On the walls of the former KGB HQ in Vilnius, now a museum, are the names of Lithuanians executed by the Soviets.

The KGB still walks among us

Twenty-two years after it was dismantled, the KGB continues to rouse passions in Lithuania. The publication of the names of former employees of the Soviet security agency has exposed some politicians and officials. Are they still a threat to the state?

Published on 8 November 2012 at 12:45
FaceMePLS  | On the walls of the former KGB HQ in Vilnius, now a museum, are the names of Lithuanians executed by the Soviets.

The KGB – the intelligence service of the Soviet Union – was dismantled in October 1991. Ever since, each publication of a new document – lists of reservists or KGB agents, or testimonies on the activity of Soviet agents – by the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre in Lithuania (LGGRTC) provokes a flood of reactions: the centre’s website (www.genocid.lt) very quickly freezes up under the heavy traffic of visitors. Fifty years from now the story of the KGB will no longer interest the wider world, but it still affects the lives and relationships of many Lithuanians today, not to mention the former Soviet security agents who have gone into politics or risen high in the civil service.

This time around, the publication of the list of management staff in the regional offices of the KGB has unleashed a flood of new passions. The name of the director of the Criminal Police Bureau, Algirdas Matonis, was on it, as were the names of many people currently occupying important positions. Until now, their past had been wholly hidden from Lithuanian society.

Since the end of World War II, more than 100,000 people have worked for the KGB in Lithuania. In 1990 about 6,000 Lithuanians were KGB agents. A large majority of them escaped the lustration – the ‘purification’ – and consider their past to be a secret. About 1,500 former employees have chosen to admit to their collaboration and so have their relationship with the Soviet security agency filed as ‘state secrets’, under the terms proposed by a law enacted in 1999. Among those who admitted it, many worked for the KGB well before 1990.

Election candidates caught up by their KGB past

There are no precise data to quantify how many former KGB employees are working in the civil service. According to Arvydas Anušauskas, who chairs the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, a thousand Lithuanian agents were still working for the KGB when it was dismantled in 1991. Some have since retired, and nearly 200 of them have found jobs in the public service. Following the adoption of the 1999 law restricting the employment of former KGB agents and employees in the civil service, only a few dozen have won legal authorisation to retain their positions.

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Terese Burauskaite, director of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre in Lithuania, has been analysing the KGB archives for many years and says that the country’s higher ranks of the civil service include some officials who worked for the KGB and never admitted it. To prove that in court, though, is not easy. “We researchers have enough evidence at hand, because we consider their activity as a whole, but the legal system takes a different approach. Not all the documents that we have available necessarily constitute serious legal evidence. These are copies of papers without signatures, rough drafts, notebooks. We know that the material is genuine, and we can read the names in it, but that’s not enough for it to be used as evidence in a court of law,” she regrets.

In the last general election several candidates were caught up by their past as KGB agents. One famous chemist had to admit that he had collaborated with Soviet security. But while he said that this collaboration had gone on for just a year, it was proved that it had taken in a whole decade. Several politicians’ names show up on the lists of KGB reservists published recently by the Research Centre, and at least seven of the reservists are members of the Social Democratic Party, which won the parliamentary elections on October 28 and will form the next government. The best known of them is the former foreign minister and current ambassador in Latvia, Antanas Valionis. The restrictions (under the 1999 Act) imposed on former KGB employees ran out in 2009. This means that, today, the former KGB employees may take up any position at all in the public service.

No Lithuanian worked voluntarily with the KGB

Still, Arvydas Anušauskas does not think there is much to worry about. “If, through this law, a person lost his job at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, what are his chances of finding a job again ten years later? His skills and knowledge are no longer valuable,” he says.

The documents reveal that no Lithuanian worked voluntarily with the KGB. As Terese Burauskaite explains, a new employee was either baited with the carrot or threatened with the stick. And that was why the majority of former KGB employees welcomed the chance to come clean. According to the Centre’s Director, those who never confessed have lost their peace of mind forever, because they can never be sure that their relationship with the KGB will not be exposed one day.

Is there still something to fear from the spectre of the KGB? Asked about the former KGB officers who may still be passing on information to Russia, Arvydas Anušauskas gives an abstract answer. The hypothesis cannot be rejected, he says, but it’s also impossible to respond more concretely. It cannot be denied that former KGB agents in Russia and Lithuania remain in touch, help each out with professional issues and share information. “As Putin put it, 'former' KGB agents do not exist. From this point of view, he’s right,” says the Conservative deputy.

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