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7 Jun, 2010 02:47

Swastika raised in Baltic country – tribute to history or Nazi revival?

The swastika is considered a Nazi symbol and banned in most of Europe. But a Lithuanian court recently ruled that it's not exclusively a Nazi emblem after students displayed the symbol at an independence parade.

The decision shocked many in the country, as they say it may now be used by neo-Nazis.

“I wanted people to think outside the box,” said Milvydas Juskauskas, one of the parade organizers. “That’s why I decided to look for a symbol which would urge them to do so. And I chose the ancient swastika – a symbol of light, fire and universe – as a perfect match. The swastika – once a sacred symbol – is now being misinterpreted and humiliated.”

It is, of course, etched forever in history as the sign of Nazi horror. But the march’s organizer said the symbol of Nazism was around long before Hitler.

A balcony with swastikas belongs to a 19th century building in the heart of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Historians say that the swastika, as a symbol, is very popular in this part of the world. And it had been popular long before Adolf Hitler was born.

A professor in Vilnius says the swastika was an ancient symbol of fire and sun in places including China and Europe – even appearing on the first Soviet banknotes.

“I’ve come across swastikas a lot during decades of archeological research,” maintained Alekseus Lukhtanas, professor of archeology. “They can be found as decorations for ancient wallets, on clay pots and hats. And they are thousands of years old.”

But he’s opposed to the marchers’ revival of the symbol – notorious as the emblem of the Nazis. He questions their motivation in choosing a motif bonded in the public mind to a creed of extermination and hatred, rather than ancient history.

“One thing is an ancient symbol of fire and prosperity,” Lukhtanas said. “The other is when someone tries to use it for whatever their motivation is. I don’t believe they did it for archeological purposes. It was a very bad promotion. If they did, why wouldn’t they promote any other archeological findings on banners?”

And at first, Lithuanian authorities thought the same way. The students were originally arrested and put on trial for the illegal display of fascist symbols. But in a court decision that surprised and shocked many – they were acquitted. The judge saw no malicious intent in their actions – believing their story that they were promoting a historical symbol.

Further, a political activist says it’s an extremely sinister and dangerous development for his country.

“We see in Lithuania the process of rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators,” noted Algerdas Paletskis, the Frontas movement leader, “We see that people who fought against the Red army – Lithuanians fighting on Hitler’s side – are being rehabilitated. So this court decision legalizes the proliferation of swastika. At least in Lithuania swastikas can now be drawn by any artist and they will be in a position to say that it’s legal by the court.”

In Lithuania, the display of both Nazi and Soviet symbols is outlawed. But many are wondering if the court’s verdict may open the way for neo-Nazis to use history as a cover-up for fascist demonstrations.