20 January 2018
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Christmas during Soviet years

By Aage Myhre
Much of the traditional Christmas celebrations were forbidden during Lithuania's Soviet years. The Soviet Union tried instead to introduce New Year as the annual winter celebration.

But privately, in the homes Lithuanians were sticking to the proud traditions of Christmas from centuries back in time. Christmas Worship in churches was banned, so also the religious ceremonies took place at home in the families.

In 1980 there were probably many who had given up the idea that Lithuania would again be a free country, but in spite of the hopelessness one held the strong traditions alive as much as one could.

The years of Soviet control had deteriorated Lithuania in most areas. The range of foods and other work in shops and markets were severely restricted, but most people still managed to create good Christmas meals using fruits and vegetables they had grown in their own gardens outside the towns and by ‘trading’ goods from farmers who managed to ‘steal’ meat and other food products from the collective farms they worked for.

When the Red Army marched into Lithuania in the summer of 1944, Lithuanians did not greet the soldiers as liberators with the traditional gifts of bread and salt, but rather with fear and trembling. The Lithuanians hoped that if not the Germans, then the British and the Americans would force the uninvited guests to leave as quickly as possible.
The Soviet annexation of Lithuania in 1940-1941 and the subsequent German occupation had created an almost impassable barrier between Lithuania and the communists. Lithuanians remembered well the unmitigated horrors of Stalinist terror, while the communists considered many Lithuanians to be either Nazi sympathizers or even collaborators. Even in the best of circumstances, great effort and tact would have been needed to eliminate the mutual mistrust and hostility. The Soviet regime would have had to attempt to ensure the population that the terror of 1940-1941 would not be repeated and that Lithuanian national interests would be given a fair hearing. However, Lithuania's communists had no such intentions. Confident of their victory over Germany and affected by Stalin's morbid suspiciousness, they returned to Lithuania determined to ruthlessly punish all so-called collaborators, replace all members of local government bodies, and mobilize as many men as possible into the Red Army.

Stalin and his subordinates in Lithuania considered the majority of the nation to be their enemies. From the very first day of their return to Lithuania, they intended to rule with an iron hand. In normal circumstances, a new regime usually adopts some form of a "carrot and stick" policy. For example, some sectors of the population are wooed, while others are more or less repressed. The communists in Lithuania employed only the "stick." Avoidance of punishment was considered reward enough. Some effort was made to win support of the poorer peasants, yet even these efforts were unsystematic and less than wholehearted. The regime was confident of its ability to forcibly suppress any resistance without making any concessions. Lithuanians were to accept Soviet rule on Soviet terms.  

During the period 1941-1953, some 132,000 Lithuanians were deported to remote areas of the USSR, in Siberia, the Arctic Circle areas and Central Asia. They were not allowed to leave the remote villages they were brought to. More than 70 percent of the deportees were women and children. Around 50,000 of the deportees were not able to return to Lithuania ever again.

During the same period, another 200,000 people were thrown into prisons in Lithuania and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Some 150,000 of them were sent to the Gulags, Soviet Russia‘s concentration camps, situated mostly in Siberia.

Altogether, approximately 600,000 prisoners were deported from the Soviet occupied Baltic States - Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. There were some 10 million inhabitants in all three Baltic States on the eve of the Soviet occupation. Proportionately, the number of Baltic prisoners would have been equal to a loss of 20 million people in the United States or 5 million in Great Britain.

The mass deportations to Siberia continued until the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, but many prisoners remained in the camps also during the time of Nikita Khrushchev.

In a book by Anatol Marchenko published in Germany in 1973, he tells about his experiences from Soviet prisons and concentration camps in the early 1960s. One of his stories is about three Lithuanian prisoners who tried to escape from the convoy in a forest. Two of them were quickly caught, then shot many times in the legs, then ordered to get up which they could not do, then kicked and trampled by guards, then bitten and torn up by police dogs and only then stabbed to death with bayonets. All this with witty remarks by the officer, of the kind; "Now, free Lithuania, crawl, you'll get your independence straight off!"

This is one of thousand stories you can read in many now available books about the Soviet horrors. From 1917 to 1991, politics in the USSR started and finished with the Communist Party; it was the only game in town. 

Few in the Western world have ever heard about the guerrilla war that took place in Lithuania and other countries occupied by the Soviets after World War II, even if the number of victims in fact can be compared to the Vietnam War (1960-75).

It has been estimated that the losses of the Lithuanian partisan war amounted to 70,000 Soviet soldiers and 22,000 Lithuanian ‘Forest Brothers’, making this war one of the longest and bloodiest guerrilla wars in the history of the world.

For comparison, the United States lost 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam.  

The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Tarybų Socialistinė Respublika), also known as the Lithuanian SSR, was one of the republics that made up the former Soviet Union. Established on 21 July 1940 as a puppet state during World War II in the territory of the previously independent Republic of Lithuania after it had been occupied by the Soviet army on 16 June 1940 in conformity with the terms of 23 August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it existed until 1990. Between 1941 and 1944, the German invasion of the Soviet Union caused its de facto dissolution. However, with the retreat of the Germans in 1944–1945, Soviet hegemony was re-established. There had been an unsuccessful attempt to establish a Soviet government in Lithuania by the Bolshevik Red Army in 1918–1919.

The people who ruled the Lithuania during the Soviet years were dictators; some more brutal than others. The Communist Party owned everything - land, factories, housing, and farms. The masses went about their daily lives under the direction of the Party. They were told where to live, where to work, and where to travel. There was very little freedom of choice in anything. The ideal behind this system was that everyone lived and worked for the good of the community.

But, the power of the Soviet Union, under the domination of Russia, was built on sand not rock. Under communism, individuals learned to lie back and do nothing and the idea of everything being owned by the community instead of individuals meant that nobody felt responsible for upkeep and maintenance; or as it is expressed in a Spanish proverb: "The cow of many is well milked and badly fed."

But even if there existed both humor and good days for people during those years, the extreme sufferings the USSR meant for this part of Europe should never be forgotten.

The United States, United Kingdom, and other countries considered the occupation of Lithuania by the USSR illegal, citing the Stimson Doctrine, in 1940, but recognized all borders of the USSR at post-World War II conferences. In spite of this, the United States refused to recognize the annexation of Lithuania or the other Baltic States, by the Soviet Union, at any time of the existence of the USSR. 

Underground resistance against the Soviet never disappeared in Lithuania, although the armed underground was destroyed. As a movement, resistance was first sparked by efforts to defend the Roman Catholic Church. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which led to increased repression in the Soviet Union, the dissident movement spread. In the 1970s, Lithuania had numerous underground publications. The most significant and regularly published among them was The Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania. It was never uncovered by the Soviet secret police, the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti--KGB), and was published for twenty years. In 1972 a young student, Romas Kalanta, immolated himself in protest against Soviet rule. Army units had to be sent in to quell a street rebellion by students that followed the self-immolation. The Committee for the Defense of Religious Rights and the Helsinki Watch Committee were established in the underground. Dissident work brought arrests and imprisonment. At the same time, the Lithuanian intelligentsia, especially writers and artists, demanded greater freedom of creative expression and protection of the Lithuanian language, traditions, and cultural values from the pressure of Russification that intensified during the administration of Leonid I. Brezhnev (1964-82).
Romas Kalanta (1953 – 1972) was a 19-year-old Lithuanian high school student known for his public self-immolation protesting Soviet regime in Lithuania. At noon on May 14, 1972, Kalanta poured 3 liters of gasoline on himself and set himself on fire in the square adjoining the Laisvės Alėja in front of the Kaunas State Musical Theatre, where in 1940 the People's Seimas declared establishment of the Lithuanian SSR and petitioned the Soviet Union to admit Lithuania as one of the soviet socialist republics.He died about 14 hours later in a hospital.
Kalanta's death provoked the largest post-war riots in Lithuania and inspired similar self-immolations. In 1972 alone, 13 more people committed suicide by self-immolation. Kalanta became a symbol of the Lithuanian resistance throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 2000, he was posthumously awarded the Order of the Cross of Vytis.

The political and economic crisis that began in the U.S.S.R. in the mid-1980s also affected Lithuania and Lithuanians as well as other Balts offered active support to Gorbachev's program of social and political reforms. Under the leadership of intellectuals the Lithuanian reform movement Sajudis was formed in mid-1988 and declared a program of democratic and national rights winning nation-wide popularity. On Sajudis' demand the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet passed constitutional amendments on the supremacy of Lithuanian laws over Soviet legislation annulled the 1940 decisions on proclaiming Lithuania a part of the U.S.S.R. legalized a multi-party system and adopted a number of other important decisions. A large number of LCP members also supported the ideas of Sajudis and with Sajudis support Algirdas Brazauskas was elected First Secretary of the Central Committee of the LCP in 1988. In December 1989 the Brazauskas-led LCP split from the CPSU and became an independent party renaming itself in 1990 the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party.

In 1990 Sajudis-backed candidates won the elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet. On March 11 1990 its chairman Vytautas Landsbergis proclaimed the restoration of Lithuanian independence formed a new Cabinet of Ministers headed by Kazimiera Prunskiene and adopted the Provisional Fundamental Law of the state and a number of by-laws. The U.S.S.R. demanded to revoke the act and began employing political and economic sanctions against Lithuania as well as demonstrating military force.

On January 10 1991 U.S.S.R. authorities seized the central publishing house and other premises in Vilnius and unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the elected government by sponsoring a local "National Salvation Committee." Three days later the Soviet Army forcibly took over the TV tower killing 14 civilians and injuring 700. During the national plebiscite on February 9, 91% of those who took part in the voting (76% of all eligible voters) voted in favor of an independent democratic Lithuania. Led by the tenacious Landsbergis Lithuania's leadership continued to seek Western diplomatic recognition of its independence. Soviet military-security forces continued forced conscription occasional seizure of buildings attacking customs posts and sometimes killing customs and police officials.

On 4 February 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence. After the Soviet August Coup, independent Lithuania received wide official recognition and joined the United Nations on 17 September 1991. The last Soviet troops left Lithuania on 31 August 1993 – even earlier than they departed from East Germany, which had not seen repression in recent times on the same level as the 1991 Vilnius massacre.

Lithuania became a member of the United Nations in 1991 and a full member of NATO and the European Union in spring 2004.

In 1940, independent Lithuania produced per capita 1.9 times more meat, 2.8 times more milk, had 1.9 times more cattle and 2.7 times more pigs than Soviet Union. After 35 years of allegedly astounding economic progress, Soviet Lithuania had become dependent on subsidies from Moscow. To the extent that this assertion is true, how is this possible if not for the inefficiencies caused by the forcefully imposed system of central planning with its associated distortions?

Noncommunist Lithuania fed and clothed its citizens without any assistance from abroad during the interwar independence period. And the levels of agricultural production were high by comparison to the Soviet Union;

Following its forceful incorporation into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1940, Lithuania was subjected to the Soviet development model based on Marxism-Leninism, as interpreted by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, as its theoretical underpinning; the first "scientifically based economic system in human history", as Bolsheviks claimed. The Bolshevik interpretation of economic processes and development goals was made obligatory in both the theoretical and practical dimensions. New methods of economic management /central planning/ were introduced which deeply changed the entire decision-making processes. The country's economic administration was completely overhauled.

The Soviet occupation of Lithuania lasted nearly half a century. 

Category : Historical Lithuania

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