Monday, February 22, 2010

Lithuania KGB Archives Opened to Scholars

New York City is home to many emigres from the former USSR. The majority are immersed in the day to day demands of earning a living. There are however some who maintain an interest in the history and current affairs of the former USSR. Until the early 1990's, you had to leave the USSR to get an uncensored history of that country's history. Leon Trotsky was completely written out of historical accounts of the Russian Revolution. That was as major an excision as cutting Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton out of America's history books. With the fall of communism, the freedom to seek out uncensored history can now be enjoyed in Russia itself.

For over 50 years, Lithuania was a captive "republic" of the Soviet Union. It was handed over to the USSR when Nazi Germany and the USSR concluded the "Treaty of Friendship" in 1939. During that time, the KGB kept meticulous records of their secret deliberations as they ran the police state that was Soviet occupied Lithuania. Unfortunately, during the late 1980's some of the most sensitive material in the Lithuanian KGB archives was destroyed. Fortunately, much material does remain.

In an earth shaking act of scholarly friendship, the Lithuanian government has agreed to make available to the Hoover institution a complete set of microfilms of the Lithuanian KGB archives, spanning the entire history of the Soviet occupation. Since the archives are almost entirely in Russian, there will be no shortage of scholars with the language skills needed to study the archival material. The Hoover Digest reports as follows on the major breakthrough for historians of the Soviet era.

"Since 1991, the Lithuanian Archives Department and its dedicated staff have been meticulously reconstructing the finding aids and inventories destroyed by the Soviets. They have found the KGB files to be a font of source material for the study of the organization and functioning of the Soviet security apparatus. Moreover, Lithuanian law regarding state security and privacy issues is not very restrictive, and, as a result, some 95 percent of the KGB materials are open to historical research. The documentation is virtually all in Russian, a language readily understood by scholars specializing in Soviet and East European history and politics, and Hoover has assumed the responsibility of translating the reconstructed finding aids from Lithuanian to Russian. Scholars now have a gold mine of material for examining and studying five decades of Lithuanian history."

I am looking forward to the treatment that historians give this vast treasure trove of information. History really becomes interesting when material relating to it becomes declassified. That is when the information that was held back from the public sees the light of day.

One peculiarity of the Stalin regime was that it could ban not only the words of its opponents but its own words as well. I speak of the time between 1939 and 1941, when the people of the USSR were psychologically prepared for friendship with their erstwhile nemesis, Nazi Germany. During that two year period, news articles were written, newsreels were made and textbooks written that supported Soviet German friendship. There was even talk of the similarities between international socialism and national socialism. What happened to all of that material. Was it all destroyed? Does no remnant exist of two years during which Stalin and his regime lied to themselves and to the peoples of the USSR? If I could issue any appeal to scholars of Soviet history, it would be to reconstruct as a multimedia archive the films, broadcasts and printed materials that promoted Nazi-Soviet friendship.

There are those who believe that those two years were an aberration, a time that the Soviets deluded themselves for short term gain. There is another school of thought (to which I subscribe) that these two years of intertwined Soviet and German history were totally true and reflective of the essence of Marxism and Nazism. For years, the common folk have looked at the mounds of corpses left by both ideologies and seen this truth. A closer examination of those two years in the history of Europe would make this ideological kinship even more clear to the public.

A post communist Russia and its newly independent neighbours are taking their faltering and awkward steps in the path of democracy. To steady them in this course, an honest recounting of history is essential. The Hoover Institution and the government of Lithuania are to be commended for their assistance in this cause. As it casts its long shadows into the future, history never really enters the past tense. Sphere: Related Content

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