Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 29
12 April 1999

The Amber Coast T H E   A M B E R   C O A S T:
Landsbergis versus the KGB

Mel Huang

It's not the first time. Professor Vytautas Landsbergis made his career (perhaps notoriety) for challenging the KGB and Soviet rule. He personified the Lithuanian freedom struggle just under a decade ago much as Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel did for Poland and the Czech Republic. But like both Walesa and Havel, Landsbergis has been running into brick walls: his country moves forward, but he still fights many battles of the past.

Although reforms in Lithuania are progressing at a modest rate, a lot of energy and time have been invested in issues of historical importance rather than additional reforms. As written in The Amber Coast in the past, Professor Landsbergis has placed his agenda on the top of the legislative docket--superseding his Prime Minister, Gediminas Vagnorius. Despite the serious shortcomings of the Vagnorius cabinet and its work, its initiatives take a back seat to the whims of Landsbergis.

For months the Seimas (Parliament), President's office and the Constitutional Court dealt with the issue of lustration. Seimas Speaker Landsbergis, continuing his crusade against former Soviet entities and institutions, pushed through a bill that would prevent former KGB personnel from working in a variety of public and private sector jobs. Even areas such as banking are affected by the lustration law. The subsequent face-off with President Valdas Adamkus contributed to the deterioration of the relationship between the President and the ruling Conservative Party. In the end, the Constitutional Court noted a few flaws in the law and Landsbergis has had to draft amendments to harmonise existing legislation with the Court's opinion.

Since then, there has been only one set of sackings when five prosecutors were suspended for their KGB involvement. Though once the procedures are clear on the removal and appeal process for the accused KGB accomplices, the pace would likely accelerate.

In the mean time, Landsbergis continues by drafting a new law banning organisations and institutions acting as "fronts" to Soviet (Russian) intelligence and giving the state wide powers to close and liquidate the "front" entities. The law controversially calls on all former intelligence personnel to report their activities to a state body ostensibly to "clear their organisation or business" from being labelled as a "front" and subjected to seizure.

One can easily see the constitutional problems with this new proposal by Landsbergis. Would a massive "outing" be beneficial to the state at this stage? However one questions this legislation and the work of Landsbergis, it has nevertheless become the top priority for Lithuania. The government of Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, already faltering, has to step aside while Landsbergis pushes his agenda. Precious time is wasted in not pursuing reforms and harmonisation with the acquis communautaire of the EU.

What will happen to Lithuania if the music professor hijacks the agenda? Though many of the issues he pursues we all deeply sympathise with, practicality must prevail. The last thing Lithuania needs at this stage is social strife. Lustration is a fine idea if pursued correctly. Everyone remembers the "Four D's" of post-war Germany. De-Sovietisation, on the lines of lustration, can work to Lithuania's advantage. However, being eight years removed from the actual restoration of independence, it makes less and less sense by the day to kick established people out of their posts if they retained it for so long. Lithuania has to be very careful not to turn a well-intended idea into a massive witch-hunt. After all, how would it deal with people "outed" who are only alleged collaborators? Even the professor has been accused once or twice...

Mel Huang, 12 April 1999


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