The Events in Lithuania, 1972 (27.3)

<<No 27 : 15 October 1972>>

The death of Romas Kalanta

Some details have become known about the tragic suicide of Romas Kalanta and the events that followed it in Kaunas (see CCE 26). Kalanta died by self-immolation at about 1 pm [on 14 May 1972], in a city garden next to the Kaunas Musical Theatre and opposite the City Soviet Executive Committee building.

Sitting on a bench in the garden, Kalanta wrote something in a notebook, tore out the sheets of paper and laid them on the stone edging of a fountain, poured petrol over himself, scattered what remained of it all around and set himself alight. The youth asked people who rushed up to him to kill him. Soon he fell to the ground, still inside the circle of flames. The story of how Kalanta’s friends did not allow anyone to approach him (see CCE 26.11) has so far not been confirmed. The sheets of paper left by Kalanta were read by many of the people who came up to the spot where the suicide had taken place. The Chronicle does not know their precise content. All that is known is that Kalanta protested at the prevailing conditions in Lithuania and asserted that it was better to die than to go on living as before.

The burns received by Kalanta turned out to be so extensive that after he had been taken to hospital, he had to be given injections in the soles of his feet. Rumour has it that Kalanta, delirious, repeated again and again: “I shan’t tell you anything”. It was also rumoured that the KGB maintained a constant guard by his bedside, Kalanta died a few hours later.

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His body was taken by relatives to his home on Paperiu Street (Viliampole district). Access to the body was apparently open to all. Many people, especially the young, came to pay their last respects to the deceased. On 18 May, long before the appointed hour of 4 o’clock in the afternoon, many people who wished to attend the funeral gathered at the house. When the hearse drove off from the house it immediately accelerated sharply, leaving the funeral procession far behind, and the mourners did not reach the cemetery until the burial was over.

In the meantime, a large crowd had assembled outside Kalanta’s home. A call to go to the place of the suicide was taken up, and people started chanting “To the city garden!” All along the way new people joined in the demonstration; traffic came to a halt and the police did not interfere with the demonstrators. The procession was chanting “Freedom!”, “Lithuania!”. Conversations sprang up amongst the marchers about the arrest of some of Kalanta’s fellow-students who had tried to decorate the place of his self-immolation with Howlers. Rumours circulated, evidently false, to the effect that Kalanta’s father had been detained. Upon reaching the city gardens the demonstration turned towards the City Executive Committee building. Shouts of “Free the arrested people! They are our comrades!” rang out. The doors and windows of the building were bolted. The demonstrators crossed over into the gardens, where they held a meeting. One appeal made was that they should not cease their daily demonstrations until the arrested persons were freed. “We promise!” the crowd chanted, “Freedom for Lithuania!” Girls laid flowers on the spot of the suicide. The demonstrators sang national songs. From the park the demonstration moved down Freedom Avenue in the direction of the KGB headquarters. Not far from what used to be a cathedra! and is now an art gallery the procession was halted by police cordons blocking its path. For some time, the row of policemen did not move a step. Now politely, now giving orders, they requested people to disperse. Someone in plain clothes grabbed a girl from the head of the demonstration and tried to drag her towards the KGB building, but the crowd forced him aside. On the cathedral steps brief and spontaneous meetings gathered time and again.

The police began to bear down on the demonstrators and force them into side streets and courtyards. Buses and police vehicles appeared, and the police began herding demonstrators into the cars. Only then did real clashes with the police begin and fights break out. Near the cathedral a policeman was seriously injured (or, according to another version, killed) by a stone.

On 18 May the police and state security officials were unable to control the situation. Skirmishes with the police continued until nightfall.

On 19 May demonstrators began to gather at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Clashes with the police occurred. From approximately 7 pm military units were brought in to break up the demonstration for good. They beat the demonstrators, and also any people who happened to be in the streets, with rubber truncheons. According to rough estimates, about 400 people were detained. Prison cells were filled to overflowing and, in some, men and women were confined together. Also used to accommodate the detainees was the notorious Ninth Fort, a museum on the outskirts of Kaunas which was a Gestapo torture-chamber during the war.

Most of the detainees were released a few hours later after being questioned. Many were beaten up before their release. Some were freed after several days, while others were given 15 days’ imprisonment (sec CCE 26). As it turned out, the demonstration had been photographed. Some of the people called in for questioning in the summer and autumn were confronted with photographs as proof of their participation in the demonstration. So far it is not known whether anyone has been arrested as the instigator of the demonstration.

The city gardens near the Musical Theatre were patrolled for a long time afterwards. It appears that detectives are still on duly there even now.

A trial

On 5 October 1972, the paper Soviet Lithuania reported (in an article by P. Jankauskas and L. Marcinkevičius entitled “Disturbers of Public Order Punished”) that the Lithuanian Supreme Court in Vilnius had heard the case of eight people arrested during the disorders of 18 May in Kaunas [note 1]. The defendants were charged under Article 199-3 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code (equivalent to Article 190-3 of the Russian Code). Two were charged in addition under Articles 255 para. 2 and 99 para. 1 of the Lithuanian Code (hooliganism and damage to state property). All the defendants were found guilty.

Vytautas Kalade, age 25, a stagehand, was sentenced to three years of hard-regime camps; Antanas Kacinskas (24) to three years of strict-regime camps. Virginia Urbonaviciute (18) was sentenced to one year of correctional labour [at her place of work]; Rimas Bauzis (18), workers Kazys Grinkevicius (24) and Vytautas Zmuila (23), and school students Jonas Prapuolenaitis (21) and Jonas Maeijauskas (19) were given terms of imprisonment ranging from 18 months to three years of camps.

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A Chronicle of the Catholic Church [in Lithuania]

In the Spring of 1972, a Chronicle of the Catholic Church [in Lithuanian] began to appear in Lithuania. The first issue contains a detailed account of the trials of priests J. Zdebskis and P. Bubnys, and of the trial of the parishioner K. Biciucaite. Information is provided about the extrajudicial persecution of priests and believers; letters and statements by Lithuanian Catholics addressed to the authorities are published or their contents described in detail. Most of the facts reported in this issue have already appeared in past issues of the Chronicle (CCE 21-26).

By October three issues of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church had been published [note 2].

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NOTES

[1] The judge was M. Ignotas, and the defence lawyers were G. Gavronskis, P. Kudaba, V. Zabela, A. Sarka, and A. Urbasevictus. See also New York Times and Reuter dispatches from Moscow dated 25 September and 3 October, and a Reuter dispatch of 4 January about an official report of a further trial in which R. Truskauskas. aged 17, got ten years for allegedly taking part both in the demonstrations and in a group rape. For a Soviet eye-witness account of Kalanta’s death see Possev 2, 1973 (p. 18).

[2] The first two of these have reached the West, each over 10,000 words in length. No. 1 covers the period from the late summer of 1971 to January 1972; No. 2 from January to May 1972. No. 2 is remarkable for its detailed, systematic coverage — district by district throughout Lithuania — of the church’s opposition to persecution.