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Edminas Bagdonas
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

"We often choose to not react to such matters. There is no point to give the same responses repeatedly to the same people – Zuroff, Katz. There is neither desire, nor capacities, nor, finally, any rationality. However, this time we will react," the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas told Lietuvos Žinios, according to lzinios.lt.

Talks in Seimas regarding potential prohibitions of the sale of goods, which distort or undermine Lithuanian history and threaten Lithuanian statehood, have been met with reactions abroad. Articles appeared on Israeli media that it is supposedly a response to such books as Rūta Vanagaitė's Mūsiškiai. This is not the first time in recent memory that there are attempts to cast the shadow of anti-Semitism on Lithuania and Lithuanians. In March, it was announced that Lithuanians are the most intolerant to Jews in Eastern Europe. On March 30, the prominent US daily The New York Times featured an article where Lithuania is accused of intent to conceal the Holocaust in our country.

When asked whether the image of Lithuanians as anti-Semites is prominent in the Israeli public sphere, Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagonas responded that in recent times, especially after the waves raised by Rūta Vanagaitė, the situation has worsened significantly. Nevertheless, the ambassador says he has only heard radical statements a few times – the opinion is not dominant.

"Of course after all sorts of lectures, events and statements, which Rūta has been organising here, in which such matters are escalated, they only become more frequent," E. Bagonas said.

Over 100 tolerance centres are operating in Lithuania currently, the education system dedicates significant attention to the Holocaust as well and there are numerous books published on the Holocaust.

"I do not know, why Rūta is allowing herself to claim that she is the first, an ice breaker with this question. Just in the Tel Aviv embassy, we have over 40 books on the Holocaust. Why she decided she is the first – I do not know, it is yet another lie," the Lithuanian ambassador noted.

The ambassador emphasised that such matters do not help establish better bilateral relations between states.

Also the claims spread of the March 11 march being a Nazi, anti-Semite march did nothing to help, making it appear that states, where such things happen are inhabited by anti-Semites.

"The slogan "Lithuania for Lithuanians", which was chanted during the March 11 march in Kaunas and Vilnius leads people to certain conclusions. Those abroad are left asking – what does this mean? Will we have a place or not? The question comes naturally. This slogan is of course no help in encouraging mutual understanding and cooperation," the ambassador said.

The newest claims about limitations to the freedom of speech are a similar case. "There exists a desire among certain people to incite such moods, thus they took specifically that single sentence from the legislative project, where it was possible to interpret ambiguously. We often choose to not react to such matters. There is no point to give the same responses repeatedly to the same people – Zuroff, Katz. There is neither desire, nor capacities, nor, finally, any rationality. However, this time we will react," the ambassador stated.

"In such cases we do react, write to the media. The embassy has excellent relations with the Jerusalem Post and other major newspapers. If a problem arises, various fake news, which are spread by the same people, whose names you know well, we resolve it," Edminas Bagdonas continued.

Excellent inter-state relations

Despite such events, the ambassador assured Lž that as ambassador he is very much satisfied with the two states' bilateral relations in recent times.

"You see yourselves, how much interaction is ongoing in recent times. Israel in Lithuanian media, Lithuania in Israeli media, what tourist flows and cultural cooperation we have. The number of flights has increased, three flights a week from Kaunas to Tel Aviv. In recent times, there has been a great deal of cooperation in almost all spheres of import to Lithuania. I am very satisfied with this and very glad, regarding how things are proceeding," the ambassador stated.

Both the activity of Lithuanian diplomats, as the cultural achievements of Lithuanians and Litvaks is valued in Israel.

"Israel greatly respects us for our mediation in various international organisations and institutions. One of the most recent examples is the first meeting in 28 years between an Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and EU foreign ministers, which was organised at the initiative of Lithuania. Not to talk of how Lithuania is valued in culture – theatres, opera, ballet, sculptures, literature and music, Ganelin, Kanovich, Lipschitz... They are all well known, wherever you may go you find a Litvak, an individual from Lithuania, there are positives," E. Bagdonas told LŽ.

Some pains remain nonetheless – the memory of the Holocaust is still alive, as are the people, who survived it.

"I know several survivors, who literally climbed out of the Paneriai pit. We are talking with survivors, by the way in Lithuanian, continue visiting Lithuania, interacting with friends, acquaintances, former schoolmates. I can say with certainty that Lithuania dedicates a great deal of attention to Holocaust issues," the ambassador stated.

Several months ago, there was a vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution, which dismissed the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Lithuania supported the resolution, thus opposing the US position to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Israel was surprised by such a decision from Lithuania because Lithuania is quite often a mediator for Israel when trying to grasp the country's difficult situation.

"IN terms of this question, Lithuania stands by the position that it is a question of bilateral discussions, which cannot be made unilaterally by any country. There were many interpretations, the community was also surprised – how did it happen, why did you do this, is Jerusalem not ours? However that is how it is, there is East and West Jerusalem. If there is desire to acknowledge such a status, there is need for clearer international decisions," E. Bagdonas said.

Lithuanian citizenship

Despite such events, the question of Lithuanian citizenship remains pertinent to Litvaks. The ambassador stated that there are numerous reasons for it – nostalgia, Lithuanian membership in the EU and NATO, thus the possibility to travel without visas in numerous locations, also because people wish to invest in Lithuania and it is simpler to do so with the country's citizenship.

"At one point there would be truly difficult problems, when Litvaks had to prove that their grandparents or great grandparents, most often had Lithuanian citizenship up to June 15, 1940. Now it is simplified – those wishing for a citizenship only have to prove that their grandparents had a Lithuanian citizenship, to gather all the documents if there was a surname change or such. Our embassy's consular section is working at full capacity, we have at least ten visitors every day, who wish to have a Lithuanian passport," the ambassador stated.

Cyber security lessons from Israel

General Vytautas Jonas Žukas visited Israel a little over a year ago. During his visit, various questions were discussed, including cooperation in resolving security challenges.

"A good year ago I participated myself during the general's visit to Israel. We visited military hardware manufacturers, we saw what the level of military preparation is here, what the level of military industry and the industrial systems is. I was together with the general the whole time, I saw how he was fascinated by all those things and how necessary continued interaction is," the diplomat stated.

According to the ambassador, Israel could be a good example to Lithuania in military industry and cyber security. One of the end goals would be to not purchase military hardware from Israel, but that Israel would produce it in Lithuania.

"Vice Minister Edvinas Kerza visited Israel a number of times. Lithuania and Israel are seriously cooperating in cyber security. In my opinion, Israel is among the leading countries in this because it dedicates great attention to both military and cyber security," E. Bagdonas stated.