24.6 Religious Persecution in Lithuania

No 24 : 5 March 1972

The Chronicle is in possession of the complete text of the final address of the priest Juozas Zdebskis at his trial on 11 November 1971 (CCE 22 & 23), which the Judge did not allow him to deliver.

On 30 November 1971 134 priests from the Panevezys diocese appealed to A. N. Kosygin and the Lithuanian Council of Ministers to allow the bishop of Panevezys, J. Steponavicius, to return from exile.

On 9 December 1971, Lignubaris, a priest from the town of Akmene, visited a patient in Akmene hospital who was seriously ill. When the head doctor noticed the priest he abused him and drove him out of the hospital. On 28 December the priest Lignubaris was summoned by the executive committee of the district Soviet and fined 50 roubles by administrative order for visiting the man in hospital.

In December 1971 a total of 1,344 Catholics in the Raseiniai district appealed to N. V. Podgorny to release the priest Prosperas Bubnys, who was sentenced on 12 November to one year’s imprisonment for the religious instruction of children (CCE 23). The sentence was confirmed by the Lithuanian Supreme Court on 9 December.

On 13 January 1972 the people’s court in the town of Akmene sentenced Kleona Biciuciaite (aged over 60, a resident in the town of Zagare) to one year’s imprisonment for preparing children for confirmation. Biciuciaite was taken into custody in the court room.

17,054 Lithuanian Catholics addressed a memorandum to L. I. Brezhnev in January 1972. Listing instances of the infringement of the rights of believers (the exile of Bishops J. Steponavicius and V. Sladkevicius; the conviction of the priests J. Zdebskis and P. Bubnys; the dismissal of the teacher O. Briliene, who is a believer, by the Vilkaviskis district education department; the destruction of churches in the parishes of Batakai, Gaure, Sangruda and elsewhere), the authors of the memorandum request the Soviet government to protect their freedom of conscience, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the USSR: “We are not satisfied by the fine words we read in the press and hear on the radio, and we therefore expect the government to take such measures as will help us, as Catholics, to feel that we enjoy the same rights as all Soviet citizens”.

In an appendix to the memorandum the representatives of the Catholics of Lithuania point out that

“only an insignificant fraction of the believers of Lithuania have affixed their signatures to the memorandum, since the police and the KGB took a whole series of measures to prevent the collection of signatures.

“Several people taking part in the collection of signatures were detained in the towns of Kapsukas, Sakiai, Islauza and Kapciamiestis. One of them was even taken to the police station in handcuffs. The lists of signatures found in their possession were confiscated …

“If in future the state bodies persist in the attitude towards complaints by the believers of Lithuania which they have taken until now, we shall be compelled to appeal to international authorities: to the Pope, the head of our church, or to the United Nations Organisation as an authoritative body for the defence of human rights …”

In February 1972 representatives of the Catholics of Lithuania appealed to UN Secretary General K. Waldheim. The authors of the appeal informed Mr. Waldheim of their fruitless appeals in 1971 to Soviet bodies to defend their rights, and asked him to forward their memorandum to L. I. Brezhnev. [28]

NOTES

[28] The appeals to Brezhnev and Waldheim received considerable publicity, e.g. in agency dispatches from Moscow of 27 March and in Le Monde, Paris, 29 March. The texts have appeared in full in Italian in Russia Cristiana No. 123 (pp. 64-66).

On 30 April the Lithuanian Bishops were forced by the authorities to issue a circular letter criticizing “irresponsible people’’ who collected signatures on unspecified “irresponsible documents,” (see Possev 7, 1972, p.2).