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The unarmed anti-Soviet resistance in Lithuania in 1954–1988

Lithuanian society never came to terms with the Soviet occupation. After the armed resistance had been suppressed, the struggle for freedom continued. The partisan movement was replaced with the ‘silent’ resistance and dissident movement. Formation of the unarmed resistance in the totalitarian Soviet system significantly contributed to the collapse of the USSR and the restoration of the independence of Lithuania. From the 1950s up until the fall of the Berlin Wall, opposition to Communism was manifest in many countries of Eastern Europe: Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The dissident movement was most active in the Soviet Union where Russian dissidents played a particularly important role. However, compared with other Soviet Republics, civil resistance against the Soviet system was extremely intensive in the Lithuanian SSR.

After 1953, partisan movement organisations were gradually replaced with non-military resistance organisations. Youth organisations and groups were initiated by former members of the resistance who returned from labour camps, students and the intelligentsia. In the 1950s, activities of such organisations and groups were the main form of unarmed resistance. Members distributed anti-Soviet proclamations and attributes of the former independent state, hoisted the strictly prohibited tri-colour flag of the former independent state of Lithuania in public places, and studied prohibited sources of Lithuanian history, culture, and literature. Between 1955 and 1958, the KGB uncover 61 illegal organisations, which involved 303 predominantly young people. Between 1956 and 1957, the KGB recorded 126 cases of distribution of anti-Soviet proclamations and 419 anonymous letters (V. Tininis, Sovietinė Lietuva ir jos Veikėjai, Vilnius, 1994, p. 82). Public protest campaigns were also held, for example, in 1956 demonstrations were staged in cemeteries in Vilnius and Kaunas to express support for the Hungarian Revolution.

As unarmed resistance developed further, new operating methods appeared. The year 1972 marked, both quantitatively and qualitatively, a new phase of civil resistance following the self-immolation of Romas Kalanta in protest against the Soviet regime and the ensuing mass demonstration in Kaunas, and the publication of the first underground periodical Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. From then on, civil resistance gained ever greater momentum. Other periodic underground publications appeared, organisations such as the Lithuanian Helsinki Group and the Lithuanian Freedom League were established. A number of people who took part in the activities of these groups were persecuted by the KGB, convicted and sent to labour camps or deported. Psychiatric coercive measures were used against them. The climax of the resistance movement was a meeting in 1987 at the monument to Adomas Mickevičius in Vilnius, which marked the start of a new epoch. It was followed by the establishment of the Report Movement and the restoration of the independence of Lithuania.

The research programme examines the formation and development of unarmed resistance in Lithuania, its internal and external causes, activities of organisations, groups, and individuals in the 1950s through to the 1980s, underground publications, reprisals against underground dissident organisations and groups, and similarities and differences between the dissident movement in Lithuania and countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

  • Juozapas Romualdas Bagušauskas, Lietuvos jaunimo pasipriešinimas sovietiniam režimui ir jo slopinimas [The Resistance of the Lithuanian Youth Against the Soviet Regime and the Repression], 1999
  • Lietuvos Helsinkio grupė (dokumentai, atsiminimai, laiškai) [The Lithuanian Helsinki Group; Documents, Memoirs, Letters], compiled by Viktoras Petkus, Živilė Račkauskaitė and Mindaugas Uoka, 1999
  • Vilma Vasiliauskaitė, Lietuvos ir Vidurio Rytų Europos šalių periodinė savilaida, 1972–1989 [The Underground Publications in Lithuania and Central and Eastern Europe in 1972–1989], 2006
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