Hisashi Shigematsu: History and Memory of the Lithuanian Activists Front
As Lithuanian historian Liudas Truska points out, the national history of Lithuania is characterized by its “cult of ‘fights and suffers’.” Not only victimhood but also resistance has been emphasized in Lithuanian national history since the end of the 1980s. The Lithuanians, therefore, often focus on both a history of victims, who tragically suffered under two totalitarian regimes (the Nazis and the Soviets), and a history of national heroes, who bravely resisted against them. In this project, I focus on how the Lithuanian Activists Front (LAF) and their leader, Kazys Škirpa (1895–1979), have been depicted among the Lithuanian diaspora during the Cold War and in Lithuanian society today, as their activities during World War II are perceived as controversial. Škirpa was the Lithuanian representative in Germany from 1938 to 1941. When the Soviets annexed Lithuania and other Baltic states in 1940, he started an anti-Soviet resistance movement and founded the LAF in Berlin. It is known that the LAF made anti-Semitic proclamations in 1940–1941. When Nazi Germany began to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941, the LAF declared the restoration of independence and the establishment of the Lithuanian Provisional Government (LLV). Although the LLV were not directly involved in the massacre of the Jews, they collaborated with the Nazis and propagated anti-Semitic declarations. Today, Škirpa is often regarded as a national hero in Lithuania, and there are multiple places of commemoration for him in the country. Nevertheless, such commemoration has been criticized by foreign scholars. Moreover, there has also been some criticism among Lithuanians themselves: in 2015–16, for instance, proposals were made to change the official name of Kazys Škirpa streets in Kaunas and Vilnius. This controversy shows that Lithuanian society faces a conflict between the national and Europeanized understandings of their history.
Hisashi Shigematsu is Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo. He specializes in modern and contemporary history of East Central Europe, especially focusing on the history of radical political movements and the Holocaust in Lithuania. He contributed chapters in 60 Chapters to Understand Lithuania (Eiko Sakurai ed., Akashi Shoten, forthcoming) and a chapter in Competed History in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia: Troubled Past of Nazism and Socialism (Nobuya Hashimoto ed., Minerva Shobo, 2017). In addition, he jointly translated A History of the Baltic States (by Andres Kasekamp, Akashi Shoten, 2014) and The History of Lithuania (by Alfonsas Eidintas et al., Akashi Shoten, 2018).