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Vytautas Sinica
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Allusions to alleged Nazism of one's opponent are characteristic to debates on values in Lithuania and beyond.

"That's what Hitler did!", "That's Nazi thinking!" – We often read in texts and hear on talk shows. "Fascism!" – scream the bit more modest, usually regarding the term as a mere synonym for Nazism. There's even a smart label for this silly phenomenon – Reductio ad Hitlerum, or "reduction to Hitler".

Naturally, such comparisons are, in most cases, inadequate to begin with. It goes without saying that the suffering and fate of the Nazi death camp victims are incomparable to the grievances expressed by the members of modern societies, arising from their refusal to accept the laws of the procedural democracy of Lithuania. In a recent text of his, Tomas Venclova rightly pointed out that such comparisons could be considered an "insult to the victims of Nazism and Communism".

The Convention

T. Venclova was referring to a certain animated video that garnered much attention in Lithuanian media; the video in question provided criticism of the Istanbul Convention. It were the debates regarding this convention, in the context of which the use of this "nazi" argument became apparent. Let's review them in brief.

The convention is being criticized due to the fact that, among other things, it provides countries an obligation to "not discriminate on the basis of gender, gender expression and gender identity". Gender describes the concept of a socially constructed sex, as opposed to a biological one; gender expression refers to the efforts made in an attempt to look like a member of the opposite sex; and gender identity has to do with how one perceives their sexual identity, which may or may not correspond to the biological sex.

Critics of the convention summarily ascribe this issue to the ideology of genderism – a line of thought which proposes that sex is arbitrary, dynamic and independent of biology.

They ask what it would mean, exactly, to "not discriminate a man on the grounds of him considering himself to be a woman"? To agree that he is, indeed, a "woman"?

Such thinking can be described as totalitarian, because it requires redefining the concept of reality, and seeks universal acceptance, which is evident by the laws being passed in Western countries, the provisions of which allow to punish anyone who opposes same-sex marriages and transgenderism, or makes "homophobic" remarks in general.

Supporters of the convention tend to deny, at least initially, that the document poses a threat like that. Tomas Venclova denies it as well, although in the end of the aforementioned text he states, paradoxically enough, that "cases of a mismatch between a person's physical and psychological sex really do occur", and that "discriminating such individuals is as unacceptable as discrimination based on race".

"Usage of the term "gender" emphasizes this natural humanistic (as well as Christian) view as well. It's a view that is still quite foreign to us, but one we'll have to get used to. [...] The one thing appropriate for Lithuania to do as an independent, democratic and progressive country is to match the European and world-wide standards of gender equality."

Admittedly, this is a strict and educative obligation. In other words, supporters of the convention (and not only T. Venclova himself) do eventually agree that the document's requirement to respect transsexuality as a phenomenon is quite real, and not made-up.

And so, an organization representing the conservative camp in this controversy translated and published the animated video, produced by activists from another EU country, on the topic of Istanbul Convention.

The text was not changed, nor were the images. Among the pictures shown was a photograph of children imprisoned by the Nazis, accompanied by a piece of text: "It [genderism] is a social experiment on our children. Introducing new social order has always brought humanity violence and suffering". The comparison is inadequate and just plain bad, but it's hardly an isolated case.

The Brown Plague!

One doesn't have to look far for more examples of the "Nazi argument". Despite having been broadcasted on the television, the speech of Lilija Vasiliauskienė, given in front of Seimas during a rally initiated by A. Tapinas, received no media attention otherwise. In her address, the directress of Vilnius Women's Crisis Centre, herself an active advocate of the so-called reproductive rights, expressed her anger: "How can it be that the policy that's being de facto implemented right now is the same as the one pursued by the fascist Germany? Prohibiting of abortions, assorting of families, persecution of dissentients, homosexuals and other activists, who are trying to proclaim human rights! This Seimas reeks of the brown plague. This Seimas should dissolute itself, and verify its mandate."

The Brown Plague is a universally known allegory for Nazism. Thus, prohibiting of abortions and "assorting of families" (defining the family via marriage and parenthood) are alleged characteristics of Nazism in this "reeking" Seimas.

However, neither prohibiting of abortions, nor binding of family to marriage between a man and a woman, are characteristic of Nazism. That's fake history, if anything. National Socialism did not, in fact, prohibit abortions; it actually permitted the practice and even encouraged it, as it was a part of the policy of racial purification. Abortion policy was selective – exemplary "pure-blooded" Aryans had a duty to the Reich to produce as many children as possible, but the majority were under no such obligation, and in many cases abortions were mandatory, all in the name of racial purity.

Abortions and general violence against women in the Third Reich were a taboo subject for a long time, but in 2015 a study on the status of women in Nazi Germany was published, authored by an Ottawa scientist B. Chalmers.

The book received 8 awards, and "Times of Israel" called it "ground-breaking". It provided an in-depth account of forced abortions and sterilization for racially invalid subjects, especially women of Jewish descent. Ghetto residents who failed to get an abortion were risked being sentenced to death. At the Nuremberg tribunal, 14 Nazis were convicted of "forcing abortions" on females of no apparent racial value.

Nazi biopolicy was completely subordinated to the theory of racial purification and can't be adequately compared to the modern laws of abortion.

Accordingly, linking family to marriage and parenthood is not inherently Nazist, either. In contrary, the Western civilization had always understood family as a creation of marriage between a man and a woman. Homosexual frivolities of the Ancient Greece would always come to an end upon reaching maturity and forming a heterosexual marriage.

This was the only type of family recognized by regimes both religious and secular, authoritarian and democratic, societies homogenous and pluralist alike, up until the beginning of the 21st century. Even B. Obama, the herald of same-sex marriage in the US, clearly stated his support for "traditional" marriage in late 20th century.

The Nazis were no exception in this matter, although they did – like the Communists before them – encourage sex beyond marriage, illegitimate offspring, prostitution (brothels found even in death camps), Aryan divorce and "remarriage" in cases where the first wife was no longer able to have children, etc. The status and importance of the marital family in the Nazist society declined sharply in comparison to the other societies of the civilized world and specifically the European societies of that time. Of course, when one is in desperate need of a persuasive argument against abortions and natural family, references to the Brown Plague serve this purpose well.

Not only is it useful for heating up moral conflicts, it can be used to intensify the tension of economic debates as well – at least, that's what the most influential participants of the public discourse seem to think.

On April 19th, Žilvinas Šilėnas, head of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LFMI), shared a video recording, in which it is stated that "the Nazis considered the option of prohibiting alcohol throughout the Third Reich. Naturally, Hitler was a teetotaller."

Ž. Šilėnas raises an additional question: "We're being ordered not to consume alchocol, told what to eat. Doesn't this remind you of anyone in particular?" Naturally, he's referring to the alcohol restriction policy introduced by A. Veryga, which, as it turns out, is rather Hitlerian in its nature. As Dr. Raimondas Kuodis sarcastically remarked: „Regulation – Hitler, non-regulation – non-Hitler. Simple and clear."

There is no need to prove that regulatory policies are not characteristic of the Nazis. Indeed, such a claim is quite ironic: while Hitler was only considering the possibility of prohibiting alcohol, such prohibition was actually enacted in none other than the free and democratic US of A, during the period of 1920–1933. But of course, it's much more convenient to simply reduce all of it to Hitler.

The Moral?

Whenever a finger is pointed at Hitler, he is most often not there at all. The absolute majority of political decisions are not exclusively characteristic of Nazism. On the contrary, he is very much different from anything in the current political life.

It's worthwhile to remember the insights of H. Arendt, nothing that totalitarian regimes were only similar to each other – Nazism and Communism, two regimes of absolute control, built on the belief that there's an objective plan of nature (Nazis) or history (Communists), known only to the single right party, and that realizing this plan at all costs was their mission. For the Nazis, the goal was the triumph of the master race; for the Communists – victory of the most advanced proletarian class in the global international.

The most terrifying characteristic of totalitarianism is this exact fatalist vision of a natural/historic plan, in comparison to which everyone is equally powerless and holds no rights, and all sacrifices are justified. It is the source of all specific horrors produced by these regimes, and it eventually acts as a bottomless chasm that separates Nazism and Communism from all the rest of humanity's political contrivances.

Despite that, any practices generally sought with authoritarian control by the liberal part of the society are today in Lithuania being dismissively attributed to Nazism (or, even more carelessly, to Fascism). This is [also] done by various political camps.

It is a crude mistake to make, and not only a logical one. T. Venclova is remarkably right in stating that by comparing everything to Nazism, we debase the suffering of its victims.

The simples and wisest of options for both sides of the various social conflicts would be to refrain from making such comparisons at all. Let us move towards a more mature public discourse in small steps, at least.