The story so far:
I asked the City’s Names Commission to consider changing the name of Škirpos alėja, a small street in the centre of Vilnius which glorifies a man who was a leading figure in the fight for Lithuanian independence. Aaaand… he also founded an antisemitic organisation, campaigned for national socialism in Lithuania, called Hitler a genius, and told Jewish citizens of Lithuania to leave the country.
So I don’t think he should be honoured with a streetname in Vilnius.
Some people think that because Škirpa didn’t actually shoot any Jews in the back of the head in the forests of Lithuania, he’s a hero and all the other antisemitic stuff doesn’t matter. I disagree.
During the Holocaust, many Lithuanians tried to save their Jewish neighbours and friends. Škirpa did not. He saw Lithuania as an ethnic nation of one ethnicity only, and he didn’t see the need to defend all Lithuanian citizens against the horrors of genocide. You might say that throwing Jews out of the country is better than killing them, but it’s still dishonourable and disloyal. Škirpa’s supporters say he was loyal “to Lithuania”, because they don’t think that the Jews were “Lithuanian”, even the citizens.
I am not attacking the state, I am attacking Škirpa. Škirpa said that there would be “no life” for the Jews in “New Lithuania”. He was the leader of an organisation that spread antisemitic propaganda before the Holocaust. Historians and the Lithuanian state confirm this. His own words confirm this.
But he didn’t kill Jews himself.
So… he wasn’t a murderous nazi, he was just a power-hungry racist national socialist antisemitic propagandist? That sounds like a weak argument for giving him a streetname.
The Names Commission couldn’t come to a decision, so they decided to launch a public consultation. The City held a public forum in the Old Town Hall. You can read my speech here.
The official online survey ran from the 27th November to the 6th January 2017.
Of course, it’s not a scientific survey of the opinions of all the people in Vilnius. It’s only the opinions of people who cared enough to want to contact the Council about this issue. The survey was in the news and passed around social media, so people on all sides of the debate heard about it and encouraged their friends to take part. The survey was in Lithuanian and in English. Opinions were received from all over the world, but more than three-quarters of the respondents said they live in Vilnius.
It was the first time that the City included an official public debate and an online consultation in the Council’s decisionmaking process. Nice.
Here are the results:
Thank you to everybody who submitted an opinion to the Council.
These results are not binding, the final decision is with the Council and it could go either way.
Full results and comments click here.
70% want to change the name.
What should be the new name?
The most popular choices were Teisuolių (Righteous Among The Nations) and Vilnelės (named after the river alongside the street).
Originally I proposed Teisuolių, but after the debate I changed my mind. Teisuolių has no historical connection to the place, and there are other initiatives planned to commemorate the Righteous Among The Nations elsewhere. I accept those arguments.
I liked the idea of Gediminaičių, named after the dynasty that founded the city. However, this didn’t seem very popular with the people who took part in the survey.
There were many who expressed the wish to name the street after the river next to it, a neutral non-political name that would defuse the controversy around this question. I’m still happy with any name that isn’t antisemitic, and I think Vilnelės is now my favourite because of its neutrality.
You can see all the other suggestions we received on the official results page, including all the trolls.
You can also read the arguments for and against that were sent for the Council to read. Some of them are very interesting, some of them are insane. You decide which.
A date for the final decision has not been set.
It looks like the issue is not as controversial as everybody thought, and that the opposition is very small. Most people seem to want a streetname with less associations to genocide and national socialism. You lose your right to be a national hero when you praise Hitler and attack democracy, sorry.
Donskis, Venclova, and The Chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania have already spoken very clearly against honouring Škirpa in this way.
But this battle is not over yet. Hopefully soon we will finally vote on this, and my colleagues will agree that we shouldn’t have streets named after people who abandoned innocent Lithuanian citizens.