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



Michael Phillips opened his article in the Feb. 7,1989 edition of the Dallas Time Herald by describing the protest activities of Jonas Jurašas, a playwright from Lithuania.

Nearly 17 years prior to staging his version of "The Idiot" now being readied at the Dallas Theater Center, Jonas Jurašas wrote a letter.

At the time, he held the post of chief director of the Kaunas State Theatre in Soviet Lithuania. The open letter, addressed to the Ministry of Culture among others, let loose a cry from a blunted artist. In it he confronted his government censors, detailing the effects of "endless disputes with security-minded types, attempts to prove the future production's importance to society . . . the senseless waste of energy in defending oneself from demagogic attempts to perceive an author's evil intentions in productions yet unborn."

Jurašas then lost his job.

Two years later he, his wife (a blacklisted editor and dramaturge) and their son were wearily and willingly escorted out the door of their homeland.

Following the lead of playwright Algirdas Landsbergis whose adaptation inspired this production, Jurašas successfully drew excerpts from this world-famous novel to produce a powerful, widely acclaimed theatrical production.


(All figures for meeting and demonstration participants are estimates.)

August 23, 1987 . . . Several thousand people gather in the old quarter of Vilnius to commemorate the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on this date in 1939. This marks the first public rally advocating Lithuanian national rights that the Soviets did not block or disperse by force. However, the organizers — long-time human and national rights activists — are harassed by the KGB following the event.

February 2,1988 . . . Petras Gražulis receives 10-month sentence in labor camp for refusing to report for military duty on the grounds that Lithuania is under foreign occupation. More than 200 peaceful demonstrators protesting outside the courthouse in Kapsukas, Lithuania, are attacked by militia and police dogs. Gražulis is beaten in the courtroom as he declares a hunger strike.

February 16, 1988 . . . Several thousand people in Vilnius and Kaunas attempt to stage peaceful marches through city streets following evening church services to commemorate Lithuanian independence day. Militia uses violence to disperse marchers in both cities. Soviet news agency Tass reports 32 arrests on charges of "hooliganism."

May 22,1988 . . . More than 3,000 gather in Vilnius's Gediminas Square to mark the 40th anniversary of mass deportations to Siberia. Police attempt to drown out speeches with mobile loudspeakers and then forcibly disperse the crowd. At least three people are detained.

June 3, 1988 . . . The Lithuanian Movement to Support Perestroika, known as Sąjūdis, is founded during a meeting of Lithuanian intellectuals in Vilnius. Participants elect a 35-member executive body, called the Initiative Group. Sąjūdis issues a statement to the 19th Communist Party Conference expressing its support for democratization and restructuring, and calling for greater economic, cultural and political autonomy for Soviet republics.
June 14, 1988 . . . 6,000 gather in the central square of Vilnius to mark mass deportations by Soviets in 1941. Militia remove flag of independent Lithuania, which is displayed publicly for a half-hour, but otherwise do not interfere in rally.

June 24, 1988 . . . More than 50,000 demonstrate in Vilnius's Gediminas Square in support of Sąjūdis and to demand that delegates from Lithuania to the 19th Communist Party Conference lobby for greater national autonomy. Demonstrators brandish hundreds of Lithuanian national flags.

June 27, 1988 . . . Lithuanian Writers' Union adopts resolution criticizing Lithuanian Communist Party Second Secretary Nikolai Mitkin, a Russian who is considered Moscow's watchdog in Lithuania.

June 28, 1988 . . . Pope John Paul II inducts Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius into the College of Cardinals, giving Lithuania its first publicly acknowledged Cardinal in modern times.

June 29, 1988 . . . Sąjūdis organizes a demonstration outside the Vilnius offices of the official Soviet Lithuanian news agency Elta and accuses the latter of bias in its coverage of the June 24 rally. 1,500 attend.

July 3,1988 . . . The Lithuanian Freedom League, a group calling for the re-establishment of Lithuania's independence, emerges from the underground, making public its political program and the composition of its 18-member ruling council.

. . . Pan-Baltic student song festival in Vilnius attracts 50,000 and turns into a display of Baltic national pride. Participants sing pre-war national anthems of independent Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and then march through city streets changing slogans advocating national rights.

July 9, 1988 . . . 100,000 gather in Vilnius's Vingis Park to meet with delegates returning from the 19th Communist Party Conference. Speakers demand local autonomy at this Sąjūdis-sponsored event. Lithuanian Communist Party secretary Algirdas Brazauskas tells the crowd that Soviet officials will consider legalizing the heretofore banned tricolor flag of independent Lithuania.

July 12,1988 . . . Militia surround Vilnius's Gediminas Square to block tens of thousands from gathering to commemorate the anniversary of USSR's 1920 peace treaty with Lithuania, in which the former renounced "in perpetuity" all claims to Lithuanian territory. 1,000 manage to break through to the square to attend the meeting sponsored by the Temperance Movement. Several rally organizers are placed under house arrest to prevent their participation.

July 15, 1988 . . . Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, one of Lithuania's most prominent religious rights advocates who had been serving a 10-year sentence for "anti-Soviet" activities, returns to Lithuania after being released from labor camp before the expiration of his sentence. In exchange for his release, Svarinskas agrees to go to the West for medical treatment.

July 26, 1988 . . . Sąjūdis demonstration outside the Vilnius offices of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet Presidium attracts 7,000. Demonstrators protest proposed amendments to the Soviet Constitution that are considered harmful to Lithuania's interests.

August 5, 1988. . . Sąjūdis's newsletter "Sąjūdžio žinios" becomes the first publication in the Baltic region to publish the three secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

August 17, 1988 . . . Two former political prisoners begin a 10-day hunger strike in Vilnius's Gediminas Square to press for the release of all Lithuanian political prisoners.

August 23, 1988 . . . Sąjūdis-sponsored demonstration to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact draws 200,000 people in Vilnius's Vingis Park. Authorities assent to the rally in spite of the fact that its purpose is to mark the loss of Lithuania's independence at the hands of Nazi Germany and the USSR.

September 3, 1988 . . . Tens of thousands of Lithuanians form a human chain on the Baltic seashore in support of a Latvian ecological group's initiative to protest the pollution of the Baltic Sea.

September 7, 1988 . . . Sąjūdis appeals to the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency to send an international commission of experts to investigate the Ignalina nuclear power plant in northeastern Lithuania following a September 5 fire there, the third in two months.

September 16-17, 1988 ... At least 10,000 form a human chain around the Ignalina nuclear power plant to demand a safety inspection of the facility by an international team of experts.

September 28, 1988 . . . Lithuanians attempting to stage a peaceful demonstration in Vilnius's Gediminas Square to mark the signing of the second secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are repeatedly attacked and beaten by 500 policemen in riot gear. Militia detain two to three dozen people. Violent government action is attributed to sponsorship of the rally by the Lithuanian Freedom League, which the regime considers "extremist" for its unequivocal demand for Lithuanian independence.

September 28-29, 1988 . . . Nine people begin new hunger strike in Vilnius's Gediminas Square to press for release of political prisoners. Three busloads of militia beat and arrest the hunger strikers in a dawn raid on the square. The hunger strikers are acquitted of all charges as one of the original August hunger strikers, Petras Cidzikas, resumes his fast in the square.

September 29,1988 . . . 5,000 people hold a meeting outside the office of the Interior Ministry to denounce militia violence against peaceful demonstrators and hunger strikers. The rally marks the first time that representatives of the two major unofficial reform organizations — the Lithuanian Freedom League and Sąjūdis — share the same platform.

October 4, 1988 . . . 2,000 picket outside a Vilnius building where the Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee is holding its plenum. Picketers protest militia violence on September 28-29 and demand that Lithuanian Communist Party First Secretary Ringaudas Songaila be held accountable.

October 7, 1988 . . . Lithuanian Supreme Soviet declares that the tricolor flag of independent Lithuania has been legalized. 100,000 gather in Vilnius to witness the raising of the Lithuanian national flag over the tower of a medieval castle.

October 20,1988 . . . Lithuanian Communist Party First Secretary Songaila is replaced by Algirdas Brazauskas after only 10 months in office. Brazauskas promises major reforms, to include multicandidate elections, a sharp cut in bureaucracy and better church-state relations.

October 22-23, 1988 . . . Sąjūdis holds its founding Congress in Vilnius, attended by more than 1,100 delegates from all regions of Lithuania. The Congress elects a 220-member national assembly and 35-member executive council. Proceedings are broadcast live on republic-wide television, including an address by Lithuanian Freedom League leader Antanas Terleckas calling for the immediate restoration of Lithuania's independence.

. . . Brazauskas announces on October 22 that the Vilnius Cathedral, the symbolic center of Catholicism in Lithuania, will be returned to religious use, 48 years after it was seized by the state and converted into an art museum. The following day Cardinal Sladkevičius celebrates a public mass outside the Cathedral with tens of thousands of worshipers.

October 31,1988 . . . After 32 days without food, Petras Cidzikas declares an end to his hunger strike after receiving assurances from the government that five political prisoners will be released.

November 1, 1988.. . Local officials declare All Saints' Day, a Roman Catholic holy day of obligation, to be a republic-wide holiday, the first time in Lithuanian history that the Soviet regime has accorded such recognition to a religious feast day. Lithuanian television broadcasts a Catholic mass from the Kaunas Cathedral.

November 2, 1988 . . . Renowned human rights activist and political prisoner Viktoras Petkus returns to Lithuania a free man. He is joined soon thereafter by three other famous political prisoners: Gintautas Iešmantas, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius and Balys Gajauskas.

November 9,1988 . . . Sąjūdis launches a massive petition drive to the USSR Supreme Soviet against proposed changes to the Soviet Constitution on the grounds that they will centralize power in Moscow and stifle moves in the Baltic States for greater economic and political autonomy.

November 11-14, 1988 . . . Politburo member Nikolai Slyunkov visits Lithuania at the same time as two other Politburo members travel to Estonia and Latvia in an apparent attempt to counter demands in the Baltic republics for more local self-rule and to defuse crowds. Lithuanians are angered by his references to the Lithuanian republic as a "territory."

November 17-18, 1988 . . . The Lithuanian Supreme Soviet, meeting one day after the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared its republic to be "sovereign," is prevented by the Lithuanian Communist Party leadership from voting on a similar resolution, in apparent violation of parliamentary procedure. The move provokes angry protests by Sąjūdis, which unsuccessfully lobbies to reconvene the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet for an emergency session on the sovereignty question, and marks the beginning of a period of tension between Sąjūdis and the local party leadership.

November 20, 1988 . . . Sąjūdis makes a public statement declaring the "moral independence" of Lithuania and stating that "henceforth only those laws will be honored which do not limit Lithuania's independence."

November 21, 1988 . . . 10,000 rally in Vilnius's Gediminas Square in a show of solidarity for Sąjūdis and to demonstrate their displeasure with the Lithuanian Communist Party's decision to block the vote on the sovereignty question

November 24, 1988 . . . Sąjūdis representatives present petitions collected over a two-week period and signed by 1.8 million residents of Lithuania (one-half of the entire population) to the USSR Supreme Soviet in Moscow. The petitions protest proposed changes in the Soviet Constitution which would further centralize power in Moscow.

November 26, 1988 . . . Lithuania's two major national democratic movements stage separate rallies in Vilnius's Gediminas Square. The first, organized by Sąjūdis and attended by up to 40,000, urges deputies from Lithuania departing for the Ail-Union Supreme Soviet session in Moscow to defend Lithuania's right to sovereignty. The second demonstration, organized by the Lithuanian Freedom League and attended by 20,000 denounces proposed changes in the Soviet constitution, opposes sovereignty as a half-measure and instead demands the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Lithuania.

December 10-24, 1988... A boycott of dairy products encouraged by Lithuania's Greens movement to protest the contamination of milk and milk products succeeds in reducing consumption by 30 percent.

December 29, 1988 . . . Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, exiled from his Vilnius diocese in 1961 for refusing to acquiesce in government interference in Church matters, is notified that he will be allowed to end his 48-year banishment and resume his pastoral duties in Vilnius.

January 9, 1989 ... In an apparent attempt to exert greater control over Sąjūdis, the government conducts searches at locations where the organization's publications are produced.

January 10, 1989 . . . 50,000 people demonstrate in Vilnius' Hills' Park demanding independence and the withdrawal of the Red Army from Lithuanian territory. The rally, sanctioned by the local Vilnius government, is sponsored by the Lithuanian Freedom League and the nascent Lithuanian Democratic Party to commemorate the anniversary of the last Nazi-Soviet secret protocol concerning the disposition of Lithuanian territory. Rally participants approve a resolution to the UN Decolonization Committee requesting that the question of terminating the colonization of the Baltic States be included in the agenda of the next session of the UN General Assembly.

January 15, 1989 ... In a special election held to fill four vacant seats in the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet, two Sąjūdis candidates score decisive victories over Party-supported opponents. Two other Sąjūdis candidates gain pluralities in their districts.

January 16, 1989. . . 3,000 picket outside the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet building in Vilnius to demand the release of all remaining Lithuanian political prisoners and exiles.

January 24, 1989 ... As deadline for nominating candidates to the Ail-Union Congress of People's Deputies passes, Sąjūdis announces that it has put forward candidates for every one of the 42 seats allotted to Lithuania.

January 25, 1989 . . . The Presidium of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet issues a decree on the implementation of Lithuanian as the official language. Lithuanian is specified as the language to be used for administration, public services, and all laws and legislative acts. Senior government officials and managers are given two years to learn the language. A second decree declares February 16, the anniversary of the Lithuanian declaration of independence in 1918, a republic holiday.

February 5, 1989 . . . The Vilnius Cathedral is formally reconse-cretated and returned to religious use by Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius.

February 6-7, 1989 . . . Five members of the European Parliament with a special interest in Baltic issues visit Vilnius where they meet supporters of the Lithuanian Freedom League and other pro-independence groups concerned that the parliamentarians favor only limited autonomy for Lithuania. Part of the Sąjūdis leadership presents the parliamentarians with a statement saying that Lithuanians will be satisfied with nothing less than political independence.

February 14, 1989 ... At least 50,000 non-Lithuanians gather in Vilnius to protest passage of a law making Lithuanian the official language. Speakers at the rally, organized by the Russian organization "Jedinstvo," also call for the replacement of the Lithuanian Communist Party leadership and urge a work stoppage to protest the decision to make Lithuanian Independence day a republic holiday.

February 15-16, 1989 . . . Sąjūdis sponsors a two-day commemoration of Lithuanian independence day in Kaunas and Vilnius. Festivities include re-dedication of the Lithuanian Freedom Monument, built during the years of independence and taken down during the Soviet occupation, by 200,000 participants. In its most radical statement to date, Sąjūdis's national assembly, meeting in Kaunas, calls for the eventual re-establishment of a neutral, democratic and independent Lithuanian state.

February 21, 1989 . . . During the Lithuanian Communist Party plenum, Communist officials angrily denounce Sąjūdis's open expression of support for political independence. First Party Secretary Brazauskas accuses Sąjūdis of deviating from its original goal of supporting perestroika and threatens to impose tighter restrictions on the independent press as well as on party members who are active in Sąjūdis's leadership. Broadcast of Sąjūdis's 90-minute weekly television show is suspended.

February 24, 1989 . . . 8,000 stage a pacifist demonstration in Kaunas and call for a halt to forced induction of Lithuanians into the Red Army.

February 28,1989 . . . Sąjūdis candidates challenging Lithuanian Communist Party First Secretary Brazauskas and Second Secretary Vladimir Berezov for seats in the March 26 elections to the Congress of People's Deputies withdraw their candidacies at the behest of Sąjūdis's executive council. The move reflects Sąjūdis's concern that its expected electoral victory over the two top local party leaders would cause Moscow to replace them with party officials who would adopt a harsher policy toward the Lithuanian national democratic movement.

Lithuanian Information Center