Lithuania Considers a Bill Targeting Criticism of Its Role in the Holocaust

The bill is considered a response to a 2016 book that broke Lithuanian taboos about Nazi collaboration and murder of Jews during World War II

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania and US President Donald Trump participate in a press conference in the East Room of the White House
OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP

The Lithuanian parliament is preparing to vote on a government-sponsored bill that would ban selling material that “distorts historical facts” about the nation.

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The bill, which Economy Minister Virginijus Sinkevcius submitted Monday, is widely seen as a response to the controversy in Lithuania around the 2016 publication of a book about the Holocaust titled “Our People.” Viewed by some nationalists as an insult to the Lithuanian nation, it is also credited with breaking some taboos in Lithuanian society about collaboration during World War II.

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The bill, which according to the Delfi news agency is an amendment to the Law on Consumer Protection, provoked passionate condemnations in Lithuania and beyond by critics who said it curtails freedom of speech and debate about the genocide, in which 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews were killed, mostly by other Lithuanians.

Whereas several Eastern European countries have laws that limit free speech about the Holocaust, including Poland, Ukraine and Latvia, the bill targeting the sale of critical books “would be, if passed into law, one of the most blatant and harshest of them all,” said Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff, who co-authored “Our People” with Ruta Vanagaite, a best-selling novelist.

Last year the Alma Littera publishing house in Lithuania recalled another book by Vanagaite after she spoke in an interview about Adolfas Ramanauskas, an anti-Soviet combatant during the war, who admitted to commanding troops whom witnesses said butchered Jews in the ghetto of Druskininkai, 75 miles southwest of Vilnius.

Vanagaite’s controversial statement was not about the Holocaust. She said her research into Ramanauskas’ death in 1957 suggested he committed suicide after betraying the names of fellow nationalists to the KGB, which captured Ramanauskas the previous year.

“Ruta Vanagaite’s statements are unacceptable to us and incompatible with the values of the Alma Littera publishing house,” its CEO, Danguole Viliuniene, said in a statement. Vanagaite has since left Lithuania last week, and The New York Times published a critical article about the alleged downplaying of the Holocaust at Vilnius’ Museum of Genocide Victims.

Until 2011, the state-run institution did not mention the more than 200,000 Lithuanian Jews who died in the Holocaust. Lithuania is the only country that officially defines the domination of its territory by the former Soviet Union as a form of genocide, which is the museum’s main theme.