Salvaging KGB history from obscurity

  • 2005-03-02
  • Interview by Milda Seputyte
Lithuanian society is still in shock following the KGB reservist scandal that broke out at the start of the year, when it was discovered that three high-ranking public officials were members of the KGB reserves. The Baltic Times met with historian Arvydas Anusauskas to discuss the circumstances of the latest scandal to engulf Lithuanian politics.

How can it be that so many people and even the lawmakers who drafted the lustration law were not aware of the KGB reservist status until very recently?

The status was not completely unknown. When this law was drafted no one knew if anyone specifically belonged to this category, and so it fell out from the scope of the law. People thought that even if somebody belonged to this category, their ties with the KGB were too vague to evaluate their level of involvement. Once we started analyzing the KGB archives just a few months ago, we realized that it wasn't as simple as it seemed.

When did you first come across the actual list of KGB reservists?

The first time I wrote about this category was in 1998. But the list only turned real by the end of 2004, when we realized we had enough documents in the archives to start drawing conclusions. Most of the KGB archive wasn't destroyed, it remained behind.

A large part of very important documents is missing though, such as the papers relating to the last years of the KGB's operations in the country or the documents revealing human rights violations. Some other files connected with secret agents were carefully chosen to be taken to Moscow.

What is the ratio between the missing documents and what has survived of the archive?

I'd say some five percent of the archive was taken away. Another five percent, perhaps, was destroyed. But I'm sure we have about ninety percent of the KGB material.

What were the KGB reserves? What people were usually enlisted, and what were their duties?

The KGB operated during the Cold War and the organization was preparing itself for a war, or any other possible unexpected extreme situations in the country. It selected people that could replace its agents in the event of something happening. I have to emphasize that very few such people were needed. In Lithuania, for instance, the KGB estimated that it would need 2,100 employees and would therefore need 500-600 extra people for its operations. Most of the people for the KGB reserve list were selected from military reserve officers.

The typical selection system had three stages. First, the KGB agents selected information about a potential candidate, but the individual was unaware of this. An individual could be suitable for various reasons 's a big advantage was if he was involved with the communist party, or if he was a highly qualified engineer.

If the person had a "clean" background, the KGB would then try to contact him. The goal of the meeting was to get the person to consent to joining the institution. If someone refused, the contact stopped immediately.

Could somebody be punished in some way if he or she refused?

No. Not at all. Perhaps it was more difficult for them to make a career but no automatic penalties were applied. But if someone agreed to be enlisted, that person would then go on a probation period.

All family members were investigated and after that, the person would receive a small assignment to do - to gather information about the atmosphere at work, for example.

After the selection procedure was complete, the enlisted people were transferred to the KGB reserves. It's necessary, however, to take into account that the enlistment circumstances differed every time, and each case has to be studied individually. Some people have claimed that they did not know about their enlistment, which is possible because low-ranking reservists were not informed about it.

In general, the KGB reservist category was rather small 's 420 people were enlisted, but some 200 hundred of those never worked directly for the KGB.

In general, do you believe the names of the reservists should be revealed to the public?

Certainly, the whole scandal is the aftermath of poor publicity. Society has the right to know all the facts about politicians and to make judgments. The former KGB reservists could also feel more confident about themselves, no blackmailing problems would occur, and the law could protect them.

Did any of the KGB reservists commit any actions that could now be interpreted as crime?

No. But it also depends on what you interpret as doing wrong. During their probation period, some KGB reservists reported on independence meetings. It doesn't seem serious now but if the KGB had continued to exist in Lithuania, many people they reported on could have had their lives ruined. It was a serious action at that time.

Should the politicians involved in the scandal be allowed to continue with their duties?

These people did not commit a crime but they collaborated with an institution which we regard as a criminal organization. The politicians haven't done anything, they are loyal to the country, but the majority of society doesn't think those people involved should seek high-ranking positions. In my opinion, each case has to be studied individually.

People's negative opinions will definitely continue though if information about all of this is kept secret.