Lithuanian president meets with World Jewish Congress leaders in Israel

A delegation of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR) met with Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė in Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning to discuss a number of issues. The meeting was also attended by the Baltic country's foreign minister, Linas Linkevičius.

Grybauskaitė told the WJC-ICFR delegation: “Our society acknowledges its history. Our Jewish heritage is part of the heritage of Lithuania. Our support for Israel comes automatically. We understand what is going on in the Middle East, and we coordinate our position with the United States.”

WJC CEO Robert Singer praised the strong relations between Israel and Lithuania and added: “Lithuania’s support is much appreciated.” 

Singer also raised the issue of neo-Nazi rallies held each year in Vilnius and Kaunas and said the Jewish world was “very distressed by this phenomenon, especially given the tragic history of Lithuanian Jewry.”

Grybauskaitė agreed that this was a problem but said it was difficult for the government to act unless the groups involved openly used Nazi symbols or explicitly incited to anti-Semitism and racism. She assured the delegation that this was an entirely marginal phenomenon. “They make lots of noise, but represent very few people.”

In recent years, Lithuania has tried to foster good relations with the World Jewish Congress Israel. In an address to a WJC-ICFR event last month, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius pledged to ensure that all Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania would be “memorialized and marked” by the end of 2017. 

In 2014, the World Jewish Congress established the WJC International Yiddish Center in Vilnius aimed at promoting cultural treasures created in Yiddish and the continuity of Yiddish learning and research.

Dalia Grybauskaitė took office as Lithuania’s head of state in 2009 and was re-elected in 2014. She previously served as a government minister and was Lithuania’s first European commissioner between 2004 and 2009.

On the picture above (from left to right): ICFR Board Member Professor Dina Porat, WJC Steering Committee Member Eduardo Elsztain, WJC CEO Robert Singer, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, ICFR Board Member Colette Avital, Chairwoman of Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky

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Olga Zabludoff

Wed, 21 Oct 2015

I am most appreciative that Robert Singer raised the issue of the annual neo-Nazi marches in Vilnius and Kaunas, but am distressed to hear that the Lithuanian President responded with the usual canned response. It is not true that Lithuania has confronted its dark past of Nazi collaboration in the Holocaust, and it is a feeble excuse to say that the neo-Nazi marches represent a small fringe of the population. Every year since 2008 the marches have become larger, Nazi symbols are displayed and "Lithuania for Lithuanians" is the traditional chant. Banners with Lithuanian Nazi collaborators lead the parades. Nothing has changed. The marches are still held on the main boulevards on Lithuanian's Independence days in spite of pleas and appeals by human interest groups. Lithuania does a lot of PR events for show and for the benefit of the country; the falseness is transparent to anyone who understands the politics. Here is a petition I started several years ago:
https://www.change.org/p/can-we-hope-for-change-in-2014
Efraim Zuroff, who attends the neo-Nazi demonstrations, has written widely about his appalling reactions in both the Israeli and US media.

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