• 2005-02-23
Lithuania is in the throes of another "KGB fever." But compared with past episodes, this time around the malady revolves around so-called reservists who signed onto a list of persons whom the state could call upon in case of war. These archived roll-calls are quite lengthy, and considering the set of high standards the KGB adhered to, they include many bright, talented people. Two of them are Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and State Security Department Director General Arvyadas Pocius. Understandably, Lithuania is in shock.

Few would argue that citizens have the right to know the biographies 's positions held, organizations joined, etc. 's of public officials. For Balts, this right is paramount given the "Soviet resumes" many politicians willy-nilly possess. The question is to what degree these individuals should be held responsible given the totalitarian environment in which they were forced to live. For what is worse: someone who willingly joined the Communist Party and, over decades, attained high positions through loyal party work, or a young man who signed the dotted line on some KGB paper that was never actually used?

If, as some right-wing politicians are suggesting, all former reservists should resign their posts, then might not the next step be to demand the same from all Lithuanian men who served in the Soviet armed forces? Government offices on all levels would suddenly empty out.

It is crucial to remember that these reservists didn't actually serve in the KGB but were set aside to do so should the state call upon them. One recent confession of a Lithuanian reservist was particularly anecdotal in this sense. He told about how he had been invited to become a KGB agent but refused. He was then asked to sign a paper confirming his decision, but later it turned out that the document in effect registered him as a KGB reserve officer. A couple years later he was invited to a series of instructional lessons, but, as he recalled, every attendee read newspapers or sweated over crosswords instead. They did not pay attention to the lecturer, and the lecturer ignored the fact that no one listened. The second time he was contacted to attend instructions, the reservist simply simulated illness. After that, the man had no other contacts with the KGB.

When one hears stories like this, it is difficult to find fault with these men. Others were enlisted by accident, or without their knowledge. Still, many Lithuanians are perturbed that these reservists willingly ignored this black spot on their biographies and managed to attain such high positions. They believe yesterday's reservists/today's politicians should have confessed this misdemeanor before assuming public office. That seems unfair. An individual wants desperately to participate in his country's nascent democracy, and yet he is being asked to show the dirty laundry that would ultimately ruin his career. Judging by how Lithuania reacted to KGB scares in the past, this is exactly what would have happened.

Save for exceptional cases, Balts should judge their politicians more on what they've done since 1990 to foster independence and democracy rather than what when on in the murky years of Soviet rule.