Dissent in Russia

June 28, 1972

Report Outline
Mounting Conflict with Protest Groups
Long Tradition of Dissent in Russia
Uncertain Prospects for Soviet Protesters
Special Focus

Mounting Conflict with Protest Groups

Unrest in Soviet Society and Riots in Lithunia

The soviet union is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and much attention is being devoted to the “fraternal” relations among the many nationalities.In most ways, Russia today is a homogeneous society. But as the riots in Kaunas, Lithuania, on May 18 and 19 made clear, relations between the national minorities and the Kremlin are not as harmonious as they are officially portrayed. Moreover, the ferment among the Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Georgians, Jews and other national, religious and ethnic groups within the Soviet Union is only the tip of the iceberg. Dissidents include religious believers, artists, scientists, writers and many other intellectuals. At present only a few are prepared to speak out. They form a motley and ideologically divided movement with no access to the media and with little chance of bringing change in a tightly policed Soviet system which tolerates no pluralism.

The recent trouble in Lithuania started on May 14 when a Roman Catholic youth, Roman Talanta, poured gasoline over his body and set himself afire in a Kaunas city park as an act of protest. Rioting began two days later at his funeral. Thousands of youths, chanting “freedom for Lithuania,” battled with police until parachute troops and secret police units drawn mainly from Central Asia moved in to quell the riots. Hundreds were arrested and police contingents roamed the streets for days to detain “suspicious-looking persons” such as long-haired youths.

Lithuanian discontent obviously goes much deeper than youthful rebellion. The Baltic republic, with its predominantly Roman Catholic population, was forcibly absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1940. But nationalism never died out and it is reported to be rising, as are Catholic demands for freedom of worship. Earlier this year, 17.000 Lithuanian Catholics signed a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim complaining of religious repression.

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