Events in Lithuania, 1978 (51.14)

<<No 51 : 1 December 1978>>

This section is largely based on material from the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, (issue 35, 16 November 1978) and Aušra (issue 12, August 1978).

The original Aušra (Nos 10-11, 1884)

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According to Aušra, a “League for the Freedom of Lithuania” was founded in June 1978. A declaration on the League’s foundation states that the USSR does not intend to fulfil the Helsinki Agreement as regards the sections on the right of peoples to self-determination, but the Lithuanian people will try to gain freedom at any price. The declaration outlines the League’s two aims: to assist the growth of religious, national and political consciousness among the people and to raise the question of Lithuania’s freedom at the international level.

The highest organ of the League, its People’s Council, has been formed. Abroad it is planned to form an Overseas Council, which would be called on, in particular, to replace the National Council in the case of its liquidation.

The National Council has appealed to the heads of state of Europe and America, and also to the Chinese People’s Republic, to raise the question of Lithuania’s freedom at the UN General Assembly. The National Council has also appealed to Lithuanians abroad to set up the Overseas Council.

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On 14 September, members of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group O. Lukauskaite-Poškiene and Fr. K. Garuckas sent an appeal to the Presidium of the Lithuanian SSR Supreme Soviet in defence of Viktoras Petkus (for his trial, see CCE 50.5). The appeal was supported by 78 other people, including three Estonians.

The appeal disagrees with the official description of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group and the Committee of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian National Movements as anti-Soviet organizations. It is noted that “the facts reflected in the Group’s documents were not disproved in court”. The appeal examines the infringements of the Criminal Procedural Code in court: the charge of homosexuality was based on the evidence of one witness; witnesses who were favourably inclined towards Petkus were not called into court. The signatories of the appeal ask the Presidium to re-examine the case of V. Petkus and repeal the sentence, which is “a crude political reprisal against a dissenter”.

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At the beginning of November 1977, E. Jonaitis together with two friends, tore down the flag on the Vilnius Electrographic Institute. He was put in a psychiatric hospital.

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ARRESTS, SEARCHES, INTERROGATIONS

On 26 May 1978 Romas Giedras and his wife Lidija Giedriene were detained in Moscow. They were taken to Vilnius by plane. During a personal search of R. Giedras the following were confiscated: “Open letter to Lithuanian and Russian Patriots”, Valentin Turchin’s book The Inertia of Fear and the Herald of the Russian Student Christian Movement [Vestnik RSKhD]. L. Giedriene was released after interrogation, but Romas was held in an MVD investigations prison for three days.

R. Giedras is a former political prisoner who is at present trying unsuccessfully to emigrate to the USA, where his father lives.

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On 31 May Zinaida Dapšiene, a programme engineer at the Institute of Metal-Cutting Lathes, was arrested in Vilnius on suspicion of reproducing and disseminating some kind of proclamation.

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On 5 October Maryte Vitkunaite, a resident of Kaunas, was interrogated in Vilnius. Investigator Urbonas, who interrogated her in March (CCE 48.15), again enquired about Vitkunaite’s acquaintance with the former seminarist Blažukas (CCEs 48, 49), Angele Sabaliauskaite and Monika Didžiokaite (in CCE 48 they are both mentioned only by their Christian names). Vitkunaite was shown her notebooks containing the addresses of these people, which had been confiscated from her during a search. In addition, Vitkunaite was shown the testimony of M. Didžiokaite, confirming their acquaintance and describing their meetings in detail. She declared, however, that the names listed were unknown to her.

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PERSECUTION OF BELIEVERS

RASEINIAI. The town newspapers in Raseiniai and Jurbarkas have published articles accusing Father A. Lazdauskas of deceiving the believers: although he is a Catholic priest, he is married.

An answer was given to these publications by Fathers P. Račiūnas, M. Buožius and V. Požėla in their sermons. They explained to their parishioners that A. Lazdauskas is a priest of the Uniate Church and has the right to marry, according to the statutes of that Church.

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TELŠIAI. On 14 July chairman Razimavičius of the district Soviet Executive Committee told Father J. Kauneckas (CCE 49; there his name is given in a different transliteration) that if he did not stop explaining to his parishioners the rights of believers, he would demand that the church committee dismiss Kauneckas from his post; if he did not achieve this, he would abolish the Catholic parish of Telšiai.

On 17 July, Father N. Paginskas was summoned to the district Soviet Executive Committee and accused of conducting an assembly which had not been in accordance with the laws on religious cults.

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KYBARTAI. 1 November is “All Souls Day” in Lithuania. A religious procession on its way to the town cemetery was interrupted: on reaching the cemetery the believers discovered that a secular ceremony, which should have taken place later, had been brought forward to this time. Loudspeakers had been set up in the cemetery to relay songs.

Father S. Tamkevicius, who was participating in the procession, was fined 50 roubles for organizing activities disturbing the traffic (in fact the procession was moving along the pavement). About 740 believers from the town of Kybartai signed a protest addressed to the First Secretary of the Lithuanian Party Central Committee.

SLABADAI. For more than a year the local believers have not been able to obtain permission to register their congregation.

The number of trips bishops may make round their dioceses is limited to two a year. The authorities explain this by reference to the ‘disturbances’ which take place during the bishops’ visits.

The Bishop of Vilnius, C. Krivaitis, has in effect been deprived of the right to preach and has no opportunity to hear the confessions of believers. He takes services only in the churches of Vilnius, and then only on great feast days.

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On 13 November it was announced that a “Catholic Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights” had been founded in Lithuania. An appeal by the Committee states that its aim is “to obtain equal rights in practice for believers and atheists”.

To this end the Committee intends to “draw the attention of the Soviet government to cases of discrimination against the Church and individual believers; to inform the Church hierarchy and, in cases of necessity, other sections of society about the position of believers in Lithuania and other republics in the USSR; to achieve the compliance of Soviet laws and their application, in the sphere of religion, with international agreements on human rights; and to promote the educating of priests and believers about their rights — to explain their rights and help them in defending those rights. The Catholic Committee will act legally and has no political aims.”

It is particularly emphasized in the appeal that in spite of the fact that the Catholic Committee will mainly be helping Catholic believers, as far as possible it will try to help all believers who find it necessary to turn to it for aid. Expressing solidarity with all defenders of human rights in the USSR, the Catholic Committee intends to work in especially close cooperation with the [Moscow-based] Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR.

The members of the Committee are Fathers Kauneckas, Svarinskas, Tamkevičius, Velavičius and Zdebskis:

Jonas Kauneckas (b. 1938) — graduated from the seminary in 1977; before that he worked on land reclamation. He is now serving as rector in the cathedral of Telšiai.

Alfonsas Svarinskas (b. 1925) — sentenced in 1946 to 10 years in the camps; it was in a camp that Bishop Ramanauskas (who perished in the camps) consecrated him as a priest. In 1956 Svarinskas returned to Lithuania and served as a priest until 1958; in 1958 the Supreme Court of the Lithuanian SSR sentenced him to 6 years in camps under article 58 of the old Criminal Code. He is now serving as rector in the parish of Vidukle (CCEs 43, 46, 47).

Sigitas Tamkevičius (b. 1938) — graduated from the seminary in 1962; in 1969 he was banned from working as a priest, for active religious involvement, and worked on land reclamation for a year. He is now serving as rector in the parish of Kybartai (CCEs 44, 46, 47).

Vincas Velavičius (b. 1914) — a priest since 1938. In 1946 he was sentenced to 10 years in camps under article 58 of the old Criminal Code. He is now serving as rector in the parish of Skaudvile.

Juozas Zdebskis (b. 1929) — a priest since 1952, has twice been sentenced for teaching children the catechism; he was forbidden to work as a priest and for about a year he worked on land reclamation. He is now the rector in Šlavantai parish (CCEs 21-23, 27, 41, 43, 44, 46).

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Three other documents bear the same date, 13 November: a letter to Pope John Paul II and two declarations to the Soviet authorities.

The letter to the Pope states:

“… We priests of Lithuania have decided to speak out and to defend the sacred rights of the Church and of believers, as our silence and inaction create the best conditions for the atheists to destroy the Church from without and to erode it from within …”

The members of the Committee ask the Pope to bless their work and aims.

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The Committee has addressed a declaration to the Council for Religious Affairs at the USSR Council of Ministers, concerning the position of two bishops, Sladkevičius and Steponavičius (CCE 43), who “have been exiled from their dioceses … for almost 20 years … and sent to remote districts of Lithuania”; the Committee asks that they be given the opportunity to fulfil their duties.

A declaration addressed to the USSR Minister of Internal Affairs concerns the refusal to allow Father Masilionis to visit the USA (CCE 46). The seventh refusal finally gave a reason; the officials of the Radviliškis OVD told Masilionis that his brothers, who had invited him to the USA, had organized “gangs” and “murdered Soviet citizens”. The Committee’s declaration points out that such charges have never been laid against Masilionis’s brothers. The Committee asks that Masilionis be allowed to go on the visit and that wholly innocent people should not be called murderers.

On 16 November the Committee appealed to the Commissioner for Lithuania of the Council for Religious Affairs at the USSR Council of Ministers, concerning the fines levied on Fathers Zubnis, Svarinskas and Tamkevičius for participating in processions to the cemetery on 1 November, All Souls Day:

“If atheists have the right to secular commemoration of their dead, then why arc believers deprived of the same right? …The district Soviet Executive Committee demand written permission for religious processions, but they themselves never issue such permits in Lithuania … We are convinced that not only should the above- mentioned administrative penalties be repealed, but that the anti- constitutional ‘Statute on Religious Associations’, which is contrary to international agreements, should be abolished.”

(This declaration refers extensively to the declaration of 5 November from the 740 believers of the parish of Kybartai, see above).

On 22 November a joint appeal from the Catholic Committee and the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights was published (see “Letters and Statements”, CCE 51.20).