A video has recently popped up showing two Lithuanian men physically assaulting and harassing a Russian man while calling him a “vatnik,” a pejorative word for a Russian propagandist:
Twitter must remove any accounts which post Russiaphobia just like they do with transphobia.
Russia Hate is HARMING innocent civilians.
Poor man assaulted for speaking his own language?
Why are trans protected and not Russians? #USWarCrimes https://t.co/jLwl5v8Z5y
— #Zelensky_is_a_small_demon🇷🇺 (@CaTSnLOve4PeACe) February 22, 2023
Lithuania has a huge presence of ultra-nationalists and has a history of Nazi collaboration. These Lithuanian nazis conducted a bloody torrent of extermination of the Polish population in the Wilno (Vilnius) region.
On August 23rd of 2013, the All for Latvia! wing of the National Alliance signed the Bauska Declaration, alongside the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia and the Lithuanian Nationalist Union, calling for a new national awakening in the Baltic states. The declaration also warned about “postmodernistic multiculturalism” and Russian expansion.
In October of 2014, the National Alliance gained seventeen seats in the parliament. The party takes aim against the Russian language, supporting the Latvianization of the bilingual education system, and making national identity, the Latvian language and culture as a priority as it is defined in the Constitution of Latvia.
In the Baltic world there is not just tension against Russian, but even Polish, specifically in Lithuania. In the town of Soleczniki, the inhabitants are 72% Polish, which means street signs are bilingual, being in both Lithuanian and Polish. But there is one particular sign — a directions post which is solely in Polish — which has been to the ire of the department dedicated to preserving the native language. This department, the State Language Inspection, is, in the words of Kresy (a Polish publication):
“a kind of Lithuanian police of the word. It controls and supervises public institutions, but also all non-governmental organizations, companies, mass media precisely in terms of the language they use. This is not a trivial matter in Lithuania. Already in 1990, gaining independence, the Republic of Lithuania was formed as a true ethnocracy.”
This directions post has multiple signs in Polish (with no Lithuanian translation), showing the way to the seat of the local government, a gymnasium, the city park, the local Cultural Center, the bus station and the hospital. The directions post was erected in 2014 and supposedly has not caused any issues until recently. The inspection found that the plaques placed in the main square of Solecznik “violate this law because they are written in Polish” without a Lithuanian translation.
The request of the government to have bilingual signs is not unreasonable, but it shows a definite ethnic tension. In Lithuania there is an ethnic difference within its Vilnius region where over 16% of the population is ethnically Polish. There are even Poles in Vilnius who are pro-Russia. From 1988 to 1991, political leaders in both Poland and Lithuania were trying to establish an autonomous Polish territorial unit within Vilnius with the help of the Russians. Many Poles were supporters of the Lithuanian Communist Party, and so its not surprising that the Kremlin was encouraging their actions. However, the unrest in Vilnius lasted only until 1991, with the collapse of the USSR. After that, a considerable part (36%) of the Russian-speaking population of the city left, and the remaining ones easily renounced the privileges of the “older brother” and reconciled themselves to the situation of the national minority.
Today there are still politically active Poles who are pro-Russia. There is, for example, Valdemar Tomaševski, Polish-Lithuanian politician who is also in the EU parliament, and who is the leader the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance (LLRA-KŠS). He has said some quite provocative things, such as that Lithuania is really a Polish land that belongs to Poles. In an interview Tomaševski was asked in regards to a law in Lithuania to introduce more Lithuanian language into Slavic schools to help the Slavs integrate better into Lithuania’s social life. Tomasevski expressed his outrage and answered, “Where to integrate? Where should we integrate to? We have lived here all the time. […] It is you who have to integrate in this land, because it was you who came here. Your ancestors have to integrate here, not us. This is our land.”
In 2014, the State Security Department of Lithuania listed some Lithuanian Polish politicians as a potential threat to the state. The report highlighted the demands of these politicians for ‘exclusive rights for the Vilnius region people’ and for their cooperation with pro-Kremlin party, the Russian Alliance, in elections. Russian television is not just popular amongst the ethnic Russians in Lithuania, but even amongst the ethnic Poles as well. One pole showed that non-Lithuanians, including Poles, prefer Russian, and not Lithuanian mass media. 61% of non-Lithuanians watch Russian TV at least once per day.
The same poll showed that national minorities tend to support Russia more than the Lithuanian majority does. Only 16% of ethnic minority respondents blamed Russia for the conflict in Ukraine, compared to 55% of Lithuanian respondents.
There have also been a lot of claims by the Russian and Polish communities of discrimination by the Lithuanian government, especially when it comes to education. For example, in 2015 there was a lot of talk about how the government was discriminating against Russian and Polish schools by forcing them to have a single standard for a Lithuanian language exam, as opposed to unique tests. “This is a mockery of our children,” Valdemar Tomaševski said in a conference in 2015. According to him, students attending Polish schools have 800 less Lithuanian language lessons than children from Lithuanian schools.
According to him, no new textbooks have been published, no teachers have been trained, therefore they should be assigned different tasks and different requirements when taking the state Lithuanian language exam. Graduates take a compulsory Lithuanian language and literature exam. The tasks are the same for students of both national minorities and Lithuanian schools, but representatives of national minorities may make more mistakes.
Edita Tamošiūnaitė, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania, stated that double standards are applied to national minority schools. Around a thousand Russians and Poles took part in a protest in Vincas Kudirka Square near the Government House against what they saw as discrimination. Partaking in the protest was Jaroslav Narkevičius, a deputy speaker of the parliament (Seimas) who said that the Ministry of Education and Science should provide privileges to schools for national minorities, since the experience of Poles is different from Lithuanians; education should be adapted to the different cultures and languages. “In the European Union and in the world, the so-called positive discrimination is protected – we cannot compare, for example, Lithuanians living in Punsk with Poles living there,” he explained.
The feeling of being ostracized is what has motivated the Poles to look to ally with their ethnic Russian neighbors and to look up more to Russia than to the government of Lithuania. These tensions in Lithuania between Poles and Lithuanians can be traced back to the first half of the 20th century.
In 1920 there was a war between the Poles and Lithuanians in which the former was the victor. As a result, the Poles got the province Vilnius. When the Germans were in Poland during the Second World War, they backed Lithuanian nationalists in an ethnic cleansing operation of the Polish population. The political faction that the Germans armed and trained was the Lithuanian Activists Front or the LAF. Before the German invasion of Poland, there were numerous Lithuanian activists in Berlin collaborating with the Nazis. One of these was Kazys Skirpa, a Lithuanian deputy known for his staunch pro-German position and viciously anti-Polish opinions. There were also disgruntled Lithuanians in Berlin who were followers of the prime minister of Lithuania, Augustinas Voldemaras, whose party, after a failed coup in 1934, sought out the backing of Germany. As a result of Skirpa’s work in Germany, in November of 1940 the Lithuanian Activist Front was established in Berlin with a network in Lithuania.
The LAF did not just consists of militants, but whole political parties as well, the biggest one being the National Unionists, whose slogan before the war was “Lithuania for Lithuanians,” the type of saying that is common today in populist Right-wing parties in Europe (another reminder that nothing has changed). When the Germans were in Vilnius region, the LAF raped, plundered and murdered. They esteemed themselves as “Lithuanian partisans,” but even the Germans called them “organized bands of robbers” whose rape, pillaging and slaughter was done daily. There was a Lithuanian professor who wrote an essay entitled “Why We Should Hate the Poles,” and the LAF called for the creation of ghettos for Poles, and demanded that Poles be forced to wear identification badges and that food rations be reduced for Poles. Wladyslaw Pobog-Manlinowski described life under the Lithuanian fascists:
“The Lithuanians who cooperated with the Germans oppressed, pestered, and harassed the Polish people, plagued and persecuted them, and with cool determination destroyed and exterminated all that was Polish in language, agricultural establishments, and culture. They Lithuanianized children in schools, disseminated Polonophobic propaganda in the press. The Lithuanian police was brutal, rapacious, boorish, and cruel in its frequent searches, arrests, and interrogations. Often, it surpassed the Gestapo in its treatment, interrogations, and demands for confessions from prisoners. The inspections, night raids, and street roundups carried out with the help of the Lithuanians went beyond the demands of the Nazis. Thousands of Poles, among them women and children, died from Lithuanian bullets, from butt-ends of rifles and bayonets.” (See Pietrowski, Poland’s Holocaust, ch. 6).
Since there are still indeed ethnic tensions between Pole and Lithuanian; since there are tensions with Russians in the Baltic countries, could such horror happen again? If the war in Ukraine expands, then the ethnic Russians living in the Baltic region, and the Poles who support Russia, will be seen as enemies by nationalist mobs. The Baltic states are a ticking time bomb.