February 16 Lithuanian National Youth Union march. Photo source: Vaiva Girskiene Facebook page
On February 16, 2016, in Ramimes Park in Kaunas, the traditional procession of the National Youth Union took place. The nationalists organize the procession every year on the Day of the Restoration of State. This year they marched the slogan “Lithuania is Ours”, emphasizing their disapproval of Middle East refugee relocation to Lithuania from other countries of Europe.
“The slogan of this procession is “Lithuania is Ours”, because we see a complex geopolitical situation in which the EU is on the verge of disappearing. Hordes of hungry and angry immigrants are already knocking at our gates. And we just want to emphasize that Lithuania is the home of our people, a piece of land which we must respect, love and fight for,” one of the leaders of the National Youth told reporters before the event. Later in his speech he noted that Lithuania should not be letting in rapists, murderers and spongers.
This time the procession was shorter than usual – it did not go to the Town Hall square, instead it went to the historic presidential administration, in the courtyard of which the sculptures of presidents of the interwar period are placed. Here, the group honored the memory of President of Lithuania Antanas Smetona. “We deeply cherish the memory of President Smetona. Before, we only passed near the sculpture, but this year, it will be the main focus,” stated one of the leaders of the National Youth Union.
Antanas Smetona was a Lithuanian dictator who came to power through a military coup when, in 1926, he overthrew the legitimate President of Lithuania. Within days after the coup, he was “elected” President of Lithuania, after which he organized mass repressions against Lithuanian Communists and executed local Communist leaders. He remained the dictator of Lithuania until 1940, when he fled to Germany.
On the banner which was carried ahead of the procession famous Lithuanians who collaborated with the Nazis during the occupation, in 1941-1944, were depicted, including the Nazi leaders of the Lithuanian Activist Front: Kazys Škirpa, Juozas Ambrazevičius and others. Many of those depicted on the banner participated in organizing the murder of Jews even before Lithuania was captured by the Nazis in June 1941. These people continued the anti-Soviet fight for years after the defeat of the Nazis by terrorist methods on the territory of their own country. They murdered not only Russians or Jews, but their fellow Lithuanians as well.
As in previous years, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, and the philologist David Katz came to express their disapproval of the procession. According to them, the slogan “Lithuania is for Lithuanians” is an insult to the residents of Lithuania of other nationalities. They also disapprove of the nationalists’ respect towards certain figures of the interwar period, such as Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis.
In past, the yearly procession was attended by 1,000-2,000 people; this year only several hundred attended.