Fighting for justice

  • 2012-07-25
  • Interview by Rokas M. Tracevskis

Darius Kuolys, 50, was the first culture and education minister of the re-established independent state of Lithuania, back in 1990-1992 – then he was still in his twenties. Now Kuolys is professor of the history of literature in Vilnius University. In 1988, during the Soviet occupation, he and his friends started issuing, illegally, their underground cultural magazine Sietynas. From 1998-2002 he was an adviser to Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus. Kuolys is an active participant in the liberal organization Santara-Sviesa, which was created by Lithuanian-American intellectuals in the U.S. in 1957. The organization, which is mostly known for its public intellectual discussions, moved to Lithuania in the 1990s.
Kuolys is known as a human rights activist. He publicly expressed his doubts about the guilt of Egle Kusaite, a 23 year-old convert to Islam who was accused by Lithuanian prosecutors of having terrorist intentions in Russia. Kusaite’s case is still pending in the courts.

This activist is famous as one of the organizers of several protest demonstrations which took place on Vilnius streets and squares this year, to support the demand for justice in the so-called Garliava case. The crime story, which can alter the Lithuanian political landscape after the parliamentary elections in the coming October, is well known by everybody in Lithuania. On Oct. 5, 2009, Drasius Kedys, 37, who said his young daughter had been the victim of pedophiles (including businessman Andrius Usas), gunned down (according to prosecutors’ suggestions, which were never confirmed in court) a Kaunas judge, Jonas Furmanavicius, and Violeta Naruseviciene, who was the aunt of Kedys’ daughter (her mother’s sister). Neringa Venckiene, who is the sister of the deceased Kedys, says that she does not believe that her brother was the killer.

Earlier, Kedys publicly blamed Usas and both of the killed for being involved in the molestation. In April 2010, Kedys was found dead near a lake in the Kaunas region. A gun which was used in the double murder was found near Kedys’ body. Prosecutors officially announced that Kedys died due to vomiting caused by alcohol abuse, and no traces of a struggle were officially found on his body, although a black eye on Kedys face was noticeable during his funeral. It was attended by 5,000 mourners holding the tricolor Lithuanian flags, and violet flags of the ‘Kedys movement’ (the violet color was their choice because Kedys liked to wear a violet sweater). Soon after, Usas drowned in a shallow bog.

Since the mysterious killings of Oct. 5, 2009, Kedys’ daughter lived under the temporary custody of Judge Venckiene in the little town of Garliava, which is situated near Kaunas. On Dec. 16, 2011, Vitalijus Kondratjevas, the judge of the Kedainiai region’s court, decided that the daughter of Kedys should live with her mother, Laimute Stankunaite, who lives under state security protection in an unknown place. The court’s decision was implemented only on May 17, 2012, when 240 policemen stormed the Kedys family house after they dispersed a nearby standing crowd of protesters which was holding Lithuanian national flags, and took the eight-year old girl.

On July 5, Kuolys announced the establishment of a political party called the Lietuvos Sarasas (“The Lithuanian List”). It is one of the new political forces which were born this year on a wave of protests against the actions of the law and order institutions in the Garliava case. Other, similar forces are the political party Drasos Kelias (“The Way of Courage”), where the main star is Venckiene (she left her job as judge), and the alliance Uz Lietuva Lietuvoje (“For Lithuania in Lithuania”). Kuolys agreed to answer questions about the hottest issues of Lithuanian political life and other questions from TBT.

On July 5, you announced the creation of the political party Lithuanian List. What is the goal of this party?
The task of the party is to influence a democratic shift in Lithuania and to help its citizens in returning back their Republic to them, which should be a union of free people. The Lithuanian List is made up of scientists and public leaders who seek to resist the reticence, cynicism, lawlessness, and corruption of the current government and to firm up the wide public self-governance which would allow for citizens to participate in the governance of the state. We established the party to create a wide wave of democratic forces on the eve of the parliament elections and to add new ideas and new solutions to Lithuanian political life. We have our long-term goal: the independent, organized and free people of Lithuania.

What do you consider as the main problem in Lithuania now?
More than a decade ago this problem was pointed out by political analyst Aleksandras Stromas [Kaunas-born former prisoner of a Nazi occupation-era ghetto, later anti-Soviet dissident and emigre to the UK and subsequently to the U.S.], who stated “Lithuania is free, but there are no free Lithuanians.” Indeed, the lack of independence of a human being and the people, a lack of freedom and the fear of freedom are the most serious current problems of Lithuania. The Republic of Lithuania, which was re-established in 1990, still has no content and pillar, which should be a free people. A Lithuanian still does not feel as the master of his or her state.

What do you think about the calls by representatives of the ‘anti-system electorate’ on Internet sites stating that it would be more rational for the political party The Way of Courage, the alliance For Lithuania in Lithuania as well as the political party headed by you, the Lithuanian List, to participate in the elections as a united bloc?
Only such a bloc would be able to propose a serious alternative to the people and to win the elections. We seek such a wide democratic wave. I don’t know if there will be enough time and mutual trust to form it, but it is necessary to try. Such a bloc should be bound by a list of very concrete future actions for Lithuania. It is also important that such a bloc would be made up of strong personalities who would be trusted by the people and local communities and who would be capable of winning in their constituencies [half of Lithuanian MPs are elected as individuals in constituencies, while the other half are elected from political party lists].

Don’t you think that the ideas of liberalism are strongly discredited by the political parties, which describe themselves as liberal parties and which are members of the current ruling coalition, i.e. the Liberal Movement and the Liberal Centrists? During the public discussion which took place at the Vilnius Book Fair this year, you said that these political parties are, to a certain extent, Ltds, which are interested only in the financial business of their sponsors, and they are not the political parties which would defend the interests of their electorate.
“What is liberalism worth, if it only speaks about freedom,” Vytautas Kavolis, Lithuanian sociologist and cultural liberal [post-WWII emigre to the U.S. who lived all his life having only Lithuanian citizenship] said. The current Lithuanian political liberals don’t care much even about freedom: they speak only about money and power. The current Liberal ministers and MPs shamed themselves by keeping silent when the secret services violated the human rights of Lithuanians. It is a pity that, namely, the Liberal political parties discredited the ideas of responsible freedom and moral politics, which were defended by liberal intellectuals.

How will Lithuania look after the parliamentary elections of the coming October? Your forecast, please.
The outlines of post-election Lithuania are drawn now. It seems that the right-wing forces, which are currently in power, already came to terms with the idea of the coming victory of the Viktor Uspaskich-led Labor Party and the Social Democrats. Will it be possible to raise a broad Lithuanian list as an alternative to it? I’m not sure, but it is worth a try.

What kind of future do you predict for Santara-Sviesa? What does liberalism mean to you? I’m asking because this term could be understood differently in America and Europe (it can even be a synonym of the word socialism in the American public square, while it can be a swear-word meaning anti-socialism in the French political life). The word liberalism could mean non-hostility towards the Western world, in Russia or the Arab world.
After the deaths of Vytautas Kavolis and Aleksandras Stromas, and after the not-so-successful second term [2004-2009] in the president’s office of Valdas Adamkus, Santara-Sviesa became rather incommunicative and shy [Kavolis, Stromas and Adamkus are among the best known personalities of Santara-Sviesa]. However, it is still the main forum for cultural liberals, and it will remain as such. I feel attached to the cultural liberalism of Vytautas Kavolis, Algirdas Julius Greimas [the world famous Lithuanian-French contributor to the science of semiotics] and Czeslaw Milosz [Polish-Lithuanian poet awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature], which means trust in the freedom of a human being and his moral commitments.

Could you evaluate the entire story related to the deceased Drasius Kedys?
It is a mysterious horror story which shows the deep crisis of the Lithuanian law and order institutions. Persons related to this story are dying, while prosecutors and judges - instead of finding out the truth - make strange decisions, which are not understandable for the majority of citizens. The parliamentary inquiry found out that during this story, Kaunas Judge Jonas Furmanavicius, on the eve of his death, asked his friend, the prosecutor general, in written form to grant him a security guard. However, the prosecutor did not grant such protection. The people do not understand why the former prosecutor general, who is responsible for the death of the judge, is promoted by the country’s president to a high post of judge now.

What do you think about the Egle Kusaite case?
This case is shameful for Lithuania. For several years already, the State Security Department [VSD], together with the Russian secret service [FSB], persecutes this young woman who refused to cooperate with the department. It was allowed for Russia’s FSB agents to question this Lithuanian citizen in Vilnius. The Lithuanian secret service even put under its surveillance Russia’s human rights activists and journalists who were interested in the case of Egle Kusaite. The saddest fact is the following: the current government agrees with such lawlessness of the VSD.

Why did you decide to start the underground cultural magazine Sietynas during the Soviet occupation?
I and my friends understood that we cannot live in peace with the Soviet reality, and we should have the courage to live a free life, to preserve our self-respect and dignity. We tried to do this.

What is the most interesting period of Lithuanian history for you and why?
I have been researching for many years already the history of culture and ideas of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. I’m discovering many really interesting things for myself and, I hope, for others as well. I try to explain the ideas and mental images which were basic for the ancient Republic of Lithuania, which existed until 1795. It is unlikely that those times were more interesting than the times which came later, as well as the current times. However, it helps to understand better the current reality and what this reality is lacking now.