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We Too Want to Be Free!

This article is taken from the July 31, 1989 issue of 
The New American.

Reverend Alfonsas Svarinskas, 64, an ordained Catholic Priest, has spent more than one-third of his life in the prisons of the Soviet Union. He was released from his third term in prison in July 1988; that August he was allowed to emigrate to West Germany because of multiple health problems. He has just completed a two-month speaking tour of Australia, and is now touring the United States and Canada. He was interviewed by Thomas R. Eddlem, with the assistance of Reverend Albert Contons, who translated from Reverend Svarinskas' native Lithuanian.

This photo of Father Svarinskas was first published in 500,000 copies ofThe Fatima Crusader in October 1986, while he was still in prison. We are pleased to have been able to publish about his persecution by the Communist tyrants in Lithuania, thereby helping in some way to bring about his release. We are indebted to him for speaking out so clearly against the lies of Gorbachev which are currently deceiving so many millions in the USA and the Western world.

Q. Tell us a little about Lithuania.

A. I was born in 1925 in a free and democratic Republic of Lithuania. On August 23, 1939, the two dictators of Europe, Hitler and Stalin, made a secret agreement, the Molotov-Ribbentrop accord, in which they divided up Eastern Europe. On June 15, 1940, the free Baltic Republics were occupied by the Soviet Army, and then began the way of the cross, the Golgotha, of Lithuania. The three Republics did not surrender, but fought as best they could, and still continue the struggle against Soviet occupation.

Soon it will be the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, this shameful pact, and we hope that the West will protest the effects of this pact. For the tragedy of the Baltic Republics, the blame is to be shared equally between the Nazis and the Communists.

A short time ago, the Russian historian Medvedev said that 40 million people had been liquidated since the beginning of the Soviet revolution in 1917. And the world seems to ignore this terrible fact ...

Q. How can we in the West aid in the liberation of Lithuania and other captive nations?

A. First, you should not be giving any material aid to the Soviet Union. If the West had not given material aid to the Soviet Union after the Second World War, we would now be free. Some in the West say: "Better Red than dead." We say: "Better to die than be a slave."

Second, the West should insist that the effects of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact be canceled. Then we would have a juridical reason for requiring freedom.

Third, the Soviet Union should release all political prisoners and allow them to be "rehabilitated". Until they are rehabilitated, their release has no real significance. For example, one political prisoner, Kucenko, was released two years ago. He has not been rehabilitated, so he can't be registered. If you are not registered, you can't get a job. So it's very important that they not only release political prisoners, but that they "rehabilitate" them, in the sense of permitting them to live a normal life. In Moscow, the majority of those released who are doctors or engineers still aren't able to practice their profession and live as doctors and engineers. And the KGB tries to enlist released political prisoners into their network of spying. If they agree to spy for them, then the KGB will rehabilitate them and permit them to have decent jobs.

The next point that the West should insist upon is that the Soviet Union recognize the Ukrainian Catholic Church and allow it to come out from underground, because it is publicly prohibited. Gorbachev has not significantly ameliorated conditions during his time; instead, he has made them even stricter.

Q. How has he made them stricter?

A. Last year, on June 29, Gorbachev issued a new regulation that no meetings could be held without prior permission. Violations would be punished by a penalty of 15 days in jail or would cost 300 rubles. Repeat offenses would cost 3,000 rubles or half a year in prison.

On April 8, this year, a new instruction was issued. For "slandering the authority of the Government", the penalty is three years in prison. If someone criticizes the Party, he can be put into prison for three years. In this way now, Gorbachev and his officials can control the opposition better ...

Q. Do Communist Party members actually believe in Marxism?

A. There is no such understanding there. No one believes in Marxism. They only believe in rubles. As long as Lenin's portrait is on the wall, nobody believes in him. They only believe in him when he is in the pocket, in the ruble. Then everybody believes.

Q. What would you say to Americans who believe that Gorbachev is a reformer?

A. People in the United States are losing their faith, but a person can't live without faith. They are losing their faith in God and putting their faith in Gorbachev. In Lithuania, most people believe in God, and they don't believe in Gorbachev. No one believes in Gorbachev in Lithuania, unless they are psychologically sick.

Communism (Marxism) can't give a personal freedom or an economic freedom. It enslaves the person in body and soul. It is unfortunate that the Soviets seem to be leading the world by the nose. Today there are so many proofs and indications of the real nature of Communism, but nobody seems to want to believe in them. During Stalin's time, there was the Iron Curtain and many perhaps did not know the real effects. But today, they don't seem to want to know. There seems to be a nearly universal spiritual laziness.

Q. When were you first sent to prison?

A. The first time I was in the concentration camp, a work camp, was from 1946 to 1956. I was a seminary student when I was arrested. The physical conditions were very bad. It was very cold the first time. There was hunger, but there was a great deal of idealism, even though many died in the camps. And I became a priest in the underground prison. I was ordained in the work camp secretly. At that time, not only did we not lose our heads, but we prepared for the struggles to come. The second time I was in prison was from 1958 to 1964. Then the physical conditions were somewhat better, but there was less idealism. The more recent prisoners were less energetic fighters for freedom.

The third time I was in prison was from 1983 until last year, July of 1988. Of the ten-year sentence that I had, I fulfilled five and a half years.

The conditions were quite difficult the last time.

Four factors contributed to the slow destruction of the human person: Number one, the very difficult work, the high quotas required of the prisoners. The second factor was the bad food, especially the lack of vitamins. There were almost no vegetables available. The third factor was the bad medical service. There were neither doctors nor medicines. To become seriously ill meant death. The number of those who died was quite high. The fourth factor was the psychological trauma inflicted by the KGB. The KGB facilitated the use of narcotics, so that prisoners would more easily serve them to betray other prisoners. The administration was especially fierce and strict, especially the guards. It was somewhat easier for those prisoners who had someone in the West to protest on their behalf.

The Soviet Union says now that there are no political prisoners left in the camps. But there is a section called "Offenses against the State." The numbers in the Soviet criminal code from 64 to 70 deal with political prisoners. The West has given two new names, "prisoners of conscience" and "dissidents," to individuals covered by criminal code number 70. Number 70 is "Anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation." Those who were convicted under number 70 of the criminal code, because of pressure from the West, were released. But those prisoners who were condemned under code numbers 64 through 69 are still in prison. Many of those are charged under the criminal code which prohibits espionage, but these charges are generally fabricated by the Soviets, and the person is condemned through these fabrications.

Q. What charges were you "convicted" of for your three terms?

A. The first time that I was in prison, the charge was aiding the partisans, aiding the guerilla warriors in various ways. After the Soviet occupation began again in 1944, many people fought against the Soviet army in the forests of Lithuania. There was a guerilla war going on from 1944 to 1954.

The last two times I was charged with "ideological warfare against the Soviet State," because of my work as a priest ...

Q. Did people in the United States intervene for you?

A. Many in the United States, organizations and individuals, wrote letters to intercede for me: 27 U.S. Senators wrote a letter to ask for my release; the President also made efforts; Martin Luther King's wife, Coretta Scott King, appealed for my release; and many others, many of whom I don't know. Amnesty International was helping me from 1973. I was one of the important causes of the Oregon group of Amnesty International, and Keston College of England and its leader of many years, Michael Bordeaux. I am very grateful to all who have helped, in my own name and also in the name of others for whom they interceded ...

In the Soviet Union, most people are convinced that its only the United States that is strong enough to resist the influence of Communism and its enslavement of others.

Q. What are religious conditions like in Lithuania?

A. In Lithuania, people today don't know much about the faith, because of the lack of freedom to educate and the lack of publications. But the faith is stronger in Lithuania than it is here. So far, there is very little religious literature, and people don't know, intellectually, as much about God. But their faith has been strong. And what they know, they live for that, and they are determined even to suffer to express their faith.

In Lithuania, the Catholic Church is the fundamental force in the struggle against Communism. The Church has always struggled against Communism and continues that struggle today, even though it has suffered a great deal. Out of five bishops before the War, one was shot to death, one died in prison, and two died in exile after 10 years of internal exile. The Archbishop of Vilnus was in exile for 28 years. The present Cardinal was in exile for 22 years. They both remain faithful to God and the Church. Since 1948, convents and monasteries have been liquidated, but their members continue to work underground, even up to our own day.

Q. What do you think of American/Soviet joint ventures and American loans and technological transfers with the Soviet Union?

A. The Soviets are very grateful to the American business community, but millions of people in slavery are cursing them. I don't understand why people in the West want themselves to be free, and want us to be slaves. Wealso want to be free. And we were free, but we are small in numbers and unable to defend ourselves against this great dictatorship. We pray very earnestly that the West will help us to become free again. How can anyone be truly happy when millions are slaves?