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National Exhibit
National Exhibit
Lithuania Under Communism

Author:  Alfred Erich Senn Author of Gorbachev's Failure in Lithuania and more recently of
Lithuania 1940: Revolution from Above

Lithuania lay under communist rule for half a century. Soviet troops moved into Lithuania in June 1940, and six weeks later the Soviet Union annexed the country. In June 1941 Nazi Germany attacked the U.S.S.R. and Lithuania then suffered three years of German domination. When Soviet troops returned in 1944, the Lithuanians waged a determined partisan resistance, but without help from abroad, they inevitably succumbed. The nature of Soviet rule changed after Stalin’s death in 1953, but Moscow’s communist system dominated the land until the end of the 1980s when Lithuania’s rebellious spirit made significant contributions to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After more than a century of Russian rule (1795-1915), Lithuania had emerged as an independent state after World War I. In December 1926 a military coup installed Antanas Smetona as Lithuania’s president, and he ruled until the Soviet invasion of 1940. When Germany attacked Poland in September 1939, Moscow and Berlin drew up their respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, and Lithuania fell under Moscow’s domination. On October 10 the Soviet Union forced the Lithuanians to accept 30,000 Red Army troops within their borders. Then on June 15, 1940 it sent another 200,000 troops into the country, and Smetona fled to this west.

Under the guidance of Moscow’s agent Vladimir Dekanozov, the new authorities carried out a forceful mobilization of the society, repressing both actual and potential opposition. Then, using falsified election results, they converted the country to a so-called socialist republic and arranged its incorporation into the Soviet Union as a constituent republic. In October 1940 the Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP) became a regional unit of the Soviet Communist Party.

In this takeover, communist authorities claimed to have the joyous support of the population. They promised that Lithuanian agriculture would not be collectivized, and they allowed some private enterprise to continue. Nevertheless, using the Stalin dictum that the class struggle intensifies even as victory seems closer at hand, the regime instituted a reign of terror and violence, culminating on June 14, 1941, in the arrest and deportation of some 27,000 Lithuanian citizens.

The Soviet culture of violence exploded when Nazi troops crossed into Lithuania on June 22, 1941. As Soviet authorities fled, some local communist officials summarily executed prisoners whom they could not take along. In turn Lithuanians rose in revolt and attacked the retreating Red Army. Urged on by Nazi propaganda that identified Jews with communism, some joined the Nazi authorities and turned on the Jewish population of the republic. From June to December 1941, an estimated 90-95 percent of Lithuania’s some 250,000 Jews died. When the Red Army returned to Lithuania in 1944, it found a different mood and even a different population than it had faced in 1940. In the cities, the historic Jewish communities barely existed; many urban Lithuanians had fled to seek refuge in the West as “Displaced Persons.” In the countryside, partisan groups offered fierce armed resistance to Soviet rule.

Soviet authorities established a ruthless regime, ranging from brutal warfare and collectivization of agriculture to mandated changes in Lithuanian vocabulary. To fight the partisans, they mobilized locals as so-called “people’s defenders” –– and they called the struggle a “civil war” of Lithuanians. Opposition Lithuanians called this “the second Soviet occupation,” and they referred to the “people’s defenders” as “stribai,” from the Russian word for “destroyers” (istrebiteli). The Soviets called resisters “bandits,” while Lithuanians called them “forest brothers” and “partisans.”

Despite determined, even desperate, resistance, in the absence of significant aid from the West, the Lithuanians had to submit. The communist authorities carried out a continued program of mass deportations – the largest, totaling some 40,000 persons, occurring on May 22, 1948. (Deportees had to live on the local economy in Siberia as opposed to gulag prisoners who lived under greater control in the labor camps.) In 1949 the regime’s massive collectivization campaign deported another 32,000 persons. In all, Soviet police records reported deporting 112,000 Lithuanians in Stalin’s last years, about one-sixth of all the people deported in this period in the entire Soviet Union. (Lithuanians made up just over one percent of the Soviet Union’s 220 million population.)

The “thaw” that came after Stalin’s death in March 1953 at first raised hopes of relief. Moscow began allowing deportees to return to the homeland. The generation entering society after 10 years of communist education looked forward hopefully to a better life. Authorities spoke of developing “national cadres.” In the mid-1950s the regime also allowed Lithuanians to emerge from their post-war isolation, letting selected persons travel abroad, and in the fall of 1959 the authorities allowed in the first foreign tourists who, as cynical locals put it, “did not have that certain smell.” Nevertheless Moscow ruled the system with a strong hand, and it kept a close watch on all foreign visitors.

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Location:  Eastern Europe
Capital:  Vilnius
Communist Rule:  1940-1941 / 1944-1990
Status:  Independence restored - 11.03.90
Victims of Communism: