For the past few weeks, even as Germany has tried to drag Europe into welcoming Syrian migrants, the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been debating a ban on burqas. There have been no reports of burqas being sighted in the Baltics, so the idea of prohibiting them seems rather superfluous, like banning nude sunbathing in Antarctica. In Lithuania, when the burqa ban was first proposed by the chairman of the country’s national security committee, most officials dismissed it as absurd. (“I suggest you look around the streets to see how many women cover their faces,” says the country’s justice minister, Juozas Bernatonis. “I have seen none.”) Yet the very discussion testifies to the fear triggered in central and eastern Europe by the European Union’s plans to cope with its migrant crisis by distributing asylum seekers among its member states.
One person who finds anti-Muslim sentiment troubling is Adas Jakubauskas (pictured), the chairman of the Lithuanian Tatar Union. “It hurts me as a Muslim and a believer when politicians engage in this [burqa-ban] publicity,” says Mr Jakubauskas. An instructor in law at a university in Vilnius, Mr Jakubauskas looks like any typical Lithuanian professional, but it might be misleading to call him “well-integrated”: the Lithuanian Tatars have no need to integrate, having been in the country since the late 1300s. (The Economist)
The story of the Lipka Tartars is an interesting one. The first Tartars came to live among the ancient Lithuanians when both peoples were unsullied by the great monotheistic religions. Perhaps they found solace in their mutual shamanistic beliefs. The next wave of Tartars, now Muslims, came at the invitation of Vytautas the Great, now Christian. Tokhtamysh, Khan of the White Horde, suffered a series of defeats in battles against Tamerlane. He, along with his entire clan, was granted asylum by Vytautas.
This kindness was repaid on the battlefield. In 1399, Tokhtamysh fought at the side of Vytautas at the Battle of the Vorskla River, where they were both soundly defeated by Khan Temur Qutlugh and the Golden Horde. But Vytautas learned a valuable lesson in this defeat. In 1410 along with King Jogaila and the Polish Army, Vytautas lead the Lithuanian Army against a European Army assembled by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen and the Teutonic Order. Vytautas employed the tactic of a feigned retreat that he learned so painfully at the Vorskla River. Jamal Ad-Din, the son of Tokhtamysh, led a thousand Tartar archer horsemen along with the Lithuanian light cavalry in a charge against the Teutonic artillery. The Tartar-Lithuanian calvary quickly fell back in a feigned retreat. Von Jungingen, sensing a grand victory, fell for the trap. He sent half his knights in a disorganized pursuit of a seemingly defeated enemy. Later, as the main battle with the Polish army raged, the Lithuanian-Tartar army returned to the battlefield attacking von Jungingen’s Army from the rear. The victory was complete. Grand Master von Jungingen and more than a dozen of his top officers were executed by order of Grand Duke Vytautas.
This was not the last of the Lipka Tartars. They had their ups and downs with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth including the Lipka Rebellion of 1672. They reconciled and fought with Jan III Sobieski at Vienna in 1683 defeating the Ottoman Turks. The Lipka Tartars participated in the largest cavalry charge in history along side the famous Polish winged hussars. The Lipka Tartars wore sprigs of straw in their headgear to distinguish themselves from the Tartars fighting for the Ottomans.
Today I despair for Lithuania. They spent centuries fighting for their very existence against seemingly insurmountable odds to emerge with their culture intact as an independent country only to now fret over nonexistent burqas. Get a grip, my brothers and sisters. You lost almost a quarter your population to emmigration since independence. Think about taking in the 1,105 Syrian refugees mandated by the EU. Welcome them as the new Lipka Tartars. Take them in as equals, allowing them to embrace the best of their culture while you show them the best of yours. Be brave enough to know that your society will not be destroyed by these refugees. For God’s sake, you withstood the vicious onslaught of NKVD divisions and Stalin’s attempt to literally eradicate your society. Even if the number of refugees eventually increases by ten times, as so many fear, don’t marginalize them to the fringes where they will fester into a sore that will only cause you problems. Be brave my brothers and sisters.