A Note on Vilnius

Map of eastern Europe, 1904, printed in Modern Europe: a History by Willis West (Allyn and Bacon).

I support Lithuanian national self-determination. Its case is probably nearly as strong as those that could be advanced by nationalists in Hawai’i, Alaska or Mexico’s stolen territory, Texas. People seem a bit vague about Lithuania’s history all the same, imagining that it has been one nation, free (and most definitely under God) for centuries, governed from Vilnius. But Vilnius was once Vilna in Byelorussia, as the Byelorussians are now pointing out, and in my 1906 Century Atlas you can’t find “Lithuania,” only a slab of terrain called “West Russia,” which is not surprising, since Lithuania was absorbed into the Czarist empire at the end of the eighteenth century.

If Eastern Europe is going to be recast in a prewar mold, we might as well have a clear idea of what the political cartography was like back then. The interwar Lithuanian Republic was scarcely democratic, being a right-wing dictatorship under Antanas Smetona, who seized power in a coup in 1926. The feudal knight-and-horse coat of arms raised by the Saljudis movement this past March 12 was the symbol of that anti-Semitic regime.

The last time Lithuania declared independence was the day after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 12, 1941. The slaughter of Jews that followed was mostly accomplished by Lithuanians, with the German Einsatzkommandos awed by the ferocity of their helpers.

– April 4, 1990, Topanga

This is excerpted from The Golden Age is In Us.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.