This publication is mainly addressed to English-speaking foreign visitors to Lithuania. Source references have therefore been intentionally reduced to a minimum.
The reader might ask a valid question, i.e. why out of the thousand years of Lithuaniaʼs history, did the author choose the period from 1918 to 1953? The history of every country is measured not in years but in the intensity of movement. In this respect, the years from 1918 to 1953 amount to centuries in Lithuanian history: it was during this period that the country shook off the yoke of Russian Tsars and German Kaisers; independence wakened up the creative force of the nation and it achieved great progress in various sectors; from 1938 to 1940, Lithuania was issued with three ultimatums by neighbouring states; in 1940 to 1941, it suffered two occupations and the shock and trauma of mass killings and repression. Lithuania was eliminated not only from the political map of the world and from major encyclopaedias, but also from the memory of Western societies. Lithuaniaʼs very existence was at stake.
It is the author’s firm belief that finding out about the plight of Lithuania in 1940 to 1953 is the key to understanding the character of its people and their psyche, as well as their economic situation and problems.
The author aims to introduce the atmosphere and the prevailing mood of 1940 to 1953, as well as the changes in the people’s psyche that the period brought about. I have based my work on various research books, the stories told by my parents and their generation, and my own teenage experience of those years.
I remember the silence of my parents, my neighbours and my teachers, and the suddenly silent churches as they were being turned into warehouses. I can still smell the ashes of burning books and newspapers. I can also remember that nobody smiled. People had no reason for smiling, and smiles would only have caused suspicion. You simply had to keep your tongue chained like a dog. It was a time when the chatter of storks, the national birds of Lithuania, was replaced by the bursts of machine guns, fired by the occupiers and their mercenaries; the gunshots even knocked down the traditional crosses that Lithuanians put up on roadsides and near farmhouses.
It was a time when the main village news was about killings, torture, arrests, imprisonment and deportation. Nobody was safe. Each step in daily life meant a confrontation with a lying and treacherous government.
It was a time of cynical trampling on humanity, moral principles and old traditions. It was the time when homo sovieticus was formed.
Françoise Thom, historian, expert of the history of Communism
It was not until January 2006 that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe made up its mind to condemn all totalitarian Communist regimes, including the Soviet regime. Why was there such an unusual degree of leniency towards the crimes of Communism and for so long? For years Communism has been more readily excused than Nazism because of its “generous ideals”. In reality, what charmed the West about the Communist project was its ambition of social engineering. Producing a new mankind, regenerating humanity: this Jacobean dream preoccupied Europe throughout the 20th century. Marxism-Leninism revived in some leftist circles the cult of revolution. The idea of an organised vanguard tasked with leading the masses to their liberation won over a great many intellectuals and encouraged them to turn a blind eye to the crimes of Communism. Walter Duranty, the New York Times’ Moscow correspondent, knew the truth about the 1932 famine in Ukraine but saw nothing particularly noteworthy in it: “What do a few million deaths represent in the current situation? Nothing of importance. No more than a blip amid the historic upheavals taking place here. I think too much is being made of this.” Simone de Beauvoir is found using the same argument in 1946: “Wiping out a hundred of the opposition is doubtless a scandal, but maybe there is a meaning in it, a reason for it… Perhaps it is no more than the necessary dose of failure that is part of any positive development.”
The desire to deny human nature (and nature full stop) is at the root of the bolshevik project. But it is this same desire that also drove progressivism in the 20th century. The intellectual closeness between the left and bolshevism explains why Communism blinded people for so long. This accommodating stance is exploited by today’s Russia, which, unlike Germany, has not had the courage to look its past in the face and learn some humility.
Today, however, the fashion for proactive politics and utopian projects seems to be well and truly over. Against the background of the current crisis, and in the grip of globalisation, political action is perceived to be futile and ineffective. One might expect one major obstacle to understanding Communism to have been lifted. Not so. But at the present time the danger no longer stems from the Communist lie or from the post-Communist strategy of falsifying history, as orchestrated by the Kremlin, but from indifference and oblivion, even intellectual lethargy. For the younger generations, the atrocities of Communism are quite simply inconceivable. This attitude is no less dangerous than older generations allowing themselves to be blinded, since it makes us forget one key lesson that the experience of revolution and totalitarianism teaches us: political will that is fuelled by a passion for destruction can turn out to be cruelly effective.
It can thus be understood why works such as this one by Vladas Terleckas, who describes the ordeal suffered by Lithuania under the two most devastating regimes of the 20th century – Communism and national socialism – are indispensable. The two occupying powers plundered the country and carried out mass exterminations, with Germany wishing to wipe out the Jewish population and Russia to eradicate the elites. The two powers worked hard to find local accomplices to their crimes and to demoralise the Lithuanian population. Stalin pursued a further objective: to “de-Europeanise” Lithuania. In the space of a few years this beleaguered nation experienced the turmoil which all the peoples of the USSR went through during the Communist years of war, collectivisation and great terror: the artificial triggering of a pseudo civil war, in reality the war waged by Communists against the whole of society; the plundering of citizens, mass deportations, arbitrary executions, the severing of social ties through terror, the eradication of morality, the ban on faith, the annihilation of intellectual life, the wiping out of the national consciousness. In a level-headed and factual manner, Vladas Terleckas’ book gets us to relive this descent to hell, while reminding us that Lithuanian resistance was never extinguished, not even in the darkest years.
It follows from this description, as it does from recent works devoted to the “communisation” of popular democracies, that this policy was not at all improvised. It was born of Stalin’s will, of a deliberate strategy implemented by the Kremlin. It was the expression of the ambition of achieving total power which inspired Stalin and which he has managed to get his people to share, even from beyond the grave. This ambition has silenced everything in its path: survival instinct, common sense, morality. Stalin believed that he could clone his regime indefinitely. It is the irony of history that it was in the very countries and regions that were annexed in the aftermath of the Second World War, and repeatedly steamrollered by Stalin, that we saw the emergence and organisation of the liberation movement that brought about the downfall of the USSR.