In mid-May, 1973, the believers of Lithuania sent to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR a complaint and two petitions which had been signed by thousands of believers. These petitions originated because discrimination against believers has not ceased.
How the Signatures Were Collected
The texts of these petitions passed from hand to hand, spreading throughout Lithuania. On each sheet that the believers were to sign was the complete text of the petition with which the signers were to familiarize themselves. There were very many persons who, motivated by a profound faith and grievously affected by the restrictions imposed on the rights of their homeland and the Church, devoted much time and effort until they collected a total of 30,782 signatures. All this had to be done in their spare time at the constant risk of falling into the hands of the security police. Someone who has never solicited signatures under our conditions will never understand how much heroism and self-sacrifice was exhibited by those who collected the signatures.
How did believers react when asked to sign? Many signed enthusiastically, without hesitation, particularly if they were certain of the character of the one collecting signatures. When the collector was an unknown person, many found themselves wondering whether this might prove to be a provocation by the government, and whether the Church and the faithful would be harmed thereby. Because of such fears, some parents did not permit their children to sign the petition.
It was evident that it would be careless to collect signatures near the churches, thus almost all the signatures were collected in the homes of believers. The gathering of signatures took about one-and-a-half months. A number of sheets with the petition fell into the hands of dubious persons who, either through dishonesty or evil intent, ruined them, and thus some of the signatures had to be deleted.
The organs of state security quickly became aware that signatures were being gathered and began to hunt down the collectors. In Kaunas a search was conducted at the home of [Miss] V. Grincevičiūtė, since someone had informed that she had collected signatures. She was summoned for interrogation several times. The interrogators were mainly interested in learning who was organizing the collecting of signatures.
Within the parish in Kapčiamiestis, in Lazdijai Rayon, security agents were looking for a certain woman who, according to their information, had been gathering signatures. They apparently did not succeed in apprehending her.
The secret police of Panevėžys confiscated the sheets containing the petitions and signatures from [Mrs.] Rudienė, a resident of Steponiškis Village. The woman was interrogated as to where she had obtained the texts of the petitions and also threatened with the loss of her parental rights.
Certain priests in Ignalina Rayon were interrogated because someone had informed the secret police that signatures were being collected.
Tumėnas, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, ordered Lithuania's bishops and ecclesiastical administrators to persuade the clergy through their deans that priests would not only not take part but even hinder the gathering of signatures near churches.
In many places in Lithuania, for instance, in Klaipeda, Kapsukas, and elsewhere, government officials warned local pastors that signatures must not be collected.
After such reaction by the secret police, the question naturally arose: what is the sense of sending petitions with signatures to Soviet agencies? Is it solely to enable them, once the signatures are in their posession, to interrogate the signers, threatening them with dismissal from work, from school, and similarly? Aside from that, once the signatures are in their hands, the security workers could then slander the believers by insisting that the signatures were forged, that so many thousands had not actually signed, etc.
Some people wonder whether it would not be better instead of appealing to agencies of the Soviet government to attempt to break through the Iron Curtain and direct our appeal to the conscience of the entire world.
The complete texts of the complaint and the two petitions by the believers of Lithuania are presented below:
"To: Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
"Copy: K. Tumenas, Commissioner of the Council
for Religious Affairs
A Complaint by the Believers of Lithuania
"In the decree handed down on April 12, 1968, by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 'Concerning the Procedure for Examining Suggestions, Petitions, and Complaints by Citizens,' it is written: 'Under the present developmental conditions of Soviet society, complaints are usually the form through which a response is made to instances of violation of citizens' rights and those of their interests which are protected by law... They also demonstrate that serious shortcomings still exist in the functioning of many state and public agencies.'
"V. Kuroyedov, chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs, has written: 'It is necessary to be especially responsive to complaints by believers that their rights are being violated. All complaints must be examined and settled in strict compliance with the April 12, 1968, decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet' (Religija ir įstatymas[Religion and the law], 1971, p. 24).
"In early March, 1973, it occurred to us, the faithful of Lithuania, to appeal to the Soviet governmental agencies in Lithuania requesting that the discrimination of religious students would be stopped, that they would not be compelled to speak and act against their convictions, that history would be taught objectively in the schools, and that the publication of the most essential religious literature would not be restricted. In order that the Soviet authorities would know the opinion of Lithuania's believers, signatures were collected under the complaints addressed to the LSSR Ministry of Public Education and to K. Tumėnas, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs. If the Soviet press were to be believed, all those who inform governmental organs about existing evils and demand their elimination are strengthening social justice, participating in the governing of the state, and are decent people worthy of respect (cf. Švyturys [Beacon], 1973, no. 6, pp. 8-10).
"However, scarcely had officials of the state security organs learned about the collection of signatures when a 'witch hunt' was begun: searches of innocent people's homes, interrogations, and threats of imprisonment. This is how the secret police of Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevėžys, Lazdijai, Ignalina, and other places acted. K. Tumėnas, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, ordered the bishops and ecclesiastical administrators of Lithuania to make use of the deans and the clergy to disrupt the collection of signatures. The secret police managed to confiscate some of the signed sheets.
"Despite this 'responsiveness to the believers' complaints,' 14,284 believers signed the petition addressed to the LSSR Ministry of Public Education and 16,498 believers signed the petition addressed to the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs.
"Since officials of the state security organs regarded the believers' appeals to the Soviet government as a political offence and are terrorizing those who collect signatures, we have refrained from sending the original petitions bearing the signatures to the above-mentioned establishments. This will be done only when the faithful will become convinced of the good will of the Soviet government and when officials from the state security organs will cease to interfere in the religious affairs of the faithful.
"The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR has expressed the desire for expressions of opinion regarding a draft of the principles governing the laws concerning public education, which was proposed by the USSR Council of Ministers in early April. This draft completely disregards the rights of believing parents and their children. It is contrary to Article 5 of the December 14-15, i960, Paris Convention Against Discrimination in the Field of Education, which requires that parents be guaranteed 'a religious and moral upbringing of their children in accordance with their convictions.' The petition we believers have sent to the LSSR Ministry of Public Education will adequately acquaint the Soviet authorities with the kind of education and upbringing for children of religious parents that is desired in Lithuania.
"Enclosures: The text of the petition addressed to the LSSR Ministry of Public Education; the text of the petition addressed to K. Tuménas, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs.
May 14, 1973"
"To: Ministry of Public Education of the LSSR
A Petition from the Students of Lithuania
and Their Parents
"We, students and parents, who fully comprehend the purpose of the school and its obligations to the younger generation, are often disillusioned because students are not provided with what is truly necessary.
"In the textbook Visuomenes mokslas [Social Science] it is written: 'Patriotism is one of the best manifestations of human nature... It finds expression in love for the land in which we were born and raised, in love for its history...' How can students learn about the past of Lithuania if J. Jurginis' Lietuvos TSR istorija [History of the LSSR] is too brief—barely 100 pages—and biased, and [Miss] A. Gaigalaite's Lietuvos TSR istorija (148 pp.) tells only about the revolutionary movement and the postwar years? On the other hand, the TSRS istorija [History of the USSR] is composed of four parts—a total of 650 pages. Thus, although students know much about Pugachiev, Peter I, and others, they know almost nothing about the honorable past of Lithuania.
"The greatest evil is the attempt to foist atheism upon students. It is said that in the Soviet Union religion is the private affair of every citizen, that the USSR Constitution guarantees everyone the freedom of conscience, but practical experience says otherwise.
"At times, religious students are ridiculed and upbraided for practicing their religion; their caricatures 'adorn' newsletters on school bulletin boards. Medallions and crucifixes are taken away from students. Sometimes teachers even make believing students leave the church, for example, during funeral services.
"Religious students are compelled to speak and write against their convictions and to draw antireligious caricatures. Those who refuse to be hypocrites are given the grade 2 or 1 [failing grades—tr.].
"Teachers force religious students to join atheistic groups and organizations, and consequently, many are encouraged to become hypocrites.
"Some of the teachers turn their lessons into atheistic propaganda. Atheism is even propagated both within the school and beyond its walls by utilizing deception, for instance, by demonstrating 'miracles,' by deriding and consciously distorting the Catholic faith.
"Occasionally the conduct grade is lowered to 'satisfactory' solely because of church attendance. The convictions of believing students are noted in their school records, thus making it more difficult for them to enroll in schools of higher education.
"Students must frequently fill out questionnaires with questions touching upon their religious convictions. It is incomprehensible to us why there is such forcible encroachment upon their consciences. Not wanting to reveal their convictions, a number of students answer these questions hypocritically. Who benefits from this?
"We have mentioned only certain instances of coercion against a student's conscience, but they lead us to think that Soviet schools are primarily concerned, not with teaching or educating, but with atheistic indoctrination. This sort of 'educating' undermines the school's authority and causes students irreparable harm.
"We have tired of such forcible atheistic indoctrination, and this has provoked a reaction—to turn our backs upon ideas being foisted upon us. Why is this happening in our schools when the USSR Constitution proclaims that there is freedom of conscience?
"Therefore we ask the Ministry of Public Education to put an end to these harmful occurences in the schools so that no one would hinder students from enjoying the freedom of conscience.
N.B. Approximately twenty-five percent of the signatures were those of students.
"To: K. Tumėnas, Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs
A Petition from the Believers of Lithuania
"We have read the statement by Bishop R. Krikščiūnas in the March 1, 1973, issue ofGimtasis kraštas [Native land] :
" 'The Catholics in Lithuania publish any books they need. Recently we printed Romos Katalikų Apeigynas Lietuvos Vyskupijoms [Book of Roman Catholic rituals for the Dioceses of Lithuania], Maldynas [Book of Prayers], II Vatikano Susirinkimo Nutarimai [Decisions of the second Vatican Council], and other books. Here, still smelling of printer's ink, is a very significant publication—Šventojo Rašto Naujasis Testamentas [New Testament].'
"We believers also felt the desire to obtain this New Testament. Unfortunately, our local priests explained to us that they had received only from a few to a dozen copies —about one book for every 300 believers...
"If the Catholics in Lithuania publish any books they need, then why have they not published in the postwar years the most essential book, the catechism? Why were only 10,000 copies of the New Testament published? Why have we not seen with our own eyes the book on the decisions of the Second Vatican Council? Why couldn't we obtain theMaldynas, even though every Catholic must have a prayer book? As if this were not enough, why is it that although we are unable to obtain copies of the New Testament, we have heard that someone has been sending thousands of copies to Lithuanians abroad? Are we going to have to ask our relatives abroad to send us the New Testament which was printed in Lithuania?
"Since it has become evident to us that religious books are published in very small editions, not by the Catholics, but by the Soviet government at the Bishop's request with you, Commissioner, as a go-between, we therefore ask you to see to it that the New Testament and the Maldynas are reprinted in order that there would be enough so that each Catholic family could obtain at least one copy. In addition, we request permission for the publication of a comprehensive catechism. Otherwise, it will be difficult for us to believe in any talk concerning the publishing of the most essential Catholic books in Soviet Lithuania.
(to be continued) 16,498 signatures