On June 16, 1978, a conference of Lithuanian Communist Party city and rayoncommittee secretaries and other ideological propaganda workers was held in Kaišiadorys on how further to "train workers in a communist manner." This time, attention was focused on civil ceremonies and traditions. The speeches and remarks of the participants were published as a separate brochure (Material, edited by P. Mišutis, Vilnius, 1979). The brochure is intended for ideological workers, is not available to the public and received a very limited printing—400 copies.
Of course, this brochure does not reflect all the subject matter discussed at the conference, it has been rather extensively edited, but nonetheless presents an overall view of what is of current concern to the Communist Party and what directives it issued to its propaganda workers.
In a speech on civil ceremonies, Deputy Chairman A. Česnavičius of the Council of Ministers stated: "An ever broader inculcation of the above-named should help solve more effectively the questions of reducing the influence of religion and the church on man, forming a materialistic outlook . . ." (page 3). Concerned over the fact that namesdays are still celebrated in Lithuania, Mišutis raises the question: "Therefore, should this "tradition" be retained?" And he of course suggests: "Perhaps birthdays would be enough, for their meaning is clear!" (page 41). Mišutis wants to eliminate the namesday tradition supposedly because their "meaning is unclear." On the other hand, he stated just earlier:" ... it (i.e. the namesday) used to have a religious nuance. And it is "holy" names with "patron saints" which were most commonly and widely celebrated. And now it is most frequently the names Antanas, Petras, Povilas, Juozapas, Kazimieras . .. which are celebrated . . ." (page 41).
For her part, (Miss) T. Bitinaitė, Secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party Committee, of the City of Panevėžys was forced to note the fact which ". . . causes us uneasiness for we know from experience that many participate in two ceremonies. Among the youth there is an unhealthy custom to marry in church. It is considered a mark of fashion to marry in the evening in some church near the Sea of Kaunas. At times, even non-believers avail themselves of religious services, asserting that they thereby uphold national traditions" (page 44). Later, (Miss) Bitinaitė notes: "We are concerned over the growing number of people who are unduly fascinated by religious relics, collect them, and use them to adorn their apartments, considering them national treasures. Old cemeteries are almost completely vandalized, attempts are even made to rob churches. We should speak more firmly about such collectors. Perhaps then the number of newlyweds wearing crosses around their necks at marriage palaces would decrease" (page 45).
First, we should ask (Miss) Bitinaitė how she knows that the people who "avail themselves of religious services" are non-believers? Second, it is actually true that religion preserves our national traditions and that we are starting to become ever more deeply aware of this truth, although (Miss) Bitinaitė and other collaborators consider these religious traditions an "unhealthy fad." Likewise no "mark of fashion" is involved as Bitinaitė would have us believe, but simply increased caution on the part of the more timid and those who wish to avoid persecution. Let them just stop persecuting religion and harassing believers—and every Lithuanian church will be able to boast of such a "mark of fashion."
(Miss) Bitinaitė has reached the limits of the absurd when she asserts that old cemeteries are devastated by collectors. Today, ideological hooliganism is raging throughout Lithuania. It has the government's blessing and is encouraged by precisely such "ideological workers" as Bitinaitė, who dare blame the vile deeds of atheists on some sort of collectors and thus justify the brutal anti-religious activities which are ever accompanied by violence and force.
What gall to voice the absurd charge that, when they come to the marriage palace, newlyweds adorn themselves with crosses stolen from graveyards and churches! And yet it is true that newlyweds (not just they) wear and, of course, will in the future continue to wear crosses and other religious symbols, regardless of whether it pleases or displeases Miss Bitinaitė. Not everyone who wears a cross around his neck believes deeply, but we can say without fear of error that such young people have nonetheless not yet completely sunk into atheist superstition and that they will certainly not smash or desecrate religious relics. We can fearlessly assure (Miss) Bitinaitė and her fellow-thinkers that even in the event that not a single collector existed in Lithuania, young people would still wear crosses and there would be no fewer religious pictures and national symbols in the apartments of believers or people who have not lost their national self-respect!
Someone at the conference suggested that "a strong material foundation be created" for "marriages with ceremony" and thus counterbalance "the religious influence." On this matter, it is interesting to note the remark made by P. Kurys: "Over the past two decades, the number of marriages recorded in the Republic has remained more or less stable: some 30,000 annually. On the other hand, the number of divorces is rising steadily, although nearly 90% of marriages are solemnized. If the People's Courts granted 9,428 divorces and civil marriage bureaus 940 divorces in 1977 (it is quite true, no longer solemnly), then in 1957 the Republic recorded a total of 1,678 divorces" (page 50). Z. Barkauskienė, Secretary of the Anykščiai Rayon Committee, stated at the conference: "Several years ago some 60%: of rayon inhabitans repeated their marriage ceremony in church, the same held true with newborn infants. Now, the number marrying in church has fallen to 48% (page 56).
And yet Party Secretary Barkauskienė, so "well aware" that the number of people marrying in the church is decreasing, could have given the conference statistics on divorces, abortions and increased alcoholism in the Rayon. Unfortunately, such statistics are not publicized for they would terrify every decent person. And above all, they would" clearly show how, by proportionately increasing the number of atheists and those who are noncommitted, there is an increase in the evils which bring real perdition to our small nation.
A natural question: Were Conference participants probably seeking a way out of that morass of moral decay? Unfortunately, this is not what concerned the conference participants. Contradicting the reality which they themselves had noted, they continued to "deliberate" how religious traditions should be eradicated, how faith should be combatted in order to implement the orders of Moscow.
Let us examine here the article by J. Kuolelis, head of the Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee Propaganda and Agitation Section, printed at the end of the brochure, as if summing up the conference's party line.
Kuolelis urges: "... we must demonstrate by all possible means what a person gains when he breaks with religion, what he gains from scientific atheist philosophy." (page 70). In fact, today, everyone understands what Lithuania gains from "scientific atheist philosophy" even without the above cited "statistics" and without the unexpected grains of truth which break through the words of Biti-naitė and Kūrys, although the authors of those words of truth were seeking completely different ends. But Kuolelis would not be such an ardent atheist propaganda worker if he did not in fact arrive at logical and well-founded conclusions. On the contrary, Kuolelis is most concerned with what the Kremlin will say. Here is what Kuolelis stresses: "Some time ago, a brigade of the Soviet Union Communist Party Central Committee visited the Republic to analyze the situation in this field of activity. These are questions dictated by the current ideological situation. Serious attention was directed at them by the Political Bureau of the Soviet Union Communist Party Central Committee. The first time such attention has been paid." (page 74).
After explaining to the conference participants what the brigade from the Soviet Union Communist Party Central Committee was interested in, and "reporting with satisfaction" that the real masters had noted "certain work in progress", he anxiously frightened the conference participants with remarks on the things which displeased Moscow. Kuolelis stated: " . . .we do not work hard enough to stop the influence of priests on children and young people . . . we must more strenuously combat the religious anachronism which can occasionally still be found among communist and Communist Youth League members: there are cases where ties are maintained with the church. This must not be ignored . . . We do not impede the activities of monastic individuals. The number of such persons is not shrinking, but growing. What is worse, they work in the underground, and usually, comrades, no one praises the existence of an underground." (page 75).
Of course, Kuolelis has reason for concern when his real employers "have for the first time shown such attention," and moreover there exists that underground for which Moscow not only does not praise, but might possibly even dismiss from propaganda work . . . Kuolelis is therefore determined to point out what must be done. And according to this propagandist, what must be done first is control the clergy. Kuolelis stated: "The situation is being analyzed and examined, practical inferences are being drawn, attention is being directed to tactics, sermons and the methods of church influence are being studied. Work is also underway with the clergy . . . Commissions formed within rayon and district councils are having a positive effect on the clergy; they help to limit their detrimental activities. Cases involving religious organizations are before executive committees." (page 75).
Of course, these "positive effects" meet with the complete approval of Kuolelis' masters. But, of course, that is far from sufficient. He urges executive committees to restrict priests to such an extent that they feel they are mere servants of the executive organ and work for pay." (page 75). This is the opinion of the Central Committee brigade. And the said brigade probably has "experience" gained while annihilating religion in Russia .. . Because such "experience" has not yet been fully implemented in Lithuania, Kuolelis, with the blessing and at the urging of Moscow, offers conference participants suggestions: "It is necessary to know the number of registered and unregistered communities and groups, the number of believers, their composition, profiles of cult servants, who comprise the executive organs, the church's most active members, what consideration is given the national and denominational traits of believers, who the believers are—age, sex, profession, social status—what religious services—christenings, marriages, funerals, etc.—a profile of the most popular feasts—recollections—how many attend, who attends, why they attend.
The monastic—in other words, the parasitic—underground— how active it is — we must know, in order that it cease to exist! And if we know what it is, then, yes, we can say it no longer exists." (page 76).
In other words—follow, spy—and most importantly detect the underground. And detecting it, in Kuolelis' words, is tantamount to liquidating it! And we all know very well how things are liquidated.
Is this not why agents are recruited for the Kaunas Theological Seminary, why little spies are being bred in the schools, why places of employment are full of spies? Is this also not why new Regulations for Religious Associations are devised so that the most important roles in religious affairs may be played by KGB agents disguised as believers? From Kuolelis' entire speech, during which he stated Moscow's will, one thing stands out: the time has come to destroy the Church from within. Since Moscow has great experience in this area also, it is unforgivable that the desired results are not yet apparent in Lithuania, although as Kuolelis pointed out"Certain work is in progress with the clergy also" (page 74).
As might be expected, none of the conference participants mentioned the Constitution nor the Helsinki Final Act. The conference was attended by those who are to direct the suppression of believers.
The conference attacked the boradcasts of Vatican Radio. Facts illustrating the persecution of the Catholic Church in Lithuania were naturally labelled slander. Furthermore, any suggestions that the most basic rights of believers are violated, and that thereby the Helsinki agreements and the laws they themselves passed are most flagrantly violated, were treated as "interference in our internal affairs" (page 77).
In the words of Kuolelis, it is not the Soviet government, but the clergy which "violates cult laws." And as an example he points out that the clergy "conducts services in completely different parishes, repairs houses of worship without the knowledge of therayon executive committee .. ." (page 78). And finally the following inference is reached: "Against this antisocial reactionary activity of the clergy and individual secterians, it is essential to use not only the force of the law, but preventive measures as well, to disclose their true intent to believers." (page 78).
Well, it has been clearly stated! A priest who administers the holy Sacraments to a dying person in another parish which perhaps no longer has a priest has already "violated the law;" a priest who urges his parishioners to repair a leaky roof is also a criminal! And therein precisely lies the "real intent" of priests, i.e., to protect the church building from collapse. Such activity by priests is considered "antisocial," for it is easy to understand that a church building in disrepair will quickly collapse. And see, the priest has forestalled this happening. This is why priests must be punished, using "the full force of the law." It cannot be any clearer.
Moscow, Kuolelis and their fellow-thinkers are vexed by the courage of believers, their statements their demands of their rights. Though believers hardly ever receive replies to their complaints, they persist — they again write complaints to even higher offices. It frequently even happens that these statements reach the foreign press and spread throughout the world via radio broadcasts. This is when such complaints turn into "slander." Kuolelis urges that all means be used to prevent such complaints being believed, and, apparently, would like to silence all the complainants, but here we again have that vicious circle: The wide world also learns of such incidents.
In other words, the conference was conducted "on a high ideological level." Directives drafted in Moscow were properly handed down through trusted individuals—collaborators—and are now being "instilled in life." Religious persecution is growing, destruction from within is being stepped up. But there is another side to the coin: The faithful are not giving up their battle for their most basic rights, they more and more frequently transcend the barriers of fear and doubt; slowly perhaps, but Lithuania is experiencing a religious revival. The brutish behavior and persecution of the atheists is yielding unforseen fruit: the faithful are becoming stronger in their truth and determination.