43.12 Events in Lithuania

No 43 : 31 December 1976

On 19 October 1976 Vladas Lapienis (b. 1906) and Jonas Matulionis (b. 1933) were arrested in Vilnius. During a search a few copies of the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church were confiscated from Matulionis. Both men were subjected to searches and interrogations back in 1973-1974 in connection with the publication and distribution of religious literature and the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, Case 345 (see CCE 32, 34, 36).

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On the night of 7-8 November a flag hanging outside the Vilnius University student hostel (on Olandu Street) was torn down. Because of this, on 8 November the student Leonas Paulavicius was arrested and detained at the KGB investigation prison. Another student was released after questioning and soon after expelled from the Komsomol.

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The traditional pilgrimage to the Hill of Crosses near Siluva was organized this autumn to take the form of a protest against the violation of religious rights. The participants also demanded the introduction of “prohibition” [of alcohol]. Over five hundred people took part in the march, about 100 of them students and school- children. They erected a large cross on the hill. Three days later the cross was destroyed.

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CCE 40 reported that in 1976 fifteen Vilnius schoolboys were summoned by the police because of their friendship with Victor [Viktoras] Petkus. The police and the KGB tried to obtain evidence compromising Petkus and also to put an end to the lessons on Lithuanian history which he had organized. In September seven boys (not three, as CCE 42 reported) were expelled from the eleventh (senior) class of the Venolis School.

At the end of October L. M. Alexeyeva, a member of the Helsinki Group, and the well-known Lithuanian poet and philosopher Tomas Venclova went to see the Lithuanian Minister of Education, Rimkus.

“I am a member of the Moscow Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Agreements in the USSR,” Alexeyeva began.

“Which organization is this group attached to?” inquired the Minister.

“It is a public [non-governmental] group.”

“But who is in charge of it?”

“Professor Yury Fyodorovich Orlov, a corresponding member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences.”

This title seemed to reassure the Minister.

On the expulsion of the seven boys the Minister said:

“This has nothing to do with the Helsinki Agreements. They were expelled for behaviour unworthy of Soviet schoolchildren.”

“‘What kind of behaviour was that?”

“Boguses was rude to the headmaster and then brought a religious picture into his classroom, and that’s forbidden by the Constitution. After all, Church and State are  separated in our country.”

“And this was the reason for his expulsion?”

“No, it wasn’t that. I know only the general outlines of the case and cannot tell you exactly what each one of them did, but the expulsions were perfectly legal. The school could tell you about it in more detail.”

At the school the head of studies, Dobinas, a number of teachers and the supervisor responsible for work done out of class recalled transgressions by each of the boys expelled, but could not explain which actions they had in fact been expelled tor. It turned out that Dobinas did not have the record of the school council meeting at which they had been expelled. When the conversation was coming to an end the telephone rang. The call was from the Minister — judging by the replies to him, he had already discovered how he should have behaved towards “Professor Orlov’s group”.

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The Helsinki Group (this issue, 43.6) has issued a document about the expulsion of the seven boys: Boguses, Bidlauskas, Masiulionis, Sasnauskas, Subacius, Palicnis and Seputis.

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On 5 November the “Lithuanian Group to Assist the implementation of the Helsinki Agreements” was founded: its members are Tomas Venclova, Father Karolis Garuckas, Ona Lukauskaite-Poskiene, Viktoras Petkus and Eitan Finkelstein.

The first document issued by this group, in a joint statement with the Moscow Group, also dated 5 November, was “On the position of two Lithuanian Catholic bishops”. [1]

The Soviet authorities have not allowed Bishops Julijonas Steponavicius and Vincentas Sladkevicius to fulfil their pastoral duties for many years now: the former since 1961, the latter since 1959. They have in fact been exiled to the villages where they live and serve as “altar-boys”, lay assistants to the local priest. In its statement the [Lithuanian Helsinki] Group mentions that the authorities have not replied to a letter from 65 of the 100 priests of the Vilnius Archdiocese concerning Bishop Steponavicius, which they sent in 1975 (CCE 40). The group points out that after Bishop Sladkevicius had refused more than once to “cooperate sincerely” with the KGB, the Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Tumenas, explained to him that “his position would not change, because he could not find a common language with the Soviet authorities, yet there was nothing he could be tried for”.

In its second Document [2] the Lithuanian Helsinki Group draws the attention of the governments who participated in the Conference [on Security and Cooperation in Europe], and of world public opinion, to the “Statutes on Religious Associations” passed by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR on 28 July 1976. Most of the articles in the statutes, according to the group, “are intended to limit freedom of religious expression and to stifle normal religious life”. (Similar statutes passed in the RSFSR were analysed in a letter from Regelson and Yakunin,  see CCE 41.2).

The group also protested against the arrest of V. Lapienis and J. Matulionis as being a violation of the provisions of the Final Act.

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On 25 November 1976 Antanas Terleckas (see CCE 38) sent a statement to Podgorny.

He refers to the letter he sent to Andropov, dated 23 November 1975 (CCE 40), about persecution by the KGB, and says that this harassment is continuing. People are dismissed from work, threatened and publicly insulted (as in the [Vilnius] courtroom where Sergei Kovalyov was put on trial) and attempts are made to turn their friends against them. On the day he sent off this statement Terleckas received an anonymous letter in which “believers” accused him of “cooperating with State Security” and threatened to kill him. “This letter”, wrote Terleckas, “could easily be used by the procurator’s office to ‘blame’ my death on the underground.” Terleckas thinks the KGB is trying to push him into emigrating by means of threats, but states:

I want to live only in Lithuania and will remain faithful to my ideal, which I don’t hide from the KGB, to the end of my life. That ideal is to be a free man in a free and independent Lithuania.

Terleckas points out that he does not force his views on anyone else and is not preparing to participate in any sort of opposition movement. At the end of his statement he says:

Not long ago your Deputy Minister of Justice asserted that no one in the USSR was being persecuted for his political views. You could prove this by just ordering the KGB to slop persecuting, taunting and baiting me constantly.

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In October the fourth issue of the journal Ausra [//note] was published.

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On 1 October the 24th issue of the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church came out. Some reports from that issue are published below.

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On 23 June Virgilijus Jaugelis (CCE 30, 32, 34, 36, 38), a resident of Kaunas, was detained on the street in the town of Raseiniai by a policeman and a man in civilian clothes.

After checking his passport, they demanded that Jaugelis should show them the contents of his rucksack, but Jaugelis refused to do so without being shown the necessary document. Then they pushed him by force into their car, cursing him rudely, and, threatening to beat him up, took him to the police station and there searched him, again by force. They confiscated the book The Christian in the World, published in the USA. It was stated in the search record that the book was confiscated on the orders of the head of Raseiniai district KGB department.

On 24 June Jaugelis sent a complaint to the Procurator of the Lithuanian SSR, but by September he had received no reply.

On 25 May the funeral of Father B. Baliukonis took place in Kaunas. All the bishops and administrators of the dioceses of Kaunas and Panevezys took part in the funeral service and K. Tumenas, the Commissioner for the Lithuanian SSR of the Council for Religious Affairs of the USSR Council of Ministers, was also present. Traffic controllers gave the funeral procession green lights for its whole route through the streets of the city.

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On 23 June the funeral of Father Z. Neciunskas took place in the town of Kaisiadorys.

The deputy chairman of the local district soviet executive committee forbade state-owned vehicles to be used in the funeral, so the coffin had to be transported to the cemetery in a privately-owned lorry.

In 1946 Neciunskas was given a 10-year sentence for his support of the Lithuanian partisans. After serving his sentence he moved to the Krasnoyarsk Region and spent two and a half years serving Lithuanian believers in an area 400 kilometres in radius.

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On 12 June and 31 July the newspaper Moscow News, which is published in Moscow in English and French, printed an interview with Victor Butkus, rector of the Theological Seminary in Kaunas, about the situation of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, No 24, comments on Butkus’s replies, once more presenting evidence of persecution for the faith.

The deputy chairman of the Varena district soviet executive committee and the district procurator’s office demand that the church books registering baptisms, marriages and funerals should be brought to them.

In September 1974 V. Vertelkaite, a teacher at Nursery No 32 in Vilnius, was asked to resign ‘voluntarily’ from her post because of her religious beliefs.

People who make or sell articles for religious use or religious books are arrested. Workshops and sculptors are forbidden to make memorial stones with crosses on them. Artists are forbidden to paint pictures with religious themes, otherwise they are expelled from the Artists’ Union (for example, A. Chmeliauskas).

Musicians are forbidden to play in churches. The student J. Matulionis was expelled from the Conservatory for doing so (he has now been arrested — see above).

Those who wish to enter the seminary must obtain permission to do so from the State authorities. More often than not, such permission is made conditional on their agreement to cooperate with the KGB.

The administrators of dioceses cannot visit their parishes freely. They are allowed to hold confirmation services only twice a year. They can appoint priests only with the consent of the civil authorities.

Churches are being converted into secular institutions, while permission is not given for other churches to be built or even restored.

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At the end of the academic year Tumenas advised the Kaunas seminary students not to visit the priests Juozas Zdebskis and Alfonsas Svarinskas during their holidays. In his words, they had suffered from Soviet rule and therefore hated it.

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In September, at a feast-day service in Siluva, police and KGB officials did not allow any photographs to be taken of the worshippers, exposed people’s films, forbade religious objects to be sold, and confiscated them. These activities were all supervised by the district head of the KGB department in Raseiniai.

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In May Sutas, a driver at the Agricultural Technical College in Salas, was taken off car-driving and transferred to repairing tractors because he had helped to transport greenery to the church for decorations.

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In July Mrs Saukliene, a resident of the town of Kretinga, was detained at the Telsiai district police station for two days and deprived of the church banner she had with her.

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The Kretinga district newspaper Svyturis published an article on 15 January 1976 about an atheists’ meeting, quoting the words of B. Mazonis, headmaster of the school in Darbenai: “Bernardos Talaisis, the parish priest at Laukuva, is a good friend of mine. He’s an atheist. So why doesn’t he leave the priesthood? He says he doesn’t have the will-power, What about money? He doesn’t complain about that. So he’s being hypocritical.”

In a statement addressed to commissioner Tumenas, dated 28 January, Talaisis declares that Mazonis is lying. He has only met Mazonis once, in 1958, since they studied together in the same school, and they did not talk about their philosophical views. Father Talaisis has demanded a public retraction of the libel.

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On 5 July 1975 an administrative commission in Panevezys fined Father A. Petrauskas 30 roubles because he had prepared children for First Communion.

On 9 September 1976 an administrative commission in Kedainiai “warned” Father L. Jagminas about doing the same thing.

On 10 July 1975 Tausius — headmaster of the school in Pociuneliai — and Mrs. Bzeskiene, secretary of the collective farm party organization, came to Father A. Jokubauskas and took the names of children who had come to him for instruction in preparation for First Communion. Afterwards schoolteachers tried to intimidate the children in every way, while Bzeskiene and Stumbras, chairman of the collective farm, threatened their parents, demanding that their children should not go to church.

On 2 July 1976 the teacher Mrs. Buraciene entered a church by stealth, counted the children who had come to see Jokubauskas and wrote down the names of those she knew. On 19 July Krikstanas, deputy chairman of the district soviet executive committee, and Mrs Januseviciene, secretary of the party bureau, summoned Jokubauskas and accused him of breaking the law. When Jokubauskas wanted to buy a house, Stumbras — the chairman of the collective farm — refused to give the permission necessary for his application.

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There is not a single Catholic church in Kaliningrad or in Chernyakhovsk (Kaliningrad Region, RSFSR). In 1975 Father Kazys Montvila, parish priest of Vystitis, began to hold services for the Catholics of Chernyakhovsk at their request. He has held services a number of times at the flat of Mr. and Mrs. Birstonas (10 Kirov Street). On 20 February 1975 KGB officials came to the flat. Declaring that the Birstonas couple had links with America, they carried out a search. On leaving, they told the priest not to go there any more.

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A new samizdat journal, God and the Motherland, has been founded in Lithuania. Two issues have now appeared. The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church (No 24) expresses its disappointment at the excessively sharp tone of this journal. It writes that such a tone offends dissenters:

We religious believers should not use such expressions — there are enough of them in the atheist press. Let us respect others if we want to be respected ourselves. We must try to ensure that hatred for errors and harmful practices does not turn into hatred for their perpetrators.

From a reader’s letter to the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church