and was later imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.

The memorial plaque will damage Lithuania's image, says the leader of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, Fainy Kukliansky,

"I have no doubt the events of that day will damage the country's image," said Fainy Kukliansky, leader of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, in a press release.

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

"It’s a lawless act of a crowd. It demonstrates the weakness of the organizers of this action, those who installed the plaque, and they attitude to law and compliance with it," she added.

Kukliansky says the organizers chose the path of force and to impose their own opinion. She expressed hope the country's leader would evaluate the reinstallation of the plaque and would take necessary action.

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius said unlawful actions do not lead to the truth.

"The installation of this plaque was not pre-agreed either with the municipality or the building's owner, the Academy of Sciences. We will wait for their decision," he told BNS. "It would be interesting to know the state leaders' opinion since the Academy of Sciences is a national institutions."

"My view is very clear and it's that unlawful actions do not lead to the truth and do nothing good for their authors."

Read more: Lithuanian prosecutors refuse to investigate Vilnius' historical memory policies

Over a dozen of police officers observed the reinstallation and filmed the whole process. Ramunas Matonis, spokesman for the police, told BNS that police officers film events to clearly identify the persons who hanged the plaque.

"The material will be handed over to responsible institutions," he said, adding that those institutions will decide if it was reinstalled lawfully.

Public discussions on this plaque have been taking place in Lithuania for many years. The plaque was placed on the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences library in central Vilnius to honour Noreika as a prominent member of the anti-Soviet resistance in Lithuania.

Noreika was later arrested and executed by the Soviet regime in February, 1947.

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