The Persecution of Believers in Lithuania (25.7)

<<No 25 : 20 May 1972>>

Amongst cases of the infringement of believers’ rights mentioned in “the Memorandum of the Catholics of Lithuania” [note 1] (see CCE 24.6) is the dismissal of O. Briliene, a schoolmistress and believer, by the Vilkaviskis district department of public education.

In October 1969, the headmaster of a high school in Vilkaviskis saw a photograph of ten of O. Briliene’s pupils, taken during their first communion. On the headmaster’s orders Briliene confirmed in writing that her pupils were going to church. After this the authorities began blackmailing and persecuting O. Briliene, who is the mother of five children. A teachers aktiv discussed her. They suggested to Briliene that she resign from her job. Then she was discussed in the department of education and at an open Party meeting. Briliene lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Education of the USSR, as a result of which the photograph of the children was returned to her, but the persecution did not cease.

At a district conference of teachers, the head of the propaganda department called the schoolmistress a hardened obscurantist, while the deputy chairman of the district soviet executive committee, Rogov, suggested that the teachers create an atmosphere which would be so intolerable to Briliene that she would resign from her job of her own accord. Once again O. Briliene appealed to the USSR Ministry of Education, but it refused to investigate her complaint. In September 1970 Briliene was dismissed. She appealed to the Vilkaviskis people’s court. During the trial, the Procurator Vikskevicius jeered at the schoolmistress and called her a person of low morals. On 14 October 1970, the court ruled her dismissal legal. Briliene appealed to the Lithuanian Supreme Court. The Court decreed that schoolmistress Briliene be reinstated in her job. At the same time, the parents of the Vilkaviskis high-school pupils had sent a statement to the USSR Procurator-General; it was sent on to the Vilkaviskis district Procurator, who made an announcement to the parents that O. Briliene had been reinstated in her job.

In reality, however, Briliene was not reinstated in her job, but was threatened that she would not obtain work anywhere. She was not taken on as a cleaner at a bakery, nor admitted to a course for senior specialists in land-reclamation.

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On 24 December 1971, 47 priests of the archdiocese of Vilnius addressed a statement to the Secretary-General of the CPSU Central Committee and to the USSR Council of Ministers, concerning the abnormal position of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. The statement makes six basic demands:

1. That the Kaunas Theological Seminary be given complete freedom, including the right to admit all suitable candidates.

2. That the freedom of the religious press guaranteed by the Constitution of the USSR be implemented in practice, that is, that the opportunity be given to print prayer-books, catechisms, hymn-books, the Holy Scriptures and at her books of religious content, of which there are not enough, and which the believing populace demands.

3. That Bishops J. Steponavicius and V. Sladkevicius be allowed to return to their duties, and all priests living in Lithuania (including Ukrainians) be allowed to carry out their pastoral work freely and publicly.

4. That the additional clause in Article 143 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code, concerning the “Organization and systematic conducting of religious studies among minors in violation of the regulations stipulated by law”, which is abused by Lithuanian courts, be revoked, as it does not conform with the International Convention of 15 November 1961 [note 2] or with the Constitution of the USSR.

5. That all unknown and secret instructions concerning religious life be annulled.

6. That the cases of persons convicted on religious grounds be reviewed again and these persons released.

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In March 1972, in a letter addressed to L. Brezhnev, believers of the town of Klaipeda requested permission to use a church built at their own expense and then turned into a philharmonic hall. The petition carries 3,023 signatures.

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In April 1972, 190 believers from the parish of Stirniai in the Moletai district of Lithuania sent a statement to the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers asking that the constraints on religious practice should cease:

1. The priest A. Seskevicius should be allowed to work in his parish. Seskevicius, priest of the parish of Dubingiai in the Moletai district, was convicted in September 1970 (see CCE 17.12, item 7 and CCE 21.9, item 13) and since the expiry of his term of punishment he has not been allowed to work in his parish.

2. Convicted priests should be released.

3. Priests should not be hindered from teaching children in church.

4. All who so desire shoud be permitted to enter a Theological Seminary.

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in May 1972 believers of Lithuania appealed to all people of good will to assist them in their struggle for freedom of conscience. The letter asserts that on 11 April 1972 a representative of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, accompanied by J. Rugenis, an official from the Council for Religious Affairs (USSR Council of Ministers), [see CCE 23], travelled from Moscow and, in the building of the Curia of the Kaunas archdiocese, forced the bishops and persons in charge of the dioceses of Lithuania to publish a “Pastoral Epistle” aimed against the believers who had signed complaints and statements sent to various state organs of the USSR.

The “Pastoral Epistle” states that in certain parishes, of late, signatures have been collected by irresponsible persons on behalf of priests and believers, on blank sheets of paper, or paper with texts for which different ones were later substituted.

Priests were ordered to read out this “Epistle ’’ on 30 April 1972 in all the churches of Lithuania. Some priests did not submit to this demand.

As the May 1972 letter says:

“the falsity of the epistle lies in the fact that there were no examples of forgery mentioned. As for the Memorandum signed by 17,000 believers, all these signatures were written on sheets of paper on each of which an identical text had already been printed.”

This same text of the Memorandum was published in the Lithuanian press abroad. The Memorandum, with the signatures, was sent to the Secretary-General Brezhnev of the CPSU Central Committee via the United Nations.” The letter also says that the “Pastoral Epistle” granted the KGB the moral right to persecute participants in the movement for freedom of conscience.

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NOTES

[1] The full Russian text of the Memorandum of the Catholics of Lithuania was published in Russkaya mysl, 27 July 1972. The 17.000 signatures, written, mostly in ink on a large number of copies of the original Lithuanian text, are in the possession of the “Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism” (Chislehurst, Kent, England). At a press-conference in Moscow UN Secretary General Dr. Karl Waldheim, to whom the document was addressed, declined to comment on it.

[2] Possibly the “Convention against Discrimination in Education”, adopted by UNESCO on 14 December 1960. It entered into force on 22 May 1962 and Article 2 (b) of this convention fits the context.