The Lithuanian parliament decided last month to set up a commission to register people who have collaborated with the KGB. RFE/RL's correspondent Ahto Lobjakas explores the Baltic experience of "lustration," the exposure of the last vestiges of the former Soviet security apparatus.
Prague, 8 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Overall, the Baltic experience of coming to terms with their Communist collaborators stands in sharp contrast to that of the rest of Eastern Europe.
Countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary had their own indigenous secret services. The post-communist governments of those countries set up procedures to make the files available to the public. The Baltic countries, on the other hand, were Soviet republics, and fell within the jurisdiction of the KGB. As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate and the KGB withdrew, it took with it a large part of the Estonian, Latvian and, to a lesser extent, Lithuanian secret files.
Since the Baltic countries had no access to the bulk of the KGB records, they have had to seek out collaborators. To get a clearer picture of the extent of the penetration of their societies by the KGB, Estonia and Lithuania have at different times passed laws requiring collaborators to come forward and register themselves.
Starting from last week, (Feb. 1), all Lithuanian citizens who have collaborated with the KGB have six months to report to a special commission. RFE/RL spoke with Lithuania's deputy minister of justice, Gintaras Svadas, who explained how the process will work:
"Those citizens who took part in the secret activities of the KGB are required to, as it were, to use any means to inform the commission of that fact. After that they will have to visit the Committee of National Security of the Republic of Lithuania, where they will fill out a special form providing details of their collaboration with the KGB."
Svadas said that the identities of those who come forward will not be revealed. But collaborators who do not come forward within six months risk having their names disclosed to the public. Some of their identities are known to the authorities from salvaged KGB files, while others may be implicated by other collaborators.
Dalia Kuodite, the director of Lithuania's Genocide and Resistance Research Center -- which has members on the commission -- says the law will be important means of setting the historical record straight. But she says that, from a practical point of view, the law may come too late either to limit the effect of collaborators on society or to punish them.
Last November, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a law banning former KGB operatives from certain government positions. The new law on collaborators is expected to help monitor compliance with that ban.
RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service director, Kestutis Girnius, says Lithuania took so long to address the role of collaborators because, after independence, the Communist Party transformed itself into a major force in the country. The often dominant role of the communist party in the 1990s has hindered the process of lustration.
In contrast to Lithuania's Communists, Estonia's local Communist Party had been widely seen as an agent of russification. When the country regained independence in 1991, the party found itself out of favor, and Estonia swiftly passed a law banning former KGB operatives from high office. Alone among the Baltic states, Estonia requires anyone seeking such office to take an "oath of conscience," declaring that they did not collaborate with the KGB. The ban expires in 2002.
Lithuania's new law on collaborators follows the example set by Estonia five years ago. In 1995, Estonia passed a law requiring people who collaborated with the security services of any occupying power to register themselves with the security police within a year. The information gleaned from collaborators was treated as confidential, and those who did not comply faced being "outed".
Our correspondent spoke with Mart Nutt, a member of the Estonian parliament who serves on the constitutional committee. In Nutt's assessment, the Estonian effort was a success, resulting in hundreds of confessions. He says the authorities expected no great breakthrough or catharsis of society as a whole. Instead, Nutt says, the most important thing was to provide collaborators with a means of putting the past behind them.
"The importance of [the measure] should not be over-estimated. It took place, but since it was not backed up by any threat of real sanctions, it cannot be compared, for example, to the de-Nazification of Germany after World War Two. The law was aimed at buttressing the moral values of individuals and, as such, it had some positive results."
Similar to Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia bans former agents of the KGB from the parliament and government. But Indulis Zalite, head of an institute that documents the Soviet past, told RFE/RL that Latvia lacks the political consensus to pass a law requiring registration of former collaborators.