Badmouthing against legendary partisan costs Klaipėda politician a Council seat
Where is the delicate boundary between freedom of speech and outright calumny? A member of Klaipėda City Council, Viaceslav Titov, paid a costly price for what court has found to be slander.
The Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court (LSAC) ruled on Monday, November 26, that Titov grossly breached the oath when he said that Lithuanian partisan commander Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas was responsible for the killing of 8,000 innocent civilians.
Titov made his comments about Ramanauskas-Vanagas during a discussion on commemorating his memory in Klaipėda by putting a memorial plaque on the wall of Klaipėda University last July.
«Do you really think it’s worth honouring a person at whose initiative around 8,000 peaceful residents and children were killed? I believe there’s no place for commemorating such people in Klaipėda,» Titov said. He also claimed Ramanauskas-Vanagas personally issued death sentences. Titov also posted a similar post on Facebook.
The outlandish provocative remarks led to a strong backlash from Klaipėda communities, with the majority condemning the politician. Following the court ruling, Lithuania’s Central Electoral Commission stripped Titov off his councillor’s mandate at his own request. Nine members of the commission voted in favour of accepting his resignation and one abstained.
The decision comes two days before the Klaipėda City Council’s planned vote on revoking Titov of his mandate.
As Titov handed in his resignation shortly before the commission’s sitting, the draft proposal was taken off of the Klaipėda City Council agenda.
Approached by BNN, the embattled Klaipėdian remained defiant and, having exhausted his legal defence measures in Lithuania – the LSAC ruling is unquestionable, Titov plans to seek justice in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. «As I am convinced that my Constitutional right entitling me to freedom of speech has been grossly violated, I am hiring my lawyers who will file a lawsuit against state of Lithuania the Strasbourg Court,» he said. «The Court has unfortunately given in the pressure that the media has generated following my statements. It is very sad, but our courts today cannot protect citizens’ Constitutional rights. The Court’s ruling is political not judicial,» Titov told BNN. The Klaipeda councillor, who represents the Union of Russians in Lithuania, said the ruling came as a surprise to him.
«I was 99.99 percent sure I was going to win,» he said.
The judgment opened the way for impeaching Titov, two-thirds majority of all the members of the port city’s council was needed to strip him of his mandate. Vytautas Grubliauskas, mayor of Lithuania’s port of Klaipėda, said he had collected the necessary number of signatures to launch impeachment proceedings against Titov, who resigned from the Council after hearing the unfavourable court ruling. Elected in 2015 to the Klaipėda City Council on the ticket of the Union of Russians in Lithuania, Titov plans to run in next March’s municipal elections with a public election committee.
«The highest court will take place during the elections on Mach 3,» he added When in court, Titov argued that he properly represented his voters when he accused Lithuanian partisan commander Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas of killing innocent civilians. «In my opinion, I did not breach the oath. I believe that I represented my voters in an honest and proper way,» he emphasised. Titov said he was simply doing his job by raising questions about the partisan commander.
«If my statements offended anyone, I do apologize, because I did not mean to offend anyone. I just wanted to go deeper into the matter and discuss it,» he said.
The councilor said he had the right to express an opinion that did not match the state’s official position, and quoted a passage from a book about partisans’ victims he had brought with him.
Gintaras Kryževičius, president or the panel hearing the case, remarked: «Saying that someone killed means not only committing defamation, but it also means accusing that person of a crime.»
«Freedom of speech is not unlimited. It can be limited in order to ensure that cause of kindness is respected in a democratic state as Lithuania,» the judge accentuated. Mayor Vytautas Grubliauskas said in court that members of the council were free to express their opinion.
«But freedom to information is not absolute, which is defined in the Constitution,» he said.
Counter-arguing, Titov said that he based his claim on Soviet court documents and feels persecuted for his opinion. Historians, however, say any research on Lithuania’s resistance movement cannot be based on the KGB materials as they are full of false accusations smearing partisans. Titov made defamatory statements in July and was flour-bombed swiftly afterwards during a right-wing party-held protest over the nasty statements. Lithuania’s prosecutor General’s Office in July launched an investigation regarding the defamation of the memory of a dead person.
A partisan warfare broke out in Lithuania in 1944 after the Baltic country was occupied by the Soviet Union for the second time. Ramanauskas-Vanagas lead partisans in the southern region of Dzūkija. Together with other partisan commanders, he signed the Lithuanian Partisans Declaration of February 16, 1949. Armed fight for the restoration of Lithuania’s independence lasted from 1944 until 1953. Ramanauskas-Vanagas was detained in 1956, brutally tortured by the Soviets and executed a year later.
His remains were found earlier this year in Našlaičiai Cemetery in Antakalnis. Authenticity of the remains was confirmed by anthropological forensic analysis, skull and face photographic comparison, and DNA test. The partisan’s remains were buried in the ceremony of state funeral during October 5-6.