| No Big May Day Celebrations in Lithuania Today |
By Andrew L. Jaffee, May 1, 2003
You won't find any big May Day celebrations today in downtown Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. This country suffered brutal Russian communist occupation for 46 years. How many other peoples suffered (or are still suffering) under "socialism?" Why aren't Lithuanians celebrating May Day?
There are still those die-hards clinging to the Marxist dream of a proletarian paradise. Today, those dreamers are celebrating May Day. In Berlin and London today, the dreamers got violent. Strange that people in developed, democratic societies overloaded with social programs and a plethora of labor unions would feel the need to get violent.
I am of Lithuanian ancestry on my mother's side. She had to escape Lithuania in 1944 because troops of the Soviet (Russian) Empire invaded. Her father had once been in the Lithuanian army, and the Russians surely would've killed her (or sent her to Siberia) for "sins of the father." During Russian occupation, thousands of Lithuanians were murdered, and at least 250,000 were deported to Siberia. Most never made it home from the cold, barren gulags (Russian "re-education camps").
In the late 1940's, my uncle Vidas answered the door at his home in Kaunas, Lithuania's second largest city. Two Russian soldiers threw a canvas sack over him and tossed him in the back of a truck. He ended up in Siberia where he was forced to work in a mine. Vidas survived for 15 years by eating raw fish heads left for him by Russian prison guards. To this day, he doesn't know why he was "sentenced" to 15 years of hard labor.
One of my cousins was active writing an underground Lithuanian language newspaper during the 1970's. He was "accidentally" thrown out a three-story window by the KGB. Another cousin, active in trying to preserve Lithuanian cultural traditions, was "accidentally" poisoned while working at his office, also at the hands of the KGB.
On my first trip to Lithuania in the late seventies, my American family was accompanied everywhere by an official Soviet escort (spy). My relatives were pleasant but were very cautious when speaking with us. Once at a dinner party, my mom—not thinking—said the Soviet premiere's name sounded funny. The room went dead silent. These people were terrified of a joke.
On my second trip to Lithuania in the mid 1980's, I smuggled several "illegal" items through Soviet customs in Moscow. The items were one copy of the Bible, one copy of Orwell's 1984, one copy of Huxley's Brave New World, and the latest Sunday edition of the New York Times. I stuffed these materials in my socks and down my pants while approaching the end of our transatlantic flight to Moscow.
You should've seen the expression on my cousin Leonardas' face when I gave him the "goods." He was elated. Leonardas had never seen the like of such written materials. He couldn't wait to read them. Leonardas planned to pass these forbidden fruits through a network of about 35 Lithuanian and Russian intellectuals. After thanking my profusely, he reminded me that I "took very, very great risk brining books! But we carry much greater risk if we caught reading them!"
And such was the life of my Lithuanian friends and relatives while living in the workers' paradise: grocery stores with empty shelves (well maybe one stick of rancid butter); never being allowed to travel outside the Iron Curtain; no access to a free press; no venue for political dissent; living under constant fear because of something one said (most telephone lines and many houses were bugged); no small business opportunities; etc. Some paradise.
The only reason the Soviet Union didn't collapse before it did was because of the resourcefulness of its individual citizens. The Soviet "economy" was not viable. Citizens set up a second economy (black market) to survive. For example, a rural family grew fruits and vegetables in a tiny plot (that escaped collectivization) and bartered this food for car repairs. The repairs were provided by an urbanite with a fully stocked garage. The urbanite in reality was a dentist who traded root canals for auto repair tools (because the 150 rubles/month he earned for working in the state dentist office was never enough). The auto repair tools were stolen from a factory. The factory produced men's suits that were actually child-sized (but labeled with a men's size!?!?). Since people couldn't legally earn enough to live on, they stole materials from the factory. But the factory had to meet its numerical suit quota, so it produced miniature men's suits. Now what do you think of George Orwell?
Despite all this, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were a paradise compared to Mother Russia and the Central Asian Soviet Republics. The Balts worked hard and worked smart, and far surpassed the living standards of the rest of the Soviet Union. In fact, the three Baltic States were known as the "West" in the rest of the U.S.S.R. But this didn't mitigate Russian occupation.
So the Lithuanians quietly resisted Russian occupation by going on with life and trying their best to preserve their ancient cultural traditions. As did the Estonians, Latvians, Poles, Hungarians, Moldavians, Kazakhs, Armenians, Turkmens, etc., during Soviet rule. Did the Lithuanians resort to homicide bombings against innocent Russian civilians to win their freedom? Did Estonians teach their children to hate and kill Russians? Did Latvians spitefully burn down Russian nature preserves? No they didn't. They didn't resort to the evil and moronic tactics of Islamist/Palestinian "freedom fighters," that so many leftists now rationalize. The Lithuanians are a civilized people.
On August 23, 1989, more then one million Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians protested Soviet occupation by holding hands and forming a "human chain" that spanned 476 miles across the three Baltic countries. They formed political parties. They held peaceful demonstrations. Even though Russian troops responded by running over unarmed Lithuanian protestors with tanks, the Balts fought back with knowledge, spiritual strength, and politics—in other words, with complete nonviolence.
And while Lithuania was occupied by the Russians, who helped? Certainly not the great Western media (with a few exceptions). The UN didn't say anything about Russian atrocities. While the terrorist PLO was granted "observer status" at the UN, the Russian-occupied peoples were told to shut up and keep quiet. Yes, the last century was full of injustices, but many went unnoticed.
The formerly Russian-occupied nations are now free, much to the consternation of the extreme left-wing. The left's dream of world-wide socialism has failed. What remains of the great socialist world? The People's Republic of China? North Korea? Gee, what shining examples of socialist "evolution." And yet—as we can see from today's violent May Day demonstrations—some still cling to the Marxist dream. And they cling in an uncivilized manner—by throwing public tantrums or trying to quell free speech at universities.
Members of the poor little old guard, like French President Jacques Chirac, are very upset with the former "socialist" states like Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Hungary. Chirac recently told them to "shut up" when they voiced support for removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. But these new nations are not so easily intimidated. They are asserting their independence. They haven't forgotten what it is like to live under someone like Saddam, unlike the Germans and French who have been bailed out and protected by the U.S. several times over.
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga most eloquently explained the differences between the "old Europe" (German and French appeasers of dictatorship) and the new democracies:
We certainly have seen the results of appeasement... It's much easier to tolerate a dictator when he's dictating over somebody else's life and not your own. We have suffered through half a century because dictators were allowed to proceed unchecked in the faint hope that they would somehow see the light, or reform, or simply by indifference to those who have been affected by their actions.
Watch out dictators and appeasers of dictators. There are people on this Earth that will fight you, who don't take freedom for granted, and are not willing to rationalize terrorism. Democracy is here to stay.