How Ella Kanaite was harassed/ Ãëàâíàÿ / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / How Ella Kanaite was harassed
How Ella Kanaite was harassed
Can a modest, law-abiding history teacher become the main threat for national security of a European country? Easily! If she lives in Lithuania, makes no secret of her love for Russian language and culture and - oh, dear God! - her photo with Dmitry Medvedev was noticed in the Internet…
In 2012 Dmitry Medvedev, the President of Russia, awarded Ella Kanaite, the head of the Association of Teachers of Russian Schools of Lithuania, with the Medal of Pushkin. The state decoration was established in 1999. It is awarded to citizens of the Russian Federation and foreign nationals for achievements in the arts and culture, education, humanities and literature; for significant contribution into study and preservation of cultural heritage, as well as bringing cultures of nations and ethnic groups together, promoting their mutual enrichment and creating images of superb artistry.
In February 2012, along with the Lithuanian history teacher, the same Medals of Pushkin were received by citizens of Moldavia, Brazil, Japan and Syria. Representatives of Austria, Finland, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Macedonia were honored with the Order of Friendship of Peoples. The Russian award has probably still been a source of pride for Ella Kanaite’s colleagues; however in her case, a few years later it turned into the main evidence of disloyalty.
Nobody wanted to fall behind
In March 2019, a photograph of the Lithuanian teacher standing next to Dmitry Medvedev, who had awarded her seven years ago, was shown by nearly all Lithuanian television channels, and Ella Kanaite's photo was posted by all local Internet portals. It is something like a sensation, though kind of stale one, but nobody wanted to fall behind.
It all began with Algis Ramanauskas, a scandalous Lithuanian provocative showman, who sometimes fiddles around journalism. He checked Ella Kanaite’s personal page on Facebook, where, to his indescribable patriotic amazement, he saw the January repost of an article about World War II. The article included a map showing countries whose military units fought on the side of the Wehrmacht. Apparently, it was not Ella Kanaite who taught Algis history at school. Or he was a D student, otherwise he would surely know that there is nothing to be surprised with - since 1939 about two million people from 15 European countries actually fought in the army of the Wehrmacht. Those were from such countries as Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania…
However, such truly sad pages of our European past did not suit the Lithuanian blogger, who seriously accused the teacher of history rewriting.
The righteous rage of the showman was caused by one more controversial article on a historical topic, exhumed on Ella Kanaite’s timeline. The post dated back to 2017 and related to bringing troops into Poland in 1939. Again, the teacher was not the author; she simply reposted something that caught her attention, so she could read it later, more carefully and in calm surrounding. The article was not commented or liked even once...
“So these are the propaganda clichés of the Kremlin which the teacher of history shares with children in school!” lashed out Ramanauskas in his blog. And this is the very person who had recently said that Russian schools in Lithuania were centers of “russofascism”. And what consequences followed his confession on how he had dreamed to plant a bomb at Kirkorov’s concert in Vilnius? None, he got away with it. You are allowed to dream of explosions in Lithuania. But reading “wrong” articles on social networks and, to make it worse, posting them on your walls is forbidden, especially to teachers of Russian schools. It seems they will be fraught with consequences...
The very next day the Minister of Education Algirdas Monkavičius reacted to the blog of the loutish journalist, who has all the major Lithuania “patriots” from the conservative party as his Facebook friends. The Minister thanked for the timely signal and promised to look into it…
What a civilized dialogue with the authorities can be fraught with
One day later the gymnasium, where Ella Kanaite worked, was filled with journalists equipped with cameras and microphones. And things went off rolling… Nearly each and every local media talked about the teacher that brought grist to the Kremlin’s mill. And the old Moscow photo was conveniently found in Internet.
Vile obscenity hailed down on her head. The most decent word used by vigilant commentators under such “revelations” was, perhaps, “vatnitsa” (Russian female patriotic redneck).
I don’t want to quote others and I cannot do that, because I personally know Ella Kanaite as an exceptionally intelligent, decent person who has always supported her students, her school and her country. Yes, yes, the very country, which, being politically blinded, has started disgusting harassment campaign against her, making the teacher have heart attack and lose her much loved job.
No, she is not a timid person. For more than fifteen years, Ella Kanaite has led the Association of Teachers of Russian Schools of Lithuania and has spoken at various international conferences asserting the right of children of national minorities to study in their native language. She has personally visited the Lithuanian Seim several times hoping for a civilized dialogue with the authorities. It is thanks to the active position of such knowledgeable and courageous teachers, as well as support of the tight-knit Polish community in Lithuania, that they managed to maintain education in Russian and Polish from the 1st to the 12th grade in schools of this country.
Children of national minorities today are taught in Lithuanian only the language itself, Lithuanian literature, geography and history of Lithuania, as well as civics. At the same time, graduates of these schools have a very good knowledge of the state language, but also they master other academic subjects at a decent level. And that is because they were able to learn them in schools in their native language with no issues.
Ella Kanaite, the head of the Association of Teachers of Russian Schools of Lithuania, at the Congress of Compatriots in Moscow
Therefore, Ella Kanaite deserved thoroughly the Medal of Pushkin for her contribution to education, as well as for “bringing cultures of nations and ethnic groups together, promoting their mutual enrichment” which she was honored with seven years ago. And she is not the only one - over the years about thirty cultural and educational workers from Lithuania were also honored with this Russian award. However, only one representative of this republic had a chance to take a picture with Dmitry Medvedev.
“Thanks goodness it was Medvedev. It I had a photo with Putin, my family would probably be drying rusks for me,” Ella bitterly joked when I called her shortly after the incident to support.
At first she tried to explain to reporters attacking her with questions that there was no any connection between what she read in the World Wide Web and her school lessons. A history teacher at a state gymnasium teaches her subject within the framework of the existing curriculum, even if sometimes she does not agree with certain interpretations. But then she realized that you can't break down walls by beating your head against them... And after three days of persecution she could not stand it anymore - she came down with a heart attack.
“Black Spot” for a teacher
“Well, I am no longer twenty-five; the age makes itself felt, although I still have a long way to retirement. But the tension, obviously, did its job,” says Ella, explaining her subsequent resignation from school. “Please, understand, it was not me only, our gymnasium also came under tremendous pressure. Yes, I did nothing wrong, and when you speak with adequate people, everyone is surprised. Are we forbidden to read posts of Russian authors in the public domain? After all, I did not even express my opinion on what was written anywhere! Although the constitution guarantees me this right, at least I thought so. But it turns out that it does not. I immediately closed my Facebook profile.”
But it was not a solution any longer. The society was thirsty for reprisals over the "the Kremlin’s abettor." After all, this was not the first incident. In 2015 and 2016 the State Security Department of Lithuania listed her among “threats to national security” of the country. What for? As the head of the Association of Teachers of Russian Schools, Ella Kanaite assisted teachers of Russian language and elementary schools in Lithuania to enrol for advanced training courses in Russian specialized universities and to organize similar courses in Vilnius. She helped to send children from different cities of Lithuania on sightseeing trips to Russian cities. She assisted to graduates of Russian schools to receive assignments for study if they wished to get higher education in Russia. Please, tell me, what is bad or wrong, if teachers, who are specialists in Russian philology, go for training to the country where this language is native? What is wrong if Lithuanian students go on a trip to Russia to learn about architecture and culture of the neighbouring country? Or if they go to study at famous Russian universities, since no higher education institutions in Lithuania, even private ones, teach in Russian?
But this is what we all think on the basis of common sense. In 2015, the Lithuanian State Security Department wrote in its report on evaluation of national security threats the following: “Russian-speaking young people from Lithuania, who study in Russia, become potential targets attracting attention of Russian special services. (...) National minority schools in Lithuania remain fertile soil for development of Russian influence, which can seriously harm the national security of Lithuania.”
In general, everything is clear and there is nothing new. But conclusions fabricated by the political police became a real “black spot” for Ella Kanaite, and it is almost impossible to get rid of. She tried. She personally went to the respective authorities trying to find out on what grounds she had been listed as a threat to the country's security, if there was nothing illegal in her public activities. Based on vague answers of the guards securing the national order, she understood that it had been done for preventive purposes. Well, the goal, in general, is clear - to intimidate leading minority activists, and, at the same time, to discourage others from even looking in that direction.
Complaining somewhere is pointless, it is as if the partisans sued upon the Gestapo. However, some opposition politicians, those included in the “black lists”, tried to go to court - it did not get them anywhere. The history teacher simply gave up: she had no power or resources to fight with windmills.
There is no any pressure, just a mere inspection
After two weeks on sick leave, Ella Kanaite came back to work. But the conservative patriots, having received the signal from the showman, had kept themselves busy flooding Vilnius self-government with deputy requests on why a teacher with such “hostile” views was working at school. How much longer?! The gymnasium had to react somehow.
“To our principal’s credit, she was also indignant: how come the gymnasium was considered as an enemy’s agent just because it was the Russian one,” says Ella. “But she had to take action based on the authorities’ order. I received a warning. What was it for? It was for violation of the employee’s code of conduct. This is the internal code of the school, which says that a teacher must always protect the image of his/her school and country. What was my negative impact on such image, of course, nobody knows, including me. Well, I have no complaints to the school; I never wanted to set it up. Even in my public activities, I always was careful trying to walk soft and keep my colleagues from being prosecuted.”
Ella Kanaite, a lesson of history. Photo credit: mirtesen.ru
However, the matter was not closed by the warning. Ella Kanaite was informed that she would apparently have to pass teaching requalification test, and inspectors would be visiting her lessons during a month.
“I was not afraid of professional inspections,” assures the history teacher with teaching experience of 33 years, 14 of which were given to this Russian gymnasium. “However it was clear that those inspectors will come to my lessons with specific goal to nail me to the wall. I realized I would not be able to stand such pressure either physically or mentally. Apparently, it was an occupational burnout. And then I decided to resign in the full knowledge that due to my “black spot” no school in Lithuania would take the risk and employ me. Apparently, I have to say farewell to the profession, which is why my heart is now bitter and hurt.”
The patriots rejoiced. Delphi, the most popular Lithuanian portal (by the way, its Russian version did not post anything at all about Ella Kanaite’s case) published an article stating that “the teacher who was disseminating the Kremlin’s lies could not stand it and resigned.” Laurynas Kasčiūnas, a conservative Lithuanian politician, highly appreciated this fact. But at the same time, he made haste to note that the teacher’s resignation absolutely did not mean that Lithuania prosecutes other opinions or restricts freedom of speech (sure, who would have thought that!)
“Yes, I am confident that I suffered just because of my beliefs, for my social activities and good attitude towards Russia, the Russian gymnasium teacher believes. “And I am not going to change my beliefs, as they suggested to me. I grew up and was brought up in Russian culture, although I am Jewish because of my mother. For me, Russian is my native language, and it represents to me those moral and cultural values that have to be followed. The Second World War is a sacred subject to me at the genetic level and by virtue of my "item 5". My mother was from Lithuanian Jews, almost all of her relatives died here during the war, during the Holocaust. I am profoundly convinced that if it were not for the victory of the Soviet soldiers over the fascist regime, there would not be a single Jew in Europe. And they cannot reframe me here! Speaking of it, I really liked the point made by Tatyana Zhdanok in the European Parliament: she compared the current situation of the Russians in the Baltic countries with the Jews during the war years. I entirely agree and share her opinion. I see what is happening here in Latvia and in Estonia. This comparison is so correct!”
Ella Kanaite got support from her friends and students, both former and present, through personal communication. And she is very grateful to them. However none of the leading Lithuanian politicians or local Russian-speaking politicians said any public word in defense of the Russian gymnasium teacher. I am not able to give any reason for that except the climate of total fear that has occupied Lithuania. This is the worst aspect in Lithuanian story of the history teacher.
The only country that took Ella Kanaite’s side was Russia. During the briefing Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of Russia, said that Moscow condemned the increasing “abuse of power by police” in Lithuania against the Russian-speaking community. She used as an example the harassment and aggressive campaign of the local media and Lithuanian special services against Ella Kanaite, a history teacher, the head of the Association of Teachers of the Russian Lithuanian schools…
According to Zakharova, abuse of power by police against the Russian-speaking population of Lithuania has been unleashed "in order to please the internal political environment" of the Baltic Republic.