Volume 21, No.3 - Fall 1975
Editors of this issue: Antanas Klimas, Thomas Remeikis, Bronius Vaskelis 
Copyright © 1975 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

"Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic" in the

THE NEW ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA IN 30 VOLUMES. 15th edition. Chicago, London, Toronto, Geneva, Sydney, Tokyo, Manila, Seoul, Johannesburg: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1974. "Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic" (Macropaedia: 10:1264-1267).

The 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, after 15 years of planning and execution and after the expenditure of 2.5 million man-hours and $32 million, is finally on the shelves of libraries and in homes. The most important encyclopedia in the English speaking world has always been a target of criticism for more or less valid reasons, and the new edition is certainly not going to escape the fate of its predecessors.

Britannica's last edition has been a rather pretentious undertaking culminating in the expression by Robert M. Hutchins, Chairman, the Board of Editors, describing Britannica as "one of the great intellectual contributions in the life of modern man." Britannica conceives itself as an international encyclopedia, in the service of the whole of mankind. The natural result of this concept of internationalism was to decrease the number of Amerlean contributors and to increase the contributions of scholars living abroad, including a sizable contingent from the Soviet Union. Somehow it escaped the attention of the editors that Soviet citizens are not always free to express their own minds on many subjects, especially if these subjects touch upon ideology or politics.

There is also some evidence that the problem was not only insufficient editorial alertness, but that Britannica was highly interested in engaging Soviet contributors even at the expense of suggesting single, specific articles for them. How else could the presence of an article in Macropaedia on Algirdas, a 14th century Lithuanian ruler, be explained? Macropaedia, a 19 volume work, treating only important subjects in depth, carries an article on Algirdas, but does not have anything on other more important Lithuanian rulers of that period. The article on Algirdas happens to be the only contribution for Macropaedia by Soviet historian Vladimir T. Pashuto, and it is obvious that the eagerness to have Pashuto's name amongst the contributors was the decisive factor.

The review - criticism below is limited to a single article, Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, Macropaedia 10: 1264-1267, and was edited by Mykolas Drunga as a memorandum to Britannica by the Lithuanian World Community. It illustrates Britannica's failure to preserve a normal level of objective reporting and a surprising lack of knowledge on the subject matter. (The Editors)


Encyclopaedia Britannica has long enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as the most important work of its kind in the English language. But its latest edition — the Britannica III — contains flaws which may well begin to jeopardize that reputation.

In this memorandum we list and explain what we consider to be deficiencies in the Macropaedia article entitled LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC. Similar deficiencies (in the non-linguistic category) may also be found in articles on other Soviet Republics.


1. On a number of crucial topics, the article LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC carries statements expressing the views of the Soviet establishment in Lithuania, without in any way, even briefly, indicating the existence, or content, of what are surely responsible, respectable, and very widely held criticisms of these views. In this way, Britannica violates its own guidelines:
"Objectivity and neutrality, a) Articles should be so written that they avoid expressions of bias or prejudice on any matter about which a respectable and reasonable difference of opinion exists, b) Further, in all areas in which the scholarly world acknowledges significant and respectable differences of opinion, diverse views concerning such differences should be fairly presented, though the majority of accepted view may be so designated." (Propaedia, p. XV)

i. The nature of political elections in present-day Lithunia. Britannica's allusions to this topic consist of the following statements:

"The Supreme Soviet, elected for four years and acting through a Council of Ministers, is the highest legislative body of the republic" (10:1266)
"... all [local Soviets] are elected for two-year periods." (10:1266)
".. .with members [of the Supreme Court and local People's courts] elected for five and two years, respectively." (10:1266)

Having read these passages, the reader will not have been made aware either of the highly peculiar nature of the elections in question, or of the widely shared view that in virtue of this peculiar nature they cannot in all accuracy be called "elections." The peculiarity of these purported elections consisted in the fact that

a. As a rule, voters are presented with a single list of candidates such that the number of candidates matches the number of positions to be filled.

 From this fact, together with the additional claim that

b. The selection of candidates to appear on this single list is controlled by the Communist Party, in cooperation or competition with no other party 

a great number of critics of the Soviet regime, both on the left and on the right, infer that

c. The processes called "elections" in Soviet-dominated Lithuania are not elections at all, or they are elections only in an aberrant sense of that word.

Since Britannica, in the article under consideration, does not carry the substance of any of the foregoing three statements, or of something like them, while it does straightforwardly assert that public officials in Lithuania are elected, it does seem to us as if a charge of bias or one-sidedness can be sustained.

ii. The locus of political power in present-day Lithuania. Britannica writes:

"The constitution of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was adopted on August 26, 1940, and, according to its provisions, political power resides in the workers and peasants of the republic, acting through the local Soviets, or councils of workers' deputies." (10:1266)

However, hosts and hosts of critics of various political persuasions would point out that such an assertion about the constitution's investment of power in Lithuania's workers and peasants is thoroughly misleading in the absence of any remark to the effect that workers' and peasants' interests are allowed to be represented only by the highly centralized and hierarchically structured Communist Party. According to these critics, among whom one can find not just Western conservatives and rightists, but also numerous — if not all — liberals, Socialists, radicals, and dissident Marxists, it is a fact both that effective political control in Lithuania today is in the hands of the upper circles of the local Communist Party which, in turn, is subordinate to the central, all-union party authorities in Moscow, and that this renders of dubious value any claim limiting itself to the constitutional provision. By not acknowledging any of this, in some manner or other, Britannica, we feel, has failed to provide the reader with an adequate set of materials needed to form a reasonable and balanced opinion on the topic at hand.

The only direct allusion to the Communist Party occurs in a passage that nicely exemplifies the subtle manner in which Soviet needs of disinformation may be served:

"The Lithuanian Communist Party, a constituent of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, is the guiding political organization of the republic." (10:1266).

The word "guiding" suggests, or at least leaves open the possibility, that there are other (though at present "non-guiding") political parties legitimately competing for the people's support. Or course, there are not. The Communist Party is the sole legitimate party in Lithuania, as in other Soviet-dominated countries. It would not have been difficult for Britannica to state this (even "controlling" instead of "guiding" would have been an improvement). But by failing to state it, and by phrasing its point in the way it did, the Encyclopaedia has managed disingenuously to mask the prevailing reality of single-party rule. To what end?

Similarly, in commenting on the trade unions, Britannica expresses only the official Soviet viewpoint:

"As elsewhere in the Soviet Union, the trade unions, which had over 1,185,000 members by the early 1970's, play an important social and economic role in formulating and implementing state policy." (10:1266)

According to many reputable Western observers and Communist bloc dissidents familiar with labor politics, this statement is simply false. Lithuanian and other Soviet-controlled trade unions have virtually no say in formulating economic policy; their actual function is basically limited to providing workers with recreation and indoctrination in the service of goals set by the authoritarian Communist Party.

2. In presenting an overview of present-day Lithuania, the article LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC is remarkably spotty and incomplete: a number of interesting, important, and relevant questions are simply not dealt with at al.

A good deal of space in the article is devoted to presenting evidence of what is taken to be progress, especially in the economic and social spheres, achieved since Lithuania's incorporation into the Soviet Union., Our objection is not just that unfavorable developments and negative trends have not been alluded to, but that on a whole array of related questions, many of which are highly important in themselves, nothing at all is said, not even briefly. Thus, the reader will find no information whatsoever on any of the following issues:

a. What stresses and strains have arisen in the fabric of Lithuanian life as a result of the advent of the Soviet system?
b. What progress, if any, has been achieved in alleviating such stresses and strains?
c. What significant political and social issues, ideas, and controversies have dominated Lithuanian public life in recent times? What styles of response have emerged among the republic's workers and peasants in dealing with these issues?
d. Have there been any recent manifestations of political, national, or religious dissent directed against existing arrangements in Lithuania?

Surely, one would reasonably expect to find brief information on at least some of these questions in an article entitled LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC. In particular, with respect to the last question, one is struck by the absence of any reference to the underground Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church (in existence since 1972), to the self-immolations and violently suppressed Kaunas street demonstrations of 1972, to the petition signed by 17,000 persons and addressed to UN Secretary General Waldheim in 1972 on behalf of religious freedom in Lithuania ( the first such petition in Soviet history), or to any other more or less conspicuous manifestation of anti-Soviet or anti-Russian resistance or civil disobedience in Lithuania. If it be replied — lamely, we believe — that none of these events is of itself sufficiently important to be specifically mentioned in an encyclopedia, the phenomenon of unrest in general is certainly deserving of mention in this context.

The reasons for the well-known Soviet reluctance to bring up or discuss such matters are not difficult to fathom. But what are Britannica's reasons?

While some topics highly likely to be objects of a Britannica reader's interest are altogether avoided, others are occasionally treated in a vacuous way. For instance, it is stated that

"As a result, both average monthly income and the proportion of the national income set aside for social purposes were showing a steady expansion by the early 1970's." (10:1266)

But it is quite obvious that without any qualitative or comparative data this claim is rather meaningless. If it were stated, for instance, that the average monthly salary before taxes of all employees (except agricultural workers, whose inclusion would drive the average down) was 108.3 rubles ($119) in 1969 and is expected to rise to 142 rubles by 1975, and that the minimum wage is expected to increase from 60 to 70 rubles a month in the same period, then the claims become informative but at the same time embarrassing to Soviet spokesmen (see LTSR ekonomika ir kultūra 1969 metais, Vilnius, 1970; Lietuvos dabartis ir ateitis, Vilnius, 1973).

Pulling together our earlier objection of one-sided-ness with the present one of uninformativeness, we arrive at formulating the following over-all complaint against Britannica's treatment of political matters in the article under consideration: by omitting any mention of what is precisely distinctive about Soviet Lithuanian "elections"; by displaying only what the constitution provides for in the way of exercise of political power; by minimizing and understating the dominant role and pervasive presence of the Communist Party while exaggerating the importance of the trade unions, on the one hand; and by suppressing any reference to the existence of serious conflicts and unrest directly related to Lithuania's continuing subjection to the Soviet Russian system, on the other, the Encyclopaedia has succeeded in conveying the impression of a stable, harmonious, and progressive society governed by its workers and peasants making use of standard and straightforwardly democratic institutions. It is easy to verify that such a picture corresponds very closely to that which advocates of the Soviet system have long tried to portray with respect to Lithuania; it is also easy to verify, in view of the numerous criticisms of diverse origins it has received, that it is tendentious, and that it is far from the truth. In that case, Britannica has violated at least its own guidelines of objectivity and neutrality.

It might be replied to all of the foregoing that while, indeed, the article entitled LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC tends to cater to the views and sensibilities of the Soviet establishment, other relevant articles, such as BALTIC STATES, HISTORY OF THE; or RUSSIAN AND THE SOVIET UNION, HISTORY OF; or COMMUNISM tend to exhibit opposing views and sensibilities. But we see no compelling reason why an even slightly balanced presentation could not have been effected within the scope of the single article under criticism. To achieve such a balance, not more than a few sentences would have to be changed or added, perhaps at the expense of the relatively detailed description of Lithunania's wildlife (10:1265), or by making the article just a bit longer than it is. We feel that in this way the needs of the average, more casual reader would have been better served (without the slightest injury to those of the more studious and thorough user) and Britannica's own guidelines on comprehensiveness and organization of material better met.

Furthermore, the more satisfactory articles just mentioned still do not carry any information on the interesting and historically important recent specifically Lithuanian and Baltic aspects of turmoil and resistance within the Soviet Union.

In any case, most of our objections thus far, as well as those to come, may all very well be phrased in terms of Britannica's canon of accuracy, which states that

"No matter how clearly the new Britannica manifests its other qualities, it will fail to the extent that inaccuracy renders its contents undependable." (Propaedia, p. xiv)

For, certainly, the claims that the article under criticism makes concerning the election of officials and the exercise of power in Lithuania are inaccurate. And, certainly, this cannot be answered by saying that there are other articles in the Britannica which are accurate, or at least more balanced.

3. Miscellaneous objections. 

a. Britannica writes that

"This political foundation rests on a Socialist economic system with communal ownership of the means of production." (10:1266)

However, most property in Lithuania, including land, minerals, forests, factories, mills, mines, railways, water and air transport facilities, banks, communications media, a number of large agricultural enterprises as well as the bulk of housing in towns and industrial localities, is owned by the state. And it is inaccurate, or at least misleading, to call state property "communal." Granted, there are collective and cooperative enterprises, e.g., many of the farms, for which the term "communal" might be appropriate. But the majority of the means of production are owned not by the community but by the state (i.e., the government).

b. Britannica writes:

"... and the dozen universities in Lithuania..." (10:1266)

This might simply be an error of translation. While there are roughly a dozen institutions of higher learning (most of them restricted to one or another special field), there is at present only one university in Lithuania, namely, the State University of V. Kapsukas at Vilnius.

c. According to the Britannica,

"The folk songs — dayny — are melodious and lyrical..." (10:1267)

We agree that they are, but we have never seen them called dayny. Perhaps this objection should have been classed with the linguistic objections, but the error here is so blatant that it takes on a substantive character. Every folklore expert knows Lithuanian folk songs as dainos. The latter Lithuanian term has been in vogue at least since Ludwig Rhesa's collection Dainos oder Litthauische Volkslieder Königsberg, 1825) brought them to wider attention. On the other hand, from the points of view of usage and authenticity, dayny has no justification whatsoever.

d. Britannica claims that

"During the Soviet period, a realistic note has been introduced into sculpture and painting..." (10:1267)

This implies that prior to the Soviet period, there were no manifestations of realism in Lithuanian sculpture and painting (since otherwise how could a realistic note have been "introduced" only during the Soviet period?). But this is straightforwardly false. At least since 1907, and continuing to the very end of the period of national independence, a considerable number of Lithuanian sculptors (P. Rimša, J. Zikaras) and painters (A. Žmuidzinavičius, A. Varnas, P. Kalpokas, J. Janulis, E. Kulvietis) have been realists throughout or at certain periods in their career. The new note introduced under Soviet occupation was that of socialist realism, which is a specific variety of realism, but which is by no means coextensive with realism itself.


1. There is no justification for Britannica's use of attempted transliterations of Lithuanian geographical and personal names in place of their standard forms. Examples of such transliterations include the following:

Britannica transliterations 

Standard Lithuanian forms







Eduardas Mezhelaytis
Yuozas Baltushis
Yustinas Martsinkyavichyus
M. K. Chyurlionis

Eduardas Mieželaitis
Juozas Baltušis
Justinas Marcinkevičius
M. K. Čiurlionis

 We are not here objecting to the way in which these transliterations have been made. Rather, we are objecting to the fact that they have been made at all. Our principal reasons for so objecting are the following:

a. There is1 such a thing as Standard Lithuanian, both spoken and written.
b. Standard written Lithuanian uses the Latin alphabet, supplemented by a small number of diacritics.
c. Lithuanian is a living language, used by close to 3 million speakers within Lithuania itself and by several hundred thousand speakers abroad.
d. Lithuanian is the official language of what is today known as the Lithuanian S.S.R.
e. Recent English-language scholarship on Lithuania has substantially adhered to the use of standard Lithuanian forms rather than of attempted transliterations.

To the best of our knowledge, none of the above claims has ever been disputed by anyone; they appear to us as non-controversial as claims can be. Yet we have listed them here because they seem to us to rule out decisively any need for transliterating Lithuanian names into English instead of using their original forms. Granted, if Lithuanian did not possess a uniform standard orthography, or if it did not use the Latin alphabet, of if it were not both privately and publicly used and recognized in Lithuania itself, or if modern English scholarship did not acknowledge and avail itself of standard Lithuanian orthography, then a case for transliterating into English might well be successful. However, since none of these usual conditions for embarking on a policy of transliteration obtain, and since no others even remotely plausible suggest themselves, we conclude that there is no justification whatsoever for Britannica's having transliterated rather than used the standard forms.

Moreover, we should like to point out that, elsewhere in its pages, Britannica itself eschews the use of transliterated forms of Lithuanian words. For example, the articles entitled BALTIC LANGUAGES and BALTIC STATES, HISTORY OF THE employ standard Lithuanian forms exclusively. On the grounds of consistency alone, therefore, such forms should also have been employed in the article LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC. As far as we can see, there is no sound reason for not treating Lithuanian words everywhere the same throughout the Encyclopaedia. Needless to say, the other way of maintaining consistency, i.e., by using transliterated forms only, would have led to the most palpable absurdities in the article entitled BALTIC LANGUAGES.

Note, finally, that our claims a. through d. above are all contained in the BALTIC LANGUAGES article.

2. Even if a policy of transliteration from Lithuanian to English could be defended in principle, the specific manner in which it has been carried out in the article LITHUANIAN SOCIALIST REPUBLIC cannot.

i. There is a marked lack of consistency. To cite only a few cases from many and referring only to items on the previously given list the initial j of Juozapinė is rendered as y, while the absolutely identical j of Jonava is rendered as i. In the surname Čiurlionis, the first two occurrences of the i have the same phonetic function (palatalization), but the transliteration arbitrarily obscures this fact. Some diphthongs are rendered in such a way as to aid correct pronunciation, yet the English reader will certainly mispronounce the first syllable of Mieželaitis if he attempts to follow the transliteration.

ii. A number of proper names are given in forms which are misleading or grotesque in still additional ways. For example, literary works written in the Lithuanian language and hence having L,ith-uanian titles are identified by transliterated Russian translations of their titles in italics followed by an English translation of the Russian, instead of by their original Lithuanian titles followed by an English translation of the Lithuanian. Thus, Britannica has

Chelovek ("Man")
Prodannye gody ("Sold Years")
Krov i pepel ("Blood and Ashes")

where one would expect:

Žmogus ("Man")
Parduotos vasaros ("Sold Summers") [or, still better, "Bartered Summers"] 
Kraujas ir pelenai
("Blood and Ashes")

respectively (see 10:1267).

The designations as they appear in Britannica are highly misleading. Thus, to state the point in terms of the first items, it is extremely probable that the reader will draw either one of the following two inferences:

a. Mieželaitis' work is in Russian and Chelovek is its Russian title.
b. Mieželaitis, work is in Lithuanian and Chelovek is its Lithuanian title.

Yet neither of these is true. Only a reader who knows Russian or Lithuanian will be able to tell that

c. Chelovek is a Russian translation of the Lithuanian title.

However, very few of Britannica's intended readers do know Russian or Lithuanian. And, in any case, every reader will have been left in the dark as to what the actual, Lithuanian title of Mieželaitis' book is. Why?

It may be replied that since all of the above works have already been translated and published in Russian, it is permissible to identify them by their Russian titles. But isn't it universal practice — and, we might add, a prima facie thoroughly reasonable one — to count the original language used by the author as the language of the work and hence to consider the original title as the preferred one, especially in cases where that original language is standardized, living, and uses a Latin alphabet?

A number of place names are confusing in a similar respect. Thus, the accepted English term "Baltic Ridge" is for some reason followed, in parentheses, by the Russian (Baltiyskaya Gryada) rather than the Lithuanian name (Baltijos aukštuma). Elsewhere on the same page (10:1264), there are place names consisting of some kind of an attempted English form with the transliterated Russian name in parentheses: i.e., instead of 

Samogitian Upland (Žemaičių aukštuma) 
Švenčionys Ridges (Švenčionių kalvos) 
Ašmena Hills (Ašmenos kalvos)

Britannica has

Zhemay Upland (Zhemaytskaya Vozvyshennost) 
Sventsyan Ridges (Sventsyanskiye Gryady) 
Oshmyanka Hills (Oshmyanskaya Vozvyshennost)

respectively. It seems evident that the purportedly English part of these latter designations has been derived directly from the Russian rather than the Lithuanian. We say "purportedly English" since we have never come across "Zhemay" or "Sventsyan" or "Oshmyanka" in any English-language scholarly or reference text before. By the contrast, the term "Samogitian", which we have suggested, is well known and widely used. And in the case of the others, where it is not clear that there is such a thing as an accepted or preferred English name, would it not have been better to have used the Lithuanian name (in the nominative case) instead of coining an awkward artificiality directly from the Russian?

Finally, we are thoroughly baffled by another word appearing on the same page (10:1264), i.e.,

Zheymyay-Myarkis Plain

There is such a town as Žeimiai, and there is such a river as Merkys, but there is no such thing as the Žeimiai - Merkys Plain. We suspect that what might have been intended is the

Žiežmariai Plain (Žiežmarių lyguma)

but there are no even remotely reasonable rules of transliteration that would justify Britannica's version, whether it is based on the Lithuanian or on a Russianized form.

In conclusion, we wish to make the following points. On p. XVIII of the Editor's Preface to the Propaedia, it is stated that

"the use of diacritics, the transliteration of non-Latin alphabets, and the translation of certain non-English languages have been standardized on the basis of rules worked out over a three-year period by Britannica editors and advisers."

We suggest either that these rules are inadequate or that they have been woefully misapplied by someone totally unfamiliar with the Lithuanian language. We think that the latter alternative is the more likely, and that the problems pointed out above could have been avoided by having someone competent in Lithuanian review the article in question prior to its printing.

In conclusion, we wish to make one additional remark. The linguistic grotesqueries and infelicities of the article entitled LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC lead us to suspect that it represents an attempt at translation from an original written in — Russian. If we are correct, the question arises: Why Russian? Was it not Britannica's intention to have the article on Lithuania today written by a Lithuanian actually living in Lithuania? If so, it apparently carried out its intention. But in view of Britannica's own statement that "Standard Lithuanian is the official language of the Lithuanian S.S.R." (2:662), why was the article nevertheless submitted in Russian? We venture to suggest that a vigorous pursuit of the answer would uncover interesting realities about national equality and cultural self-determination in the Soviet Union, realities about which the article LITHUANIAN SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLIC would prefer to leave the average unsuspecting reader happily in the dark.

Lithuanian World Community
Special Committee on Encyclopaedia Britannica