Lenin in Vilnius

This month, the Lithuanian parliament rejected a conservative resolution, calling for the declaration of the Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP) a criminal organization and a perpetrator of genocide against the people in Lithuania.

Thirty-seven MPs voted in favour of the resolution, 24 opposed it and 33 abstained from the vote.

It is a good thing that the bill was rejected, but it is equally good that it was presented. The activities of the LCP warrant thorough scrutiny that may dispel fairytales about how the communists were consistently working for the good of Lithuania, focusing exclusively on the country's welfare, and shielding it from the wiles of the Kremlin and the Russians.

The interpretation of the actions of the LCP is a sensitive, inevitably politicised question and as such it should not be debated in the middle of an electoral campaign. It is not without reason that Social Democrat Algirdas Sysas asked “why are these or similar questions always raised when there’s half a year or less left to the election, especially when you are in the opposition?”

You have to admit that due to a variety of reasons, the activities of the LCP are not sufficiently investigated. This was compounded by the LDDP (Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania) victory in the 1992 Seimas election, Algirdas Brazauskas, Lionginas Šepetys and other party official’s partial memories, which glorified the past amid passionate party polemics. Another important factor was that the Lithuanian Communist Party was not just the state Communist party, but also the people’s communist party, thus a critical examination would cast a shadow on many Lithuanian citizens.

Without more detailed investigations, parliamentarians are only expressing their opinions. The Seimas should allocate a sizeable sum of money, half a million euro if not more for a research programme to finally allow us to understand what actually happened, who did it and not just in the first few years of the Soviet era.

After some time it would be possible to debate the question more rationally albeit it is doubtful whether the Seimas resolution, which describes and generalises a complex past in just a few sentences, is a worthwhile way to evaluate history.

No-one is denying that during the Stalin years there were mass atrocities carried out in Lithuania - that more than a hundred thousand people were exiled. But there is a constant effort to bypass, soften and silence certain aspects or otherwise to blame Stalin, Beria or non-Lithuanians overall. Such efforts are unfair.

During the post-war years the Lithuanian people were exiled earlier and more frequently than in Estonia or Latvia, the task was accomplished not without input from the Lithuanian Communist Party. Local communists and not political commissars from Donetsk or Odessa would decide which inhabitants of a Dzūkija village would be exiled, even if they, like the recently sentenced Aleksandr Kardanovskij, sometimes signed the necessary documents to go ahead with deportation. Lithuanians enthusiastically exiled Lithuanians, even if under foreign supervision.

It is worth remembering how ruthless these deportations were, how reserve exile lists were put together which could be used if a family escaped arrest - all in order for the “plan” to succeed. The authorities intentionally encouraged hatred.

In the 1948 20th release of “Literatūra ir Menas” (“Literature and Art”) released on May 26, that date was four days after a mass deportation that saw 40,000 Lithuanian people exiled, well-known Lithuanian writers unequivocally supported dealing with the “enemy.” Though they cursed the partisans, circumstances showed that the comments applied to those deported as well. Juozas Baltušis wrote that Lithuania “can no longer suffer the wretched slugs.” Julius Būtėnas claimed that the Lithuanian people “demand a cleansing of disgusting parasites.” Vladas Mozūriūnas did not steer clear of biological metaphors either, writing “You are blessed by those like you lifeless, cassock dressed worms” in his poem.

The Stalin years were the darkest, but over the entirety of the Soviet era in Lithuania, as in the entire USSR, a system of repression was in place and it would dispose of all opponents. The Kremlin would leave the repression and maintenance of order to local communists, who did not fail their superiors because with few exceptions they had the mind-set and world view as the senior Communist Party of the Soviet Union officers.

In this regard we can learn from A. Brazauskas’ statements that he would grant the Nobel prize to him who would show how Lithuania can do without the Soviet Union; that he would not speak until “this rag” (the Lithuanian tricolour flag) is raised; his question – who would defend Lithuania if not the Soviet army. Later accomplishments by A. Brazauskas and some other LCP members cannot be doubted, but neither can it be doubted that they faithfully served Moscow.

Algirdas Brazauskas
Algirdas Brazauskas
© AFP/Scanpix

The command structure of the USSR was based on ethno-territorial federalism which granted many powers to satelite republics, responsible party members could serve both Moscow and Lithuania without separating them in their mind. With few exceptions, Lithuanian, as other Soviet republic communists worked in their own republic, thus identifying with it. It was possible to do things useful for Lithuania with no patriotic sentiment, without any wish to serve Lithuanian-ness.

It would be important to compare how the leaders of other Soviet republics acted in comparable situations. It is worth remembering the battle by some Latvian party members against the russification of Latvia. In 1956 the Latvian Communist Party made a decision requiring that authorities, particularly those in contact with the public would have to learn Russian and Latvian in two years or lose their jobs. In 1959 Latvia along with Azerbaijan rejected the suggestion to make only Russian mandatory in local schools. Thanks to this protest the suggestion was not accepted in the 21st CPSU Convention.

Lithuania stayed silent, perhaps because the ethnic situation was more favourable. Eduards Berklavs and some other key Latvian Party members were accused of nationalism and were forced from the Party. “The Owner” Antanas Sniečkus did not suffer such a fate. Perhaps he was sufficiently careful or perhaps the Kremlin understood he was on their side?

Sometimes there are doubts as to whether the past should be investigated at all. Opponents say that such investigations only raise antipathy and raise grievances into the public eye that should stay forgotten. It is too optimistic to believe that by remembering the past we can avoid the mistakes made then.

In “In Praise of Forgetting” released this year by David Rieff it is noted that it is naïve to believe that the memory of the Holocaust will prevent future genocides, as shown by the slaughter in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Rwanda. But he highlights that there are other reasons to remember the Holocaust.

The Soviet occupation lasted for half a century. It is an exceptionally lengthy time period for the conscious existence of the Lithuanian nation.
That time period cannot be understood without in-depth examination of the history of the Communist Party, without removing any of the white stains.

Witch hunts should not be feared. The core and dominant rosy historical narratives are strongly supported by many, the ranks of those defending the LCP will not disappear fast. Let us remember the hysteria that happened on the uncovering of the fact that Justinas Marcinkevičius was sometimes spreading Communist Party propaganda.

Whatever new research would show, many Lithuanians will continue to think that the communists were flawless patriots. The rest of us will know more of our nation’s past.

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