LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 32, No. 1 - Spring 1986
Editor of this issue: Jonas Zdanys
Copyright © 1986 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
LITUANUS DATA BANK
• A near-record amount of more than $180,000 for grants has been announced by the Lithuanian Foundation, Inc. for the fiscal year 1985. A wide range of community, educational, cultural, and social welfare activities have been recognized with financial support. The Foundation is the largest and certainly the most important Lithuanian organization of its type, founded in 1961 and subsequently incorporated in the State of Illinois under the General Not For Profit Corporation Act.
• Effective October 20,1985, Pope John Paul II appointed Monsignor Algimantas Bartkus Rector of St. Casimir's Lithuanian College (Seminary) in Rome. Msgr. Bartkus was ordained to priesthood in 1965 and served in the United States from his ordination until 1983, when he took up duties of Pro-Rector of the College
• LITUANUS is pleased to acknowledge a greeting from the White House, Washington, D.C. The letter, received late in 1985, reads in part:
"... It is a great pleasure for me, on behalf of President Reagan, to extend best wishes to the editors and supporters of LITUANUS, and to wish all the best in your future endeavors."
THE TENTH CONFERENCE ON BALTIC STUDIES
The Conference is sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, Inc. It will take place during May 29-31, 1986 at the University of Wisconsin Madison campus. Prof. Valters Nollendorfs is the Chairman of the Program Committee.
"Baits Outside the Baltic" is the general theme of the Conference. Scholars from all parts of the world are expected. Papers will be presented and discussed in the following areas: art, bibliography, folklore/mythology, history, linguistics, literature, musicology, pedagogy, politol-ogy, sociology, theater, and drama. The Conference will take place in the Wisconsin Center on the shore of Lake Mendota in the middle of campus activities with the library, historical and art museums, and student union nearby. There will be a number of exhibits, receptions, and other special events.
Participants will have a choice of housing in dormitories, university guest houses, or convenient hotels. Madison is situated 90 miles west of Milwaukee and 160 miles northwest of Chicago. Convenient and direct airline transportation from major continental cities is available. Regular airport buses run from campus to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
Registration is now underway. Contact Baltic Studies Center, 818 Van Hise Hall, 1220 Linden Drive, Madison, Wl 53706, phone 608-262-2192.
LENIN PRIZE WINNER DIES IN PRISON
Dr. Johannes Hint, famed Estonian physicist and human rights activist, died on September 5, 1985 in the infamous Soviet prison 'The Battery' in Tallinn, Estonia.
He was buried on September 10 and his funeral was attended by 300 to 400 people. Soviet authorities had only permitted 20 of his colleagues to attend. Even though police photographers were present, many more attended from the Construction and Technology Bureau where Dr. Hint had been Managing Director.
When Dr. Hint was sentenced in 1983, he was in poor health and 69 years old. It was not expected that he would survive the prison sentence. Dr. Hint was sentenced along with nine other Estonians on trumped up charges of "embezzlement of state property." The prosecution was not able to introduce sufficient evidence to prove its case, according to Estonian legal experts in the free world. Six of the nine others sentenced also worked for the Bureau.
The indictment carried 18 charges with an additional charge against Dr. Hint for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." During the search of his home, samizdat (underground) documents were found. He was accused of authoring some of the papers.
During Dr. Hint's trial, witnesses testified that Dr. Hint was an anti-communist and that he condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and supported the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games. The trial was held in Tallinn and began March 21, 1983.
Because of Dr. Hint's prominence, sources say that he was tried on false charges of embezzlement rather than as political criminal. These charges also allowed the prosecutor to demand stiffer penalties than he dared do otherwise. Dr. Johannes Hint was awarded the Lenin Prize in 1962 for his research in construction technology. He was credited for developing new building materials.
REMEMBERING THOSE WHO CHOOSE TO STAY
by VICTOR A. NAKAS
Special to the LITUANUS Data Bank
The typical American divides Soviets and other East Bloc residents into two groups: those who are disaffected with the system and want to leave and those who staunchly defend the system. To the former group belong individuals like Medvid and, so it is said, up to a third of Soviet Jewry. To the latter group belong Russians and non-Russians who have embraced Sovietization and Russification.
Left in the shadows of American consciousness are those who neither wave the Soviet flag nor desire to vote with their feet. They constitute that group of Soviet citizens who wish the Soviet system would wither away. To this group belong Russian dissidents and certain non-Russian nationalities.
Last year, The New Republic addressed itself to the plight of these forgotten souls. An editorial entitled "Not Only Jews" (The New Republic, April 8,1985) took to task leading Jewish organizations in the United States for publicly offering the Soviet leadership Jewish-American support for detente in exchange for increased Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. The New Republic questioned the morality of such an offer:
But what about the Soviet citizens whose rescue is not part of the proposed transaction? What about those left in Russia for whom no one speaks? . . (J)ust because no one cares for the dozens of endangered ethnic and national groups submerged under Soviet rule — truly captive nations, these, with no diaspora to invoke their destiny in world capitals — this doesn't justify a human rights transaction made exclusively for Jews.
Though the editorial's statement that the captive nations lack diasporas to defend their interests in the West is not applicable to such ethnic groups as Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians, the general message it delivers has the resounding ring of a truth too long left unsaid. Truly, as far as the West is concerned, various Soviet nationality groups matter so little that they might as well exist in another solar system.
Why is this so? The diasporas of the captive nations become invisible when they are forced to compete for the attention of a Western audience with the mighty Jewish diaspora, which stands head and shoulders above them all in its intellectual sophistication, economic strength, and political prowess. Moreover, only the Jewish diaspora has a free homeland from which to draw additional strength. Thus the campaign for human rights in the Soviet Union is translated in the West as the right of Jews to emigrate.
Even without the daunting competition provided by the Jewish community, the message of other diaspora groups probably would fall on deaf ears. These groups press for policies that Western decision makers have no desire to seriously consider, much less implement. What certain non-Russian nationalities desire is nothing less than to exercise all their human rights, including the right to self-determination, which would lead to the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from territories it now occupies. Lip service paid to such demands in the Congressional Record notwithstanding, most American politicians see self-determination for Soviet nationalities as either a pipe dream or a Pandora's box. Those who argue the "pipe dream" position think the Soviets are too committed to holding on to every inch of their territory to make self-determination an even remote possibility. Support for such a Utopian proposition, they say, would make the United States the laughingstock of the international community. The advocates of the "Pandora's box" position fear that putting an issue as sensitive as self-determination on the table would require the United States to expend tremendous amounts of energy to achieve minimal results and to run the risk of squandering all progress made on arms control as well as escalating superpower tension to the brink of nuclear war.
Thus even so overtly anti-Soviet a leader as Ronald Reagan has openly declared to the Soviets that, although the United States does not like their system of government, it won't try to change the Communist structure. Never mind that Reagan may not believe what he is saying — the significance of this master politician's pledge is in its intent to allay Soviet and American fears.
The Soviets for their part let no opportunity pass to reinforce in the Western mind their hold over the non-Russian nationalities. At the 1985 Geneva summit, General Secretary Gorbachev's gift to President Reagan — a set of medals depicting each of the 15 Soviet republics — represented a brilliant chess move that forced Reagan to accept publicly a symbol of the status quo in the Soviet empire. For once, however, the usually heavy-handed Soviets were too subtle for their own good. So intent has been the U.S. media on denying the possibility that self-determination of Soviet nationalities is or can be a viable issue that Gorbachev's gesture went right over the heads of American journalists. They did not so much ignore Gorbachev's gift as fail to comprehend its significance.
If one recognizes that the prospect of a campaign for genuine self-determination for Soviet citizens is incredible and frightening to Americans, it is easier to understand why the cause of Jewish emigration has become so popular for Americans. By defining the emigration issue as the Soviet human rights issue, Americans can conveniently overlook the more important question of fundamental reform of the U.S.S.R. that would lead to its transformation from a 19th century-type empire to a modern nation-state.
Given this situation, the short-term outlook for non-Jewish diaspora groups is not promising. It makes no sense to press hard for increased emigration rights for Baits and Ukrainians, as the Jews have done for their people. Baits and Ukrainians can afford to celebrate the leap to freedom of individual defectors, but if, for example, every other Balt decided voluntarily to leave his native land, the results would be no less catastrophic than if Red Army troops had rounded up hundreds of thousands of Baits and sent them to Siberia. Widespread emigration would lead to the eventual extinction of the Baltic nations just as surely as outright genocide.
The only avenue open to non-Jewish diaspora groups is to continue pressing for greater respect for a wide range of human rights in the Soviet Union, including the right to self-determination. Eventually, conditions may become more favorable for the expansion of freedom within the Soviet Union and the Western world may be better placed to play a more active role. For now, educating Americans so that they will understand and be willing to acknowledge that emigration is not a cure for what ails many people in the Soviet Union is the challenging task that awaits diaspora Baits, Ukrainians, and others.
DEFECTOR DEJA VU
Much as been said and written about the sad case of Miroslav Medvid, the Ukrainian seaman who in late October of 1985 twice jumped ship near New Orleans but found his quest for asylum thwarted by the lamentable actions of a handful of American officials. The Washington Post (November 25,1985) ran an editorial entitled "No More Medvids" and declared that the Border Patrol officials who returned Medvid to the Soviets had been guilty of "a serious failure of judgment." The New York Times (November 9, 1985) was more scathing, stating that initially Medvid's case was handled "disastrously" by officials who "acted with relentless ignorance."
One would have thought that America had learned its lesson only too well in November 1970 when U.S. officials allowed Soviet sailors to board a Coast Guard vessel off the Massachusetts coast and drag away a defecting Lithuanian seaman who had literally jumped ship from a nearby Soviet vessel. So scandalous was this incident that the Coast Guard conducted a shake-up in its own ranks and the United States pressed the Soviet Union for seaman Simas Kudirka's release after his legitimate claim to U.S. citizenship was uncovered. Kudirka's harrowing tale became the subject of three books and a made-for-TV movie.
Yet, there is a silver lining in the cloud that hangs over the sordid Medvid affair. Medvid's case heightened U.S. consciousness about defectors from Warsaw Pact countries. Suddenly, in the aftermath of Medvid's abortive attempt to defect, reports of other Eastern bloc seamen seeking asylum began to crop up in the U.S. media. Thanks to Medvid, the press latched on to the recurring phenomenon of defections, which it previously had largely ignored, unless the defector was glamorous, i.e. a spy or a hockey player. Through the press, Medvid's betrayal drew public attention to the defector phenomenon. Moreover, the public ridicule heaped on those Border Patrol officials directly responsible for bungling Medvid's appeal for protection, and the damaging effects of the case on their careers, sent a message to civil and military bureaucrats that incompetence in such matters could be costly not just for the victim.
The Medvid case is instructive on two counts. First, it shows that the American public's capacity for outrage where injustice is concerned has not diminished over the years. No one needs to remind Americans that they are a nation of immigrants and refugees. It is hard to imagine that a European could have felt the same sort of kinship with Medvid that many an American no doubt experienced. Second, the Medvid affair demonstrates the importance of interest groups in keeping the defector issue in the public eye. The Ukrainian-American community, for example, took various legal and political actions aimed at preventing the Soviet ship to which Medvid had been returned from leaving American waters with him still aboard. Though its actions did not win freedom for Medvid, it would be premature to say they did not help him — the Baltic community's efforts on behalf of Kudirka probably saved his life and were instrumental in securing his eventual return to the United States. Moreover, the Ukrainians' lobbying had consequences for the future. By prolonging the Medvid affair and thus heightening awareness about the defector phenomenon, interest groups like the Ukrainian community probably extended the period of time during which all defectors will receive proper treatment from U.S. officials.
VICTOR A. NAKAS