VILNIUS - An illustrated book on Lithuania's police history triggered an emotional backlash last week after it was discovered that the book offered a negative assessment of those who fought for Lithuanian independence during the late 1980s. Even President Valdas Adamkus was perturbed by the publication, calling it a "huge disgrace."
The Lithuanian Police Department, which published and financed the book, apologized promptly for the debacle, saying "such things should be assessed more carefully, more critically, as human memory is not a very reliable source and everybody can forget or confuse something." The book, "Flight of a Guardian Angel," had reportedly shocked those who witnessed the events of the waning years of the Soviet Union. Specifically, the book refers to the so-called "banana feast" incident of 1988 that led to the resignation of Ringaudas Songaila, then chief of Lithuania's Communist Party. Eyewitnesses say that the Interior Ministry, with assistance of the U.S.S.R. Interior Ministry's home troops, dispersed activists of the Lithuanian Freedom League from Gediminas Square on Sept. 28, 1988. The next morning, officers battered people taking part in a hunger strike.
In the police book, the "banana feast" is portrayed as ruffians raging around Gediminas Square, throwing bottles and stones and heckling officers. In response, the police chief and home troops "vented their anger upon the protesters."
The book states that, due to a lack of entertainment during the Soviet era, "protest rallies and demonstrations were not just a civil duty or a political necessity to many people, especially youth, but an opportunity to rage and shout, curse the administration without being punished."
The President's Office was quick in responding. "This is a big disgrace to Lithuanian society and citizens who cherish memories of the Revival period and the activities of the Sajudis liberation movement," Adamkus said in a press release.
"The mistakes should be corrected without delay."
The president said that, while he supports freedom of expression, individual assessments distorting Lithuania's history should not be published at the state's expense.
Adamkus also said he could not understand why a police chronicle about a country celebrating its 16th year of independence had been illustrated with memories of Soviet militiamen.
Earlier in the day, Andrius Kubilius, leader of the opposition Homeland Union party, asked Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas to demand an apology from Police Commissioner General Vytautas Grigaravicius for offending defenders of freedom.
"I demanded that the parliamentary chairman request a public apology from the police chief for fabricating history," Kubilius told the Baltic News Service.
Though a public apology was not forthcoming from Grigaravicius, who wrote a foreword to the book, the press release was issued on March 10. It was signed by Danute Daunoraviciute, the department's spokeswoman.
"This is not a thorough monograph meant for a narrow circle of specialists. This is just a part of a Lithuanian police chronicle, a documentary feature, which has only one purpose 's i.e., interest as many people as possible. These books include many documents, pictures, brief comments of contemporary employees, explanations or vivid memories. And assessments are a prerogative of historians, political scientists, law specialists."
MEP Vytautas Landsbergis, former chairman of the Lithuanian Supreme Council, the Reconstituent Seimas, said he was shocked that police "threw mud" at the state and their inadequate response to the book.
"The fallen 'angel,' or an agent provocateur, is throwing mud at Lithuania's liberation and the state, which feeds them. The public does not dissociate itself, the country pretends it doesn't understand the destruction, and chiefs speak only of secondary matters," the MEP said in his statement.
In Landsbergis' opinion, it is the biggest shame that the book was released using Police Department funds.