The following is an interview between Grant Gochin and Alexandra Kudukis, ILF www.iamlietuva.com Senior Correspondent. Grant is a well-known Litvak engaged in Lithuanian society.
Alex: Grant, thank you for meeting with me and agreeing to be interviewed.
Grant: Thanks Alex, I very deeply care about our common heritage and moving our common cause forward in a progressive and constructive fashion.
Alex: When and how did you become involved in Lithuania?
Grant: My Grandfather taught me stories when I was a small child, I grew up with it in the home. When Lithuania was still occupied by the Soviets, I engaged with the then Lithuanian Diplomats who were still accredited, even though Lithuania no longer existed as a sovereign nation. Before independence, I attempted contact with the remnants of the Jewish Community, and in 1992, I made my first visit to Lithuania to begin to engage. I claimed heritage citizenship in Lithuania for the first time in 1991, while it was still Soviet. I have returned to Lithuania many more times since, I feel very at home there now.
Alex: You are very well known among Lithuanian society, often with a poor image as an agitator.
Grant: Yes. I have been an agitator in Lithuania since 1991. It was an interest of mine as a young child, and it has continued throughout my life. I was involved in the South African liberation movement in the 1980’s, and paid a heavy personal price, but those were the values my Grandparents taught me, and I live according to those values. So too, must we work on righting and recording history, and walking towards future reconciliation. If that makes me unpopular, so be it.
Alex: But, why would citizenship be a criteria for you?
Grant: It is a legal tie, connecting the generations and people. With a legal tie, it becomes tangible and necessary to walk the path to a better future. Jewish survival has been so random, so fragile, people have been murdering Jews for a few thousand years, we are no longer victims but a proud people that stake our claim in society, and so we need to build bridges and connect. Jews lived in Lithuania for about 700 years, to lose that tie would be tragic for both Jews and Lithuanians, so we must walk the path together to truth and ultimate reconciliation.
Alex: Do you now have Lithuanian citizenship?
Grant: Yes, I first applied in 1991 and was denied. I then applied in 2004 and was denied, I then applied a third time and was denied. I knew that the rejection was based upon my Jewishness, and I was not going to allow bureaucrats to dictate the future of Jewish Lithuanian relations, so I pursued it. I wrote a book about my experiences titled: “Malice, Murder and Manipulation” and a blog with some of my writings at www.ggochin.wordpress.com. I have also been extensively quoted on the subject which has become quite contentious.
Alex: Recently, Lithuanian Parliament has passed new legislation on Jewish citizenship.
Grant: Actually, the legislation does not even address Jews, it applies to all Lithuanians, Jews and non Jews alike. Unfortunately, a few disingenuous people have termed it as “Jewish legislation”. It is because they simply do not know the history or the background of the subject. This particular situation was created by bureaucrats at the Interior Ministry who created a dishonest environment and denied Jewish applications based on their own ideological platform. It was one new tactic they created, after having applied many more different tactics in the past. This legislation came from very many years of hard work by people like Faina Kukliansky, Andrius Kubilius, Gediminas Kirkilas, Vydas Gedvilas, Emanuel Zingeris, Sergey Kanovich, Darius Udrys, Dr. Leonidas Donskis, and myself, dedicated, hard working, deeply concerned Lithuanians and Litvaks alike that have worked together for the betterment of all Lithuanian society. Ex-Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel, Darius Degutis, and current Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel, Edminas Bogdonas have also been invaluable in their assistance.
Alex: But I have read claims from others that they were responsible for this legislation.
Grant: There are always 1,000 parents of every success, and every failure is an orphan, the record is replete with articles and agitation from the people I mentioned; ask those claiming parentage of this legislation to show their public record of actions, otherwise it is mostly a few insecure people trying to make themselves look important or to turn this into business opportunities for themselves. There is a great difference in selfless work for betterment of society, and other people turning our decades long, hard work into their business opportunities.
Alex: Do you expect Litvaks to claim citizenship?
Grant: I hope so. This should not be a matter of convenience, but a re-kindling of ties. There is an entire passport industry in the world, our work will create a new cottage industry for lawyers who will make all forms of claims to generate business opportunities, but the purpose of our work has been to create opportunities for reconciliation, to open paths of dialog, to begin to have history and rights recognized. We cannot bring back the murdered, we can remember them and honor them. This is one way.
Alex: Why would applicants need a lawyer to claim citizenship?
Grant: They do not. They can do it at their local Embassy. If people feel the need to hire a lawyer, they should hire a lawyer inside Lithuania. A South African, Israeli, Mexican or American lawyer would only add layers of cost and time to the process. In all likelihood, a non Lithuanian lawyer would be more of an impediment to the process than a benefit, but people are free to do as they wish.
Alex: What other activities are you involved in inside Lithuania:
Grant: I was Chair of an organization called Maceva where we restored over 40 Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania and collaborated on another 20. We have worked on documenting the history of Jewish life in Lithuania, we are working towards the re-writing of school text books to include the history of Jewish Lithuanians and the contributions of Jews to Lithuanian society. Much of Nazi and Soviet propaganda still is accepted “truth” within Lithuania, it is a false narrative which needs to be corrected. The youth of Lithuania are by and large fine people who are not responsible for the actions of their Grandparents, but they do not know what the facts are. We need to ensure that truth is in the public domain, and objective truth is told, that is why one of my goals is correcting school textbooks to give an accurate reading of facts, not repeating of fiction.
We are also working to take down monuments and memorials to Holocaust perpetrators. In 2012, the Lithuanian State re-buried a perpetrator named Brazaitis with State Honors. It is a stain of shame that will stand over Lithuania for generations to come. They also re-buried other perpetrators with honors. Lithuanian society needs to recognize historical truths, face them, and then move forward. How could there be reconciliation without truth? One of the biggest current obstacles to truth is a Lithuanian Government Institution called the “Genocide Center” which is staffed by some disingenuous people with ideological agenda’s to obfuscate truth. Unfortunately, they speak with the authority of the Government, and are therefore destructive towards attempts at reconciliation. Their damage will need to be undone in the future, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. It is very unfortunate.
Alex: But isn’t the new citizenship legislation an act towards reconciliation?
Grant: I am not an authorized representative of the Jewish community to speak about future reconciliation, I can only give my personal thoughts. Citizenship for Jews was originally denied to Jews in order to avoid property claims. It was then denied by ideologues within the Migration Department. Lithuania faces a demographic crisis, and an economic crisis. Leaders in Government view Litvaks as a possible escape path for both of these crises, so, now becoming more open to Jewish heritage citizenship is self serving for Lithuania. The Foreign Ministry is touting this as an act of reconciliation, but there is nothing in the law specific to Litvaks, so, no, I do not see this as an act of reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen, there has to be raw truth telling. The youth of Lithuania are ready to hear the truth and face the truth, it is the older generation that do not want to face truth. The young will be able to walk the path to reconciliation, then friendship, and ultimately, brotherhood. The single biggest requirement is truth.
Alex: Grant, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for Lithuania, one day, we hope that all Lithuanians, Jews and non Jews alike, can walk that path to reconciliation, together, in friendship. Until then, your agitation has brought us far along the path, and Lithuania owes you a debt of gratitude for your dedication.
Grant Gochin is a Wealth Advisor and Financial Planner in Los Angeles. He is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”.
Mr. Gochin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org