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2019.09.06 17:59

Political fallout continues after protesters reinstall Noreika plaque

BNS, LRT.lt2019.09.06 17:59

After protesters on Thursday reinstalled a plaque to Jonas Noreika, a controversial Lithuanian military officer accused of Nazi collaboration, President Gitanas Nausėda sidelined Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius’ calls to know if the president “finds legal nihilism acceptable”.

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linekvičius said Thursday’s events will reflect negatively on the country as a whole.

Commenting in a press conference held shortly after Šimašius spoke to reporters, Nausėda said that "sometimes kids spill some ink on the wall and say ‘daddy, come, my teacher wants to see you”. He added that the mayor’s earlier “decision [to remove the plaque] was not wise and it caused a public rift.”

Read more: Protesters reinstall controversial Noreika plaque in Vilnius

“We will find solutions to ensure that historic memory is respected," said Nausėda.

His comment came in response to Šimašius’ call for the president "to clearly express his opinion on whether he finds legal nihilism acceptable."

Speaking earlier in Vilnius on Friday, Remigijus Šimašius said he has no intention to remove the plaque for the second time.

"We can play that game when one puts it in place and the other one removes [...] the issue is really more complex and deeper than that, and there are legal aspects to it,” he told reporters. “But it's very important to bring that commemoration policy in order.”

Šimašius said the plaque’s reinstatement by protesters on Thursday is “a monument to legal nihilism, moral degradation, and spineless politics.”

“These events clearly illustrate that for 30 years we have lived in a situation where memory politics [didn’t exist], when the most important institutions didn’t want to [...] get embroiled in difficult questions,” he said in a press conference.

The mayor said it is difficult to comprehend that some national heroes glorified for many years, also took decisions that every decent person should be ashamed off.

“I want to underline that our history is very difficult, we have personal tragedies, and understandably, this sometimes overshadows the tragedies of 100,000 [Jews] who were killed, and sometimes, this distorts the historical outlook, he said.

Šimašius thanked the police for behaving “respectfully and guaranteeing safety” during Thursday’s events.

“Only by naming the truth we can live in a dignified, respectful way and move forward,” he added.

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said Thursday’s events will damage the country’s image and might negatively affect relations with Israel and the United States.

"This action will once again attract attention, and will unfortunately, show Lithuania not from the good side [and] will be definitely condemned by all Jewish organizations and Israel, and I have no doubt it will be very negatively viewed by the United States," Linkevicius told BNS on Friday.

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

"People probably think they are doing some patriotic thing, but in fact, they are doing a bad thing for the country. And that needs to be clearly said," he added.

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.