As Lithuanians are commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of Sąjūdis (eng. Movement, the Reform Movement of Lithuania which was a key player in securing Lithuania‘s independence in 1990) this year, the Kremlin‘s information warfare machine is doing all it can to undermine Sąjudis‘ legitimacy. In this analysis, we will examine Rimas Naujelis’ text “Intentionally or not, Sąjūdis misled us” which was published last month by the Kremlin’s propaganda platform Sputnik. The article is interesting because it contains all of the most common twisted myths about Lithuania’s independence movement which are constantly spread by pro-Kremlin propaganda.
Myth 1: Sąjūdis was supposedly born as a public movement intended to support Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. Naujelis tries to show that there were allegedly no discussions about Lithuanians’ aspirations to leave the Soviet Union or the need to switch from socialism to capitalism. The author aims to downplay the fact that Sąjūdis later started demanding independence, claiming that this demand was a sham. However, if we take a clearheaded approach, it is only natural that a movement born in an authoritarian system such as the Soviet Union had its objectives set low at first and later, seeing new opportunities, gradually set them higher. Though it is possible to say that the objectives of Sąjūdis evolved by using the emerging loopholes in the system, in no way can it be called a sham.
Myth 2: Sąjūdis aimed to switch to a federation based on Lenin’s and not Stalin’s principles. Lithuania has allegedly only experienced Stalin’s “federation”. In fact, while Lenin was in power, Lithuania was an independent and growing country whose growth was disrupted by the brutal Soviet occupation in 1940. How is it possible to come back to a place where you have not been before?
Myth 3: Sąjūdis has rewritten Lithuanian and Soviet history. Naujelis and other pro-Russian authors complain that the Soviet Union was portrayed as the aggressor and the Nazi Germany allegedly as “the saviour from Bolshevik plague.” They also complain that the post-war industrialization was portrayed as “an instrument of Russian colonialism used under occupation.” In the first case it is mendaciously suggested that condemning the Soviets in World War II acquits Nazi Germany. There is a failure to recognise that the World War II broke out because of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union plotting together (cf. Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). Both totalitarian powers were guilty. In the case of industrialization, it must be stressed that it took place in an occupied Lithuania where large segments of its population were exiled or killed. The natural development of the country and of the nation was significantly disrupted by the occupation. Besides, the industrialization was implemented in order to switch the country’s course: if the interwar Lithuania had been aiming for the West, Moscow pursued to unite it with the Soviet Union forever. This is the reason why Soviet industrialization was colonial in nature.
Myth 4: Sąjūdis tried to bury the “fact” that it was consulted by Lithuanians living in the United States, many of whom were allegedly related to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Apparently, in this way Sąjūdis was instrumentalised and made into a political tool of the United States. It is a plain lie. As the interests of the United States and Sąjūdis in the fight against the empire of evil coincided, their collaboration was of a mutual interest. We can only remember how the post-war partisans would sit in their bunkers listening to the Western radio anxiously waiting for the news about the American troops coming to liberate the occupied Lithuania. It is important to stress that a fair number of Lithuanian-Americans were refugees who fled Lithuania when the second Soviet occupation was on the horizon. Thus, their fight against the Soviet Union and the support for the Lithuanian case of freedom was inevitable and even if they collaborated with the CIA, it was only because they felt it was their duty to do so, not because they were used as manipulative tools.
Myth 5: After ruining the Soviet Union, Sąjūdis brought back wild capitalism. Yet again, it is impossible to go back where you haven’t been before: the interwar Lithuania was not a country of wild capitalism. On the contrary, the politics of the independent government and most importantly, Krupavicius’ Land Reform, allowed the middle-class to be created. It was precisely socialist policies implemented by the Soviet occupation forces that impoverished the country. To this day, thousands of Lithuanian citizens remember standing in excruciatingly long queues to buy even the most essential products (if it was possible to buy them at all). After the restoration of independence Lithuania had to rebuild the wrecked economy which was integrated to the Soviet system by brutal force.
Myth 6: Sąjūdis is resposible for the division of the Lithuanian nation. That is a disgusting lie: the societal disruption and divisions were precisely what the communist politics of fear systematically pursued in practice. Communists created many imaginary enemies and phantoms, such as “the West,” kulaks, bourgeois nationalists inside the country etc. They threatened and operated with force in order to silence each and every inconvenient dissenting voice.
Myth 7 questions the meaning and significance of freedom won by Sąjūdis. “You will say, Sąjūdis gained the freedom of Lithuania? Freedom for whom exactly? The unemployed who are now free to live in poverty?” – writes the columnist who is intentionally mixing up the questions of social welfare and freedom. Sąjūdis achieved the self-determination and liberty for the nation to be sovereign again in an independent country. Sąjūdis obtained the freedom of speech, conscience, and freedom of movement. None of these were present in the Soviet Union.
Sąjūdis is justifiably regarded as one of the most significant episodes in Lithuania‘s history. Lithuanians constantly turn back to this heroic episode to remember to whom they should be grateful for freedom. It is naturally to be expected that Sąjūdis becomes the target of the Kremlin’s propaganda which tries to smear and undermine the most significant historical starting points which formed Lithuania’s past, affect the country’s present and decide its future geopolitical outlook.
In this regard, Lithuania is not an exception: all nations which managed to escape the Soviet Union and are leaning towards the West have become the target of Kremlin. In the “Media Development Foundation“ report on disinformation in Georgia we can see constant attempts to spread the anti-Western messages and set Georgia against the European Union (EU) and NATO. Pro-Kremlin disinformation platforms usually portray the West as a civilization that imposes “homosexualism” and other unacceptable, “non-traditional” values. It is portrayed that the West will never acknowledge Georgia as a sovereign and independent geopolitical subject and will treat them only as a tool of the United States or other powerful forces. A similar image is being created about Lithuania, but this time the target is Sąjūdis. Similar disinformation campaigns are also being organised against Ukraine where the disinformation is closely related to the other forms of a hybrid war: military action, cyber warfare, targeted killings, the export of corruption, etc.
The text is part of a project which is aimed at strengthening democracy and civil society as well as fostering closer ties with the EU Eastern Partnership countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) by spreading independent information with the help of contemporary solutions. The project is implemented by Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, and is financed as part of Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs‘ Development Cooperation and Democracy Promotion Programme.
This article was originally published by the Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis.