Volume 34, No. 4 - Winter 1988
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1988 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Jonas Zinkus (ed.), Lithuania: An Encyclopedic Survey. 

Vilnius: Encyclopedia Publishers, 1986; 431 pp.

This is a typical Soviet reference book — stuffed with detailed (and boastful) statistical data on the development and performance of the economy, social services, sports, science and technology; and misleadingly economical with the truth on matters of history, politics, religion and culture. Nevertheless, it is a valuable source of concisely presented reliable information on Lithuania's nature and population, towns and villages, industry and agriculture, on the Lithuanian language and folk art. It is also useful as a statement of the Soviet official position on various problems of politics and history which, though invariably related to Lithuania, is much more general in its significance and scope. In this sense, as in most others, it is incomparably superior to the Soviet supplied article on the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic in the 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Macropaedia, Vol. 11, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1974 /1264-1265/ ) that contrived to present Lithuania as a mere geographic area within the USSR without history, legacy of independent statehood and specific national cultural tradition.

Were this Encyclopedic Survey the first book-length publication containing comprehensive information on Lithuania in English, its value, despite the inevitable Soviet-style shortcomings, would be quite considerable. But this is not such a pioneering work: Six volumes of Encyclopedia Lituanica were published in Boston, Mass. (Juozas Kapočius publisher) during 1970-1978, presenting a much more truthful and balanced view of Lithuania's history and culture. Anyone who wants to learn about Lithuania should turn to these Western volumes in the first place. However, those who have a special interest in the official institutions of Soviet Lithuania or in Lithuania's Communist Party should use the Soviet Encyclopedic Survey in preference to the emigre Encyclopedia Lituanica, where information on these matters is sketchy, imprecise and in some instances non-existent altogether.

In some other areas, too, the Soviet volume equals or at least is not much inferior in quality to the Encyclopedia Lituanica. For instance, its treatment (85-102) of the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (from pre-historic times to 1795) is factually quite accurate and detailed and in terms of interpretation surprisingly decent (notwithstanding the annoyingly persistent usage of Marxist-Leninist jargon and subsequent overemphasizing of economic and class issues).

Typically, however, Prussia as one of the original Lithuanian lands, occupied and colonized by the Germans after almost a century of struggle between the Lithuanians and the Order of the Teutonic Knights, is not mentioned at all. Instead the authors euphemistically state that "the Teutonic Order, ... by 1283, had subjugated the lands of western Lithuania (Nadruviai and Skalviai) and of other Baits" (90). Obviously, the historical attribution of Prussia to Lithuania would undermine the Soviet case for justifying Prussia's post-1945 division between Poland and the RSFSR (as opposed to the Lithuanian SSR) and had to be avoided for political reasons.

This is an early, though rather minor, example of the role of political diktat in the presentation of history. The subordination of history to Marxist-Leninist ideological and Soviet political requirements dramatically increases with Lithuania's history progressing to more modern times. The whole history of Lithuania's fight for national and religious freedom since the country's incorporation into the Russian Empire in 1795 is presented as basically a class struggle of workers and peasants against the feudal landlords and the bourgeoisie who were protected and supported by the oppressive tsarist Russian autocratic regime.

According to the authors, "the closer ties with the Russian democratic and, subsequently, socialist culture" had a decisive positive effect on this struggle (105). "Influenced by the peasant movement and the Russian revolutionary democratic thought, a new revolutionary democratic current, advocating agrarian revolution, was taking shape," especially after the 1830-31 uprising had been defeated. In the authors' presentation, it was this current (organized as the party of the Reds) which prepared and in the beginning led the 1863 uprising as, in the first place, an agrarian revolution 'against both the indigenous ruling classes and the tsarist occupational authorities that protected these classes. The true national-liberation substance of this uprising is ignored by them almost entirely, although they acknowledge in passing that "from July" (1863) "onwards the party of the Whites, led by the land-owner Jokūbas Geištoras, took charge of the uprising. Representing the interests of local manor owners . . . they hoped the uprising would provoke foreign intervention, which might result in restoring the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth" (106).

The determined struggle of the Lithuanians to maintain their Roman Catholic faith against the Russian imperial regime's attempts at spreading Russian Orthodox Christianity in Lithuania is ignored by the authors altogether. Accordingly, the Lithuanians' organized defiance of the Russian authorities' orders to close some Catholic churches, which culminated in the notorious Massacre of Kražiai (1893), is omitted from their historic narrative, although it represents one of the most important highlights of Lithuania's (in this particular case, successful) resistance against Russian imperial rule.

The account of Lithuania's history from 1871 is centered almost entirely around the activities of Lithuanian revolutionary social-democrats, as if that minor and rather marginal political grouping represented the mainstream of Lithuanian politics of the time. That most of these social-democrats fought not only for the socialist transformation of the Russian empire as a whole but also for the restoration of Lithuania's independent statehood, is not stated explicitly, but it is implied that national freedom constituted a part of their socialist program, in contrast to them, the nationalist and religious mainstream of Lithuania's politics is depicted as treacherous and compromising with both the tsarist, and later, under the German occupation during World War I, the Kaiser's, occupational regimes. In total disregard of historical truth, the authors state that "most of the Lithuanian working people . . . disapproved of the line of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois politicians" (114) and that only "the mounting indignation of the working people of Lithuania compelled (emphasis added) the Lithuanian Council to adopt on February 16,1918, a new resolution on the restoration of Lithuania's statehood" (116). In fact, the Lithuanian Council (Taryba), as the body unifying all Lithuanian political currents (e.g. the social-democrats; there was no Communist or Bolshevik party in Lithuania at that time) commanded the wholehearted support of all Lithuanians committed to the restoration of national independence, and there were simply no indigenous forces that were opposed to, or even could be represented by, bodies that had not participated in the Lithuanian Council.

The period of Lithuania's independence (1918-1940) is portrayed in a similar vein, representing the usual Soviet travesty of historical truth. "The leading force of the working people in their struggle against bourgeois oppression was the Communist Party of Lithuania . . . Operating from the underground, the CPL was not numerous but its influence with the masses was substantial." (124) Accordingly, the Sovietization of Lithuania in 1940 had nothing to do with the Soviet occupation of the country but was the logical result of an indigenously-launched socialist revolution. In the words of the authors, "internationally and internally isolated, deserted by the army, shocked by the disarray of the government, the Lithuanian bourgeoisie alone could hardly confront the revolutionary proletariat and its allies. A possibility arose for peaceful advancement of the socialist revolution. The CPL was the leader of the revolution, its driving forces being the working class and the poverty-stricken peasantry". (128) The Soviet government and the Red Army troops sent by it to take the country by force had apparently nothing to do with that revolutionary process whatsoever. There have of course also never been any agreements about the division of "spheres of influence" between Nazi Germany and the USSR, according to which Lithuania had been assigned to the USSR. On the contrary, the Germans were planning to occupy Lithuania but "the Hitlerite plans were frustrated by the Soviet Union which proposed mutual-aid pacts to the Baltic states . . . The treaty" (the Soviet-Lithuanian one of October 10, 1939, jointly imposed on Lithuania by the Soviets and the Nazis) "enabled Lithuania ... to avoid Nazi aggression". The impertinent pretence that the Secret Protocols to the two Molotov-Ribbentrop 1939 Pacts did not exist, is supplemented here by yet another direct lie that "at the turn of 1940, the fascist government of Lithuania, together with Latvia and Estonia, established an anti-Soviet block and sought the support of Germany" (127).

The ambivalent treatment by the authors of Stalin's mass repressions against Lithuanians is another peculiar feature of the book. They are either presented as excusable excesses in the application of basically correct and necessary measures, or entirely ignored. For example, the mass deportation of June 1941 is described as follows: "Just before the Great Patriotic War some of the counter-revolutionary elements were deported from Lithuania; as the political situation was extremely complex, these measures in some cases were mistakenly applied against innocent people." (131) On the other hand, nothing at all is said directly about the numerous post-war deportations executed on an even more massive scale than that of 1941, except for a rather obscure hint at "violations of socialist legality and collective farm democracy" that took place during 1945-51 and "constituted a setback for socialist construction". This hint is then immediately qualified by a statement according to which "the errors were being corrected and shortcomings eliminated. Early in 1952 the collectivization of agriculture in Lithuania was basically completed" (138). Having read all that, one wonders what the authors are talking about when they say that "the negative effects of Joseph Stalin's personality cult" were in the "mid-1950s. . . Eradicated" (139). ("The spelling of the original is maintained in all quotations throughout this text.)

The national uprising of June 1941, which ended Soviet rule in Lithuania even before the German troops took control, and which instituted the Lithuanian Provisional Government of Juozas Ambrazevičius (dissolved by the Germans on August 5, 1941), is passed over in silence altogether. Armed national resistance to Soviet occupation during 1944-1952 is mentioned only in passing as an "acute class struggle" (138) conducted against the Lithuanian workers and peasants by buožės (kulaks). The bourgeois nationalists "sought to restore, with the help of Western imperialists, the capitalist system." With that goal in mind, they "resorted to political, economic and ideological subversive activities, sabotaged measures implemented by the Soviet government, spread provocative rumors, and murdered Soviet activists." (138) To say more than that would obviously destroy the consistency of the authors' main thesis that the working people of Lithuania "were active in supporting all measures taken by (Soviet) authorities" (135-136) throughout the whole period of Soviet rule.

The treatment of the Jewish question also deserves a special mention. When talking about the extermination by the "German fascists" of the 370,000 "inhabitants of Soviet Lithuania" and naming such places of mass extermination as Paneriai near Vilnius and the Ninth Fort of Kaunas, the authors fail to mention that the overwhelming majority of the exterminated people were actually Lithuanian Jews. This description is in accordance with the Soviet official thesis about German Nazis having exercised indiscriminate terror against Soviet citizens of all nationalities, not specifically against the Jews. When, however, the authors describe the national composition of Lithuania, they do mention that "during the Nazi occupation (1941-44) nearly alt of the Jews were ruthlessly exterminated." In another place, however, they write that most Lithuanian Jews have perished under the Nazis: "The number of Jews in Lithuania diminished because of their unfavorable age pattern and migration." (43) This latter phrase apparently has to account for the emigration during the last two decades of a great number of surviving Lithuanian Jews to Israel. Nothing more is said about that issue, but one readily notes that in the list of the Lithuanian Heroes of the Soviet Union (420) the name of one of the most famous heroes, Colonel Vulfas Vilenskis, who emigrated to Israel in the 1980s, is missing.

The Soviet Encyclopedic Survey on Lithuania in English has been published after the 27th Congress of the CPSU. (It contains a few references to that Congress), that is well into the "Gorbachev era" — the era of perestroika and glasnosf. It bears witness to how indeed little of perestroika and glasnost existed, at least in Soviet Lithuania. But since books addressed to foreign audiences cannot appear in the USSR without having been approved first by authoritative political bodies in Moscow,, one can surely say that this conclusion on the scant amount of perestroika and glasnost in Lithuania applies also to Moscow and to the entire Soviet Union.

Aleksandras Shtromas 
University of Salford