Volume 30, No.2 - Summer 1984
Editor of this issue: Thomas Remeikis
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1984 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

A Balance Sheet1

Calumet College
Hammond, Indiana

1. Nature and Status of Baltic Dissent

The human rights and dissident movement in the Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania is distinguished from its counterpart in Moscow by a strong nationalistic component and a broad mass support base. In the Baltic Republics, besides the basic human rights concerns (freedom of religion, speech, association, emigration, etc.), also of intense, even of paramount concern is the internationally accepted collective right of national self-determination. Since the forcible incorporation of the Baltic States into the USSR in 1940, the Baltic peoples have been under constant threat of physical and cultural genocide. The physical survival of the Baits was threatened by mass deportations and dispersal throughout the Soviet empire during the years of Stalinist rule. Today, in a milder manner, physical identity is threatened by a process of ethnic conglomeration. Massive immigration from other republics is on the verge of making the Latvians a minority in their own homeland and the process is well advanced in Estonia. In addition, the cultural policies of Moscow, i.e. restrictions on the cultivation of national heritage and creative arts, parochialization of the sciences through specialization, linguistic russification, etc., are steadily gnawing at the vitality of national cultures of all three Baltic nationalities. These perceived threats to national integrity give the special nationalistic hue to the human rights movement. Even the struggle for Catholic rights in Lithuania has nationalistic implications because of the close intertwining of nationality and religion. The second characteristic feature of Baltic dissent is its substantial mass-support basis, especially in Lithuania and Estonia. National and religious grievances affect most of the people, who at least sympathize with if not actively support the human rights movement. As a result of the widely felt grievances, spontaneous popular reactions are more likely. Massive demonstrations occurred in Lithuania in 1972 and in Estonia in 1980. Petitions of Lithuanian Catholics with more than 100,000 signatures have been successfully organized. The possibility of mass popular explosions in the Baltic Republics is greater than anywhere else in the Soviet Union.

The dissident movement in the Baltic Republics, as in the rest of the Soviet state, has been under constant police pressure. The promising movement for democratic reforms, which emerged in mid-1960s in Moscow and subsequently spread to the peripheries of the Soviet Union, currently displays signs of exhaustion. While it may be premature to declare death of dissent as we have known it, there certainly seems to be notable decline in dissidence both in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Dissent in the Soviet Union has been confined to a very small sector of the population, often concerned with a narrow single issue (e.g. emigration); it has had some mass appeal only along the periphery of the Soviet state, as in Lithuania, where the struggle for rights is associated with mass aspirations of national and religious nature. Lacking broad popular support, Soviet dissent had little impact on the Soviet system. As long as the regime manages to maintain its coercive machinery intact and the masses relatively quiescent, dissent is not a serious challenge to its survival. In perspective, it seems that only under conditions of economic depression, leadership crisis, or international complications could the democratic and national move merits attain any political weight. Dissent has been and remains a potential challenge to Soviet authoritarianism. Currently, even as a potential challenge, the dissident movement is ebbing.

The foremost reason for the decline of dissent is the crackdown of the political police on the relatively small number of dissidents, a policy of repression that began approximately in 1979 and appears to have achieved the objective of isolating major dissidents by 1983. Nevertheless, events in Poland have contributed to the trend in several ways. Polish events may have re-enforced the policy of repression decided upon earlier. The dissidents themselves may have reduced their visibility, expecting serious losses as a result of possible Soviet intervention in Poland, which would lead to intensified repression at home as well. On the other hand, the imposition of martial law in Poland raised the question of efficacy of dissent as a vehicle of change and reform. If a mass movement like the Polish Solidarity could be so effectively and suddenly contained, if not destroyed, by the coercive machinery of the state, what is the sense of sacrificing oneself for democratic reforms or national objectives in the Soviet Union, where the masses are hostile to drastic change and where the coercive machinery is more pervasive and probably more efficient than in Poland?

Dissent in the Baltic Republics, which began at the end of the 1960s, also appears to be ebbing as a result of decimation of dissident ranks by the KGB and the lack of progress in fulfilling the human rights promises of the Helsinki Accords. Most of the known dissidents who emerged during the past decade are now incarcerated or even physically destroyed or expelled abroad. Majority of the known dissidents appear to be members of the working class or the middle intelligentsia, who have a long history of opposition to the Soviet regime. Their relatively low social status is a reflection of their political past. As the small number of old fighters is again repressed, so far there is no firm indication that they will be replaced by others. With limited exceptions, the higher levels of intelligentsia have refrained from open dissident activities. Generally they have preferred a less risky course of institutional nationalism, i.e. attempts to protect or advance national interests through the existing structures of the regime. Thus, at this juncture of history the dissident movement in the Baltic Republics appears to be under a firm control of the KGB. However, this does not mean that the Baits have given in and resigned to their fate. Recent events have shown that deep national and religious grievances are likely to produce spontaneous mass protests as well as extensive efforts to safeguard national values through the less dramatic manipulation of Soviet institutions.

2. The Situation in Lithuania

Among the Soviet republics, dissent in Lithuania has been among the most intense and broadest in scope. In addition, the dissident movement has been extensively documented by a prolific samizdat press, much of which is available in the West.

Open dissidence in Lithuania emerged in the early 1970s in two distinct but intertwined movements for national and religious rights. The Catholics launched an organized assault on Soviet discriminatory religious practices and creeping secularism, in part as a result of atheistic indoctrination, after the sentencing of several priests for teaching religion to children. The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, the organ of Catholic dissent, began publication in March of 1972. This underground journal has survived constant KGB efforts to silence it. By mid-1983 59 issues have been produced, all of which are available in the West. Approximately about the same time, in May of 1972, the self-immolation of the youth Romas Kalanta in protest of Soviet occupation of Lithuania, obviously timed to coincide with President Nixon's Moscow visit, and the widespread riots following his funeral, marked the emerging national struggle as well.

Since these landmark events, dissent in Lithuania rapidly spread. Within the following decade, the Lithuanian Helsinki Committee was founded (Nov. 25, 1976), the Catholic Committee for Defense of Believers' Rights emerged in 1978, at least 16 different known underground periodicals were issued, representing a wide spectrum of dissident opinion. Various dissident groups and periodicals articulated a variety of demands, from the right to emigration and compliance to the human rights provisions of the Helsinki agreements, to national self-determination and independence. For reasons of space, the developments in the last three or four years will be reviewed here.

a. Repression of Dissidents

A determined KGB campaign to stamp out dissidence began sometime in 1979 in anticipation of the Moscow Olympics and the meeting of the Madrid Conference to monitor the compliance to the Helsinki Accords. As a result, five major political trials were held in the course of 1980, some of which coincided with the proceedings in Madrid.

On August 8-11, 1980, Dr. Algirdas Statkevičius, a member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group and fighter for national rights, was tried and confined to a psychiatric hospital prison for his political activities.

On September 15-19, 1980 the case of Antanas Terleckas and Julius Sasnauskas was heard. They were tried under Article 68 of the Penal Code for various political writings and especially for organizing a petition of Baltic citizens to the governments of the USSR and Germany, calling for the annulment of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 23,1939, which doomed the independence of the Baltic States.

On November 24-25, 1980, two Catholic activists, Ona Vitkauskaitė and Genovaitė Navickaitė, were tried for involvement in the production and dissemination of the Catholic samizdat journal Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, receiving 2 and 1-1/2 year sentences respectively.

On November 24,1980, Antanas Janulis and Povilas Bužas were tried under article 68 for involvement in the production and dissemination of various Catholic underground publications. They received 3-1/2 and 1-1/2 year sentences respectively.

On December 15, 1980, began the trial of three intellectuals — Decent Vytautas Skuodis, who was born in the United States, Gintautas Iešmantas, and Povilas Pečeliūnas. They were primarily charged with the production of two major underground journals, the Alma Mater, a journal devoted to the events and history of Vilnius University, which celebrated its quadricentennial in 1979, and Perspektyvos, a serious journal of democratic left. They received severe 7, 6, and 3 year sentences in strict regimen labor camps respectively, to be followed by 5 years of exile for each.

In 1981 the Helsinki Group consisting of four members still attempted to function. In the course of the year, however, two members were tried and sentenced, one member was killed under suspicious circumstances, and only the aged poetess Ona Lukauskaitė-Poškienė2 remained at large. As far as is known the group has not been reconstituted, its last documents, Nos. 28 and 29, are both dated February 1981. In 1981 Helsinki Group members Vytautas Vaičiūnas, who joined the group that year, and Mečislovas Jurevičius, who was coopted into the group in 1979, were tried and convicted. Both were active in the Catholic movement and were tried for their religious activities rather than for the more serious political charges that could have been brought for their Helsinkiwatch work. Both were tried under Article 199-3 of the Lithuanian SSR Penal Code for "violating public order" by organizing mass religious processions to religious shrines. Such mass manifestations of religious feelings had not only political but also nationalistic manifestations. The trials were part of the effort to quash mass demonstrations by religious activists. At the same time these religious activities provided the authorities with a politically convenient way of bringing charges against the two new members of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group (even though the penalties attached to these charges are less severe).

The fate of the third member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, the Rev. Bronius Laurinavičius, according to dissident sources, was also decided by the KGB. Since the early 1970s, when the Catholic dissent movement emerged in part as a reaction to the sentencing of several priests for their pastoral activities, the Soviet regime sought to contain public outrage at these repressions against the clergy by no longer arresting or trying any priests. Not wishing to deal with Laurinavičius by means of formal charges and trials (which might well have provoked a mass reaction), the regime, it may be surmised, sought an alternative, by having the police arrange an "accident." Such techniques have been employed in the past, and dissident sources are convinced that the "accidental" death of Laurinavičius was engineered precisely by the KGB.

Having isolated or annihilated the principal political leaders and editors of samizdat publications, the KGB next turned its attention to the Catholic Committee for Defense of Believers' Rights. After the trials and sentences of several priests in 1971 for teaching religion to children, which gave impetus to Catholic dissent, Soviet authorities have refrained from direct repressions of the clergy. Trials for the participation in the Catholic movement involved lay Catholics and possibly secret nuns. Thus the decision to prosecute members of the Catholic Committee, all clergymen, must be viewed as a departure from standing policy. First to be arrested and tried was the apparent leader and founder of the Catholic Committee, Rev. Alfonsas Svarinskas. He was tried on May 3-6, 1983, mainly for the approximately 50 documents issued by the Catholic Committee. Father Svarinskas received 7 years in strict regime camp and 3 years in exile. Rev. Sigitas Tamkevičius, another outspoken member of the Catholic Committee, was arrested in the courtroom following his testimony on behalf of Rev. Svarinskas and is currently awaiting trial.3 Apparently the Soviet authorities now feel that they are in a position to take stern measures against the dissident clergy, in part because of the minor concessions allowed to the Catholic Church (see below, for details).

b. Reflections of Events in Poland

Poland constituted for the Lithuanians one of their windows to the larger world. About a third of the country had access to Polish television, much of the Polish press was available in Vilnius, and considerable traffic between the two countries was allowed. As a result of these interactions, the Lithuanian intelligentsia and the masses were, by Soviet standards, well informed about the larger world and also about the events unfolding in Poland. What was the impact of Polish events on the perceptions and behavior of the Lithuanians?

Radio Liberty audience research shows that, on balance, the Baltic area and the Caucasus are positively oriented towards Polish developments, in contrast to the largely negative viewpoint in the rest of the Soviet Union, especially among the Russians. Still, the majority in Lithuania are either negatively disposed or hold no opinion. It appears that there is an ambiguity of feeling. On the one hand, the Polish efforts are understood in the Western sense (i.e., emancipation from the system and Russian hegemony) and sympathy for such efforts is widespread. On the other hand, there is the fear that the need for Moscow to intervene in Poland will bring about tighter ideological controls and economic costs at home.

In the case of Lithuania the perception of Polish developments is complicated by the painful historical relationships between Poland and Lithuania. There lingers a strong distrust of Polish nationalism and its perceived threat to Lithuania. Such perceptions at least dampen the enthusiasm for Polish democratic aspirations.

The contradictory attitudinal directions are to some extent reflected in the samizdat press. One striking feature of the underground press is its neglect of Polish events. Outside the greetings to Walesa and the Solidarity by Lithuanian dissidents, there is practically nothing of substance on the issues, strategy, tactics, and aims of the Polish movement or its implications for Lithuania or the entire Soviet empire. The underground journal Aušra, in its No. 16 (October, 1979) and No. 22 (May, 1980) issues, carried a polemic on Lithuanian relations with the Poles. This polemic, however, was part of a broader discussion in Aušra on relations with Lithuania's neighbors and does not represent a reaction to the events in Poland. Nevertheless it is indicative on the ambiguity of Lithuanian attitudes referred to above. While one author considers Poland a reliable friend who has shed her past antagonisms toward Lithuania, another expresses deep distrust of the Poles, citing many examples of currently pursued anti-Lithuanian policies.

Official government reaction is also surprisingly low-keyed given the proximity of Poland. Newspaper reports rely almost exclusively on TASS. There has been no significant effort on the part of the Lithuanian regime to counteract information from Poland (although Polish press availability and travel between the countries were curtailed). Repression of dissidents is not necessarily related to Polish events, for its intensification already began in 1979. Perhaps because of the ambiguity of mass feelings, the Lithuanian authorities saw no need for further drastic measures outside the existing police and ideological controls.

c. The Religious Situation

Recent Soviet policy toward Lithuanian Catholics has been characterized both by concessions to, and continuing pressure on, the Church and the faithful. On the one hand, for the first time under Soviet rule the printing of a catechism for children was allowed; the number of candidates admitted to the only seminary for priests is approaching the replacement level; the regime has indicated a willingness to settle the issue of hierarchic appointments; and, in general, the treatment of the clergy has been more sensitive, polite, and politic. On the other hand, the Soviet regime has continued public attacks on what it calls "extremist clergy"; it has shown a lax attitude toward criminal attacks on the Church and the clergy (so the dissidents charge); it has sought to establish tighter secular controls over parishes through parish committees; and, perhaps most important, it has sought to strengthen the atheistic indoctrination of the younger generation. Such dual Soviet policy toward the Church and the faithful, however, does not mean any significant modification of the basic policy goal of eventual eradication of religious beliefs. The goal is pursued by more subtle and refined methods, which involve concessions as a means of containing mass protest. By circumscribing the activities of the institutional Church through legal devices and secular control mechanisms under the influence of the state, on the one hand, and by refined atheist indoctrination in support of the secularizing tendencies of modernization, on the other, the regime hopes to achieve its eventual goal of an atheist society. Thus, as a result of this kind of a policy, the basic issues of freedom of religion and conscience, which gave rise to the Catholic movement, remain unresolved.

Several outstanding issues continue to plague the relationship between the Church and the state. For one, the dissidents have charged that there is a pattern of criminal attacks on the Church and the clergy. Numerous churches have been burglarized and vandalized and since 1980 three priests have been murdered. As few culprits have been brought to justice, the dissidents suggest that this criminal activity may result from the belief that Soviet authorities will not seek out the wrongdoers or may even be inspiring the pattern of criminal attacks. The dissidents have charged, for example, that the murders of the Revs. Mažeika and Šapoka were connected with the political police. These charges did sting the authorities; several suspects were apprehended, swiftly tried, and executed. The official party organ Tiesa gave prominent coverage to these efforts as Soviet "law-enforcement", emphasizing the "fact" that even clergy have rights. Whatever the truth, Catholic dissidents have felt all along that Soviet authorities treat them as second class citizens, engineering and/or inviting criminal attacks upon them.

The appointment of bishops to vacant sees has remained an unresolved issue. Until recently (1982) only two bishops were functioning in three dioceses (Bishop Povilonis in Kaunas and Vilkaviškis, and Bishop Krikščiūnas in Panevėžys). Bishop Steponavičius and Bishop Sladkevičius remained exiled from their sees in Vilnius and Kaišiadorys. The Catholic dissidents have argued and lobbied with the Pope that new bishops should not be appointed until the exiled bishops are reinstated. Besides, they feel that the government will agree only to the appointment of bishops who will be subservient to its orders. Therefore, they argue, it is better to be without an hierarchy than with one that collaborates with the regime in the destruction of the Church. On its part the Soviet regime has indicated a willingness to compromise on this issue. Apparently, according to Vatican sources, also largely confirmed by the underground Chronicle, the exiled bishops were to be reinstated, but in different dioceses. In addition, an agreement was obtained from the government to elevate three candidates to the vacant sees. The recommendations were taken to the Vatican, but the appointments were scuttled by the intercession of Bishop Steponavičius, who strongly objected to the overall agreement. This suggests the very high regard in which Bishop Steponavičius (some have speculated that he may be the secret cardinal) is held by Pope John Paul II and the important leadership function provided by the bishop even from a position of domestic exile.

A partial solution to episcopal appointments was attained in the summer of 1982. The Soviet government agreed to reinstate the exiled Bishop Sladkevičius in the See of Kaišiadorys and to elevate the administrator of the Diocese of Telšiai Rev. A. Vaičius to the rank of bishop. Still the Archdiocese of Vilnius is without a bishop, the Diocese of Vilkaviškis is. headed by the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Kaunas Povilonis, and Bishop Krikščiūnas of the Diocese of Panevėžys resigned in 1983, apparently at the request of the Pope because of personal problems (reportedly alcoholism).

The Catholic dissidents accepted the latest episcopal development as a triumph of principle and victory over the government. Their happiness soon soured, however, when Pope Paul II announced the selection of the Latvian bishop Vaivods for a cardinal's hat. The Lithuanian Catholics were at a loss to explain this. The reaction in the Catholic Chronicle was rather angry and very disappointed that the sacrifices of the Lithuanian Catholics were ignored by the Vatican. Whatever the specific reasons of the Pope, the appointment of a Latvian instead of a Lithuanian cardinal suggests that the normalization of the situation of the Catholic Church in Lithuania is still an unresolved problem.

A third area of conflict involves the role of parish committees. The government seeks to transform these committees, elected by the parishioners, into instruments of secular control over the parish and to transform the pastor into an employee of the committee. Up to now the pastors have in most cases remained masters of their parishes in the canonical sense, if not in the formal legal sense. Thus, recent efforts by the Council for Religious Affairs to instruct members of parish committees with respect to their rights and duties have challenged some of the canonical prerogatives of the pastor in his parish. This move provoked a unanimous protest by diocesan councils of priests, which have emerged for the first time as representative bodies of the diocesan clergy. So far, however, there is no indication that the Soviet government is succeeding in inciting the parish committees to take over the organization of religious life from the pastors.

The dissidents have continued to protest the meddling of the government in the selection of candidates and their education at the sole Theological Seminary in Kaunas. Even though the authorities have increased the number of seminarians admitted annually to about 20, they have intensified the scrutiny of the candidates and have vetoed admissions of those expected to be "extremists" from the point of view of the Soviet regime. In effect, if there is no way to prevent the preparation of priests (a secret seminary in fact exists), the regime has decided to at least maximize the chances that the young clergy will not be thoroughly anti-Soviet.

Finally, to counteract the notable revival of religious life in Lithuania, the government has emphasized the importance of atheistic indoctrination and its constant improvement. The school remains the main battleground between the government and the Church for the minds of the new generation.

After a decade of conflict, nobody can claim a victory for religious rights or for their extirpation. The limited concessions to the Church, however, are bound to affect the intensity of Catholic dissent. Because the basic goal of a godless society remains, dissent is likely to continue. Its intensity and forms, however, will change with the shifting tactics of the government.

d. Samizdat Output

Available information indicates that only the Catholic samizdat managed to survive in the wake of intense repressions which began in 1979. The oldest and most regular underground journal — the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania — continued publication with four issues in 1981, five issues in 1982. The output represents perhaps only a small decline. The underground political and cultural journal Aušra, also associated with the Catholic rights movement and representing Catholic nationalism, appeared in four issues in 1981, three issues in 1982, also a notable decline. The appearance of other Catholic samizdat publications (Tiesos Kelias, Dievas ir Tėvynė, Rūpintojėlis) is reported only up to the end of 1981. A new Catholic periodical, Lietuvos Ateitis, devoted to the younger reader, appeared at the beginning of 1982, five issues were reported in samizdat press. All in all, the Catholic samizdat seems to have survived KGB only with some losses.

Reports of non-Catholic or non-sectarian periodicals end largely with 1981. The editors of the most prominent journals not directly associated with the Catholic movement (Terleckas, Pečeliūnas, Skuodis, Iešmantas, Šakalys) were in confinement or in the West (Šakalys). Such serious journals as Alma Mater, Perspektyvos, Vytis, Tautos Kelias ceased publication in 1980 or 1981. The most significant journal of liberal-socialist orientation Perspektyvos apparently was the work of Gintautas Iešmantas, who was arrested and sentenced in 1980. The last issue of Perspektyvos (No. 22, 1981) is devoted to the trial of its former editors.

Unfortunately, only a few issues of this intellectually superior journal are available in the West. One of the issues available in the West (No. 20, 1980), for example, is devoted to a "Socratic" discourse on the possibility of an independent but socialist Lithuania. In effect it argues against the Soviet ideological line that Lithuania as an independent and socialist state is an impossibility. The survival of the Catholic underground press is explainable by the superior resources of the Catholic movement. The non-Catholic press was issued by a very small group of individuals and its demise in part reflects this fact. The non-Catholic publications simply lacked the institutional, financial, and intellectual resources available to the Catholic movement. Because of the resource base, the Catholic movement for the time being remains viable despite the extensive repressions during the past four years.

3. The Situation in Estonia

Under the leadership of the First Secretary of the Estonian Communist Party ]. Kabin, Estonia emerged economically and culturally as the most modernized area of the Soviet Union. One of the consequences of economic development, however, as in Latvia, was a massive influx of immigrants, rapidly changing the ethnic balance of Estonia. Estonian proportion in the population dropped from about 90% in 1945 to 64.5% in 1980. While Kabin did not challenge the costs of growth imposed from Moscow, he did seek to minimize their impact on the Estonian mind through relatively liberal cultural policies.

Such balancing of the interests of Moscow and Tallinn, however, did not contain Estonian nationalism. If anything, it seemed to stimulate nationalist dissent. To the Estonian intellectuals, the influx of foreigners and the influence of Russians and their language seemed to be too high a price to pay for limited creative freedom because the long-term consequences were rather clear, i.e. russification of Estonia.

In response to the perceived threats to national identity, two underground organizations — the Estonian National Front and the Estonian Democratic Movement — emerged in the early 1970s. A samizdat journal Eesti demokraat began publication in 1971. On October 24, 1972, the two organizations addressed memoranda to the United Nations and its Secretary-General, documenting "the immoral, inhuman and illegal colonial rule in Estonia" and asking the UN "to compel the Soviet Union not to hinder the restoration of the legal rights and national sovereignty to the Estonian nation." Similar memoranda were addressed to the participants of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, meeting in Helsinki in 1976.

The Estonian Democratic Movement was decimated in the trial of five of its members on October 21-23, 1975. The trial revealed rather broad contacts of Estonian democrats with dissidents in the rest of the Soviet Union, including some of the officers of Soviet Baltic fleet who were previously sentenced for forming "The Union for the Struggle for Political Rights." Four of the defendants -- Marti Kiirend, Sergei Soldatov, Artjom Juskevitsh, Kulja Matik — received sentences of up to six years in strict regime labor camps, while the fifth received suspended sentence for cooperating with the prosecution.

The deep grievances of Estonians against Soviet rule were dramatically demonstrated by thousands of students, who, in October of 1980, spilled into the streets of Tallinn and Tartu with a host of demands. Whatever the irritants that sparked such massive outflow of emotion and action, the Soviet authorities dismissed the events as manifestations of hooliganism. The real causes and nature of these outbursts were revealed in an open letter to Pravda, signed by 40 prominent intellectuals, including top Estonian writers. In a diplomatic language, the intellectuals revealed that "the uncertainty Estonians feel about their future" is a result of several features of Soviet nationality policy. The grievances listed by the Estonian intellectuals are worth repeating here for they apply as well to the other Baltic nations, indeed to all Soviet nationalities. The following conditions supposedly were responsible for the student demonstrations:

* the rapid proportional decline of the Estonian segment of the population, particularly in Tallinn, where Estonians are becoming a minority nationality group;

* the circumscription of the use of the Estonian language in business, everyday matters, science, and elsewhere, a trend that has been characterized by the compulsory presentation of theses about Estonian language and literature in Russian, and by the exclusive use of Russian at the festive gathering marking the fortieth anniversary of the Estonian SSR;

* the growing scarcity of Estonian-language journals and books, especially insofar as materials pertaining to the indigenous culture are concerned, and the inhibition of research in the field of native culture;

* the hyperbolic and inept propaganda campaign pushing the teaching of Russian in schools and kindergartens, partially shown in history lessons, at the expense of other peoples, to the contributions made by Russians;

immoderate and overtaxed development of industry by the All-Union Council of Ministers, with a blind eye towards the accompanying damage to the ecological balance;

unilateral propagation of bilingualism among Estonians, without a similar effort being made among aliens, a curcumstance that deepens a feeling in the Estonian community that its mother tongue is regarded as a second-rate language, and the non-existence of a periodical analogous to Russky yasyk vestonskoi shkole for the purpose of teaching Estonian in local schools;

the appointment of persons with inadequate knowledge of Estonian culture and a lack of interest in it to responsible posts and to positions concerned with national and sociocultural problems.

A similar "open letter" of March 1982 by 15 individuals, who, however, did not sign it, was sent to the Finnish newspaper Teataja. This letter is also concerned with various facets of russification, particularly the vigorous push for utilization of the Russian language in native schools as a result of the 1979 Tashkent conference on linguistic policy.

Estonian dissent in the past few years has been well documented by the samizdat publication Lisandusi motete ja uudiste vabale levikule Eestii (Some Additions to the Free Flow of Ideas and News in Estonia), which began publication sometime in 1978 or 1979 and to date 13 issues have come to light (the latest available issue is dated 1981).

The Estonians seem to be more impressed by the developments in Poland than the Lithuanians. On October 1, 1980, some 200 workers struck at the Tartu Experimental Repair Factory for better working conditions and compensation. A special commission from Moscow quickly satisfied workers' grievances. It is believed that the strike was inspired by Polish workers. In November of 1981, leaflets, probably originating in Estonia, appeared in Riga, Vilnius, and possibly other Soviet cities. The leaflets called for strike action on December 1, 1981, and the first work day of every month to demand basic reforms in the Soviet system. Very limited strike action has been subsequently reported in Estonia. Finally, indicative of the interest in Polish developments is the fact that most of the 13th issue of Lisandusi motete ... is devoted to the explanation of and commentary on the events in Poland.

The most prominent Estonian human rights activists have been steadily repressed by the KGB. For example, Mart Niklus, one of the signers of the Baltic statement on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, received a ten-year term in 1981. Jurii Kukk, one of the protesters of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, was sentenced in January of 1981 and died mysteriously two months later. A major effort to silence and intimidate the dissidents and the open expressions of various grievances began in March of 1983 with massive raids and searches throughout Estonia. Among the known arrested so far are Heiki Ahonen, Lagle Parėk, Arvo Pešti. The well-known human rights activist and frequent participant in joint Baltic activities Enn Tarto was arrested on September 14, 1983.

It remains to be seen whether KGB repressions will silence dissent, but there is no doubt that Estonian nationalism will remain a potent force, inevitably errupting in various forms in the coming years.

4. The Situation in Latvia

The most threatening situation in respect to survival of national identity is that of Latvians. The domination of Latvia by Moscow-bred and Moscow-oriented Latvian communists and the subjection-to centrally-directed policies of economic development led to a massive influx of non-Latvians into the republic. According to the latest census (1979), Latvians constituted only 53.7% of the population. Given the almost zero population growth among Latvians, continuing immigration is likely to make the Latvians a national minority in their own homeland. In addition, the dominance of Russians in the Latvian Communist Party, the heavy military and bureaucratic presence of non-Latvians, majority non-Latvian population in the cultural and political center of Riga, and many other aspects of interaction among ethnically heterogeneous population are undermining the vitality of a distinct Latvian culture.

In light of such nationally unfavorable trends, the Latvian elites sought their reversal in the late 1950s by acquiring greater control over the republic and its economic development. Such an "autonomist" deviation was unacceptable to Moscow and an extensive purge of top Latvian communists ensued in 1959 under the guidance of Khrushchev himself.

Again, as the noted trends continue unabated, in 1971 a group of 17 old Latvian communist revolutionaries wrote a letter expressing their concerns to communist comrades in Western Europe. Basically, the letter scored Soviet nationality policy as threatening denationalization of Latvia through colonization, cadre policies, and policies of economic development. The same point was made in the June 17, 1975 letter to the participants in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki, which was signed by "Representatives of Estonian and Latvian Democrats": "Among all human rights the right of self-determination, which finds its expression in the demand of re-establishment of national independence to the Estonians and Latvians, is of utmost importance for Baltic nations. Restoration of Estonia and Latvia as independent and sovereign members of the European Community would be their only chance for preservation and free development of their nationhood, culture and frame of mind. Actual situation offers the two nations but systematic and progressive russification, which is realized under the slogan of moulding the various nations in the USSR into a 'new historical union', the notorious 'Soviet nation'." Similarly, in a leaflet, dated May 1, 1981, the underground Latvian Social Democratic Party demanded political freedom through Latvian control over their national fate.

Despite the gloomy national outlook, dissent in Latvia never attained mass following, displayed massive spontaneous outbursts, or sustained a regular underground press. Sporadic reports of individual dissidents or anti-Soviet activities, such as display of the national flag or anti-Soviet slogans, do indicate that dissent does exist. Unfortunately, whatever exists, has remained largely undocumented in the absence of regular underground press.

A glimpse into Latvian dissent is offered by the KGB campaign against dissidents, which began in January of 1983. Some 50 homes were raided and several arrests followed. Among those arrested and repressed were Gederts Melngailis, Janis Rozkalns, Lidija Lasmane-Doronina, Ints Calitis, and Gunars Freimanis.

* Ints Calitis, employed as a fitter at the Riga Water and Sanitation Department, was among the prominent dissidents, who signed several petitions with other Baltic human rights activists. Among the most important was the statement of 45 Baits, asking the Soviet Union and Germany to abrogate the Molotov-Ribben-trop Pact and restore independence for the Baltic peoples. He was a proponent of Baltic cooperation in the struggle for national emancipation. In 1976, in his apartment, Baltic dissidents attempted to form a joint organization for the struggle in behalf of national rights, which was, however, quickly destroyed by KGB intervention. In 1981 he signed a Joint Baltic petition calling for inclusion of the Baltic Republics into the proposed Northern nuclear-free   zone. Finally, together with other Balts, he protested Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

* Janis Rozkalns sought to leave Latvia because of constant harassment by the KGB for his religious belief and rejection of Soviet ideology. He wrote letters to world leaders, seeking their intervention for his right to emigrate.

* Gunars Freimanis, a 56 year old poet and a previous political prisoner, was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation because he wrote and published in samizdat poetry of national and anti-Soviet content.

* Lidija Lasmane-Doronina, a nurse and Baptist activist, who had several terms in camps and prisons for nationalist activities and possession and dissemination of samizdat works, including those by Solzhenitsyn and Amalrik, was again repressed apparently for the same transgressions.

* Gedarts Melngailis, a factory worker, was sentenced for alleged false fabrications against the Soviet system. It is not clear what his specific transgressions were. Apparently he was of open nationalist orientation, in contact with other human rights activists

In short, these cases of the most recently repressed Latvian human rights activists resemble dissidents in other parts of the Soviet Union. It is clear in reading their detailed biographies that of paramount concern are national rights, besides the right to emigrate, to believe in God, and to express oneself freely. The relatively fewer manifestations of dissent activity in Latvia may simply mean a heavy presence of Soviet military and bureaucracy as well as a very large Russian population or, alternatively or in addition, reflect a paralysis of will in face of the monstrous possibility of national extinction. However that may be, from the cases of dissent that have come to light, the aspirations of Latvians for independence and concern for survival of national identity cannot be doubted.

4. Cooperation Among the Baltic Dissidents

Baltic dissidents have long ago realized that only a broad all union dissent movement can force any reforms upon the regime At least since mid-1970s there has been close cooperation among Baltic human rights activists, who also maintained ties with Moscow dissidents. They attempted to form a joint committee for national emancipation in 1976 and jointly signed numerous

Among the most important joint projects was the already mentioned petition of 45 Baits to the governments of the USSR, the two Germanys, the signatories of the Atlantic Charter and the Secretary General of the UN. The petition was unveiled to Western newsmen in Moscow on the 40th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23,1939. In effect, the petition asked for the elimination of the consequences of the pact and for self-determination and independence for the Baltic nations. The petition was signed by 37 Lithuanians, 4 Estonians and 4 Latvians. The Lithuanian organizers of the petition — Antanas Terleckas and Julius Sasnauskas; the Estonians Mart Nikius, Enn Tarto, and Erik Udam; the Latvians Juris Žiemelis and Ints Calitis — all have been repressed.

The petition of 45 Baits represents the basic quest of Baltic dissent and is here attached as an appendix.4 In addition, the petition has been influential in producing the resolution of the European Parliament (adopted on January 13,1983), calling for UN action on Soviet colonialism in the Baltic States. This resolution is also attached here as an appendix.

5. Reactions and Consequences

Soviet authorities have responded to the human rights movement with constant police pressure and repressions against the dissidents. Today, particularly in the Baltic republics, their ranks have been thinned out and the future of open or secret dissent is uncertain. The Andropov regime has intensified repressions, which began in earnest sometime in 1979.

On the whole, the dissidents have failed to attain their main objective of a more humane Soviet society. There were minor concessions for emigration, unification of families. Limited concessions to the Catholic Church in Lithuania were counterbalanced by increased pressure on believers through the refinement of atheistic indoctrination and state control over religious institutions. Generally, ideological controls were intensified.

In the area of national rights, the Soviet regime has strengthened the policy of russification. Secretary Andropov revived Lenin's idea of merger of nations under Communism. Linguistic policies, recommended by the 1979 Tashkent conference on teaching Russian in the schools of non-Russian republics, are being implemented. Russian language teaching now begins in kindergarten. Russian is increasingly used in the entire educational system, including the universities, and pervades public transactions. The long-term consequences of the programmed dominance of the Russian language in social, political, and cultural spheres to the vitality of national cultures are not difficult to imagine.

On the positive side, the human rights movement produced some important consequences. First of all, it put the Baltic peoples on the map of the world again and shaped international opinion on behalf of the Baltic nations. The reaction of the European Parliament, calling for UN deliberations on Soviet colonialism in the Baltic States, is indicative of the broader appreciation of what may be called the Baltic issue.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the dissident movement represents and alternative future to the younger generation and re-enforces their national consciousness and pride. The national movement has to some extent moderated the intense brainwashing of the younger generation in respect to their national past. National consciousness is a precondition for the assertion of national rights. The dissident movement contributed notably to the maintenance of that precondition for national emancipation.


For a historical survey of developments in the Baltic republics, see Romuald J. Misiūnas and Rein Taagepera, The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940-1980 (Berkeley, 1983).

A survey of developments, especially national dissent, is found in the studies of Tonu Harming, Juris Dreifelds, and Thomas Remeikis on Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania respectively, in George W. Simonds, ed., Nationalism in the USSR and Eastern Europe in the Era of Brezhnev and Kosygin (Detroit, 1977). For a very recent comparative analysis of Baltic dissent, see V. Stanley Vardys, "The Nature and Philosophy of Baltic Dissent: A Comparative Perspective," Nationalities Papers, Fall 1982.

Lithuanian dissent is extensively documented and analyzed in the following studies: Thomas Remeikis, Opposition to Soviet Rule in Lithuania, 1945-1930 (Chicago, 1980); V. Stanley Vardys, The Catholic Church, Dissent and Nationality in Lithuania (Boulder, Colo., 1978). The annual report The Violations of Human Rights in Soviet Occupied Lithuania, issued by the Lithuanian American Community since 1972, contains the most important documents on Lithuanian dissent in English translation. The entire set of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania has been translated and published by the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Priests' League of America. Many of the other samizdat journals are also available in the West.

Developments in Latvia and Estonia are less extensively documented. Dissent in all three republics is especially well covered in Radio Liberty Research papers. The Russian Khronika tekushchik sobytii reports regularly on Baltic events. Separate documents of dissent which reach the West are maintained in Arkhiv samizdata of Radio Liberty. Also useful for publication of original documents and commentaries are the following bulletins, issued by emigre groups: News From Soviet-Occupied Estonia; press releases of World Federation of Free Latvians; press bulletins of the United Baltic Appeal; News from Behind the Iron Curtain; Elta Information Service.


The Political Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has submitted the following motion for a Resolution to the Parliament, which was voted on and accepted on January 13, 1983:

"The European Parliament,

— having regard to the Joint declaration of 45 nationals of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, on April 1979 [sic!], calling on the United Nations to recognize the rights of the Baltic States to self-determination and independence, and demanding a referendum on this issue,

— having regard to Article VIII of the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation, which secures the right of self-determination of people and their right, in full freedom, to determine, when and as they wish, their internal and external political status,

— recalling that the occupation of these formerly independent and neutral states by the Soviet Union occurred in 1940 pursuant to the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact and continues,

— having regard to the motion for a resolution on the situation in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Doc. 1-777/80).

— having regard to the report of the Political Affairs Committee,

1. Calls for the Conference of Foreign Ministers meeting in political cooperation to attempt to form a common favourable approach to the declaration addressed to the United Nations in 1979;

2. Suggests that they submit the issue of the Baltic states to the Decolonization Subcommittee of the UN;

3. Consider that the plight of the peoples of these states should be the subject of review during the conferences to monitor implementation of the Helsinki Final Act;

4. Expresses the hope that the Conference of Foreign Ministers will use their best endeavours to see that the aspirations of the peoples of these states as to their form of government are realized;

5. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the European Community meeting in political cooperation, and to the governments of the Member states."


1 This essay was presented as a statement at the hearings on human rights in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Sen. Charles Percy presiding, in Chicago on Nov. 9, 1983. This statement and the accompanying testimony are recorded in the proceedings of the hearings: US Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 98th Cong., 1st Ses., Hearings on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Washington, D.C., US Government Printing Office, 1983). This text omits a section dealing with policy recommendations and an appendix which has been published in this journal earlier.
2 Ona Lukauskaitė-Poškienė died in December, 1983.
3 Rev. S. Tamkevičius was tried on Nov. 29-Dec. 2, 1983. He was sentenced to 6 years in strict regime camp and 4 years of internal exile.
4 The text of this petition is omitted here because it was previously published in Lituanus, (Spring, 1980, pp. 6-10).