Volume 23, No.3 - Fall 1977
Editor of this issue: Saulius Kuprys
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1977 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


The following article is the author's personal statement made after reading the two most recent compilations of selected and annotated Lithuanian samizdat documents: The Violations of Human Rights in Soviet Occupied Lithuania: A Report for 1975. 140 pages and A Report for 1976, 160 pages. Current copies of the Reports are available through the Lithuanian American Community, 708 Custis Road, Glenside, PA 19038.

These two reports are the fifth and sixth of a series going back to 1971, providing a continuing indictment of the Soviet regime, which has illegally occupied the Baltic States since 1940 (the Nazi occupation expected).

The first thing one will note in these compilations is the strength shown by the underground press and the surprising inability of the authorities to do much except flail their arms in acts of indiscriminate harassment.

If this selection of documents portrays any group as heroic, it is the producers of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania and Aušra (The Dawn), the modern-day counterparts of the knygnešiai (book-carriers), who effectively broke the late 19th-century czarist ban on the dissemination of Lithuanian books printed in the Latin alphabet. Today's Baltic dissidents are a different breed. Many are highly educated and almost all have been schooled entirely within the Soviet system. Not only has the regime raised enemies dedicated to its overthrow, it has raised them in sufficient numbers to print and distribute deadly material in the midst of the world's most sophisticated police surveillance network. It must be assumed that well-placed individuals are helping turn out samizdat publications or at least closing their eyes to their distribution.

The Reports state that the Kremlin has even tried to press the Vatican into stemming the flow of horror stories of physical and mental torture. It is ironic that Rome, once the symbol of uncompromising resistance to persecution of the Church, is now considered by some to be one of the culprits who have given the Soviets free reign over Christians in exchange for a few paper promises. The officially atheistic state has spent billions of rubles to promote its creed in its school system and through the media. Expenditures in the Baltic States have been particularly great per capita, since the three sister nations are predominantly Roman Catholic and Lutheran, i.e., thoroughly Western in religious orientation.

Yet with all this effort, the Soviets, as the Chronicles have pointed out, have only managed to make Lithuanian Catholicism dig in for the long haul by building a catacomb church and by binding the national culture even more tightly to the Faith. One gets the impression from the Reports that nonbelievers stand with Christians in the latest confrontations with the KGB. This is not surprising, remembering what Brezhnev did to the Prague Spring of 1968. Outrages against human dignity have brought the Christian Solzhenitsyn together with Humanist Socialist Sakharov. Ideological fences dividing one Balt from another have likewise come down. Some of the documents are signed by representatives of differing political hue from all three nationalities. This reflects the total disenchantment of many socialists, Marxist or otherwise, with the stifling bureaucratic morass that is the Soviet system.

It is no longer easy to smear opponents of the regime by identifying them with the pre-war bourgeois governments, since that would admit failure in rooting out anti-Soviet attitudes in the schools. Moscow, whether it likes to admit it or not, must deal with public opinion. Its well-known xenophobia continues to flare up. But detente, with all its contradictions, has forced the Soviets into public respectability; and Helsinki has even made table manners the rule in dealing with public opinion in the West. That the signing of a seemingly nonbinding document was a mistake could be dawning on Messrs. Brezhnev and associates. Andrei Synyavski, now one of the leading Russian dissidents in exile, has rethought his position on the Final Act of Helsinki. As the 1976 Report remarks: Synyavski believed that the "accords held great potential as an instrument to expand freedom in the totalitarian societies of the East." For while the Kremlin tries to tighten the screws on those who form human rights watchdog groups, it must maintain a face of liberality even before fellow Euro Communists.

In the two Reports, the shadow of the Helsinki accords colors almost all the material coming out of the Baltic area. Moscow has not just signed on a voyage of deep-seated tension between itself and individual Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians. It has nurtured a mutiny and created a Baltic mentality. Although not explicitly spelled out, the Helsinki documents are undoubtedly drawing the Finnish and Baltic peoples closer together. One of the more interesting documents in the 1975 Report is a "Declaration of the Lithuanian National People's Front," issued by a democratic socialist front sheltering numerous anti-Soviet groups. As part of its "Maximal Program" it advocates a federation of the Baltic States and looks to a much closer relationship with Scandinavia. Obviously, this points toward the dream of Continental federationists, a United States of Europe.

There are "realists" who claim that the Baltic Republics conceived in the post-Versailles era of small sovereign nations "didn't have a chance," that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was "a natural" or that Fascism of the Brown or Red variety treats its enemies to unrelenting brutality. No small nation on its own can remain outside the sphere of influence of a stronger neighbor next door or in the space age, anywhere on earth. But in the 1976 Report, the editorial essay "Lithuanian Independence—An Active Issue" and an excerpt from Dr. Boris Meissner's "On the Sovereignty of the Baltic Nations" reinforce the stance of the National People's Front that under International Law, a nation by its very existence is a candidate for separate political status either alone or in willing confederation with its neighbors. This alone makes the Soviet occupation both immoral and illegal.

But before anyone can speak about independence or confederation, the manifest injustices against the living and the dead must be atoned for; against the victims of religious persecution, as exemplified by Nijolė Sadūnaitė; against the artists like Žilius or Venclova who have been forced to leave their country; and against Russians like biologist Sergei Kovalev and the illustrious Sakharov who have helped bring the plight of the Baits to the attention of the West. At their best, the Reports recall the millions of dead, from the thousands who perished in the guerilla war on the "Amber Coast" after World War II to the lone tragedies of intellectuals like the poet-scientist Tamonis and the philologist Kazlauskas. In the absence of normal relations with the outside world, these Reports fill an urgent need; to inform the literate sympathetic public in the West about the deliberate submergence of the Baltic peoples who so long formed a part of civilized Europe.

J. J. O'Neil 
Loyola University