Volume 27, No.1 - Summer 1981
Editor of this issue: Tomas Venclova, Thomas Remeikis
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1981 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


A Letter to the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences

Editorial Introduction

A samizdat periodical Alma Mater, allegedly published in the University of Vilnius, appeared during the quadricentennial year. Two of the three known issues are available in the West. The first issue, dated January-March, 1979, published a text of a letter by four top officials of the university to the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Academician A.P. Aleksandrov, without providing the date of the letter or the source of its text. It addresses the still open and painful issue: the return of historical archives and other treasures which have been removed to various parts of Imperial Russia upon the closing of the University of Vilnius by Czar Nicholas I in 1832. Among the treasures still withheld from the university is Lietuvos Metrika (Lithuanian Matricula), an invaluable historical source, consisting of state papers issued by Lithuania between 1386 and 1794. The return of these plundered treasures was ordered by Lenin and mandated in the peace treaty between Lithuania and Soviet Russia, concluded on July 12, 1920, but so far these mandates have been only partially fulfilled.

The commentary, which follows the letter to Aleksandrov, is provided by Alma Mater. Among other things, the commentary suggests that Moscow was reluctant to recognize the University of Vilnius as the oldest university within the present boundaries of the USSR, but assented to it as a result of the recognition of the university's quadricentennial by the UNESCO.



Most honored Anatoly Petrovich! —

In the fall of 1979, the V. Kapsukas University of Vilnius of the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, one of the oldest universities of our land, with the approval of the USSR Central Committee, is celebrating its quadricentennial.

Preparations are under way for a commemoration that will celebrate the evergrowing friendship of nations, and reaffirm the undeniable primacy of socialism over any previous social order that the university has seen throughout the four centuries of its history. The university strives for cooperative and scholarly relations with other state universities and research centers, and, in turn, receives diverse forms of assistance in determining policy regarding basic academic issues as well as educational program development.

During the years of Soviet government, the USSR Academy of Sciences provided considerable assistance in educating highly qualified scientific cadres, establishing the network of scientific institutions, and strengthening their scientific foundations. All this serves to engender among all those associated with the university a belief that they have, in the USSR Academy of Sciences Presidium and its various departments, a true friend and mentor. Therefore, on behalf of the scientific community we believe that it is legitimate and proper to address the following essential historical issue:

As you know, the university was closed in 1832, during the reign of Nicholas I, and its assets were removed from Lithuania and distributed among various agencies. Furthermore, before and during World War I, the czarist regime continued its practice of plundering Lithuanian cultural values. Among the deported property of special value were old rare books.

The people of the republic and the university community attribute great importance to Lenin's 1918 "Decree Concerning the Evacuated and Exported Lithuanian Civil, Social, and Private Institutions," which prescribed the return to Lithuania of all the values aggrandized by the czarist regime.

Actually a portion of the old Vilnius University assets was returned in 1920; another portion was returned after World War II; however, a great number of historically significant materials are still in the possession of various agencies of the land (USSR). And so, the USSR Academy of Sciences has in its primary library in Leningrad a valuable collection of books belonging to Vilnius University, which had been transferred to the University of Petersburg after the Vilnius University was closed. Among them are books of Lithuanian bibliophiles, main funders of the Vilnius University, such as Sigismund Augustus, Georgius Albinus (XVI century), L. Sapieha, the Radziwill family (XVII century), and others. The cultural-historical significance of these books is very great for they testify about the spreading of science, culture, and literacy. Each of these books has appropriate markings that it is the property of Vilnius University. This situation is widely known not only in the republic but also abroad. Consequently, it is understandable that the question again arises repeatedly: why, to this day, Lenin's decree has not been fully complied with.

We are confident that you will appreciate the importance of this matter. We urgently ask you to consider the issue of restoring the above-mentioned collection to Vilnius University. Such an action would have tremendous significance both politically and as propaganda. It would doubtless have a favorable influence on strengthening friendship among the nations of the USSR and would engender respect for the Russian Soviet nation.

Our appeal is based on the importance of this matter and on the sincere wish to emphasize the great scholarly and cultural achievements Lithuania has made during the years of Soviet government.


Prof. Dr. J. Kubilius, Rector of Vilnius University,
Member of the Lithuanian SSR Academy of Sciences,
Hero of Socialist Labor

Docent K. Pođkus,
Secretary of the University Party Committee, 
Distinguished Teacher of the Lithuanian SSR

Docent L. Vladimirovas,
Member of the State Committee for the Vilnius
State University Quadricentennial,
Distinguished Cultural-Educational Worker

Cand. of Phil. Sciences J. Tornau,
Director of the Scientific Library of Vilnius State University, 
Distinguished Cultural Worker of the Lithuanian SSR



This letter, which we have translated into Lithuanian, is a positive manifestation. The authors are worthy of respect in this instance. However, it is strange indeed that the letter does not bear the signature of the Chairman of the Commemoration Committee, Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party, L. Đepetys. Can it be that Đepetys, who was recently Minister of Culture, now holding a preeminent position in the highest echelon of the Party and having become the most important figure in the University's Commemoration Committee, is not concerned about the cultural values we have been robbed of? Can it be that he considers it more important to remain "untainted" in the eyes of a foreign government thereby sacrificing the issues so vital to our ALMA MATER? Can it be that his craved-for career is more important than anything else?

But let us set these questions aside for the moment. Let us return to the letter addressed to the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The letter mentions only a small portion of the confiscated Lithuanian cultural wealth. The Lietuvos metrika (Lithuanian Matricula) is inaccessible to Lithuanian historians and legal scholars; our most valuable monuments of art are presently illegally held at the Hermitage and other Russian museums — and this by far is not the complete list of the priceless artistic and cultural treasures which the Russian government has been plundering over a period of more than 150 years of occupation. Plunder was particularly severe after the ill-fated rebellions of 1831 and 1863, at which time insurrectionists were being executed and deported to Siberia and the nation was being colonized and russified. That which was not destroyed or devastated was stolen, plundered. It would be interesting what the Hermitage, let us say, would boast of if all of the stolen treasure were restored to their rightful owners.

Lithuania, having made a peace treaty with Soviet Russia, as specified in the letter, addressed this issue. In this treaty it was specified that the Lithuanian cultural, historical, and artistic treasures stolen and transported to Russia, would be returned to their rightful owner — Lithuania. Unfortunately, it was merely an agreement, which the Soviet Union invariably signs yet never plans to execute . . . Returning the stolen goods was extremely difficult for the Soviet government. Here, the foremost authority of Soviet Russia — Lenin and his decree was of no avail. When it comes to making restitution for wrongdoing, even Lenin becomes insignificant! The Lietuvos metrika and other valuables were withheld by means of countless evasive excuses, delays, and deceit. All this went on until ultimately, in 1940, Lithuania itself was stolen (from its people). It was the beginning of a new era, not one of restitution but one of renewed plunder . . .

And now the commemoration. A quadricentennial at that! The myth that Vilnius University is not the oldest academic institution in the Soviet Union has disappeared as though it had been smoke: the falsification was too insolent; willy nilly, it had to be abandoned. And such a commemoration is so unpleasant . . . but for the damned interest abroad . . . But this is not the main concern of the Soviet government in Lithuania ... To commemorate the university is to recall something about the Jesuits . . . There would have been no commemoration were it nor for the inconvenient UNESCO.

And the worst part of the matter is that the university's anniversary was publicized not only by the Lithuanian press abroad but by the so-called "major press" as well . . . And the thefts were mentioned . . .

We do not wish to be doomsayers. However, the fact that the question of restoring stolen university property is at a standstill invites unpleasant thoughts: it is unlikely that a thief would consider the commemoration . . . Besides, Lithuania is no longer "bourgeois;" the property in question remains, in fact, in the same state . . . Therefore, there are no "obstacles" and no pretext to disregard the questions raised in the letter. We can do nothing but wait. We shall see what the results will be.