Volume 34, No. 2 - Summer 1989
Editor of this issue: Antanas Dundzila
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1989 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.



The secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are one of the most sensitive questions in Soviet Lithuanian historiography. The revelation that the Soviet Union bartered with Nazi Germany over the rights to Lithuanian territory would challenge the legitimacy of Soviet rule in Lithuania and undermine the carefully nurtured myth that an internal "socialist revolution" overthrew the bourgeois government of Lithuania, setting the stage for the voluntary incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. Since the end of World War II the myth of the socialist revolution has been fostered with great diligence by Party historians, the authorities resorting to repression when argument and intimidation did not suffice. Suggestions that Soviet control of Lithuania was in part the result of an agreement with Hitler were denied with great vehemence, while public mention of the protocols was considered anti-Soviet propaganda.1 Until 1987 Soviet historians conceded no more than that the Red Army contributed to the victory of socialism in Lithuania. And it seemed improbable that matters would change.2

If the authorities were anxious to deny the secret protocols, supporters of Lithuanian independence were just as eager to publicize them. For them the secret protocols were positive proof that Lithuanians were the victims of external aggression rather than willing members of the Soviet family of nations. The publication of the protocols was thought to be the first step not only in restoring the nation's past but also in resurrecting an independent Lithuanian state.

The carefully nurtured myths about the circumstances of Lithuania's incorporation into the Soviet Union collapsed with unexpected speed in the spring and summer of 1988, when unprecedented change swept Lithuania and the Party was forced to give back much of what it had appropriated in the previous 40 years. The demand for an honest portrayal of the nation's history was the cutting edge of the movement for reform, as if the recovery of the nation's past was a prerequisite for gaining control of its present and future.

The Problem of "Indirect Aggression"

The history of the negotiations between Germany and the Soviet Union that culminated with the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact are known well enough that they need little retelling. I will focus attention on two aspects of the treaty, both of which show that, contrary to claims of Soviet historians, the Soviet Union did not sign the treaty in a desperate attempt to ward off a Nazi attack but used the growing tension to further its aggressive designs on its neighbors, namely the attempt by Soviet negotiators to get a  free hand in the Baltics as a condition for signing an accord, and the protracted haggling with German over the rights to Lithuanian territory.

There is little doubt that the Soviet government hoped to profit from the growth of tensions in Eastern Europe to regain land that was formerly part of the Russian empire. The Soviet Union made clear its interest in the Baltics in the early stages of its negotiations with France and Great Britain. Soviet negotiators were so insistent on the matter that they were willing to risk a breakdown in the talks rather than renounce their arms. German willingness to satisfy demands that the Western democracies would not countenance seems to have been an important factor in determining Moscow's decision to cooperate with the Nazis.

The question of "indirect aggression" in the Baltic republics quickly became a central point of contention in the negotiations between the Western powers and the USSR. On 30 May 1939 Molotov told the French ambassador that the Soviet Union would be forced to "come to the assistance" of the Baltic countries, even without their permission, if they were to "admit German troops without resistance." This demand was incorporated into a new Soviet draft of a tripartite treaty that Molotov presented to the British and French Ambassadors on June 2.3 The British felt that they could not acquiesce to the Soviet demand. On June 8 the British Foreign Minister Viscount Halifax pointed" out in the House of Commons that the government thought it proper to pay attention "to the wishes of the third countries."4 On July 4 Molotov amended his proposal of June 2, introducing the concept of "indirect aggression" that was defined as ."an internal coup d'etat or a reversal of policy in the interests of aggression" in a number of border states, including Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Rumania and several others. When Britain rejected this proposal, Molotov offered another definition of "indirect aggression", making clear once again the Soviet Union's concern with the Baltics. As examples of "indirect aggression", he noted the possibility of Estonia and Latvia making a treaty with Germany, inconsistent with their independence and neutrality, or employing German military instructors. Once again agreement was not forthcoming. On August 17 Viscount Halifax suggested to the British Ambassador in Moscow that he discuss with the Soviets all unresolved political problems, including "indirect aggression", but by then it was too late.5

If Stalin found the West to be intransigent on the Baltics, the Germans were amenable to Soviet demands, indeed anxious to satisfy them. On July 26 preparatory discussions were initiated by the Soviet Charge Astakhov in meetings with K. Schnurre, Director of the Economic Department of the German Foreign Ministry. Astakhov stated clearly that the Soviet Union regarded the Baltic States, Finland and Rumania as its sphere of interest and inquired whether Germany had any serious interest in these regions as well as certain Ukrainian and Galician territories. Astakhov, clearly acting on the Kremlin's instructions, was sounding out Germany's position as well as making known Moscow's ultimate aims. As Louis Fischer notes, "Astakhov was actually giving a preview of the territorial settlement that emerged from the Soviet-Nazi Pact."6 Once the ice was broken, matters moved forward with dispatch. In a talk with Molotov on August 4 the German Ambassador Schulenburg noted that Berlin was ready to safeguard "vital Soviet interests in the Baltic Sea". Ten days later Germany decided to pull out all stops in an attempt to reach a quick accord, and Ribbentrop signaled his desire to visit Moscow to discuss these matters at the highest level. In response Molotov inquired whether Germany would sign a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, convince Japan to improve ties with Moscow, and jointly guarantee the Baltic States. The stage for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was set.

It would be misleading to suggest that the Baltic question was the sole decisive factor in Stalin's decision to cooperate with Hitler and not France and England. Serious disagreement with the Western powers arose because of their inability to convince Poland and Rumania to allow passage of Soviet troops through their territory in case of war. What is more, agreement with Hitler meant the avoidance of war, at least temporarily, while a treaty with the Western democracies greatly increased the possibility of war. Stalin realized that the Soviet Union was not prepared for war and probably hoped that the "capitalists" would exhaust each other in an extended war in the West.

The dogged insistence on agreement concerning the definition of "indirect aggression", even when Britain's fear that the concept was but a disguise to allow Soviet interference in the internal affairs of the Baltic States, was discussed in the English press. It shows that Stalin intended that the Baltic states be the price that would be paid for his cooperation. He was equally adamant that Germany formally recognize Moscow's claims to the Baltic countries. It was the Soviet Union rather than Germany that insisted that secret protocols delimiting spheres of influence in East Europe be added to the non-aggression treaty. On August 17 Molotov first mentioned the need for both the Germans and the Soviets to prepare a draft of a special protocol that would define the interests of the signatories in questions of foreign policy. Two days later the Soviet presented their modifications to the German draft, including a proviso that the non-aggression treaty would become valid "only if a special high protocol is signed simultaneously covering the points in which the High Contracting Parties are interested in the field of foreign policy. The protocol shall be an integral part of the Pact."7 Thus, for the Soviets the secret protocol and the fate of the Baltic states were essential parts of their agreement with the Germans rather than a hasty afterthought.

The Haggling over Lithuania

The negotiations over the fate of Lithuania are particularly embarrassing to Soviet historians, attempting to portray the Nazi-Soviet accord as a temporary and necessary measure to hold the Germans at bay. Lithuania was the object of long and distasteful haggling between Germany and the Soviet Union that lasted for almost a year and a half until the Germans renounced their "rights" to Lithuania for a substantial sum of money. What is more, the clear and constant initiative taken by the Soviets as well as Stalin's personal intervention at several delicate stages show that Moscow was seeking actively to extend its domains, insisting on revisions of the original spheres of influence, even at the risk of angering Hitler and not just buying time to prepare for the expected Nazi onslaught.

According to the provisions of the Secret Supplementary Protocol of August 23, Latvia and Estonia were assigned to Soviet sphere of interest and subsequently occupied in June 1940. Lithuania, including the Vilnius region, was originally allotted to the German sphere of interest but almost immediately became the subject of new negotiations. Soon after Germany launched its invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, German diplomats began to pressure the Lithuanian government to recover Vilnius, her capital that had been occupied by Poland in 1920, even offering military assistance to help overcome expected Polish resistance.8

Lithuania opted to retain its policy of neutrality and thus inadvertently set the stage for its eventual incorporation into the Soviet Empire. While the already defeated Polish armies were falling back on Warsaw, the Red Army began its westward march to occupy the Polish territories that were relegated to Moscow's sphere of interest and two days later, on September 19, entered Vilnius. Germany quickly reminded Moscow of its claim to Vilnius, but the Soviet government decided to press for a revision of the secret protocols. On September 25 Stalin called Schulenburg to the Kremlin and proposed that all of Poland be divided up, the whole of the province of Lublin and part of the province in Warsaw to be alloted to Germany. In return Germany was to waive its claim to Lithuania.9 On September 28 the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty was signed; its Secret Supplementary Protocol allocated Lithuania with the exception of a strip of territory in the southwest to the Soviet sphere of influence.10 By October 10 Moscow had forced Lithuania to sign a Treaty of Mutual Assistance that led to the stationing of 20,000 Soviet troops in Lithuania.

The bartering over Lithuanian territory was not yet complete. Soviet troops occupied Lithuania on 15 June 1940 and began paving the way for Lithuania's formal incorporation into the USSR. Moscow was in an uncomfortable position vis-a-vis Germany, anxious that Germany not demand the strip of Lithuanian territory.11 On July 13, i.e., on the eve of the elections to the so-called People's Diet, Molotov told Schulenburg that Stalin thought the present to be an improper time to hand the strip over to Germany. Molotov suggested that in view of its exceptionally friendly ties with the USSR, Germany could seek a solution that would allow the strip to remain part of Lithuania. Serious negotiations commenced three weeks later. When the Germans requested territorial compensation, Moscow demurred, arguing that all former Polish territory had already been incorporated into a Soviet republic. Instead Moscow suggested a money payment of 3,860,000 gold dollars in goods or gold.12 Berlin did not reply immediately but made known its position that the suggested payment was grossly inadequate.

During Molotov's visit to Berlin on 12-15 November 1940 Hitler noted that Germany had not occupied any territory assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence. The Soviet Union had, unfortunately, not demonstrated a similar attitude toward its obligations. Hitler also complained that Lithuania was of far greater economic value than the province of Lublin. The issue of the Lithuanian strip was not settled, and discussions continued concerning the proper amount of monetary compensation. But Germany was in a hurry, since the plans for the invasion of Russia were adopted shortly thereafter in December. Thus, on 10 January 1941 Germany and the Soviet Union signed another secret protocol, according to which the USSR would pay Germany 7,500,000 gold dollars or 31,500,000 Reichsmarks as compensation.13

The Official Interpretation

Until the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, Soviet Lithuanian historians wrote relatively little about the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and circumstances of Lithuania's incorporation into the USSR. Nonetheless, the main strands of what became the official interpretation were put in place. The Soviet Union is said to have signed the non-aggression treaty with Germany, only after the Western powers refused to cooperate with Moscow in halting Nazi aggression. The Soviet Union thwarted German designs to incorporate Lithuania at the beginning of World War II. Despite the provocations and hostility of the Lithuanian government, the Soviet Union remained the stalwart supporter of the genuine aspirations of the Lithuanian nation until an "internal socialist revolution," expressing the will of the absolute majority of the nation, was said to have led to the overthrow of the bourgeois regime of President Antanas Smetona. While a substantial number of authors mentioned the treaty of August 23, only a few discuss the treaty of September 28, and none let on that German-Soviet discussions concerning Lithuanian territory continued after the Soviet ultimatum of 15 June 1940. Soviet cooperation with Germany is played down. Most historians try to create the impression that Germany and the USSR continued to be bitter enemies until the start of their war, and that the Lithuanian government was anxious to hand the country over to the Nazis.

There was less agreement concerning the role of the Soviet Union. According to one interpretation, the Soviet ultimatum of 15 June 1940 fortuitously coincided with the maturation of the revolutionary situation. The presence of the Red Army merely ensured that Germany would not interfere in Lithuanian internal affairs by supporting counterrevolutionaries. The other interpretation assigned the Red Army and Stalin greater but often unspecified credit in allowing the Lithuanian nation to enjoy the benefits of Communist rule. While minimizing the role of the Red Army was more compatible with the basic theory of the internal revolution, the tendency to attribute all good things to the benign solicitude of the Great Russian nation and to Stalin in particular led some authors to emphasize the importance of the Soviet contribution.

Perhaps the most fanciful effort of the latter kind can be found in the work of Juozas Žiugžda in his Tarybų Sąjungos pagalba lietuvių tautai apginant savo laisvę ir nepriklausomybę 7939 ir 1940 metais. (The Assistance of the Soviet Union to the Lithuanian Nation in Defending its Freedom  and Independence in 1939 and 1940), published in 1948.14 Žiugzda trots out the undocumented argument that Germany intended to occupy Lithuania on 15-16 June 1940 with the assistance of Smetona and that the increased presence of Red Army troops prevented the Nazis from implementing their plot. Žiugžda spells out his story in great but implausible detail. He claims, for example, that German agents, pretending to be athletes, had gathered in Kaunas for a sports festival scheduled for June 15 by the German Kulturverband, intending to carry out a coup.15 The chief apologist for Lithuania's occupation repeated the claim that of the planned German occupation in a book published in 1952 but without the wealth of detail, noting that 'comrade Stalin saved Lithuania'.16 In general Soviet historians preferred to leave unspecified the contribution of the Soviet benefactors, in part because it was more prudent during Stalin's time to be as non-committal as possible. Thus, in a work coauthored by A. Knyva Švietimias Tarybų Lietuvoje (Education in Soviet Lithuania), Žiugžda wrote that "in 1939 and 1940 the great Stalin saved the Lithuanian nation from the plundering onslaught of Hitlerite Germany .... Aided by the great Russian nation and the other fraternal Soviet nations, led by the Bolshevik Party, the toiling masses of Lithuania in June of 1940 overthrew the bourgeois-fascist system."17

During the Stalin period Lithuanian historians consistently avoided mention of the German-Soviet pact and not just its secret protocols. In one respect this was somewhat unexpected because the treaty itself had been greeted with much fanfare in the Soviet Union in August 1939. In another respect the silence was but another and relatively pedestrian example of the Soviet penchant for rewriting history according to the current wishes of the Kremlin. In the work written in 1952 Žiugžda discussed in some detail the events of 1939-1940 but did not mention the pact. According to Žiugžda, the USSR was the only nation that consistently sought peace and fought against Nazi aggression. The invasion of Poland on September 17 is described as a measure that undercut German plans to occupy the Western Ukraine and Byelorussia.18 Žiugžda writes as if Germany and the USSR were enemies in 1939-1940 and the Lithuanian government — an ally of Germany. Thus, he claims, not only that the Lithuanian government was constantly trying to undermine the recently signed Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of Mutual Assistance and hand the country over to Germany, but even writes of "treacherous agreements between German and Lithuanian fascists."19

Despite its inherent implausibility and the falsehood of its major claims, Žiugžda's account, although at time modified and supplemented, was the standard interpretation for more than 30 years. Later historians embellished the account, fleshing it out with details concerning the activity of the Lithuanian Communist Party and the Lithuanian government but without challenging the main feature of the standard account. At first Stalin's death had no effect at all on Lithuanian historiography. In his Tarybų Valdžios Atkūrimas Lietuvoje (The Re-establishment of Soviet Rule in Lithuania) Motiejus Požarskas passes over in silence the German-Soviet Non-aggression Treaty, claiming that the Lithuanian government signed the Soviet-Lithuanian Treaty of Mutual Assistance in order to win popularity among the Lithuanian masses and to dissemble its intentions to cooperate with Nazi Germany. Citing a report at the tenth session of the USSR Supreme Soviet of 1947, Požarskas states that Germany has massed 80,000 troops at the German-Lithuanian border in the spring of 1940 in preparation of the invasion of Lithuania.20 In time such wild claims went out of fashion.

Kruschev's secret speech at the 20th Party Congress in 1956 condemning some of the excesses of Stalinism led to rest the myth of the infallible "father of nations", made available to historians a greater range of information and allowed them to adopt a slightly more critical stance. Of even greater significance was the publication abroad of the memoirs of many leading soldiers and statesmen of independent Lithuania that contained detailed discussions of the events leading to Lithuania's occupation, including the secret protocols. Solomonas Atamukas was one of the first Soviet Lithuanian historians to admit that Germany and the USSR signed a non-aggression treaty in August 1939, albeit to win time to prepare for the expected German attack. Two other assertions are worthy of note, namely that Moscow was forced to sign the treaty because the Western powers refused to guarantee the integrity of the Baltic states in case of Nazi aggression, and that Germany rejected the offer of the Lithuanian government to place the country under German protection. The first claim suggests that Atamukas might have had some knowledge of the disagreements concerning the concept of "indirect aggression", the second that he realized that Lithuania was soon relegated to the Soviet sphere of interest.21 In other respects Atamukas was impeccably orthodox.

In 1960, the theoretical journal of the Lithuanian Communist Party Komunistas published what it claimed to be the deposition of the former Director of the Lithuanian Security Department Augustinas Povilaitis, given to Soviet security organs on 13 March 1941.22 Povilaitis, who was executed shortly after his interrogation, stated that in February 1940 he had travelled to Berlin on the secret orders of President Smetona and suggested to the Gestapo official Werner Best that Germany take Lithuania under its protectorate. Best is said to have noted that Germany could do nothing at the present moment; but after a victory had been achieved in the West, Germany would take Lithuania under its wing, probably in September. Soviet historians have treated the deposition as definitive proof of the treachery of Smetona and the German intention of occupying Lithuania in the future, and as indirectly justifying the Soviet ultimatum of June 1940. Had the Soviet not acted firmly, Lithuania would have fallen to the Nazis. Despite a number of internal inconsistencies and the general implausibility of the Povilaitis deposition, even some Western historians have attributed great significance to the document.23 Surprisingly little attention was paid to the circumstances in which the deposition was taken until the historian Gediminas Rudis pointed out in the summer of 1988 that "we know well the nature of such interrogations. If the men interrogating Povilaitis had so desired, he would have admitted that he was digging a tunnel from Kaunas to Vilnius."24

In 1966 Konstantinas Navickas published his monograph TSRS vaidmuo ginant Lietuvą nuo imperialistinės agresijos 1920-1940 meta/s (The Role of the USSR in Protecting Lithuania from Imperialist Aggression during the Years 1920-1940), which soon became the authoritative account of the circumstances of Lithuania's incorporation into the USSR. Not only did Navickas treat these matters in unprecedented detail (more than 60 pages are devoted to the matter), but he also had access to documents of the government of independent Lithuania, the memoirs of leading emigre statesmen, as well as the series Documents on German Foreign Policy. He may well have been the first Soviet Lithuanian historian who had sufficient information to be able to piece together an accurate account of Nazi-Soviet cooperation. Nonetheless, Navickas did not offer a new interpretation but merely filled out the broad outlines of the theory first enunciated by Žiugžda. Navickas portrayed the extended negotiations for spheres of influence as a starkly Manichean struggle between the forces of good and evil. Germany's claims as an effort to protect the weak from Nazi aggression and the schemes of the local bourgeois to place their countries under German domination.

After stating that the Soviet government was forced to sign a non-aggression treaty with Germany to avoid imminent attack, he argues that the Soviet Union did not merely ward off attack but helped its neighbors by pressing Germany to renounce its interests in Estonia and Latvia and, after the defeat of Poland, ensuring that Red Army troops entered into Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine.25 Navickas described the Soviet position in the negotiations of Late September of 1939 that relegated

Lithuania to Moscow's sphere of influence as a defense "of the freedom of the Lithuanian nation and the integrity of its territory" coupled with a firm demand "that Germany renounce its predatory aims in relation to Lithuania."26 Because of the principled stance of the Kremlin, Germany is said to have been forced to renounce its original plans to occupy Lithuania, then to relinquish its claims to a third of Lithuania's territory, finally even to the southeastern regions.27 No mention whatsoever is made of the lengthy negotiations for the strip of Lithuanian territory that was relegated to Germany's sphere of interest. Despite Navickas' distorted and dishonest account of the Nazi-Soviet relations, his work is not without value. Because of the range of documents cited and the elaborate description of the negotiations the discerning reader could form an accurate account of the nature of the talks, in particular that the two dictatorships had apparently reached an amicable and far-reaching agreement concerning Lithuania's fate. For example, Navickas notes that the German minister in Lithuania Zechlin could not give a full response to the queries of the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Urbšys concerning Germany's attitude to Soviet pressure on Lithuania because "he was bound by the statements that the German government had made to the Soviet Union concerning Lithuania" and that eventually Zechlin stated that "the German government could not take any measures on Lithuania's behalf."28

The account by Navickas remained the standard for more than 20 years, in part because other historians without such broad access to many documents constantly cited Navickas, in part because the ideological reaction of the Brezhnev years put a premium on conformity and orthodoxy. Historians usually gave only cursory descriptions of German-Soviet relations, characterizing the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact as a brilliant diplomatic move that saved the USSR from certain destruction. Efforts were made to convey the impression that the pact was a singular event that did little to diminish Nazi-Soviet hostility that continued unabated until the start of the war. In contrast, Soviet historians have dealt extensively with the supposed cooperation between German and Lithuanian security organs in their struggle against the common enemy, the Soviet Union. Thus, in a work about the event leading up to Lithuania's occupation, Vytautas Kancevičius claims that the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact "undermined the treacherous anti-Soviet plans of international reaction."29 Only a few paragraphs are spared to describe German-Soviet diplomatic relations, while pages are devoted to regaling the reader with lengthy accounts of clandestine cooperation between German and Lithuanian security agents and efforts of the Lithuanian ruling classes to ensure that Lithuania fell into German hands.30

Kancevičius, who has written more than any other Soviet author on the events of 1940, has made extensive use of the concept of the "governmental crisis" to explain the passive response of the Lithuanian government to the Soviet ultimatum. Emphasizing the political disagreements among political parties, in particular the differences of opinion that surfaced during the last meeting of the government on 15 June 1940, Kancevičius suggests that some members of the government welcomed the ultimatum as a chance to be rid of Smetona, thus preventing Smetona from ordering armed resistance to the Red Army.31 The concept of the "governmental crisis" found ready resonance among other Soviet historians and soon became part of the standard explanation. It not only explains the paralysis of the Lithuanian government but gives indirect support to the claim that a socialist revolution did indeed occur. If Smetona was disliked by the ruling circles, then so much more by the ordinary people. Robertas Žiugžda followed in the footsteps of his father as an uncritical apologist for Soviet behavior and purveyor of one-sided historical rubbish. In his Lietuva imperialistinių valstybių planuose 7979-7940 (Lithuania in the Plans of the Imperialist States 1917-1940), he claims that "the reactionary ruling circles in the Western states encouraged in every way Nazi Germany to attack the USSR," thus forcing Moscow to sign a treaty with Berlin in order to avoid "total isolation."32 The Soviet attack on Poland is said to have caught Germany totally unaware and caused the Germans great worry. According to Žiugžda, Germany was forced to withdraw its troops from eastern Poland because of resolute Soviet demands.33 The allocation of Lithuania to the Soviet sphere of interest is described as the rescue of Lithuania from German designs as a result of "Soviet policy, directed against Fascism and aggression."34 Germany, however, is said not to have renounced her plans to occupy Lithuania, whose government allowed secret German agents to gather information about the Red Army troops stationed in Lithuanian territory.

Žiugžda's account of the last days of independent Lithuania borders on the fantastic. Without citing any sources he claims that on 14 June 1940, the head of the Gestapo in Tilsit Graefe arrived in Kaunas, recommended that the Lithuanian army resist the Soviet troops based in Lithuania, and, according to instructions of the German government, offered to intern Lithuanian troops that sought refuge in Germany. President Smetona was "undoubtedly" notified of Graefe's recommendations and "because" of them decided not to respond quickly to Soviet accusations. Germany is said to have massed 80,000 troops and 200 planes near the Lithuanian border. Žiugžda also repeats the story of the planned coup at the sports festival of the German Kulturverband. Only when the commander of the Lithuanian Army ordered all units to greet in a friendly fashion the Red Army did President Smetona "finally convince himself that his plans to foist a German protectorate on Lithuania had failed."35 Žiugzda's inventiveness has not gone unnoticed. Several members of the Lithuanian Restructuring Movement have singled him out lately as a historian whose works have no value.

The conventional wisdom remained unassailable. Soviet historians continued to repeat with little alteration the standard explanations of Soviet behavior, even during the first year of Gorbachev's rule. Changes in emphasis were minimal. The editors of a collection of documents about the introduction of Soviet rule into Lithuania in 1940, published at the end 1986, reiterated many of the Party's favorite dogmas, including the standard assertion that the firm stance of the Soviet government halted Nazi expansion in the East and forced Germany to renounce its intentions to assume control over Lithuania.36 The ruling classes, frightened by the prospect of the loss of rule, began to count on German intervention. "Believing that the war between Germany and the Soviet Union would soon start, the ruling circles of Lithuania prepared to attack together with Germany its nominal Soviet ally." The editors do admit that the Soviet troops, stationed in Lithuania, played an important role in the so-called socialist revolution, for their presence prevented outside intervention and neutralized internal forces of reaction.37

The Collapse of the Myth

In the autumn of 1986, writers and literary critics in Lithuania began an exceptionally candid debate on the unsatisfactory state of Lithuanian historiography and the abnormal constraints that were distorting its development. Historians soon joined in, trying in part to vindicate themselves and their profession from a broadside of criticism. It is in this context that Alfonsas Eidintas first raised the possibility that the standard account of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was not historically valid. In an article in the literary weekly Literatūra ir menas in April 1987 he noted that it is unfair to deprecate the courage of historians. Unlike novelists, historians must rely on documents; but many of the most important, for example, those dealing with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, were unavailable. If a writer is interested in "the special additions" to the treaty, he can rely on his imagination; but although published in the West, the protocols are still "considered falsifications" in the Soviet Union.38

Eidintas' challenge went unheeded, and hopes that movement in this direction may occur seemed to vanish after the demonstration in Vilnius on August 23 to commemorate the 48th anniversary of the signing of the Pact. The Party launched a vituperative propaganda campaign against the organizers, while mobilizing historians, such as Robertas Žiugžda, to present once again and in great detail the standard interpretation. Propagandists were not averse to resorting to ruses to support their case. Thus, in response to a request from readers, the journal Laikas ir įvykiai published the text of the treaty, as if there were nothing to hide.39 But the text of the treaty itself has always been available (it was published in the Soviet press the day after its signing); the secret protocols were the crux of the matter, and they remained unmentioned. At the end of the year the historian Bronius Vaitkevičius went a step further than Eidintas. After stating that historians need access to "the whole complex" of documents relating to the treaty, Vaitkevičus implicitly admitted the existence of the protocols. According to Vaitkevičius, "whatever the documents may show — a division into spheres of interest or zones of influence — ... the Soviet Union's vital interests were being defended . . . "40 Less than two months later Vaitkevičius went even further. This time he mentioned the dates of all three secret protocols concerning Lithuania but insisted that they had no historical significance.41

The elimination of the "blank spots" in Lithuania's history reached its apex during the national revival that altered the collective consciousness of Lithuania in the summer and fall of 1988. The search for historical truth stimulated national feelings and was in turn reinforced by them. Not only were the secret protocols of the Ribbentrop-Molotov published in the public press, but Lithuanian historians denied the existence of a "socialist revolution" in 1940 and openly stated that Lithuania was occupied. The secret protocols, previously published only in samizdat, became available to the general public, when all three were published on August 5 in Sąjūdžio žinios, the information bulletin of the Lithuanian Restructuring Movement. On August 20 the literary journal Literatūra ir menas published the first two protocols, Komjaunimo tiesa soon did likewise. Of even greater significance was the mass rally held in Vilnius on August 23 under the auspices of the Restructuring Movement. As many as 200,000 Lithuanians heard speaker after speaker condemn the protocols and mock the official explanation, purveyed in Moscow, that until the originals of the protocols are found their authenticity cannot be determined.42 The historian Hernikas Sadžius wrote that the inability to find the protocols was a minor problem, since historians could rely on the collections of documents published in the West; and, besides, the course of event has confirmed beyond doubt the existence of the protocols.43 Several weeks earlier the historian Kęstutis Strumskis had argued that the change in Lithuania's form of government in 1940 had been the direct result of the entry of the Red Army, no socialist revolution had occurred, and the elections to the so-called People's Diet that voted unanimously for Lithuania's entry into the USSR had not been free.44

Party officials have since complained of what they call the one-sided treatment of the events of 1939-1940, and a few die-hard conservative historians have continued to reiterate the central theses of what used to be the standard interpretation. However, the publication of the protocols and the uncensored discussion of Moscow's rule in the demise of independent Lithuania have ensured that the old orthodoxy will not be resurrected. Efforts have been made to convince even the most recalcitrant that the protocols did exist despite the inability to find their originals. In November the weekly Gimtasis kraštas published a photocopy of both the Russian and German language originals of the secret protocol of August 23.45 What is more, Tiesa published similar photo-copies together with a letter from the West German Foreign Ministry, noting that the German original was destroyed during the war but that microfilm copies of the original exist.46 Thus, after more than 40 years of falsification and deceit, an objective account of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact is now publicly available in Lithuania and accepted by the majority of the nation. Yet the efforts to ensure historical objectivity have not won a complete victory. An unsigned editorial in the Lithuanian Communist Party's theoretical journal Komunistas, of December still wrote of the "overthrow of the bourgeois government" by the masses, led by Lithuania's Communist, and of the "democratically elected" People's Diet. One can but hope that the editorial is an anomaly.


1 When in 1979 a group of Baltic, primarily Lithuanian activists published an appeal, demanding the publication of the secret protocols and a renunciation of its consequences, the authorities signaled their exceptional displeasure by moving quickly to arrest some of the signers.
2 In his speech, marking the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution, Gorbachev discussed in some detail Stalin's decision to seek an accommodation with Nazi Germany but made no mention of the secret protocols. At the time it seemed unlikely that Lithuanian historians would raise issues that Gorbachev himself ignored.
3 Documents on German Foreign Policy. Series D, Vol. V, p. 341. A good account of the Baltic question in the negotiations of 1939 can be found in Albertas N. Tarulis, Soviet Policy toward the Baltic States, (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1959), pp. 101-128.
4 Documents on British Foreign Policy, Vol. VI, p. 15.
5 See the excellent discussion by Tarulis, p. 106-113.
6 Louis Fischer, Russia's Road from Peace to War (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 347.
7 Fischer, pp. 362-363.
8 On September, 9, Col. Just, the German Military Attache in Kaunas, was empowered to broach the question of Vilnius with the Lithuanian army commanders. Earlier that same day the Lithuanian Minister in Berlin Colonel Kazys Škirpa told Peter Kleist of the German Foreign Ministry that he had urged his government to recover the Vilnius region. However, senior Lithuanian government officials refused to abandon Lithuanian neutrality by attacking Poland. Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945 (London, 1954), Vol. VIII, pp. 34, 38, 54, 55, 62, 75.
9 Documents on German Foreign Policy, Vol. VIII, pp. 130.
10 Nazi-Soviet Relations, 7939-7947, Documents from the Archives of the German Foreign Office (edited by Raymond James Sontag and James Stuart Beddie) Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948, p. 107.
11 On 8 October 1939 the Soviet government had stated explicitly that the strip of Lithuanian territory would not be occupied if Soviet troops were stationed in Lithuania.
12 Nazi-Soviet Relations, p. 176.
13 Nazi-Soviet Relations, p. 267.
14 I have been unable to find a copy of the book, so I draw on the account of Romuald J. Misiūnas, "Soviet Historiography on World War II and the Baltic States, 1944-1975" in V. Stanley Vardys and Romuald J. Misiūnas (eds.'). The Baltic States in Peace and War 7977-7945 (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978), pp. 175-178.
15 The story of the coup was repeated in the official history of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Lietuvos TSR Istorija, Vol. 3 (Vilnius, 1965), pp. 357.
16 Juozas Žiugžda, Lietuvos kaimo darbo žmonių kova dėl žemės buržuazijos viešpatavimo metais (Vilnius, 1952), p. 98. He asserts that the Lithuanian bourgeois had made all the necessary preparations for the entry of German troops into Lithuania and that only comrade Stalin saved Lithuania from the treacherous plots of Hitler and Smetona.
17 A. Knyva and J. Žiugžda, Švietimas Tarybų Lietuvoje, (Vilnius, 1950), 19.
18 J. Žiugžda, Lietuvos Kaimo . . ., pp. 94-95.
19 Ibid. p. 97.
20 Motiejus Požarskas, Tarybų valdžios atkūrimas Lietuvoje (Vilnius, 1955), pp. 26-27.
21 Solomonas Atamukas, Kova prieš fašizmą, ui Tarybų valdžią Lietuvoje (Vilnius, 1958), pp. 232-233. Atamukas pointedly cites a book by Justas Paleckis, who was appointed President of Lithuania by the Soviets, as the source for the statement that Germany was not interested in Lithuania at the time.
22 Komunistas, no. 6, 1960, pp. 35-36.
23 For example, the Finish historian Seppo Mylleniemi does so in his Die Baltische Krise 1938-1941 (Stuttgart, 1979), pp. 106-107. Kazimieras Butautas discusses in detail the inconsistencies of the deposition by Povilaitis in his "A. Povilaičio kelionė j Berlyną 1940 metais," Aidai, 1988, no. 4, pp. 248-257.
24 From a talk at the meeting of 23 August 1988 to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. It was reprinted in Atgimimas, No. 1, 16 September 1988.
25 Konstantinas Navickas, TSRS vaidmuo, ginant Lietuvą nuo imperialistinės agresijos 1920-1940 metais (Vilnius, 1966), pp. 266-267. Navickas also claims, but mistakenly, that the treaty of August 23 ensured that the Vilnius region could not be occupied by Germany. Since Navickas surely knew that the first secret protocol assigned Lithuania and the Vilnius region to the German sphere of influence, the claim about Vilnius is probably intended to show that the Soviet Union sought consistently to protect Lithuania from German designs and to ensure its territorial integrity.
26 Ibid., pp. 274-275.
27 This account seems to be based on a report of the Lithuanian delegation that negotiated the Lithuanian-Soviet Mutual Assistance treaty. A member of the delegation General Stasys Raštikis has given a detailed account of the negotiations in his memoirs Kovose dėl Lietuvos (Los Angeles, 1956), vol. 1, p. 610. Raštikis notes that Stalin personally told the Lithuanian delegation about his lengthy arguments with the Germans concerning the final disposition of Lithuanian territory.
28 Navickas, op. cit., pp. 277-278.
29 Vytautas Kancevičius, 7940 metŲ birželis Lietuvoje (Vilnius, 1973).
30 Kancevičius is a very prolific but repetitive author. He discusses the same questions in "Revoliucinės situacijos peraugimas j socialistinę revoliuciją Lietuvoje 1940 metais", Spalio revoliucija ir visuomeniniai mokslai (Vilnius, 1967) pp. 107-120; "Buržuazinių politinių veikėjų atsiminimai apie 1940 metų birželio įvykius Lietuvoje ir istorinė tiesa", Lietuvių buržuazinių emigrantų istoriografijos kritika (Vilnius, 1980), pp. 135-150. He has also written several series of articles for the journal Švyturys.,
31 Kancevičius, 1940 metų. . ., 42-51. The theory was first adumbrated by Kancevičius in "Revoliucinės situacijos . . . ", p. 111.
32 Robertas Žiugžda, Lietuva imperialistinių valstybių planuose 7977-7950 (Vilnius, 1983), p. 146. Žiugžda had access to collections of Western archives, so many of his falsifications are intentional.
33 Žiugžda, op. c;t., p. 151. It may be noted that on September 10 Molotov voiced his concerns about the unexpected ease of the German victory. Molotov said that the Soviet government intended to justify its intervention by claiming to aid the Ukrainians and Byelorussians "threatened" by the Germans and thus that a German-Polish armistice would cause problems, for the Soviet Union could not start a "new war". Documents on German Foreign Policy 7978-7945, Vol. VIII, pp. 44-45.
34 Žiugžda, op. cit., p. 154.
35 Žiugžda, op. cit. pp. 165-167.
36 Tarybų vaidilos atkūrimas Lietuvoje 1940 metais: Dokumentų Rinkinys (Vilnius, 1986), pp. 53-54.
37 Ibid., pp. 55-56.
38 Adolfas Eidintas, "Apie rašytojų ir istorikų drąsą", Literatūra ir menas, 25 April 1987.
39 Laikas ir įvykiai, No. 20, 1988, pp. 26-27.
40 Bronius Vaitkevičius, "Istorija šalia mūsų; istorija su mumis", Literatūra ir menas, 12 December 1987.
41 Bronius Vaitkevičius, "Pilkos ir baltos dėmės", Literatūra ir menas, 30 January 1988.
42 The speeches given at the rally have been reprinted in the Lithuanian Restructuring Movement's periodical Atgiminas, 16 September 1988.
43 Komjaunimo tiesa, 23 August 1988.
44 Vakarinės naujienos, 3 August 1988. I have discussed the course of the debate on history in "Soviet Lithuanian Historians Show Unprecedented Objectivity about the Republic's Past" in Radio Free Europe Research, Baltic Situation Report, 5 October 1988.
45 Gimtasis kraštas, no. 45, 10-16 November 1988.
46 Tiesa, 20 December 1988.