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LEONIDAS DONSKIS

How memory prevails

Rugpjūčio 31, 2013

The Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has developed the theory of the adiaphorization of consciousness. He says that during times of upheaval and at critical historical junctures or intense social change, people lose some of their sensitivity and refuse to apply an ethical perspective to other people. They simply eliminate an ethical relationship with others. These others don’t necessarily become enemies or demons; they are more like statistics, circumstances, obstacles, factors, unpleasant details and obstructing circumstances. But at the same time they are no longer people with whom we would like to meet in a “face to face” situation, whose gaze we might follow, at whom we might smile or to whom we might even return in the name of recognition of the existence of the Other.

People who have lost their sensitivity temporarily, or for a long time are no demons. They simply remove from their sensitivity zone certain people or entire groups. As the Greek stoics of antiquity, and later religious reformers and thinkers in the Renaissance, believed, there are things which are in reality inessential and unimportant, matters over which there is no point to argue or cross swords. This kind of unimportant thing is called an adiaphoron, and the plural is adiaphora.

This theory sheds much light on the Holocaust and its traumatized, sometimes even twisted memory, which remains a sinister aspect of Eastern and Central European politics. The Jews appear there as unimportant things, inconvenient details, circumstances and academic footnotes pushed by historians. They are hindrances. Because of them, “we” are unable to create our gallery of heroes and our heroic narrative as we would like. All that remains is for us to ask ourselves whether all this supposed patriotic pragmatism is sensible. It is not serving the past and certainly not honoring the memory of the dead, but simply allowing for political mudslinging and sending the “right” message to voters. If so, that means we are choosing an immoral version of patriotism which no longer includes ethics, truth or conscience.

At this point, the novel ‘Darkness and Partners,’ written by Sigitas Parulskis, a talented and internationally renowned Lithuanian writer, comes as a powerful eye-opener. It shows how people can lose their sensitivity and memory, how they can kill their fellow human beings and compatriots with a strong belief in the right course they are allegedly pursuing. The novel exposes a profoundly amoral logic behind this loss of sensitivity. Adiaphorization is here; as if to say that the Jews are not ours. They do not belong to Lithuania. They are merely unimportant things, inconvenient details, circumstances and academic footnotes pushed by historians. They are hindrances. Because of them, we are unable to create our gallery of heroes and our heroic narrative as we would like. We are choosing an immoral version of patriotism which no longer includes ethics, truth or conscience.

Reminiscent of the aesthetics of shocking beauty deeply permeated with ugliness, inherent in such masterpieces of cinematography as Liliana Cavani’s masterpiece ‘The Night Porter’ and Lina Wertmuller’s ‘Seven Beauties’ (‘Pasqualino Settebellezze’), Sigitas Parulskis’ ‘Darkness and Partners,’ released in 2013 is a tour de force, a blow dealt to a readership by the way a writer handles tragic history of his nation, and a sigh of relief.

The problem for Lithuanian Jews is that quite a large sector of Lithuanian society – including not a few representatives of the intelligentsia – is still inclined to consider the Jews as collectively responsible for the mass killings and deportations of civilians, as well as for other atrocities committed during the Soviet occupation on the eve of the Second World War. This tendency represents a disgraceful adoption of the Nazi rhetoric that equated “Communism” with “the Jews.” In an effort to modify the charges that Lithuanians participated in the mass killings of Jews in 1941 and after, some Lithuanians have spoken of “two genocides,” or – as some Jewish writers have called it – a “symmetry” in the suffering among both peoples.

This notorious theory of a “historic guilt” of Lithuanian Jews, which up to now has been deeply embedded in Lithuanian political discourse and popular consciousness, claims that the local Jewry was disloyal and unpatriotic towards Lithuania on the eve of the Second World War, and ultimately was instrumental for the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Hence, the derivative theory of “two genocides,” which provides an assessment of the Holocaust and of local collaborators of the Nazis in terms of revenge for the Soviet genocide of Lithuanian nationals. It is little wonder that the theory of “two genocides” – which is just another term for the theory of “collective guilt of the Jews” – has been qualified by Tomas Venclova as “troglodytic,” thus characterizing people who are still inclined to practice it as “moral troglodytes.”

Needless to say, much remains to be desired, and even more so to be done, to come to terms with the most tragic pages of Lithuanian history. Yet there are some encouraging and inspiring signs, as a tiny and aging minority of Lithuanian Jews (around 5,000 people out of 240,000 prior to World War Two) is no longer an isolated voice crying in the wilderness. Young Lithuanian writers who showed great sensitivity to the Shoah over the past years – such as Daiva Cepauskaite with her play ‘The Hole,’ and Sigitas Parulskis with his aforementioned novel ‘Darkness and Partners’ – are the best proof that the Holocaust is not sinking into oblivion in Lithuania; instead, it is powerfully reinterpreted by young writers whose experience would naturally lead them back to the 1980s, rather than the Second World War. Yet deeply ethical memory prevails over forgetting.


Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.,  is a Lithuanian Member  of the European Parliament.

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