Strasbourg rules against KGB employment law

  • 2004-08-05
  • By Steven Paulikas
VILNIUS - On July 27 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that two Lithuanians who openly admitted to collaborating with the KGB had been unfairly denied work as a result of a law that severely restricted employment opportunities for former KGB agents, prompting a parliamentary review of the controversial law.

Kestutis Dziautas, a former prosecutor, and Juozas Sidabras, a worker at the Siauliai tax inspection office, initiated their suit four years ago and appealed to the Strasbourg court after Lithuanian courts had ruled against them.
In its ruling, the Strasbourg court argued that the government violated Dziautas' and Sidabras' rights by interfering in their search for private employment and awarded them 7,000 euros each in damages.
The law under question, the so-called lustration code, was passed in 1999 and requires that all citizens who had connections to the KGB register the fact with the government.
Upon registration, such persons are forbidden by the law to work in numerous government institutions, as well as certain areas in the private sector - including banking, private security, private detective work and even education.
With over 1,500 people coming forward to register as former KGB agents or informants, lawmakers have openly wondered about the possible implications of the ruling for Lithuania if the law is not changed soon.
Experts from the court have also warned that Lithuania could face a series of legal defeats in the future if certain conditions in the law are not amended.
MP Julius Sabatauskas, chairman of the parliamentary legal affairs committee, announced on July 28 that he would form a working group to consider changes to the lustration law that could be implemented before the end of the Seimas' (Lithuania's parliament) term in October.
Pointing out that Lithuania was among the last of the post-Communist states to pass legislation placing boundaries on former secret service agents nine years after independence, Sabatauskas implied that the law might have been ill-conceived in the first place.
"Previously, people who worked for the KGB worked in private as well as public institutions. If they didn't do any harm then-and maybe even did some good-maybe we can even say that they've been 'rehabilitated,'" Sabatauskas told reporters.
Sabatauskas, a leading member of the ruling Social Democrat party, traditionally home to a number of Soviet-era politicians including Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, not only plans to charge the working group with revising the lustration law but to instruct it to take a second look at all laws that regulate the activities of ex-KGB workers.
Sabatauskas' comments were met with opposition from the right-wing Homeland Union-Lithuanian Conservatives, who said that the Strasbourg court had disagreed with only a small portion of the lustration law.
MP Rasa Jukneveciene, a prominent figure in Homeland Union, told reporters that the Seimas should refrain from tinkering too much with the law.
"The purpose of the law was to be sure that former KGB workers don't enter state service," said Jukneviciene. "Nonetheless, one narrow thing connected with employment in the private sector should be changed, all the more so because it's not even observed in Lithuania."
From 1940 until 1990, thousands of Lithuanians collaborated with the KGB, the domestic intelligence unit of the Soviet government.