News2020.01.03 12:00

Lithuanian president retreats from stricter rules for memory policy

Vaidotas Beniušis, BNS 2020.01.03 12:00

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda no longer plans to table a bill on commemorative plaques which would transfer some decision power from municipalities to the central government.

In early September, the president said he would put forward amendments to the Law on Local Self-government to make it obligatory for municipal authorities “to follow criteria set by the government or its authorised institution when installing, removing or changing commemorative plaques”.

The president's initiative came in response to public controversy sparked by the Vilnius mayor's decision to remove a plaque for Jonas Noreika, a high-ranking Lithuanian military officer accused of collaborating with the Nazis.

The president's office also hosted a cultural forum on historical memory in the same month.

Nausėda said he would submit the bill to the Seimas for approval during its autumn session, but did not follow through.

His office has confirmed that there are no immediate plans to table the amendments, adding that the president is waiting for the Culture Ministry to draft a bill that will include provisions on the commemoration of people and places.

“The Culture Ministry has taken further steps and has included the principles for the commemoration of places and people into the new framework law on cultural policy which is currently being drafted,” Antanas Manstavičius, a presidential adviser, told BNS.

“The new law is to be submitted to the Seimas in the spring session,” he added.

Under the bill, the culture minister would set out recommendations for commemoration policies.

The bill would also require central or municipal authorities to consider the historical significance of an event or a person they wish to pay tribute to, research on them and opinions of stakeholder organisations and associations.

They would also have to look into whether the person “has been found guilty of committing war crimes or crimes against humanity”.

Last July, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius ordered to remove the plaque to Noreika, but a new one was placed by activists on the same building in central Vilnius in September.

Opponents note that Noreika, the head of Šiauliai County during the Nazi occupation, signed documents in 1941 establishing a Jewish ghetto and expropriating Jewish property. Almost all Jews were later killed in the Holocaust.

Supporters of Noreika point out that he later joined anti-Nazi resistance and was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, and organized post-war resistance to the Soviet occupation.

Noreika was sentenced to death by a Soviet military tribunal in 1946 and executed a year later.

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