New war pensions stir controversy

  • 2002-05-16
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis

Lithuania's uneasy relationship with its past sometimes surfaces in unexpected ways. Recently, the seemingly simple issue of extending social benefits for some World War II veterans stirred historical ghosts.

On May 7, the Lithuanian Parliament approved amendments to the state pension law, granting state pensions to former members of the communist nomenclature and to former technical workers at Soviet repressive structures such as the NKVD, MGB and KGB.

Although veterans of other anti-Nazi units have already been getting the state pension supplement in addition to their usual old-age benefits, this is the first time the extra cash has gone to persons close to the former occupying powers.

State pensions may not amount to a fortune, ranging from 276 litas ($72) to 552 litas per month, and they still have to pass a second vote in Parliament to become law. But they have already raised the ire of some sections of society.

The amendments were backed by the center-left parties, which have a majority in Parliament. Social Democrat MP Ceslovas Jursenas said the new rules would mostly apply to people who worked as drivers, cleaners or did other menial jobs for the Soviets.

"World War II veterans are respected in the entire Western world," said Jursenas. "I don't think that we can blame some woman who did cleaning work during the genocide."

However, others consider that the changes virtually show support for Soviet-era atrocities. Dalia Kuodyte, director general of the Genocide and Resistance Center of Lithuania, said that there would be outrage if bans on former Nazis getting state pensions were lifted, and suggested that easing the rules on Soviet functionaries should be treated with the same disdain.

"Was one occupation better than another? The Communist Party made lists of those who should be deported from Lithuania," said Kuodyte. "If such a step (the pension amendments) is made, we would need to rewrite history."

The opposition Conservative faction fiercely opposed the amendments. Conservative MP Antanas Stasiskis, a former political prisoner, said there could be torturers among these controversial pensioners. He said that just because the recipients were technical staff doesn't mean that they weren't involved in crimes against humanity.

"These pensions were previously given to people who suffered from the Soviets. Now they can be given also to those who collaborated with the Soviets. Well, maybe the fists of these persons suffered when they were beating people during KGB interrogations," Stasiskis said ironically.