True Lithuania

Did the Soviet occupation of Lithuania had any bright sides?

Soviet occupation has dragged Lithuanian economy and human rights decades behind Western Europe and perpetrated genocide (see "Soviet Union has liberated Lithuania", "Lithuania is third world" myths). While you may write the bright sides you believe the Soviet Union had in the comments of this article - and, who knows, maybe we'll find some minor ones, so far, there is no bright side of the Soviet Union known to us (compared to the non-communist world of the same era).

How did the myth of "Benevolent Soviet Union" appear?

Interestingly some older Lithuanians themselves are often as responsible for this myth as the Russians. While the Russians have an obvious goal of perpetuating this myth (claiming that the Soviet/Russian rule was not as bad as it was), for older Lithuanians the reasons are mostly emotional. For them, the Soviet occupation era was their youth. The Soviet products, even if inferior to the global standards, have a deep emotional impact on them. This is especially true for the generation born in the Soviet Union after the Soviet Genocide (1940-1953) as they did not witness neither the free pre-Soviet Lithuania nor the worst crimes of the Soviet Union. Caught by nostalgia, they may still claim that "in Soviet times" (i.e. in their youth) the movies, the music or food were better than today.

Furthermore, some Lithuanians are unable to counter-argument a common Russian argument that "Many roads, factories, homes and more were built in Soviet Lithuania". While it is true, three other facts are equally true:
*It was Lithuanians themselves who built these things under the Soviet occupation. Whatever was built using materials imported from other Soviet Republics or by people from other Soviet Republics was more than offset by the contribution the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was forced to make in developing other Republics. In total, Lithuania was a net contributor rather than a net recipient in the Soviet economy.
*In the capitalist countries of the era, far more roads, factories, and homes were built and in far better quality. It is safe to claim that had Lithuania been not occupied by the Soviet Union, its economy would have advanced far more - that's because every single capitalist economy of Europe was far in advance of every single communist economy of Europe by 1990, when the communist systems collapsed due to their economic backwardness.
*Many of the things built in Lithuania under the Soviet occupation were built for the Soviet Union rather than for Lithuania (for example, Cold War military factories). They provided no benefit to the people of Lithuania and folded quickly soon after the Soviet Union collapsed.

It is important that, as Soviet occupation was so long, to understand its results they should not only be compared to pre-occupation Lithuania but also to the non-communist contemporary world. It is obvious that in 1990 all the world was more economically developed than in 1930 simply due to the technologic progress, so the Soviet Union made some progress as well. However, that progress in the communist world was much slower than in the non-communist world. And Lithuanians would have never chosen a communist regime by themselves, given that communist ideology was never popular in Lithuania; the ideology was entirely imposed by the Soviet Union, together with totalitarianism.

In the upper diagram, GNP per capita (PPP) of 1995 is compared. This was just after communist regimes have ended and the economic data from once-communist countries became reliable enough. At that time, every single ex-communist-ruled country lagged by an order of magnitude behind every single non-communist country. Fast forward to 2017 (the lower diagram) and we see that after two more decades of free market rule, the differences became much less pronounced, with most Western countries richer than most once-communist-ruled countries only relatively insignificantly. Lithuania has even became richer than Greece and Portugal.

In the upper diagram, the European country GNP per capita (PPP) in 1995 is compared. This was just after communist regimes had ended and the economic data from once-communist countries became reliable enough. At that time, every single ex-communist-ruled country lagged far behind every single non-communist country. The average always-capitalist country was 308% richer than an average once-communist-ruled country and 378% richer than Lithuania. Fast forward to 2017 (the lower diagram) and we see that after two more decades of free market rule, the differences became much less pronounced, with most Western countries richer than most once-communist-ruled countries relatively insignificantly. Now, the average difference stood at 108% while the average always-capitalist country was richer than Lithuania by just 48%, signifying the superiority of the market economy over the planned communist economy. Lithuania has even become richer than Greece and Portugal.

The often-foreigner-made claims that the Soviet Union made Lithuania egalitarian are also wrong, arising from the fact that claimants typically don't know that while the official salaries may have varied little within the Soviet Union, the Soviet system was far from egalitarian as there were other means to ensure that some people eventually got far more privilleges.

The Soviets also did not advance women rights in Lithuania, as is sometimes wrongfully claimed in foreign media: women rights already quite advanced in 1940 (in comparison to contemporary Western Europe): for instance, the female suffrage was granted in 1905 and 1926 presidential elections of Lithuania already had an equal number of male and female candidates (two each). In fact, in Soviet society female role was more limited than in many contemporary Western countries and the entire Soviet political elite was male. Women re-entered the high politics after the 1990 independence, with the first prime minister of restored Lithuania being female.

In Lithuania itself as well as Russian media, some people claim that the Soviet Union was in some cases "better than independent Lithuania" because of certain problems that did not exist then but exist in Lithuania now, primarily the massive emigration. However, emigration is actually a direct result of Soviet occupation which shattered the Lithuanian economy, making it much poorer than the Western countries. People did not emigrate from the Soviet Union because they wanted to stay - they did not emigrate because they were not allowed to emigrate or, in most cases, even travel. The few population groups that managed to slip away from the Soviet Union did so, among them over a half of Lithuania's Jews, Poles, and Germans (who were permitted to emigrate to Israel, Poland, and Germany, respectively), as well as 100 000 others who were quick enough to flee on the eve of Soviet re-occupation of Lithuania in 1944. Furthermore, the massive emigration from Lithuania started not immediately after its independence but rather after Lithuania joined the European Union (2004), removing the migration controls - so it is a drawback associated with EU membership and has no relation whatsoever with Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union itself.

Is the myth of "Benevolent Soviet Union" insulting to Lithuanians?

To many Lithuanians yes. However, some other Lithuanians themselves believe and repeat this tenet.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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