True Lithuania

Soviet Occupation of Lithuania (1944-1990)

From the Soviet occupation in 1944 to the death of Stalin in 1953 Eastern Europe was a Stalin’s playfield with human rights practically non-existent. The Lithuanian nation was not expelled in its entirety, unlike Chechens or Crimean Tatars for example, but as many as half a million Lithuanians were, many dying or losing health in the cold GULAGs of Siberia, others died in prisons. Additionally, many of Lithuania’s Poles (200 000) were expelled to Poland by Stalin (in trains marked with slogans “We are returning home” despite the fact that the Polish-speaking minority existed in Lithuania for centuries). Lithuanians of Klaipėda region were expelled to Germany together with the Germans of Lithuania (170 000 people). At the same time, Lithuanian cities like Vilnius and Klaipėda were heavily settled by ethnic Russians with Lithuania’s Russian population share increasing more than threefold in a decade (from 2,5% to 8,5%). All these persecutions triggered the longest major guerilla war in modern Europe. This Lithuanian armed resistance was crushed by large Soviet forces by mid-1950s with some 30 000 partisans killed. Under Stalin, Lithuania lost 32% of its pre-WW2 population.

Lithuanian freedom fighter officer awards a female citizen. In 1944-1953 Lithuanian forests sheltered an entire guerilla state with its own government, army, and courts of law. Some vainly hoped for Western help, for the others tough life in forest helped avoid an even quicker death in Soviet genocide. In order to intimidate the remaining population Soviets used to publically display guerilla corpses in town squares.

Furthermore, most of Lithuania Minor was annexed to Russia as Kaliningrad Oblast. After a brutal genocide (300 000 locals murdered, among them 130 000 Lithuanians) the region's population was replaced by Soviet settlers and new Russian placenames were coined for its towns and features. This effectively ended the history of Lithuania Minor.

Nikita Khrushchev’s destalinization (1953-1964) changed some policies (those people exiled to Siberia who were not yet dead gained limited freedom and the settling of Lithuania by ethnic Russians slowed down) but most things left unchanged. The agriculture remained collectivized and its outputs greatly diminished (especially when taking into regard the improved technologies), the property remained nationalized, the ownership of Lithuanian symbols and any criticism of communism or the Soviet occupation were still punished by long terms of imprisonment (in jails or insane asylums) and the Lithuanians living in other parts of Soviet Union as well as those living in the multi-ethnic Vilnius region were Russified.

An example of all-encroaching Soviet propaganda, this is an early Soviet era postcard of Vilnius Gedimino Avenue. The number of cars is artificially increased to make the Union look more affluent (in reality car remained a luxury until the USSR dissolution in 1990). All photographers had to follow guidelines (for instance, not to take pictures of wooden homes) and no foreigner was meant to see the real life of the Soviet citizens.

Soviet Lithuania was isolated from the non-Soviet world with travel restrictions both for foreigners to enter anywhere except for several designated tourist places, and for the locals to travel abroad. Religion and the religious were persecuted and many Roman Catholic churches, as well as all the monasteries, were closed down with the number of open Catholic churches in Vilnius becoming the same as that of Russian Orthodox churches despite there being ten Catholics for every single Orthodox.

The Soviet economy was plagued by the popular belief that “Everything belongs to everybody, and therefore everything belongs to nobody” and stumbled well behind the Western European one. People were widely stealing from their workplaces and this was regarded as a normal practice by the society, therefore condoned by the peers and even many CEOs. Few people (if any) were rich in terms of money but the community was far from egalitarian because it was who you knew that mattered the most: the people who had important friends also had access to many things that were inaccessible to most others, e.g. better cars, larger apartments, modern TV sets or warm-climate fruits (these things were inaccessible to many partly because they used to be taken by those who had important “relationships”).

A new concrete slab borough under construction in Vilnius in 1980. Such buildings provided a home for former peasants, settlers from Russia and those evicted from old houses alike. Urbanization level increased from 30% to 70% in 1939-1989. In 1989 some 60% of the city dwellers lived in these 1960s-1980s boroughs.

Still, however, the Lithuanian economy remained one of the most robust ones inside the Soviet Union – in Central Asia, Siberia or the Caucasus the situation was even worse. The economic hardships, as well as the inability to maintain a large army and secret service network (that was necessary to subdue any resistance in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in the Eastern Europe), led to Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of Perestroika and Glastnost (1985), or the move towards capitalism and democracy.

In Lithuania, this led to the establishment of Sąjūdis (The Movement) led by musician Vytautas Landsbergis. It took an increasingly pro-independence stance and its protests were attended by hundreds of thousands. The pro-independence underground always existed in Lithuania in the form of Lithuanian Freedom League or the Roman Catholic secret newspaper describing the brutality of the Soviet regime. But only by the year 1988, the majority of Lithuanians dared to tell their thoughts publically.

Baltic way - the 600 km long human chain of some 2 million people that connected Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn (total population of the Baltic States was 7,5 million). It demonstrated the unity of the Baltic States and the determination to achieve freedom. The idea of this protest form was later copied by political movements as far away as in Israel and Taiwan, but neither the size nor the length of the human chain was ever surpassed.

See also: Top 10 Soviet occupation era sites in Lithuania

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