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Changing Lifestyles : Lithuania Wrestles With Ghost of Fallen KGB : Some fear spy files will be suppressed as former Communists regain power--and perhaps revive the network.

March 16, 1993|CAREY GOLDBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VILNIUS, Lithuania — The KGB is gone, officially. The imposing old building on Gediminas Prospekt that housed its thick-walled interrogation cells and listening posts is vacant, planned to become part museum, part government offices.

But the KGB is still here.

"So many people were recruited," said Balys Gajauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament's committee on the Soviet security police. "It penetrated everything, every region of life. Especially positions of power, but also priests, intellectuals, teachers and journalists. They committed a moral crime. The country was occupied, and they collaborated with the occupier."

So should they be punished? Should their names all be published, as the Czechoslovaks did with their informers? Or should they just be left in peace? And just exactly who was who?

After 18 months of independence, Lithuania is wrestling harder than ever with the secret side of 51 years of Soviet rule, the legacy of a police state that bought or blackmailed tens of thousands of citizens into informing on their neighbors.

Scandals revealing top officials' purported ties to the KGB have repeatedly rocked Lithuanian politics, focusing public contempt on such luminaries as former Prime Minister Kasimiera Prunskiene and top independence activist Virgilius Cepaitis.

Now with a resurgence of former Communists--capped by former party chief Algirdas Brazauskas' election as president last month--former political prisoners and others are demanding that the archives inside the KGB headquarters be made public.

They fear that so many of Lithuania's new leaders will want to suppress their own KGB files that the archives could be sealed for years or left in convenient disarray. And they worry that some Moscow stooges, their cover still intact, could still be up to their old tricks.

During one protest vigil, the former prisoners sat quietly inside a cramped rail wagon hung with signs, including one informing passersby that the KGB had spirited away 110,000 dossiers to Moscow and spied on 300,000 Lithuanians. "Will we let this be repeated?" it asked.

President Brazauskas has announced no plans to seal the archives, which are stuffed haphazardly in sacks in the musty KGB building. But he has made it clear that it would be better for Lithuania to let bygones be bygones.

"I don't want anyone to take revenge on anyone," he said in a pre-election speech. "We have to reach agreement. We can settle accounts later, but it's better just to forget. We'll definitely settle accounts with those who committed crimes, but only if the court so decides."

Former political prisoner Romaldas Ragaisis, who was manning the protest wagon one recent afternoon, disagreed. Lithuania must know the truth about its past, he argued. "That's the only way," he said. "Isn't it better and simpler to know? Now it's all rumors and suspicions. At least you would know which of your neighbors were villains. Now everyone just looks at each other sideways."

Gintaras Vaicunas, director of the fledgling Museum of the Lithuanian Genocide to be housed in part of the old KGB building, wanted to know the true story about his grandfather, a Lithuanian partisan who fought Soviet rule in the 1940s.

And he found it, sifting through documents until he deciphered the story of how his grandfather walked into a fatal ambush after the man who had fixed his boots sold him out to the Soviets.

The informer was already dead, but it helped just to have the facts.

"They say we have to forget everything, but I say we have to know first," Vaicunas said. "Why do we have to know? Because all this could happen again."

Gajauskas' committee has fought without success to get Parliament to pass a "de-Sovietization law" that would bar KGB collaborators and former high Communist officials from politics for five years. The efforts appear doomed; even Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania's former anti-Communist leader, chose three former Communists as his deputies.

Neighboring Latvia and Estonia are showing similar strains.

Latvian lawmakers have lately even taken the radical step of resolving to disinter about 200 Communists and Soviet war veterans buried in a Riga cemetery. Their official reason for the move: to clear the site to restore monuments to Latvian history there. But Russians perceived it as a slight.

In Estonia, President Lennart Meri found his election campaign last September endangered by allegations that his father had been a Soviet spy.

But of the three former republics, Lithuania appears to be the most determined to root out the traitors from within.

Gajauskas said his committee received 11,000 KGB files on political prisoners and 30,000 wartime files but that it is convinced that all information on the real agentura, or agents' network, was sent back to Moscow by late 1990. The committee has demanded--to no avail--that those files be returned.

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