Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on October 16th, 2010

Yesterday brought an unexpected article from alfa.lt. The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Lithuania, Audronius Ažubalis, was saying that “any comments he may have made about Jewish issues and the citizenship law have been misrepresented.” The rest of the article only quotes the rest of the press release, which cryptically makes refefrence to Ažubalis’s support of “restitution” for the Jewish population of Lithuania and closes by explaining that

news reports published on 14 October with the Minister’s claims that allegedly a certain national group was interested to change the Law on Citizenship is based on hearsay, and the public opinion poll conducted by the news portal that interprets the hearsay is misleading and incorrect.

Clear. As. Mud. I was surprised that I had only seen the denial, and not the original article, so today I tried to find the original. I was able to find an article on the mobile site of Lietuvos rytas from Thursday with the headline: “Užsienio reikalų strategas įžvelgė žydų susimokymą.” Guessing that this is the original and assuming the article is being scrubbed, I’ve made a pdf of it available on mediafire. Here is the original, non-mobile version of the article, which is still completely available.

While discussing the possible changes to the dual citizenship law, which include extending dual citizenship to citizens who left since 1918, not just since 1940, Ažubalis apparently went to the podium (I mean this figuratively) and said something along the lines of “everyone knows who’s pushing for this change in dates.” Asked to clarify his aspersions,

A.Ažubalis ir išaiškino, kad labiausiai šį įstatymą į priekį stumia iš Lietuvos kilę žydai.

Be to, politikas leido suprasti, kad tuo būdu jie greičiausiai tikisi lengviau atgauti čia turėtą nuosavybę.

Ažubalis explained that the main proponents of this law are Jews of Lithuanian descent.

Addtionally, the politician explained, by these means these proponents hope to regain most easily their property in Lithuania.

I have for years argued on this site that the dual citizenship law should have the clock turned back to 1918. Lithuania was a toxic environment for many of its citizens since the 1926 Smetona coup, and, as Eidintas explains in his history of the events in Lithuania leading up to the Holocaust, Lithuania was, like Germany, already toxic to its Jewish population before any tanks had crossed any national borders. If my grandparents, leaving in 1943, were refugees from an oppressive government, so too were those who fled from Smetona.

So after a fashion, I agree with Ažubalis. I support pulling the clock back since, among other things, it would lead to some level of restitution to the Jewish population that was facing hostility already in the mid-1930s. But I disagree with his terminology, which suggests that this is a move of interest only to the dispossessed Jewish population of Lithuania (and its descendants). This should be in the interest of the Lithuanian state itself. By keeping the clock as it has, at 1940, Lithuania is making dual citizenship available, de facto, according to ethnic tests, as the refugees who made up the post-1940 wave of emigration were largely (practically exclusively?) ethnically Lithuanian, while there were many legitimate refugees of different ethnicities (and political backgrounds) who fled before the Soviet tanks occupied Lithuania. So the de facto law, then, goes against the Lithuanian Constitution, which prevents against laws that discriminate by national origin or religion.

Yet Ažubalis, for the problematic way he seems to have made his point, according to Lietuvos rytas, does not come out the worst here. Even more irritating is the misleading lede written by Vytautas Bruveris, who writes:

Dvigubą Lietuvos ir kitų užsienio šalių pilietybę numatantis įstatymas labiausiai reikalingas ne lietuviams, o žydams. Tokį atradimą padarė užsienio reikalų ministras Audronius Ažubalis.

Later, Bruveris explains that Ažubalis had in mind only the specific change regarding turning the clock back. But in the lede, Bruveris makes it sound as though Ažubalis considers the entire operation of dual citizenship to be an issue of far greater importance to “Jews” (in general) than to “Lithuanians” (in general). And that’s offensive. Dual citizenship is important to every (potential) citizen of Lithuania, but as long as the press can’t manage to pitch their country outside of its ethnic shackles, then clanking embarrassments like this will continue.

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