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Interview: Former Lithuanian President Says 'Communism Was Never Defeated'

If he had to do it all over again, Vytautas Landsbergis says he "would be more careful about sophisticated forms of political corruption."

If he had to do it all over again, Vytautas Landsbergis says he "would be more careful about sophisticated forms of political corruption."

In 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to proclaim independence, paving the way for the Soviet Union's collapse. Twenty years later, however, the Baltic state is still grappling with its communist legacy.

Its first postcommunist head of state, Vytautas Landsbergis, says there is little consensus in Central and Eastern European countries on dealing with Soviet-era crimes. Landsbergis, who is now a member of the European Parliament, speaks to RFE/RL's Claire Bigg on the sidelines of a Prague conference on the crimes of communism.

RFE/RL: Like most former communist countries, Lithuania adopted lustration policies in the early 1990s, barring influential former communists from public office. As Lithuanian president, what role did you play in drafting and implementing lustration in your country?

Vytautas Landsbergis:
When I was president, reforms were only just beginning. We tried to adopt a law on lustration similar to that of Czechoslovakia. We took it as a model and went ahead with the draft.

But then we met resistance from the left wing, very strong resistance that drew increasing numbers of parliamentarians from the center. Finally, they got a majority and this [lustration] process was stopped. The fact that I was then in charge did not change anything. A parliamentary republic can be manipulated by bribing parliamentarians and making new majorities.

RFE/RL: Who was handing out the bribes?

Forces of the past, the former regime.

RFE/RL: So you are saying that even today, there is no consensus in Lithuania on how to deal with crimes committed by the communist regime?

No, [there isn't]. A country with a communist legacy cannot have a consensus. Even now it is split, deeply split."

RFE/RL: Where are communist-era politicians, prosecutors, and secret-services members today? Do they still play a role in Lithuania's public life or have they been sidelined?

We introduced some limitations for them, but there are gaps that enable them to avoid these limitations.

No Justice

RFE/RL: In your opinion, why haven't there been any high-profile trials of communist leaders similar to the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II?

Because communism in communist countries was never defeated. They had no wish to clean themselves from this stain of the past.

RFE/RL: Do you think such trials could have helped Lithuania and other countries in the region come to terms with their communist legacy?

It's not about us, it's about justice. If there is no justice, people don't believe in justice in general. They are dissatisfied with democracy, with state policies, because they see the same personalities in power or wielding great influence.

RFE/RL: If you could go back to the early days of postcommunist Lithuania, is there anything you would do differently as president?

I would be more careful about sophisticated forms of political corruption. I believed, maybe too much, in the goodwill of people in general. And not all of them deserved it.

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