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2020.04.19 12:57

LRT FACTS. Why is Lithuania criticising Russia's interpretation of history?

Jurga Bakaitė, LRT.lt2020.04.19 12:57

After the Lithuanian parliament passed a resolution criticising the Russian government's “historical revisionism,” a Russian newspaper accused the country of using Russophobia to extract money from the EU and the US.

“Lithuania criticises Moscow for liberating the Baltics from fascists” was the headline of Ekspres Gazeta reporting on the Lithuanian parliament's resolution On Historical Revisionism by the Russian Federation. In the resolution, Lithuanian MPs note Moscow's consistent efforts to diminish the role that the USSR played in starting World War Two. LRT FACTS enquires what significance the document may have.

Getting money from rich EU countries

The resolution, passed in the Lithuanian parliament on April 7, noted Russia's intensifying campaign to play down the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet Union's repressions in the Baltic states and Central Europe after the war.

“Respecting the memory of World War Two participants who fought against Nazism, [...] [the Seimas of Lithuania] condemns the Russian Federation's historical revisionism and disinformation denying the role of the Soviet Union as one of the initiators of the war and trying to put responsibility on the victims of aggression,” the resolution reads, urging the European Parliament and governments of Central and Eastern Europe to resist Msocow's efforts.

Read more: Russia trying to ‘rewrite history’, Lithuanian president says

Reporting on the document, the Russian tabloid dismissed it as self-serving.

Without naming its sources, Ekspres Gazeta claims that “political observers say that Lithuanian politicians use this kind of rhetoric to ask for money from rich European Union countries” and that “financing from the United States and the European Union for the Baltic republics dropped significantly. Therefore, Vilnius is trying to sell Russophobia.”

Significance of the statement

Though Seimas resolutions do not have the power of law, they are a way to make value statements, says political scientist Alvidas Lukošaitis.

“Resolutions express opinions, positions, values, they are a guide for other action – not a law,” Lukošaitis tells LRT.

Other countries would ideally respond to such resolutions by passing one of their own, he adds.

Historian Vladas Sirutavičius notes an ongoing war of words over history between Russia and countries of the European Union.

“We have ongoing wars of historical memory which will continue, this is just one episode,” he says. “[The conflict is] between Russia and Europe, not just Lithuania or Poland, since it all started with a European Parliament resolution.”

In September 2019, the European Parliament passed a resolution, expressing concern over Russia's attempts to downplay crimes committed by the Soviet Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in December that comparing the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was “incredibly cynical” and claimed that Poland took part in the 1938 agreement between Hitler and European leaders over partitioning Czechoslovakia.

Read more: EP calls to counter Russia's attempts to whitewash Soviet crimes and rewrite history

These statements led to a diplomatic escalation that involved Poland and Germany.

“This is no longer about historical facts, it is about identity and politics: who we are, who they are,” Sirutavičius says.

Read more: Poland and Putin in war over World War Two

Proactive communication

Battles over history intensify every year as Russia prepares for Victory Day commemorations, says political scientist Nerijus Maliukevičius.

Moreover, Russia is using the same set of rhetorical devices against Lithuania year after year, he claims: “The Russophobia card, being manipulated by someone else, like the EU or the US, rewriting history – a classic set of descriptions.”

What is different this year, he adds, is that Lithuania took the first step.

“Passing a resolution was a proactive move, showing we have a spine. Rather than being drawn into Russia's views and interpretations of history, we're making the first step – and whatever outrage it causes, it will be only a reaction to our message,” Maliukevičius tells LRT. “It's a good sign that we are becoming proactive in the information space.”

According to him, Russia's World War Two-related information attacks against the Baltic states began in 2005 when the presidents of Lithuania and Estonia refused to attend Victory Day events in Moscow.

Read more: Putin’s parallel world and the return of Stalin – opinion

That year saw a flood of Russian-produced pseudohistorical documentaries and books about World War Two, Maliukevičius says.

“Prior to that year, Russia would launch regular campaigns before Victory Day, but without our response, we weren't aware or knew how to react. [In 2005] this was effectively our first encounter [with information attacks], a period when we were learning how to neutralise and react to such aggressive policies,” he says.

This year, the clash over history will inevitably remain on the margins of the news, he adds, but that is a good thing.

“It's a favourable background, because the statement will not sound like the main message. Our purpose is not to lag behind in the discussion, but to express clearly and proactively our fact-based view of history,” according to Maliukevičius.

Verdict

Manipulation / Propaganda
Claims in the Russian media that the Lithuanian parliament's resolution was Russophobic or an attempt to please the EU and the US are in line with Russia's usual information campaigns. According to analysts, clashes over history are likely to persist; for Lithuania, it is important to show its consistent position.