Remembering the Medininkai massacre

  • 2009-08-05
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

GREETING THE HERO: On July 31, at the site of tragedy, President Dalia Grybauskaite greets Tomas Sernas, the only survivor of the Medininkai massacre.

VILNIUS - Across from the Lithuanian-Belarusian border in Medininkai, one will pass a monument for the victims of the massacre 's seven white marble crosses poised on a massive black pedestal. The Soviets killed seven Lithuanian customs  agents and policemen there on July 31, 1991. Eighteen years later, on July 31, 2009, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite visited the site and promised in her speech to seek justice in the case.

"Our state will seek a triumph of justice. It is a question of honor of the Lithuanian state," Grybauskaite said in her speech at the monument near the Medininkai checkpoint.
After the speech, during a short briefing, she commented on Russia's unwillingness to cooperate in the case even though a majority of suspected perpetrators hide now in Russia. "It means that between our neighboring countries there is no real cooperation or real goodwill," Grybauskaite said.
Eighteen years ago, on July 31, customs officials Antanas Musteikis, Stanislovas Orlavicius, and Ricardas Rabavicius, policemen Mindaugas Balavakas, Algimantas Juozakas, Juozas Janonis and Algirdas Kazlauskas were killed by Soviet commandos during what is remembered as the Medininkai massacre.

However, this tragic event was one stop shy of a complete massacre. The invaders estimated they had eight victims but they had not expected Tomas Sernas, a customs official, to remain alive. He was injured severely but he survived. Sernas is the only witness to the murder of seven people.
"It was a nice summer night of July 31, 1991. At half past three, people from the Soviet special forces, called OMON [Russian abbreviation for the Special Purpose Militia Squad], came armed with guns and demanded that everybody lay on the floor so they could shoot all eight of us in the head," Sernas told The Baltic Times.

At the time, the Lithuanian customs officials were unarmed. Although the Lithuanian policemen had guns, they had a standing order from the Lithuanian government not to use them from fear that it might provoke a Soviet army attack on Lithuania.
The Lithuanian policemen who were with the customs officials had the right only to fire a warning shot into the air. In those days, it was a heroic act to go to work at a Lithuanian customs post. Before that night other Lithuanian customs stations were attacked by OMON on several occasions 's customs officials were beaten, stations were blown up, but the Soviets were not committing murders at the border stations.

The events of July 31 at Medininkai were different and, altogether, beyond fiction for Sernas 's on Aug. 1 he was to be married. The wedding with his fiancee Rasa took place two years later.
Sernas had perforating wounds in both cerebral hemispheres. Fragments of bones were taken out of his head.

OMON left him because they thought he was dead. He was unconscious, treated in Kaunas clinics and later in Germany. Only six months after the massacre, Sernas was allowed visits from officials, his parents and his fiancee.