Lithuania celebrated Day of Re-establishing Lithuanian State February 16, and on this day President Paksas awarded (posthumously) the founders and commanders of Vietine Rinktine (Local Team) Unit which collaborated with Nazi occupation authorities during the World War II.
Former Unit Commander of Vietine Rinktine General Povilas Plekhaichyus and Chief of Staff Colonel Oskaras Urbonas were awarded the Banner of Knight Commander’s Big Cross.
In 1944 General Plekhavichyus with the support of Nazis established a military unit of volunteers. The unit was designated to fight Soviet guerilla fighters. However, Vietine Rinktine volunteers became well-known with their “fighting” Polish civilians living in Lithuania.
Giving state awards to officers collaborating with Nazis was not unanimously supported in Lithuanian society. According to Director of Institute for Lithuanian History Alvidas Nikzhentaitis, “these awards can be seen as logical continuation of Lithuanian President’s actions aimed at his befriending with radical and fascist-minded forces and dividing the society”.
The memories of the Nazi accomplices became involved in the political confrontation in Lithuania. It started in October 2003 when opposition accused Rolandas Paksas and his circle of having ties with so-called “Russian mafia”. The opponents of the President in the Parliament demanded him to resign. Rolandas Paksas did not want to resign voluntarily and the deputies initiated impeachment procedure. In the end of December Lithuanian Seym established the Committee on Preparing Impeachment Procedure. The Committee will complete its work on February 19, although first it was supposed to finish its work several days earlier – 0n February 13. However, the commission failed to consider all available materials in due time.
Many experts who support the opposition claim that after the beginning of the scandal “radical and even fascist-minded individuals started uniting around Paksas”. These accusations could be seen as just one of the tools the opposition uses for bringing down the President. However, the decision to award the officers collaborating with Nazis demonstrates: this claim is not far from reality.