The Use and Abuse of History

The controversy about the Lithuanian postwar partisans does not end so much as undergo perpetual regeneration, with one, admittedly small, school claiming that they were simply fascist bandits who terrorized the countryside for a decade after the second world war.

The standard accusations have an uncanny similarity, claiming that the two most famous partisan leaders, Juozas Luksa and Adolfas Ramanauskas were criminals.

In an effort to hunt down the sources of these accusations, I managed to get my hands on a very rare Soviet publication of 1960, called Vanagai is Anapus.

This text depicts Juozas Luksa as the son of a wife-beating bourgeois, himself a petit bourgeois, an agent of the Nazi Abwehr during the first Soviet occupation and a vicious murderer. He is also the unwitting tool of drunken priests who are amused that he does not see through the lies of the Vatican.

Adolfas Ramanauskas, a partisan leader who managed to last until 1956 when he was betrayed, tortured, and executed, is depicted as a coward who clung to his wife’s skirts.

For all foolishness of Vanagai is Anapus, it does have certain drive, like a very good potboiler. It is also fascinating to see the heroism of to men turned into banditry.

If one were simply a literary critic, one could do an analysis of how different camps depict different historical characters.  But the effect this text, Vanagai is Anapus, continues to echo into the present beyond literary discussions. If you look at on-line commentaries that address the history of the partisans, the attacks usually refer back to this text as support for their argument. I have even heard that an official of the UK wondered out loud if Juozas Luksa wasn’t merely a fascist bandit. He gave no source for this claim, but presented it as a little-known fact – in other words, the power of a good potboiler is not to be underestimated. On the other hand, it’s remarkable, as if someone were to use the Da Vinci Code as a reference on the history of France.