of the Gulag
Jonas Volungevičius was born in the village of Kabeliai in southern Lithuania in 1940. When he was born, his father was serving a ten-year sentence as a political prisoner. Jonas only saw his father once, when he visited the prison in Belarus with his mother. He and his mother were evicted from their home by the Soviet authorities and for years they lived in the abandoned houses of deported families.
After secondary school, Jonas enrolled at the music conservatoire and worked at the same time. In Vilnius he met other young people “concerned by Lithuania’s destiny” and in 1963 he was already taking part in activities against Soviet control by organising various underground demonstrations (anti-Soviet letters for Baltic students, distribution of anti-Soviet cartoons, etc.). In 1966, he was arrested and sentenced to four years’ forced labour in the camps in Mordovia. On his return, he did not “settle” and resumed his anti-Soviet activities. In 1978, with other dissidents, he set up Lietuvos laisvės lyga (League for the Liberty of Lithuania). Harassed by the KGB, he continued his fight until Lithuanian independence in 1990.
A difficult return
It was very hard finding work. I went to countless firms and factories. People I knew from school and friends tried to take me on. Everywhere it was stopped as soon as it reached the personnel department. Everywhere they said: we don’t need anyone. For example, at the computer factory, where I had a relative working, the people in the personnel department asked me, “You’ve been re-educated, have you?” I said that it was none of their business, other people were in charge of my re-education, I was just looking for a job. I went to a shop foreman in the computer factory. In those days, they needed people for cultural activities, that was in fashion, they needed musicians, singers, etc. I went to the personnel department… and they… A new factory was being set up, a pharmaceuticals factory. At the time, they were short of workers. There, they said to me, “We’ve a lot of young people here, we don’t need people like you, dangerous people. I went to the opera and ballet theatre. There they said, “Come back in three days, we’ll ask the opinion of the KGB”. They spoke frankly to me, they were probably still inexperienced. I went back three days later and they said, “No, negative.” I went to the Music Academy, the director Karnavičius said, “Gladly, if you bring me a permit from the KGB”. So that was negative too. Finally, I was hired at the art school workshop, but only at the second attempt. The head of the personnel department, a young woman, really wanted to help me. She said, “Look, the director has just got back from France, I’ll ask him”. Then she came and said, “No, he doesn’t agree.” She told me to look elsewhere and if that didn’t work to come back and see her, perhaps they would find something. I went away and looked in a few places. And when I came back, a painter said he would try to speak to the director again. This time it worked and I got a job at the art school workshop.
Daily life in the camp
“Spare time… We worked a six-day week. Usually in shifts, there were three. We celebrated Christmas, Christmas Eve, without showing it, in silence. It was when the Catholic festivals were near that supervision was strictest, so everything had to be done in silence. In our spare time, on Sundays, we often played basketball, that was always popular. We organised “international” matches, we called them, because there were teams from Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Estonia, Ukraine… we held “international” matches… then we discussed politics, of course…”
Underground action (1963)
I entered the Juozas Tallat-Kelpša music school. From the start of my studies I made new acquaintances… the way young people talk about all sorts of things… I can’t remember how, but we met… people with the same ideas. We would think about the destiny of Lithuania, the destiny of our people. We came to the conclusion that we had to do something, save our motherland, so to speak. For young people that seemed fairly easy, we weren’t short of courage. To start with, my friend Alvydas Šeduikis and I wrote letters to students at the universities in Latvia and Estonia, then we sent them. We printed them in the school’s administration offices. He was the union representative there and I was the representative of the students’ residence council. That’s how we gained access to a typewriter. That was 1963, when our activity started. Then, the next year, just before 16 February [declaration of independence in 1918], we decided to hand out cartoons. Our fellow students Airė Gudelytė and Algis Kaliūnas (Algis had been deported) drew cartoons on anti-Soviet topics, such as a map of Lithuania with a huge boot on top of it, another map surrounded with barbed wire… We distributed the cartoons, stuck them on a column near Kaunas University in Donelaičio Gatve, on the cathedral bell-tower… That was our second action. Then as early as 1966 we decided to widen the scope of our action. We wrote calls to action, my friend Alvydas Šeduikis (who was tried with me later) photocopied them, about 200 copies. I rang my cousin Jonas Šestavickas to ask him to take the letters in envelopes to the universities (Music Academy, University, Teacher Training School), letterboxes, telephone boxes, we spread them around…
© Jonas Volungevičius Jonas Volungevičius (right) after his release
© Jonas Volungevičius Jonas Volungevičius, with flag, at the 23 August demonstration in Vilnius, 1988
© Jonas Volungevičius Jonas Volungevičius at the October demonstration in Vilnius, 1988
© Jonas Volungevičius