As part of Palestine On The Thames: Nakba In My Present programme, Giedre Steikunaite will be giving a presentation titled: “View from Lithuania: Nakba in Three Keywords”, please join us and get involved.
SUMMARY OF PRESENTATION
1948 didn’t start in 1948 in Palestine, nor did it start in 1948 several thousand kilometres away in Lithuania, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. The foreign imperial rule, lack of sovereignty, as well as forced exile and continuous denial of the rights of the land’s indigenous inhabitants have been a constant in the history of both Palestine and Lithuania for decades and even centuries. Two small lands by two different seas, two populations not exceeding several million, a catastrophe that culminated in the middle of the 20th century.
Pain and suffering cannot and should not be compared or measured against each other. We do not choose our own oppressors. Tragedies live on, later their shadows, then their ghosts. But true solidarity between two peoples of a similar history is possible, working towards the common goal of freedom.
In 1948, when Zionist militias were terrorising Palestine’s people in their own homeland, forcing hundreds of thousands into exile, in Soviet-occupied Lithuania USSR officers were putting people on cattle trains and sending them off to Siberia’s hard labour camps. Many never returned, because the occupier didn’t allow them to return. When villages were being emptied of their people in Palestine, villages in Lithuania became silent, too. A week after May 15, the USSR’s Operation Vesna saw almost 40,000 Lithuanians exiled to Siberia. At the same time, inevitably, those who remained started organising resistance. Local guerillas, named “forest brothers” due to their hideouts being mainly located deep inside the country’s vast forests, although badly armed, fought against the invader, assisted by a secret network of supporters, mainly peasants and villagers. Political imprisonment, torture, theft of land, humiliation were a reality for the people of Lithuania, as was collaboration with the enemy, betrayal, and internal fighting – elements that oppression spreads among an occupied population.
That is why when I talk about Palestine in Lithuania, I rely on three main keywords: occupation, exile, resistance. Every family in the country had direct experience with either of these and therefore have a strong moral basis for solidarity with the Palestinian people whose Nakba continues to this day.
Lithuania’s occupation lasted 50 years. Palestine’s is now 70 years and counting. Yet because of its own history, today’s Lithuania has the ability – and the duty – to understand the true meaning of Nakba. And with understanding comes responsibility.
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