LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 34, No. 3 - Fall 1988
Editor of this issue: Antanas Dundzila
Copyright © 1988 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
EXCERPTS* FROM A PUBLIC HEARING ON BALTIC DISSIDENTS
Tuesday, October 6, 1987
House of Representatives,
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe,
STATEMENT OF TIIT MADISSON
On the 23rd of August, 1987, the official Soviet version of history pertaining to Estonia collapsed upon itself. The demonstration in Tallinn on August 23,1987 was an event of the first magnitude in post-war Estonian history, in both the quantitative and qualitative sense. For the first time in forty-three years of totalitarian rule, a publicly planned mass demonstration dealing with the key issues of the Estonian people's destiny took place. This was nothing less than the beginning of multi-dimensional, genuine, self-initiated social-political activity.
It has become clear that despite the passage of nearly half a century, the Estonian people will not forget injustice, violence and falsehoods. Forty-three years of actively distorting the truth has not succeeded in making a single thinking person accept the Soviet version of the post-war system in Estonia.
The "Estonian Group for Publication of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact" (MRP-AEG), was formed on August 15, 1987 by seven individuals: Chairman and Representative Tiit Madisson, Heiki Ahonen, Lagle Parek, Jan Korb, Mati Kiirend, Use Heinsalu, and Juri Mikk. The first five are former political prisoners. The primary aim of the MRP-AEG was to create an Estonian movement to seek the publication and renunciation of the 1939 secret agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
Since there was no hope that Soviet authorities would publish the entire Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, including its secret protocols dividing Eastern Europe into "spheres of influence", the MRP-AEG decided to call for mass demonstrations in Tallinn, the capital of Soviet-occupied Estonia, on August 23, 1987, the 48th anniversary of the signing of the pact.
Important considerations supporting this undertaking were the successful demonstrations on the 14th of June in Riga, Latvia, the Crimean Tarters' protests in Moscow, and the favorable atmosphere that had developed in Estonia itself. (The first six months of 1987 have seen active protests against environmentally dangerous phosphate mining in Estonia, and 30-40 independent Estonian historical and cultural organizations have been formed). And finally, there was the important matter of Baltic solidarity. We in Tallinn could not betray this joint Baltic endeavor. We sensed that a historical moment was upon us.
On the 15th of August, MRP-AEG called upon the Estonian people to assemble in the square in front of Tallinn's City Hall on the 23rd of August at noon. Simultaneously, I notified the city government of the MRP-AEG's plans.
Businesslike discussions were held between city and state officials. The officials would not give permission for a demonstration on City Hall Square, suggesting Hirve Park as an alternative site. MRP-AEG agreed to the change in location, and had to rely on word-of-mouth to announce the demonstration itself, as well as the new location.
On Saturday, the 22nd of August, both nationwide television and the central press reacted vehemently to the plans for the demonstration, portraying these plans as external interference in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union and as Fascist fabrications. On the other hand, a letter from twenty United States Senators addressed to Mr. Gorbachev and the party bosses of the Baltic provinces, and reports of Baltic exiles planning actions in solidarity with us gave us hope that this endeavor might succeed.
Several thousand people gathered on City Hall Square on August 23rd, and then moved peacefully along the city streets to the new site of Hirve Park. Some participants carried placards calling for publication of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, exposure of Stalin's crimes, and release of Estonian political prisoners. It took at least ten minutes for the flow of people to pass. Word of a concurrent hunger strike by young Baltic-Americans at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington helped boost our morale. People brought flowers and lit candles in memory of the victims of Stalinist terror.
At Hirve Park, the crowd Continued to grow. 1 delivered the opening speech, which outlined the genesis of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and described its consequences. Mention of the Constitutional right to self-determination and secession brought one of the most vigorous ovations from the crowd. Accurate figures about the number of people arrested, put to death and deported during the initial years of Soviet power stunned the listeners. These figures have never been released in Estonia. The demand that Stalinist as well as Nazi criminals be brought to justice was received by listeners with another strong round of applause. Sixty-two persons joined a new group calling for the erection of a monument dedicated to the memory of victims of Stalin in Estonia.
It is unlikely that everything would have gone so unexpectedly smoothly if demonstrations had not taken place in other parts of the world, if the international mass media had not devoted as much attention to the fate of the Baltic's people.
The demonstration was noted that evening by the official press agency. However, the number of participants was reported as a mere 200-300 and the event itself was attacked and discredited in true Stalinist fashion. The following two weeks saw a full-blown media campaign to downplay the demonstration and to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, with absolutely no mention of the brutal Stalin era. This may have been the strongest such official media reaction to any event in Estonia in the last forty years.
Prior to the demonstration I had applied to emigrate but was refused. On September 7, I was summoned to the Ovir office in Tallinn, where a KGB agent gave me an ultimatum: Either I was to leave the Soviet Union by September 14, or the same fate as befell Mart Nikius would await me. I arrived in Sweden with my wife and son on September 12.
I would like to mention a few events that are continuing in occupied Estonia. On September 1, Juri Mikk began a long-term hunger strike to protest both the media smear campaign against us and attempts by officials to justify the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. According to press reports, on September 30, Mikk demonstrated on Red Square in Moscow. He was seized by the police and a sign he was carrying torn to shreds.
Two well-known Estonians, Mark Nikius and Enn Tarto, still languish in Perm Camp no. 36-1. Both have received 10-year forced labor camp sentences, plus five years internal exile. Nikius was arrested for the second time in 1980, Enn Tarto in 1983. Both were among the forty-five Baltic human and national rights activists who, inspired by the Helsinki Accords, signed the Baltic appeal in 1979.
In a lengthy letter to his mother this spring, Mark Nikius describes Perm Camp 36-1 as the "focus of evil in the world" — an area untouched by "glasnost".
Besides Mart Nikius and Enn Tarto, both of whose names have appeared in appeals by Dr. Andrei Sakharov, nearly thirty other Estonians are known to be incarcerated in concentration camps or psychiatric facilities. These individuals, ranging in age from 18 to 74, are being punished for various kinds of "crimes" which are clearly political in nature — such as tearing down the flag of occupying Soviet forces, raising the blue, black, and white flag of free Estonia, conflicts with Russian immigrants, etc.
In spite of the loss of about one-fourth of its one million population during World War II and the Soviet occupation, the spirit of the Estonians had not been broken. Guerrilla resistance, which was not stamped out until the 1950's, was the first logical expression of dissent. Even though everyone who has openly opposed or criticized the all-encompassing falsehood and injustice upon which the existing system is based has been repressed by the Soviet authorities, there is a constant stream of new people joining the resistance and human rights movement. The Estonian people have not forgotten free Estonia. Our best and bravest leaders understand that the Estonian people can thrive only if their independence is restored.
We are fully cognizant of the fact that the future of the Estonian and other Baltic peoples depends upon public opinion in the free world as well as the positions taken by the governments of the United States, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and other Western nations. The greatest achievement of Soviet propaganda has been to perpetuate the myth of the Soviet Union's omnipotence and its ability to act with impunity. The Estonian resistance movement and freedom fighters hope that, in the future, the Baltic situation will attract more attention in the free world. Only an uncompromising struggle for human rights can bring success.
On behalf of the Estonian resistance movement, I would like sincerely to thank the American people, President Reagan, and members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives for their support.
STATEMENT OF ROLANDS SILARAUPS
In the beginning of this year, a change took place in the attitude of Soviet authorities toward human rights activists. The same, however, cannot be said of their attitude toward the idea of human rights itself.
The change was manifested in such a way that many human rights activists, including myself, who were imprisoned solely for their human rights activities, were released. Similarly, in Latvia today, it is easier to express one's opinions — opinions which are independent of those held by the authorities — without fear of immediate arrest, as has been the case in the past. However, the KGB continues to collect information about these people so that, if there is a change in the political climate, they can be held accountable. Otherwise, everything is the same as it was in the past. Many political prisoners continue to remain in prison, (among them such Latvians as Gunars Astra, Zanis Skudra and others) and in psychiatric hospitals (for example, Gederts Melngailis, Maigonis Ravins, etc.).
In addition, since the beginning of this year, there is a known case in Latvia where an individual has been tried for his political activity — Linards Grantins. He was tried on the basis of fabricated charges — supposedly for refusing an order to report for army reserve training courses. The truth is, he was arrested and tried with the purpose of isolating him from society, for at that very time, that is the beginning of June of this year, he was organizing a demonstration at the Freedom Monument in Riga in order to honor the victims of the Stalin deportations.
Grantins' trial took place in the spirit of the old Stalinist show trials, (Helsinki 86 has copies of transcripts of his trial.) Grantins' trial demonstrates that any changes in the Soviet Union are only of a superficial nature. Neither the campaign of "openness" nor that of "democratization" has reached the Soviet justice system.
This trial leads us to suspect that the USSR can use the criminal code in such a way against all who think differently.
The authorities can therefore try them as if for criminal law violations, and then afterward claim that they are not political prisoners.
The fact that no deeper changes in this regard have occurred, is testified to by the actions undertaken by militia, justice and KGB agents against the organizers and participants of the June 14 and August 23 demonstrations in Riga. Although a request for permission to hold the June 14 demonstration was made with the appropriate agencies, the KGB and militia tried to disrupt the demonstration. This was done through the scheduling of a "sport festival" on the day of the demonstration. It was also accomplished through provocations and open threats against the organizers.
On August 23, 1987 representatives of the government broke into an apartment where the organizers had gathered (the apartment of Ojars Ginters, Padomju boulevard, 12-9) and totally ignoring any standards of justice or humanity, detained these people, and physically assaulted them. In response to questions concerning the legality of their actions, the government agents laughingly answered that they fully understood that their behavior was unconstitutional, but that this did not interest them. Any attempts to hold these people legally accountable for their actions have failed. The behavior of the militia toward the demonstrators at the Freedom Monument, was, in effect, similar to the behavior toward the members of the Helsinki 86 group in the Ginters' apartment.
These examples (and they are not the only ones) testify that, in effect, there have been no changes for the better regarding human rights. In fact, such changes cannot even be expected as long as the singlemost important question concerning Latvia is not addressed — THE QUESTION OF SELF-DETERMINATION. Beginning in June of 1940, and continuing to this day, the people of Latvia have been robbed of their right to determine their own fate and regulate their own internal and external affairs. Each and every Latvian suffers this lack of basic human rights most heavily in the following ways:
1. Russification.— In Latvia, the Latvian language is increasingly being forced out of all spheres of life. This, despite the fact that recently this painful subject has been openly written about in the newspapers. This is again an example of what I mentioned earlier—(that on the surface much is said about major changes, but in reality, nothing is changing.)
2. Massive Russian migration to Latvia and special privileges for immigrants. —for example—native Latvians cannot get apartments, regardless of how difficult their personal circumstances. Russian immigrants, on the other hand, can obtain these new apartments in a few years time. As this fact is presented, it is cynically described as "Latvian hospitality."
3. The Latvian environment is being ruthlessly exploited and destroyed.—The work undertaken by the Latvian regional environmental protection club is consistently hampered. Often, during talks with the KGB, club members have been told that the club is too nationalistic and that in their work they do not take into account State interests.
4. Restriction of personal freedoms.—The personal freedoms of each individual, regarding foreign travel, access to literature and similar matters, are severely restricted.
5. Restriction of religious freedom.— This is primarily manifested as repression against religious activists and the clergy. At this moment, the most vivid example is that of the Lutheran minister Modris Plate, who, because of his outstanding work with the congregations of Kuldiga and Edole, has been relieved of all his ministerial duties within the Latvian Lutheran Church. Other examples include the punishment of the Rev. Dr. Roberts Akmentins, who was removed from his post as head of the Latvian theological seminary because of his membership in the Latvian Christian Movement for Rebirth and Renewal. Still today, believers do not have the right to express their religious views outside the walls of the church; any charitable church work is also forbidden.
6. No freedom of press.—Today in Latvia it is impossible to establish a free press, independent of the government. As a result, all the efforts of the openness and democratization campaign, are channeled through the government controlled press. That which presently appears in the press, is not free thought, but only a "letting off of steam," subject to government controlled and established limits. At this moment, the lack of press freedom is especially well demonstrated through ongoing press attacks on the members and supporters of the group HELSINKI 86 including myself. Not only is it impossible to protest these attacks, it is also impossible to publicly respond to them. Articles expressing opposing views are refused and the TV stations have turned down offers for open discussions of the issues.
These are only a few examples of what I view as the most outrageous human rights violations being perpetrated in Latvia. These are violations which I myself have personally encountered. I also know many people in Latvia who have suffered, and continue to suffer as a result of these human rights violations.
STATEMENT OF VYTAUTAS SKUODIS
Since arriving to my native United States in September, I have come to realize how seriously my fellow Americans take the oppression of religion in the U.S.S.R. For instance, in a strong show of support for religious freedom, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution last month urging the Reagan administration to speak out against Soviet persecution of Lithuanian Catholics.
Although Jewish emigration and the treatment of dissidents, both of which are closely tied to the treatment of religion, have long been at the center of our human rights agenda, we are too often silent about the sad state of religious affairs in the U.S.S.R. This silence may be construed as lack of concern by the Soviets.
Though some reforms are taking place in the Soviet Union, in the name of "perestroika," there is no evidence of better conditions for believers. In predominantly Roman Catholic Lithuania, the church is in a most precarious situation, as never before. The policy on religion is still along traditional lines, that the Communist Party must keep combating its influence.
A liberalization of restrictions on religion would probably be seen as ideological laxity. Thus, the Soviet Government is trying by all means to divide and demoralize the Lithuanian Catholic Church from within.
KGB infiltration of the church in Lithuania is at an all-time high. Despite legal guarantees, the state makes it very hard for believers to worship and to live without fear. Intrusive government supervision of the sole theological seminary in Kaunas; not allowing enough religious literature to be printed; refusal to allow the opening of new churches or the return of confiscated ones, except for Queen of Peace Church in Klaipëda which Tass reports will be returned in two years; restricting the role of priests with administrative fines; not allowing religious instruction of children; in these and other ways, the state makes the practice of religion difficult and often impossible.
I can categorically assert that the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, written clandestinely in Lithuania and published in English and other languages in the West, fully represents the situation of the Catholic Church and of believers in Lithuania today.
We need to tell the Soviets at the highest level that the harsh treatment given religion, as documented in the Chronicle, is unacceptable.
Now that the new directions in Soviet policy allow us to discuss subjects that previously were taboo, we need to reassess approaches to the nationalities question. For 47 years, the Soviet Government has portrayed itself as the legitimate government of the Baltic States, insisting Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania willfully joined the U.S.S.R. and that there is no basis for independence.
The Balts maintain that their countries were illegally occupied in 1940. It seems clear now that efforts at Soviet legitimacy have failed to stifle widespread resentment of the Baltic peoples to the Soviet occupation. This animosity was easily detected in the demonstrators, who chanted, "Freedom, freedom, freedom," during protests which took place on August 23 in the capital cities of the Baltic States.
May I respectfully suggest that the United States put forward cautious demands on nationality issues, at the very least in the sphere of language and education? For the Russians, demands for schooling and the expanded use of their language are no problem.
For the non-Russians, it is a different story. Those who have put forward timid requests to rehabilitate some aspects of pre-revolutionary Lithuanian history and who have taken up the defense of the Lithuanian language make little progress.
In a sense, glasnost has again proved the old dictum about national equality in the U.S.S.R.: yes, everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.
Non-Russian advocates of national rights are assumed to exist only in emigre circles abroad, while those who dare to express ideas in defense of their nationality in the U.S.S.R. are safely behind bars in the labor camps, where they represent the majority of political prisoners. Their crime has been to talk or write about their heritage and their history.
My colleagues, journalist and poet Gintautas Ieđmantas, and the teacher Povilas Pečeliűnas, with whom I was tried, are still in internal exile. Ieđmantas was charged with writing articles advocating a right guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution: secession from the U.S.S.R.; whereas Pečeliűnas was accused of possessing and distributing literature on religion and Lithuanian history deemed as anti-Soviet.
I ask you through your good offices to relay these recommendations to President Reagan. It is within his power to focus Soviet attention on these matters.
I encourage the U.S. House and Senate to raise the issues of religion and nationality in the U.S.S.R., and to insure their inclusion in our human rights policy.
I ask you this not in my name alone, but in the name of many well-known Lithuanian dissidents and internal exiles whom I was able to meet. The desire of all of them for the well-being of their homeland matches the hopes and desires of the majority of the Lithuanian people.
Allow me at this time to also thank from the bottom of my heart all those who lobbied so relentlessly on my behalf.
* For full report, see the U.S. Government Printing Office Publication No. 79-993, Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Hearing Before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Baltic Dissidents, October 6, 1987.