Hunt for ex-KGB agents shades Lithuanian election Commission's motives, tactics criticized

THE BALTIMORE SUN

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Balys Gajauskas spent 37 years in Sovie prison camps, and now he's getting even in a way that some suspect is designed to help his party in today's national election.

Mr. Gajauskas is the leader of a parliamentary commission charged with exposing and rooting out his old enemies, the agents of the KGB, the former Soviet security police.

He goes about his work with a cold zeal. His targets are among the elite of Lithuania. They include a former prime minister.

He is also in the inner circle of Sajudis, the movement that brought independence to Lithuania -- and that faces considerable disenchantment among voters in today's parliamentary elections.

And as Sajudis has lost more and more supporters in the wake of economic hard times since Lithuania won independence, Mr. Gajauskas has tackled his work with renewed vigor. The pace of accusations has increased as the elections approach. His detractors see either a man obsessed with retribution or one out for crass political gain.

It happens that in the past several months every person publicly accused by Mr. Gajauskas' commission is an opposition

candidate for parliament.

Is it a purge? The people around President Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of Sajudis, talk of "dark forces" influencing Lithuania, even 14 months after its independence. Critics accuse Mr. Gajauskas of using the same tactics against his opponents as the KGB once used against him and his allies.

Mr. Gajauskas, 66, joined a partisan group fighting Communist domination of Lithuania in 1945. He was arrested in 1947 and sent to Siberia, released in 1973, re-arrested in 1977 and released again in 1988.

The KGB he fought in those days was the hammer wielded by Moscow to subdue Lithuania. Its agents -- working often in secret, relying on a network of informers and creating a climate for betrayal -- deported tens of thousands to Siberian labor camps, destroyed the careers of others and ruthlessly smashed opposition to the Soviet regime.

Today Mr. Gajauskas sees a nation that needs to be put right.

"We have to know who worked for them," he said in a recent interview. "We have to know them and see that they're not working against their country.

"Step by step, we find out everything about these agents. We want them to know they're being watched," he says. "We're exposing this system that destroyed nations, that ruined people's lives."

Mr. Gajauskas is officially co-chair of the KGB commission, which was set up a year ago and is dominated by members of the Sajudis movement. Its work involves sifting through the secret police archives, publishing what it deems to be relevant material and moving in court against those it believes actively worked for the KGB.

"But this is by no means a settlement of past accounts," Mr. Landsbergis said in an interview. "It is our understanding that the KGB has had a great deal of influence on our society through its agents. This is not good, and this has to be corrected."

"KGB structures are still active here," said Povilas Varanauskas, the commission's other co-chair. "They're still very powerful."

Mr. Varanauskas wants all former KGB agents and collaborators to come forward and confess. As long as they confess, they can't be blackmailed by the KGB into working against Lithuania, he said.

The names of people who confess before the commission, and "do not aspire to higher position," will be kept secret, he said.

As for others, their names are publicized. Documents, files and accusations are published in the newspapers.

So far the commission has publicly fingered Kazimira Prunskiene, a former prime minister under Mr. Landsbergis; Jonas Kubilius, a former rector of Vilnius University, and a half dozen others.

Those who have been accused say they have no way to respond. The stain of the accusation, they say, can never be fully eradicated.

Smear tactics

"If somebody's against the government, they accuse them of being KGB," said Mr. Kubilius. "It's just political games."

"It's a political fight. They use the KGB label to destroy political enemies," said Ms. Prunskiene.

Ms. Prunskiene was accused of writing reports about each of her trips abroad over the years as a university researcher, reports that she presumably knew would end up in the KGB's hands. A document was found -- a forgery, she says -- that seems to be a contract to work for the KGB. Files showing that the KGB had spied on her were unearthed, and the commission took this as evidence she was a collaborator.

Ms. Prunskiene's case went to court, and last month the court found against her. Under the law, that means she would have to stand in a special recall election if she wanted to keep her parliamentary seat. But she decided to give it up.

The former prime minister, a bitter foe of Mr. Landsbergis, is outraged by what she sees as unfounded smears.

Independent deputies tend to agree.

"They don't care about finding real KGB agents," said Arunas Degutis, a National Progress Party legislator and a former Sajudis member. "They're using this problem only for one reason -- for politics."

Mr. Degutis was only one of several deputies who left Sajudis during this past year in to form new centrist parties, depriving the government of its once comfortable majority.

The election is an attempt to break a deadlock in the Seym, as Lithuania's parliament is called. The Seym's 141 seats are shared between 71 elected in one-man districts and the rest awarded proportionally to all parties getting more than 4 percent of the total vote. More than a dozen parties are competing to get over that threshold.

Sajudis remains a dominant party, but it is no longer overwhelmingly popular and is expected to take about a quarter of the vote in today's election, the first since independence. The Democratic Labor Party, a redesignated and slimmed-down version of the old Communist Party, may do about as well.

Centrists, a disunited group of minor parties, should take the rest.

Some voters are cheering the anti-KGB commission on. Many more, it seems, wish the government would pay more attention to the economic wreckage the communists left behind.

Misdirected energy

"They have to clean the society of the KGB," said Vidmantas Balchiunas, a building engineer in Vilnius. "But this way -- it's a waste of energy when there's so much else to do."

Lithuania is behind several other former Soviet republics in privatization and in attracting foreign investment. People are wondering how to make ends meet. The flow of oil was cut off for nearly three months in a price dispute with Russia in which

Sajudis saw a Russian conspiracy and almost everyone else saw an unwillingness by the Lithuanian government to pay what the Russian oil was worth.

"Look at this government," said Sarunas Davainis, a centrist Liberal Party candidate and businessman. "We're all cold today because there's no oil, they've gone about privatization the wrong way, they haven't formed a middle class, and all they do is look for people to blame."

Criticism like this makes the faithful Sajudis people draw a tighter ring around themselves. Mr. Varanauskas defended his commission, and said it has in fact turned up evidence of KGB activity among Sajudis members as well as the opposition.

lTC But these agents' names have not been made public, he said, because they agreed to withdraw from public life. He was asked how many such agents there were. "It is not necessary to know," he replied.

The commission to settle blame for KGB collaboration was set up about a year ago. Under the law, it makes no distinction between informing for the KGB and being an agent. Informing is defined as passing information to the KGB more than twice.

But such neat delineations get blurred in looking at real life.

The KGB was a pervasive institution. It had thousands of agents -- perhaps 30,000 to 50,000 -- in Lithuania alone, and they made contacts of one sort or another with huge swaths of the population.

Careers in many cases depended on not crossing the KGB.

Mr. Bajauskas spent most of his adult life in the gulag, where choices were not available and ambiguities did not exist.

Mr. Kubilius, himself a former Communist and member of the Supreme Soviet, believes his party helped to save the nation in the dark days of Stalinism, just after Lithuania was absorbed into the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

"It was obvious Stalin wanted to destroy the Lithuanian nation," he said. "So what was the way out? Lithuania was governed by people sent from Moscow. Russification was under way. We realized we would be deported, and soon there would be no Lithuanians. So we had to get into the government, to get power. A lot of intellectuals joined the party, even though it was against what they believed in. And, sure, there were opportunists, too.

"Well, I don't idealize these people," he said, speaking of himself and his friends. "But what could we do?"

He believes all KGB archives should just be burned. "We are such a small nation, and we can't just fight with each other."

"Well, I had enough unpleasant meetings with KGB persons. And everybody had to choose," said Audrius Azubalis, a Sajudis spokesman. When, as a student, he rebuffed an overture from the KGB, he said, he was expelled from the university and drafted into the army.

"You know, people say, if you wanted to be a scientist, you had to collaborate," he said. "No, this is not true. Of course, if you

wanted to travel abroad, yes, maybe you did. But it's up to you to say yes or no."

"You can't find in Lithuania any family that did not suffer from these Russian invaders," said Egidijus Bickauskas, a Center Party deputy and the ambassador to Moscow.

The past can't be buried, he said. But the consequences of dealing with the past can't be dodged, either.

"There was some contact with the KGB by almost all Lithuanians. So who will be the judge?" he said. "I've been thinking for a long time -- who has the right to evaluate and look through these files? I have no answer."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
59°