This is the full text of my speech, delivered in the old Vilnius Town Hall on the 29th of November, 2016. It was the first speech during a public forum organised to discuss the suitability of a streetname in honour of Kazys Škirpa, the leader of an antisemitic organisation formed before the nazi invasion of Lithuania. The organisation spread propaganda which arguably enabled the Holocaust in Lithuania, in which around 95% of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered by the nazis working with a small but extremely deadly group of local collaborators. As a Vilnius City Councillor, I initiated the namechanging process, and the Names Commission decided to hold a public consultation.
You are free to submit your opinion on this streetname to the Vilnius City Council via this form:
During the public meeting, I also managed to add that I can’t stand the Soviets either. But about changing the name of Škirpa’s alley, I said this:
I, Mark Adam Harold, being the initiator of this process, first of all have to explain why I think I have the right and am obligated to raise the question of Kazys Škirpa’s streetname.
It’s true, that I am not a citizen of Lithuania. I am an immigrant from Great Britain. However, that doesn’t mean that I love Lithuania and Lithuania’s freedom and independence any less. Precisely because of your fight for freedom and your efforts to reinstate independence, along with your choice to join the European Union, I am here.
For that, I am very thankful to you all. I am extremely happy that such freedoms exist in Eastern Europe. I celebrate March 11th together with you, and no less happily.
That’s why, in 2014, I decided to run for City Councillor and work to improve this amazing city.
I like working in the Municipality, because there problems that are close to home and everyday life are solved. Any resident can take part in local government, not only citizens, because the city belongs to us all.
I was elected in a free and democratic state, and I swore with my hand on your Constitution, so I truly understand what that means. One of the reasons I was elected was to defend minority interests and raise awkward questions that haven’t been raised before. I have done, and will continue to do so. That’s what I promised to do.
For these reasons, I stand here before you and raise the question: Should we change the name of Kazys Škirpa’s alley?
In this forum we have one simple task: to discuss this streetname’s suitability. I ask you not to forget the exactness of this task.
I would like to make it clear, that this is not a Court with the competence to decide who is guilty or not guilty. Changing a streetname is a totally different affair to convicting or acquitting a person of war crimes. We gather here only to discuss a streetname.
In my opinion – Kazys Škirpa’s name is unsuitable as a streetname, and I will now explain why.
In 2005, the international commission convened to investigate crimes of the nazi and soviet occupations in Lithuania, confirmed:
“The Provisional Government’s and the Lithuanian Activist Front’s antisemitic views are well documented.”
Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė, the then Director of the Lithuanian Genocide Centre, asserted that:
“Kazys Škirpa’s Berlin LAF organization’s activities show antisemitic traits… antisemitic characterisations, where Jews are pictured negatively, exist in other documents prepared by the Berlin LAF organization, which from Berlin reached Lithuania and her inhabitants across the border.”
In my understanding, an organisation’s leader is compelled to accept responsibility for his organisation’s activity. This is inseparable from the definition of the word “leader”, and is part of his duties.
He fought for the independence of Lithuania, but at the same time encouraged actions against Lithuanian citizens and inhabitants, and that is unjustifiable. His good works, unfortunately, don’t outweigh the bad. As Lithuanians say – “A spoonful of tar ruins the whole barrel of honey.”
Expressions of antisemitism, found in documents prepared by the LAF, helped to convince and embolden killers to destroy the Jewish people, i.e. fellow citizens, men, women and children.
From Škirpa himself we learn of the aims of this propaganda. In 1941, he wrote:
“It was done to warn the Jews in advance that there would be no life for them in the New Lithuania.”
Škirpa’s organisation obviously aimed to discriminate against their fellow citizens, the Jews, ant to restrict their freedom. In other words, Kazys Škirpa’s organisation was the enemy of a large percentage of Vilnians.
Precisely because of these reasons, I disagree that there should be a street in Vilnius named after such an organisation’s leader. Honouring him with a streetname, we give him the same status as historic figures such as Jonas Basanavičius. I find the comparison unsuitable, to say the least.
The Mayor of the city Remigijus Šimašius has said more than once that Vilnius is an open and friendly city, where all are welcome and respected. That’s one more argument for changing an antisemitic organisation’s leader’s streetname. With such a change, we could show the world that no manifestations of antisemitism will be tolerated, and certainly not glorified.
I think that the most rational solution would be to change Kazys Škirpa’s streetname and present his life’s history, with absolutely all historical context, in a museum. We should search for a less controversial name. In my opinion – the most appropriate alternative would be to name the alley after the Grand Dukes of the Gediminid dynasty.
I ask for your support and help convincing my colleagues on the City Council to vote for changing the name of Kazys Škirpa’s alley.