In the February 2, 1977, issue of Tiesa (Truth) we read an article by J. Baltušis in reply to a foreign journalist, the correspondent of Figaro. The article is entitled, "The Distorted Mirror".
Not having seen the article in Figaro, we find it difficult to judge how much truth there is in it. We must surmise that the correspondent, having looked around a day or two in Lithuania, was not able to form a more complete picture.
However, we were surprised by Mr. Baltušis, who is known to the public as a writer of great talent, who has depicted beautifully more than one page of our not-too-distant past, looked about in America with open eyes and seen there not just the trash, but also some bright spots, something which some other of our writers who have visited there were unable to do. His article, touching on various areas of life in Lithuania: economic, cultural, political, historic, and religious,—came out looking like a distorted mirror. This is clear from reading if only those lines which touch on the religious aspect.
Baltušis is upset with the correspondent of Figaro, because the latter writes, "The Soviet regime represses religion to a considerable degree (they have closed churches, seminaries, monasteries and convents), and those who wish to have a good job cannot practice their faith publicly." Why be upset? After all, this is the honest truth!
Perhaps our honorable writer does not know that in Vilnius, let us say, out of several score churches only a few are open? How would he explain why the rest are closed? Did they shut down of themselves? There was a directive in 1948, by which many churches in Lithuania were closed; not just churches, but also all monasteries and convents.
Baltušis knows that "in the City of Kaunas the former seminary for candidates to the priesthood operates to this day". But how does that seminary operate? The old facilities have been taken away, the present quarters are inhuman, the numbers of those studying are limited, the ecclesiastical authorities cannot freely choose professors or accept students. Incidentally, does Baltušis know that earlier, seminaries operated besides in Vilnius, Vilkaviškis and Telšiai? And where are they now? Does he know what a way of the cross must be traversed by those who wish to become priests? Is this not repression of religion?
Approximately twenty years ago, there was as yet no law prescribing a penalty for teaching religion to children. Now there is such a law. Is this not "repression of religion"?
At one time someone wrote in our press that new cities are being born (Elektrėnai, Akmenė), but that no one wants churches there. It is probably no secret to Baltušis that such desires are most undesirable among us. In 1956 Lithuanians in Vorkuta wrote an official petition to the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Komi, asking to be allowed to build themselves a little church. For this "self-help" those who signed were given quite a going-over by a representative from the center, and Father A(ntanas) Šekevičius once again wound up behind the wires, even though he had not signed the petition.
Around 1968 or 1969, in some camps in the Urals, an amnesty was declared. All sorts of criminals went free. The amnesty was supposed to affect Father Šeškevičius as well, but he was left behind wires. Once the superintendant of the camp stopped by and was gratified at how nice things were there, how clean and how orderly. "If only he didn't cross himself and pray, everything would be in order . . ." the superintendant replied to someone or other about the prisoner-priest. There is no amnesty for the devout! The person who prays is undesirable .. .
Father P(etras) Lygnugaris, having spent a number of years in the prisons of the Region of Irkutsk, asked officials, Why are priest in Lithuania allowed to work freely?"
He was told in reply, "There it is only temporary. In time, it will be the same there as it is here. Who knows, was the Figaro correspondent very far from the truth in writing that "the Soviet regime represses religion to a considerable degree"?
Baltušis writes, "The church doors are open to every believer." This is only half true.
Let the honorable writer explain why a great deal of religious ministrations are carried out in secret, with the request that a baptism or a wedding not be entered in the parish registry? Why does the priest at times have to travel several score kilometers on a sick call, or to baptize an infant and always at night, when there are priests nearer by? Why do some of the faithful attend not the nearest church, but one farther away, sometimes several score kilometers distant? Why at times do the relatives and friends of the deceased come to church for the sacraments the night before the funeral, and do not go to the sacraments during the funeral itself?
Why are there instances, when the friends and relatives, who otherwise secretly receive the sacraments, stay outside the churchyard during the funeral Mass, or even outside the cemetery fence when the priest performs the funeral rites at the cemetery? They run out of courage in this land of "freedom" . . . Such courage is demonstrated only by communal farm workers, laborers and heroic intellectuals.
Such is our "freedom". No doubt Comrade Baltušis is acquainted with it. When some of his pen pals, e.g. his literary mentor, the author Kazys Boruta, fell into disgrace with the government and was shipped out to the Gulag Archipelago, our honorable humanist J. Baltušis never recognized them. It was only later, after the regime had relaxed its pressure, that he dared not to turn aside from his old friends.
Baltušis writes about the united will of our nation in joining the companionship of the Soviet nations. Why, then, were the sacrifices of so great a part of our nation necessary, splattered across the vast-ness of Siberia and cramming them into the Gulag Archipelago? Why did such terrible executions need to be carried out by Soviet organs?
Not long ago in the press (Komjaunimo Tiesa (The Truth of the Communist Youth),1977-51) it was written that during a certain soccer match, a good referee was indirectly accused of drunkenness. They took a blood test at the hospital, and the calumny was not confirmed. The man's reputation was restored by publicly proclaiming the facts in the press. However, such privileges are not enjoyed by a priest when he is attacked not by ordinary citizens but by government officials, falsely accusing him of drunkenness, so that they might take away his driver's license. He is not allowed to make use of medical expertise. He cannot hope to clear the matter up at any higher level, and his honor will not be restored in any newspaper. This is how it was with Father J(uozas) Zdebskis in 1976.
The priest is clearly discriminated against, like the Blacks in Rhodesia. Does this not constitute an offense against the faithful?
The mark of the distorting mirror is clear not only in this article, but also in his artistic creation, where that "prior judgment", which Baltušis imputes to the foreign journalist is felt to a sickening degree. For instance, in his book With Whom Salt Has Been Eaten (II, 47) he writes about the Pavasarininkai: [A Catholic Action movement — Translators Note] as "red-nosed freaks". To quote further would be distasteful. At that time the Pavasarininkai was the largest .organization of country youth, comprising 90,000 members(Mažoji Tarybinė Enciklopedija — The Small Soviet Encyclopedia—11,811). As a matter of fact,, there were very few red noses among them; today we have incomparabley many more.
The older generation in the countryside today, which has borne many painful misfortunes, now conscientiously laboring in the communal farm fields, having successfully preserved their spiritual honor, —these are for the most part former Pavasarininkai members. We feel sorry for these people, so smeared by Baltušis . . . How to understand the writer's pen: Is this a stream of consciousness or a conscious denigration, which in the language of the people we call calumny? The poet Gamzatov has noted, "He who shoots at the past with a pistol, will be shot at in the future with a cannon . .."
After reading the article by Baltušis, one's heart feels heavy and a painful question arises: Whose mirror is more distorting, that of the Figaro correspondent or that of the author of Summers Sold? It is too bad that talent comes mounted not only on an upright steed, but sometimes tumbles into a sled drawn by a lying ass . .. Worse than summers sold is a conscience sold!