Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Forgotten War

In its current issue, the Australia-based journal Lithuanian Papers has published a fascinating essay by the Swedish translator and journalist Jonas Öhman, who has made a special study of the Lithuanian armed resistance against the Soviet Union, and is presently visiting locations in preparation to making a documentary film on the subject.

Öhman examines the bloody Lithuanian guerrilla war of 1944-1953, a conflict which mostly took place behind the rigidly imposed Iron Curtain of those years, received almost no coverage or publicity in Western media, and is still little discussed even today:
When addressing the anti-Soviet guerilla war it must be noted that one is talking about a war that has never been officially acknowledged elsewhere. As the Soviet security forces were intensifying their manhunt in the Lithuanian forests, looking for the deeply dug-in guerillas with mine sweepers and dogs in the end of the 1940s, the resistance fighters desperately increased their efforts to get some public attention in the West.

Couriers literally shot themselves through the Iron Curtain carrying backpacks with photos, documents and even pleas written in the languages of the leaders and decision makers they were aimed at. Alas, they soon found that the risks taken were in vain. Silence, disbelief and indifference were the West's reply.
The Lithuanian conflict has its parallel today in the war in Chechnya, a war that still continues, despite the Russian government's insistence to the contrary. Öhman has some interesting reflections on this subject:
Remnants of the experience of resistance in Lithuania would be felt until independence was achieved in the beginning of the 1990s. One could mention the incident on July 31, 1990 when a number of young border guards of the newly independent state were surrounded at night in their barracks at Medininkai and seven of them were executed with shots to the head. This was probably done by the special interior forces of the Soviet Union, the so-called OMON, which still exists under the same name in Russia. One of the border guards, a certain Tomas Šernas, miraculously survived (the bullet passed between the halves of his brain) and he could tell the story. It might further be added that these kinds of tactics are among the standard measures still used by the Russian security forces in Chechnya, for instance.

When studying the counter-guerilla techniques developed in Ukraine and Lithuania it becomes clear that the tactics from the 40s and 50s are still being used to discredit and destabilize the resistance. One could mention several incidents in recent years in the Caucasus, by which several thousand of people have been abducted and/or executed by unidentified units for unclear reasons or no reasons at all; and with no one being able to tell who had actually performed the deed. In a number of cases it has been established that the abductions and killings have been performed by Russian-controlled units in order to create uncertainty and fear, and so silence anyone who considered joining the opposition. Further, every Chechen fighter has a personal FSB security officer attached to his file: a similar system previously used against the anti-Soviet resistance participants.

Sometimes, however, not even fear among one's opponents is good enough. The blowing up of a number of multistory residences in Moscow in 1999 remains to a large extent a mystery, not the least since some available evidence pointš to the Russian Secret Service (FSB) as a probable initiator of the bombings. Yet the Chechens were blamed, and this was used as a reason to initiate renewed military action on Chechen territory.

Here one could mention another circumstance connected to the theme of this essay. A part of the very same NKVD forces, the 25th NKVD regiment, used to deport literally all the Chechens in 1944 to Siberia and Central Asia - an act which in the long term paved the way for the ruthless acts of war in the last decade in the Caucasus - was soon thereafter despatched to Lithuania, where it suffered heavy casualties in 1945-46.
Lithuanian Papers:
Post Office Box 777, Sandy Bay, Tas. 7006 (Australia).
Phone (03) 6225 2505. E-mail: a.taskunas@utas.edu.au
Subscriptions: Australia, single issue, $7 posted.
All other countries, single issue by air mail, US$8.
Please direct subscription requests to:
Post Office Box 777, Sandy Bay, Tas. 7006 (Australia).
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