Is Fascism Eastern?

Article published on April 8, 2010
community published
Article published on April 8, 2010
As I have written previously (although, again, without witnessing), the Restoration of Independence Day in Vilnius was scarred by an already traditional neo-nationalist demonstration. After last year's silence, the demonstrators, with a member of the Parliament on their side, oscillated back to noisy calls for a mono-ethnic state.
As before, they crafted a test of democracy especially on the local level. They received a permission to take control of the public space in Vilnius, which some other demonstrators find difficulty in attaining. Close in time and space, a permission for Waffen-SS veterans to march was granted in Riga. Although the demonstration did not receive much attention, there are several important responses, which, unfortunately, I find quite disturbing.

"The Guardian" published a generalist op-ed on fascism in Lithuania and the rest of Eastern Europe by a professor of Yiddish, Dovid Katz, as well as criticism by Efraim "Nazi Hunter" Zuroff from the S.Wiesenthal Center. Not saying that these are the only opinions, I want to point out some similarities in this way of talking about what is happening in the Baltic States. Instead of seeing the events in the Baltics in their European context, admitting that there were many ideological distortions in history writing and offering support to the groups struggling against neo-nationalism in their own language and within their own communities, these authors demonise the states and their political regimes on the basis of them being... Eastern.

I have discussed this issue with Prof. Dovid Katz in person, and hopefully will have a chance to do so in the future. However, this time I'd like to respond in public, i.e., in the blog. I'll welcome and gladly publish/link to any constructive responses to this blog entry.In his statement, Zuroff maintains that "time has come [...] to start treating it [neo-nationalism] as a threat to the integrity of European democracy." In even juicier language, Katz describes the Baltic States as"countries in the of the European Union", and historical revisionism he criticises - as a "Baltic virus". In addition, he claims that " go beyond whitewashing their own Holocaust histories". There's no need to explain what associatons these Europocentric words like "East" and "Eastern" evoke in Western European sub-consciousness. They are inherited from colonial discourse, developed in the past to justify established cultural hierarchies and imperialism. "East" spells out cultural difference, authoritarian rule and cult of power, and, in some people's imagination, stretches from as 'West' as Czech Republic to as 'East' as Pacific Islands (see this excellent book on ). Both authors see the Baltic States as Trojan horses in the idyllic European fortress of democracy.

far eastthe easternersstereotypes of Eastern Europe

Let me tell you some personal stories, which, again, you shouldn't accept as 'journalistic' truths. In 2007, when my roommate at the time returned from half-a-year in France, she told me about conversations with her German friend about budding neo-fascism in Western Europe. She said she found it scary to hear about the anti-immigrant, anti-minority, etc trends in the country we are used to seeing as one to look up to. "It will reach us too, this is the price we pay for being European," she said then. I remember rather soon after that reading an article about two German friends, separated by ideology, with one dating a Vietnamese immigrant and another - a neo-nazi ( about neo-Nazism in Germany). In less than a year, when I had already left Vilnius, the country was convulsed by the first neo-nationalist demonstration.

here is one more story

Nationalists would never admit that neo-nationalism is almost as international as communism was. The borrowing of symbols, ideas and narratives is however evident from outside. This is nothing new - in the 40s, there were many enthusiastic Lithuanian Nazi collaborants, although in the plan of the Nazi establishment 2/3 of all Lithuanians were doomed to be expelled, killed or forcefully assimilated. Neo-Nazi outfits are also strikingly similar all across Europe. So this is a European trend that takes different shapes depending on acceptance and resistence in respective societies (e.g. Czech Republic has a strong Antifa movement).Politics shifting to the far right and tolerating it is also not a 'Baltic' phenomenon. Do you remember (and ) in France? Or the story in Austria... Or how many nationalist politicians were elected to the European Parliament... Paradoxically, by submitting to these trends, Lithuania is being more European, and let's not be afraid to use this word to denote something more than the ideals on which the EU was built. Europe is a boiling stew of various flavours, it is being contested and redefined every day. One sad reality of today's Europe is the fact that more and more people are attracted to the far right. Unfortunately, libertarian ideologies have failed them. They cannot see themselves neither among ambitious right-wing liberals, nor in the company of critical, but dissociated individualists of the new left. Some educated people sympathise with far right when they are in search of their uniqueness and trying to be bold, while others, from the lower classes, flock such movements in search of a sense of belonging and the illusion of an opportunity to become active in building the life of one's own and his/her (but usually his) community.

Le Penother similar ones

In Lithuania, where the main political decisions were made and alliances formed without much consultation with the public (again, with a self-orientalising assumption that the 'easterners' (see above) will not do 'what is right'), EU membership came with a massive propaganda campaign rather than discussions, and joining the NATO didn't even merit a referendum. The new EU constitutional treaty was adopted hastily and, again, without any consultation. For alternative libertarian political movements, the EU is a heaven-sent ally to further their/our causes, yet when the argument that "X cannot be because the EU does not want it" is used to often, it alienates the population from feeling at home in the EU. Opposing the EU means believing that this mosquito sting to an elephant can make you an active creator of your country's fate and a 'non-conformist' personality.All of this is not to claim that these factors are enough to produce neo-nationalists. Instead, they partly explain why a large part of the population remains silent as neo-nationalists march on. Resentment against the EU translates into seeing libertarian values not as liberating but as limiting, because these values 'descend' into laws as "the EU wants it". The conservative right in Lithuania is smart enough to see that neo-nationalists, kept at a distance in order not to soil its hands, can serve well in uniting the main constituency of the left (the unemployed, the working class) the left, and rebellious youth liberatarian right, which cherishes their rebellion. Therefore, as much as neo-nationalists despise the EU, which the political conservatives so restlessly promoted a few years ago, this is not enough for the conservatives to cut off all relations of benefit with the emerging nationalist by strictly condemning their behaviour.

against against

Coming back to the opinion pieces quoted above, the main problem I have with them is that they promote the same authoritarian decision-making tradition I criticised above. They call for EU's diplomatic pressure against and rather than engaging in a dialogue with and support for the groups within these countries which already work hard to counter the growing trend of nationalism. When the Baltic States are attacked as "Eastern barbarians", this narrative is difficult to identify with in the countries and further undermines the position of these groups in their search of locally relevant arguments against nationalism. Examples? Lithuanian-speakers should read this beautiful , where she calls neo-nationalism and militarism a betrayal of the ideals of the singing revolution. Very locally relevant, with no stereotypes and no calls on "higher powers" to come and punish the disobedient "state".

Lithuania Latvia commentary by Jolanta Bielskiene

"Descend, o EU, and punish thy infidels" should be only uttered in the last resort, after all measures of local action and international solidarity have proved inefficient.