Volume 25, No.2 - Summer 1979
Editor of this issue: V. Stanley Vardys
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1979 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.



Since Khrushchev's fall in 1964, an increasing number of Soviet citizen groups have openly manifested their dissent against Soviet policies violating human rights.* Professional, economic, national, civil, and religious collectivities have formed organizations to secure the liberties embodied in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among these dissidents who have come forth to protest against the regime's attempt to uproot religion and nationalism were many Lithuanians.

Lithuania possesses the largest concentration of Catholics in the USSR. (1) Indeed the Catholic Church is not only a large institution but virtually a national religion. Traditionally, up to 85 percent of Lithuania's population have identified with the Holy See. (2)

Thus it is less than surprising that Lithuanian Catholic dissent has not only been vociferous but also voluminous. A large number of samizdat (self-published) documents have appeared. In 1972-77, underground journals—Dievas ir tėvynė (God and Fatherland), Rūpintojėlis (Sorrowing Christ), and Tiesos kelias (Road of Truth)—made their way abroad. The most informative and longest-lasting publication which began to appear in 1972—Lietuvos Katalikų Bažnyčios Kronika (Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania)—has survived despite repeated attempts by the regime to close it down. (3)

Also common have been protests by Lithuanians for national rights. The sentiments of many Lithuanians were summarized in a Vilnius courtroom by the sailor Simas Kudirka who was tried for treason for attempting to defect to the United States in 1970:

I don't admit that I am guilty inasmuch as I didn't betray my country Lithuania. I do not consider Russia, today called the Soviet Union, as my country. (4)

National protest by Lithuanians has a tradition of extensive underground literature. "Chief among the factors contributing to the unusual strength and tenacity of the resistance movement (against Soviet occupation)," according to one commentator, "was the underground press." (5) Present-day Lithuanian national dissent has spawned a number of underground journals: Aušra (Dawn), Laisvės šauklys (Herald of Freedom), Varpas (Bell), and Aušrelė (Little Dawn). In August of 1978, an intellectual journal devoted to the "principles of a true democracy," Perspektyvos (Perspectives), was founded, four issues of which have since reached the West. (6)

Both religious and national rights have been fostered by the Public Group to Promote the Observance of the Helsinki Accords in Lithuania formed in 1976. Although heavily repressed, its diverse members have maintained a high level of solidarity and persistence in the pursuit of human rights. (7)

Lithuanian Demonstrations

To determine more exactly the characteristics and consequences of Lithuanian dissent, some fifty-one protest demonstrations for religious (66.7 percent) and national (33.3 percent) rights by Lithuanians in 1970-77 have been collected from a wide variety of specialized sources (see Appendix). These demonstrations represent 10.3 percent of the total number of reported demonstrations conducted by various dissident groups in the USSR in 1965-78.

The following inclusion criteria were utilized. All cases were open and public, unconventional or non-institutionalized expressions of dissatisfaction against regime policies. All were physical events, at which group members assembled publicly to manifest their grievances, rather than merely written expressions of dissatisfaction such as organizational declarations, petitions, or letters to regime organs opposing official policies or practices. All were group protests. Expressions of dissatisfaction by lone individuals or private families, unless specifically delegated by a wider group, were omitted. The demonstrations were public; protests in private dwellings or in prisons, labor camps, or psychiatric hospitals were excluded. All the events were made openly by group members making their identities known; anonymous protests, such as the secret or clandestine hangings of flags or banners, distribution of propaganda leaflets and the like, were not included. Also omitted were protests by non-Soviet citizens. All the protests were targeted directly and primarily at regime officials or domestic public opinion. Thus border-escape attempts, demonstrations in front of embassies, public press conferences with foreign correspondents and so forth were excluded. Finally, cases with insufficient data were eliminated. Examples of protests include the 1970 confrontation between Mažeikiai (a town of 20,000 in northern Lithuania) police officials and a group of Catholics demanding an investigation into the destruction of church property by young hooligans, the 1973 mass march in Kaunas (a city of 350,000 in central Lithuania) by hundreds commemorating the anniversary of the suicide of nationalist dissident Romas Kalanta, and the public laying of wreathes by students at the statue of Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas in Perloja (a locality of over 1,000 inhabitants in southern Lithuania) in 1973. (8)

Certainly demonstrations are only one indicator of political protest behavior. Other manifestations, such as the establishment of dissident organizations, publication of protest propaganda and the like, must also be considered in any complete assessment of protest behavior. However an examination of protest demonstrations offers three important advantages. First, they indicate the extent to which deprived groups are willing to come out of their private lives and the intensity with which they demonstrate their grievances to the mass public and the regime. Second, they measure the character of that protest when a showdown between themselves and the regime actually occurs. Finally, they reveal the extent to which a regime reacts to their grievances with concrete concessions and repressions.

Temporal-Geographic Characteristics

An overall upward trend in protest demonstrations is observable, from 1970 when only 2.0 percent of the total occurred to 1976 when a full 19.6 percent took place (Table I). Clearly public displays of Lithuanian dissatisfaction with Soviet policies increased rather steadily in the 1970s.







(11.8) a

100.1 b

a At the time of this writing, complete data for 1977 were as yet unavailable, 
b Rounding error.

Lithuanians are most recruitable for protest demonstrations in the spring (Table II). The more favorable weather not only facilitates inter-dissident interaction, an indispensable element in protest activities, but also offers better physical conditions for public protests. Whereas only 17.6 percent of the total were held in the winter months of January-March, almost twice that proportion (31.4 percent) occurred in the spring months of April-June.







1 1.8


Data on the population of the locality where demonstrations occurred reveal the mixed rural-urban character of Lithuanian protest (Table III).



Population of Locality a  Percent
Town Under 40,000
City of 40,000 or over


a 1970 census.




Whereas sophisticated urban dwellers have openly demanded their rights, the more "simple country and small-town folk" have been far from inactive. Well over one-half (56.9 percent) of the demonstrations took place in villages and small towns with less than 40,000 inhabitants. These figures as well as contextual evidence suggest that dissent from Lithuanians, far from being exclusively focused in a few large population centers, is widely distributed throughout the republic. The widespread geographical dispersion of dissent, in turn, undoubtedly contributes to serious control problems for the Soviet political hierarchy.

Recruitment and Tactics

Lithuanians have displayed a high level of organization and generally a strong degree of solidarity in their struggle against Soviet political authorites. For example, a full 13.7 percent of the demonstrations represented a geographical coalition of dissidents from two or more localities. Given the regime's persistent attempts to isolate pockets of dissent from each other, this figure cannot be dismissed lightly.

The high degree of cooperation among Lithuanian dissidents is reflected in the size of the demonstrations (Table IV).



Size a  Percent
5000 and over



99.9 b

a Largest reported estimate.

More than one-half (50.9 percent) of the events drew one hundred or more participants. Indeed in over one-quarter (25.5 percent) cases, one thousand or more dissidents openly displayed their dissatisfaction. Informal and formal communication networks among Lithuanians, particularly the large volume of samizdat literature, are largely responsible for recruiting large numbers of dissidents to focus maximum pressure on the Soviet regime.

In spite of the large size of demonstrations, Lithuanians have manifested a high level of discipline in their dissent (Table V).



Militancy a  Percent
Non-exhibitive demonstration b
Exhibitive demonstration c
Moving demonstration d
Obstruction e
Withdrawal of participation f 
Direct action g
Attack h




a Most militant tactic utilized in the course of the event.
b Quiet petition or negotiation; quiet stationary demonstration.
c Loud stationary demonstration with poetry-reading, chanting, slogan-shouting, speeches, flower-throwing, singing, wreathelaying; prominent display of placards, banners, or signs; mass meeting; festival; rally; suicide-attempt; leaflet-distribution; petition-collection; art-exhibit; or chaining or locking oneself to buildings and the like.
d March; motorcade.
e Sit-down; stand-in; refusal to disperse; hunger-strike; or blocking transportation.
f Strike; boycott.
g Building-occupation; forced entry; physical attempt to prevent detentions or release detainees; or establishment of self-defense committees.
h Physical attack on regime persons or property.

In only 7.8 percent of the cases did dissidents attack property or officials of the regime (usually members of the coercive organs—KGB, MVD, druzhinniki, and army troops), and then usually in response to provocations. In contrast, almost two-thirds (64.8 percent) of the demonstrations were mild, peaceful, non-exhibitive or exhibitive stationary demonstrations.

The disciplined character of Lithuanian dissent is further evidenced by the fact that only 9.8 percent of the demonstrations could be considered spontaneous eruptions of dissatisfaction. The remainder reflected at least a minimum of prior planning. Given the frequency with which officials have provoked dissident activists with a wide range of administrative and extra-administrative repressions, the self-control of the protesters must be viewed as remarkable.

The Consequences of Dissent

The demonstrations were divided into instrumental (56.9 percent) and expressive (43.1 percent) protests. Instrumental protests are those at which protesters directly confronted decision-making officials with their demands at regime structures. Expressive protests are those which took place in public parks, streets, squares, and the like, during which protesters merely expressed their dissatisfaction with regime policies to public opinion in hopes of indirectly persuading the regime to make policy changes at a later time.

The mixed rural-urban flavor of Lithuanian dissent is suggested again by data concerning the hierarchical level of targets against which dissidents directed their protests. Whereas 37.9 percent of the instrumental demonstrations were conducted against republic organs, almost two-thirds (62.1 percent) were targeted against village, town, or raion officials.

Most instrumental demonstrations were directed against state (86.2 percent) rather than party (13.8 percent) targets. This proportion can be partially explained by prior administrative repressions (house searches, interrogations, arrests) against Lithuanian activists by state coercive organs (police and courts), against which Lithuanians subsequently demonstrated. Thus although 60.0 percent of the instrumental protests were targeted against specifically non-coercive organs such as the Soviets (28.0 percent), Council for Religious Affairs (16.0 percent), Ministry of Education (12.0 percent), and Ministry of Culture (4.0 percent), some 40.0 percent were aimed at the coercive organs, i. e., the courts (28.0 percent), KGB (8.0 percent), and MVD (4.0 percent).

Lithuanian dissidents have achieved few concessions and suffered repressions at their demonstrations. At almost one-half of the instrumental events (48.3 percent), no demonstrator was accorded access to decision-making officials. Only rarely did instrumental demonstrators achieve regime responsiveness to their dissatisfactions. In over three-fourths of the cases (75.9 percent), the demands of the dissidents went completely unmet. Demonstrators obtained partial (6.9 percent) or total (17.2 percent) responsiveness to their demands in less than one-quarter (24.1 percent) of the events.

Concessions to expressive demonstrators were more frequent but far from optimal. Thus at only 36.4 percent of the demonstrations was the event held for the duration desired by the participants without harassment. In about the same proportion (31.8 percent), the demonstration was held for the duration but harassed by means of bullhorns, interrogations, roadblocks, and the like. In almost one-third (31.8 percent) of the cases, the event was dispersed. Dissidents were able to hold demonstrations for a short while but were later dispersed at 22.7 percent of the cases, and were immediately dispersed at 9.1 percent.

Demonstrators also suffered repressions of varying degrees. Although no dissidents were detained by the police at 72.6 percent of the demonstrations, some but not all were taken into detention in 19.6 percent. At 7.8 percent of the events, police detained the entire group. Moreover, in 5.9 percent of the cases at least one demonstrator was injured.

At times judicial sentences were meted out to the participants. A light sentence of at least fifteen days confinement (piatnadtsatisutochnik) was the fate of at least one demonstrator in 7.8 percent of all cases. In approximately the same proportion (5.9 percent), at least one dissident received a heavy sentence of more than fifteen days (usually a number of years in prison, labor camp, or mental hospital).

Further evidence of regime repressiveness can be seen in the use of irregular coercive forces utilized by Soviet authorities against demonstrators. It is worth noting that at only 3.9 percent of the demonstrations were volunteer militia (druzhinniki) employed against participants. Since these forces are usually recruited from the locality of the demonstration, this small proportion perhaps testifies to the unreliability of Lithuanians for use in controlling their compatriots. In contrast, army troops were deployed against demonstrators three and one-half times more often (13.7 percent). Contextual evidence suggests that often these troops were natives of the Russian, Central Asian, or other non-Baltic republics. Thus it appears that the Soviet regime is much more trustful of non-Baltic than Baltic elements in controlling oppositionists. Conversely, the low frequency of use of native control forces indicates that Lithuanian dissidents may be operating in a largely favorable environment. According to dissident Father Alfonsas Svarinskas,

Everyone in Lithuania is a dissident. We don't have a few dissidents; we have a few collaborators (with the regime). (9)


Dissent by Lithuanian religious and national protesters has increased significantly in the 1970s. Not only has a large volume of underground literature appeared, but the open and active display of dissatisfaction in the form of protest demonstrations has become more frequent. The typical demonstration occurs in the spring in a village or town with less than 40,000 inhabitants. The demonstration is likely to be large yet planned and peaceful in nature. Nevertheless, concessions from Soviet authorities are rare. Repressions, while not the rule, are far too frequent exceptions.

In spite of the low level of success, it is unlikely that Lithuanian protesters will abandon their struggle in the near future. Although a small number of dissidents have chosen to escape their plight by means of self-immolation, hijackings, border-escape attempts, and official emigration, (10) most activists appear ready to continue their protest. 

The historical tradition of Lithuanian dissent against Russian imperialism provides a model for future protest. (11) The frequent allusion to past figures of resistance against foreign hegemony in underground literature testifies to the contemporary salience of historical heroes. It appears that the tradition of persistence continues to the present time, even under extremely unfavorable conditions. According to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Lithuanians are among the political dissidents most courageous in defending their rights in labor camps. (12)

However, the tradition of resistance is hardly the exclusive prerogative of older Lithuanians. In more than one-fifth of the demonstrations (21.6 percent), the majority of the dissidents were under thirty years of age. Thus the significance of historical opposition to foreign oppression appears firmly embedded in the younger generation.

Lithuanian dissidents have not only continued to display their dissatisfaction against regime policies in Lithuania but also against similar policies unfavorable to Lithuanians in Belorussia, Latvia, Kaliningrad, and nearby Baltic islands. (13) The lack of religious and national facilities for Lithuanian irredenta has become an issue of increasing concern.

Moreover, dissidents increasingly view the apparent alarming rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, theft, divorce, abortion, venereal disease, and suicide as a direct consequence of regime policies. Such phenomena which contribute to the disintegration of the body politic are seen as resulting from the decline of national pride due to Russification and the decline of spiritual values due to aggressive state atheism. (14) Thus, dissidents see protest against Soviet national and religious policies as vital to the very maintenance of at least some degree of social unity.

Further, Lithuanian dissenters are being supported by non-Lithuanian dissidents. The Russian Social Fund established by Alexander Solzhenitsyn out of profits from his Gulag Archipelago has distributed some 2500 rubles to Lithuanian political prisoners and their families. (15) Other Baltic dissidents have joined together with Lithuanian protesters. On August 20, 1977, reports reached the West of the establishment of the Supreme Committee of the National Movement of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. (16)

Finally, the recent election of Pope John Paul II has also contributed positively to Lithuanian dissent by providing some hope of support from abroad. In the past Lithuanian Catholics, while maintaining loyalty to the Holy See, have been skeptical of Vatican Ostpolitik efforts, fearing that Rome-Moscow detente would lead to further regime control over the Church. (17) Yet the new pope from Poland, with which Lithuania has had traditional cultural ties, chose Lithuanian as one of the languages with which to address the world in his investiture homily:

My sincere greetings to my Lithuanian brothers. Be happy and faithful to Christ.

At an impromptu reception afterwards, he told Lithuanian visitors, "Half my heart is in Lithuania." (18) In response to these positive gestures, on November 13, 1978, five Lithuanian priests formed the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers, claiming that the new pontiff from Eastern Europe could understand the plight of Catholics under Soviet rule better than Western prelates. (19) In sum, the factors enhancing the likelihood of continued protest appear far to outweigh those contributing to its demise.


Data Sources

Almanakh samizdata: Nepodtsenzurnaya mysl v SSSR (Annals of Samizdat: Uncensored Thought in the USSR), 1-2 (1974-1975). Amsterdam: Herzen Foundation.
Anti-Semitism and Reprisals against Jewish Emigration in the Soviet Union.
Washington, D. C.: Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, U. S. Congress, 1976.
Arkhiv khroniki: Prilozhenie k "Khronike tekushchikh sobytij"
(The Chronicle Archives: Supplement to "Chronicle of Current Events"), 1-2 (1975 and 1977). New York: Khronika Press.
Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania,
12-18, 20-21, 23-26 (September 1974-March 1977). Brooklyn: Lithuanian Roman Catholic Priests' League of America; Keston, Kent: Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism
Collection of News Letters and Bulletins on Soviet Jewry,
1-128 (December 1970-September 1972). Givataim, Israel: Action Committee of Newcomers from the Soviet Union.
Documents of Helsinki Dissent from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Washington, D. C.: U. S. Congress, 1978.
Documents of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords.
Washington, D. C.: Helsinki Guarantees for Ukraine Committee, 1978.
Droits de l'Homme en URSS
(Human Rights in the USSR), 1972-1975. Brussels: International Committee on the Situation of Minorites and on Human Rights in the USSR.
Elta Information Service,
77-224 (January 1965-December 1977). New York: Supreme Committee for Liberation of Lithuania.
Fourth Semiannual Report by the President to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Washington, D. C.: Bureau of Public Affairs, Department of State, 1978.
Freedom. November 1969-May 1978. Santa Barbara: Russia for Christ.
Khronika tekushchikh sobytij
(Chronicle of Current Events), 1-45 (April 1968-May 1977). Munich: Samizdat Archives; New York: Khronika Press; London: Amnesty International; Amsterdam: Herzen Foundation.
Khronika zashchity prav v SSSR
(Chronicle of the Defense of Rights in the USSR), 1-28 (November 1972-December 1977). New York: Khronika Press.
(Continent), 1-15 (1974-1978). London: Kontinent.
Latvian Information Bulletin,
1/65-4/78 (January 1965-October 1978).
Materialy samizdata
(Samizdat Materials). 1975-1977. Munich: Arkhiv Samizdata, Radio Liberty Research.
News Bulletin on Soviet Jewry,
1-125 (January 31, 1973-May 15, 1978). New York: National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
Religion in Communist Dominated Areas,
4-16 (1965-1977). New York: Department of International Affairs of the National Council of Churches.
Religion in Communist Lands,
1, 1-6, 3 (January 1973-Autumn 1978).
Religious Liberty in Eastern Europe: A Test Case for Human Rights.
Washington, D. C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1977.
Religious Persecution in the Soviet Union.
Washington, D. C.: Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, U. S. Congress, 1976.
Reports of Helsinki-Accord Monitors in the Soviet Union,
1-2 (February 1977-June 1977). Washington, D. C.: Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States Congress.
Revolutionary Voices.
Munich: ABN Press Bureau, 1971.
Right to Believe,
Autumn 1976-Spring 1978. Keston: Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism.
Samizdat Bulletin, 1-60 (May 1973-April 1978). San Mateo: Samizdat Bulletin.
Sbornik dokumentov obshchestvennoi gruppy sodejstviia vypolneniiu khelsinkskikh
soglashenii (Collection of Documents of the Public Group to Promote the Observance of the Helsinki Accords), 1-3 (1977). New York: Khronika Press.
Sobranie dokumentov samizdata
(Collection of Samizdat Documents), 1-22 (1965-1977). Munich: Arkhiv Samizdata, Radio Liberty Research.
Soviet Jewry and the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act: A Report.
New York: National Conference on Soviet Jewry, 1977.
Ukrainian Herald,
6-8 (March 1972-Spring 1974). Baltimore: Smoloskyp.
Violations of Freedom of Religion in Soviet-Occupied Lithuania in Contravention of the Helsinki Final
Act. Glenn Dale: Lithuanian Human Rights Commission, 1977.
Violations of Human Rights in Soviet-Occupied Lithuania,
1-6 (1971-1976). Glenside: Lithuanian American Community.


* I wish to thank Frederick Barghoorn, David Benson, Reverend Peter Činikas, William Fletcher, Edige Kirimal, Gerald Mikkelson, Glenn Richter, Louis Rosenblum, Marite Sapiets, Edmund Singleton, Rein Taagepera, and V. Stanley Vardys for their contribution, remote and recent, to this study. I wish to single out Roman Kuchar and Tom Nault, whose generosity far exceeded any of my appeals. Of special assistance as well were Peter Dornan and Dimitry Pospielovsky. Roy D. Laird deserves special thanks for his helpful suggestions.
1 Kathleen Matchett, "Recent Events in the Lithuanian Catholic Church," Religion in Communist Lands, 1, 1 (February 1973), p. 9.
2 Albert Contons, "Religious Persecution in Lithuania—Soviet Style," Lituanus, 18, 2 (Summer 1972), p. 51.
3 See Michael Bourdeaux, Case No. 345: The Vilnius Samizdat Trial of December 2-24, 1974, and Case No. 345: Virgilijus Jaugelis (Munich: Radio Liberty Research, 1975).
4 Arkhiv Samizdata (Samizdat Archives) (Munich: Radio Liberty Research), 679.
5 K. V. Tauras, Guerrilla Warfare on the Amber Coast (New York: Voyages, 1962), p. 29.
6 Elta 239 (March 1979).
7 For a list of the group's documents, see Khronika tekushchikh sobitij, No. 47 (hereafter KTS).
8 See Elta 178 (September-October 1973); and KTS No. 30. On the representativeness of the sample, the authenticity, completeness, accuracy, and objectivity of the sources, and the reliability coefficients (Pearson's r's) of the variables under consideration, see the author's "Protest Uses of Symbolic Politics," Ph. D. dissertation, University of Kansas, 1978.
9 Le Monde, November 24, 1978.
10 See Violations of Human Rights in Soviet Occupied Lithuania, 1977, p. 65; New York Times, August 26, 1977; V. Stanley Vardys, "Modernization and Baltic Nationalism," Problems of Communism, 24, 5 (September-October 1975), p. 47; Elta 167 (July 1972).
11 See Tauras, op. cit.
12 Elta 190 (February 1975). See also Edward Kuznetsov, Prison Diaries (New York: Stein and Day, 1975), p. 151.
13 See Elta 188 (December 1974); Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania, No. 16; The Fifth Issue of the Unofficial Lithuanian Journal Aušra (Munich: Radio Liberty Research, 1977); Violations 1977, p. 77.
14 The Sixth Issue of the Unofficial Lithuanian Journal Aušra (Munich: Radio Liberty Research, 1977); Violations 1977, p. 77.
15 Elta 235 (November 1978).
16 Arkhiv Samizdata, 3291.
17 The Thirty-Fourth Issue of the Lithuanian Chronicle (Munich: Radio Liberty Research, 1978); Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania, No. 19; Violations 1977, pp. 31, 129, and 134.
18 Bridges, 2, 9 (September 1978).
19 Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers Formed in the USSR (Munich: Radio Liberty, 1978).