Republic of Lithuania

Banned literature and newspapers

Specific period: The first year of the Soviet occupation 15.6.1940-21.6.1941 of Lithuania

Censoring body: GLAVIT (The Supreme Board of Publishing and Literature, Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR)


The history of censorship in Lithuania represents a mirror-reflection of this Baltic state's long and turbulent struggle for independence, finally successful in 1991 when Lithuania attained full independence from the Soviet Union.

From 1864 to 1905 Lithuania belonged to the Russian Empire and was subject to extensive "Russification" with great consequences for national publishing and the press. The prohibitive regulations (1864-1904) imposed by the tsar administration, made printing in the Latin alphabet forbidden. All Lithuanian books were ordered to be published in Cyrillic. However, Lithuanian books using the Latin alphabet were being printed abroad during this period. Altogether 1740 titles of books in a total of 7.8 million copies were published. About half a million copies (8-10 %) were confiscated by the Russian administration. (Source: Vobra R. in "Lietuviskos spaudos draudimas, 1864-1904 metais" - Vilnius, 1996 (The prohibition of Lithuanian press 1984- 1904).

Lithuania was occupied by Germany in 1918, during which time the Lithuanians proclaimed an independent state. But in early 1919 the Soviet army occupied Lithuania's capitol Vilnius and installed a Soviet government. Following strong Lithuanian resistance, the Soviet Union signed a peace treaty with Lithuania in 1920. Lithuania's fragile independence ended in June 1940, when the country once more was occupied by the Soviet army and now incorporated into the U.S.S.R. Strict Soviet censorship of the Lithuanian press was installed during the very first days of the occupation, and all national or foreign publications considered to be harmful to the Communist party and to the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Stalin were censored or destroyed. In 1941, the Soviet rulers began large-scale deportations, affecting some 35,000 Lithuanians.

In 1941 Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania, disbanded the Lithuanian provisional government that refused to serve as administrative agent for the occupants, and installed a German occupation regime. Lithuania was subject to the same stern censorship that Nazi Germany imposed on all occupied countries. During the German occupation (1941-44), Lithuania suffered terrible human losses, estimated at roughly 250,000 people, mostly from the Jewish community, which was almost entirely exterminated.

In 1944 Lithuania was reoccupied once more by the Soviet army, and once more subjected to strict censorship. As during the 1940 Soviet occupation, Lithuanian writers were compelled to follow the communist line. Post-war Lithuania suffered extensive repression and Russification, and the clamp down on cultural life was severe. Some 220,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia and Central Asia during 1947-49.

However, the organised armed resistance was resilient, lasting until the late 1950s. Remarkably strong was also the illegal publishing. Lithuania produced more illegal publications (samizdat) during the 1970s per capita than any other Soviet republic. The most prominent samizdat periodical, The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, first published in 1972, outlasted the regime.

In 1990 Lithuania declared its independence from the U.S.S.R. Political independence and international recognition came in the aftermath of the failed coup in Moscow in August 1991. Lithuania's constitution was adopted in 1992.

The comprehensive Soviet censorship system in occupied Lithuania

Source: Silvija Velaviciene, Head of the Department of Lithuanian Publications. National Library of Lithuania

The banning and destroying of books, serials and other publications were carried out by the Central Literature and Publishing Board for the Preservation of Military and State Secrets within the structure of the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR, known as Glavlit, the abbreviation of the Russian version of the institution. The grounds of censorship were political, and censorship was carried out along four main lines; closure of all periodicals currently published in the Republic of Lithuania, suspension of printing of books due to be published, prohibition of all import of books from foreign countries except the USSR, and by scrutiny of all previously published material. If a publication was deemed harmful to the Soviet regime, the publication was placed in special collections of strictly limited access.

Special collections were only established in a few Lithuanian libraries. Otherwise publications were merely destroyed. On June 21 1941, Glavlit reported that 1,118,542 books had been withdrawn and 42,515 kg of publications were destroyed (Source: Sinkevicius J. Uzdrausti autoriai ir leidiniai: pirmieji sovietin6s okupacijos metai, 1940.06.15- 1941.06.21.-Vilnius, 1994).

During the years of 1944-1956, Glavlit had withdrawn and destroyed a staggering total of 7,343,683 copies of publications. In 1945 alone, 3,741,233 publications were withdrawn, while 3,092,568 publications were destroyed. (Source: Vilnonyte V. Knygu naikinimas Lietuvoje 1944-1956 metais = destruction in Lithuania in 1944-1956 Lietuvos biblioteka fondu istorija XX amziuje: teminis mokslo darbu rinkinys. Vilnius. p. 37-41).)

Books owned by arrested and deported people were destroyed on the spot, thus a large amount of banned books was never noted in official Glavlit reports. Sometimes the book-owners, in fear of repression, destroyed their private collections themselves. The system of destroying so called "anti-Soviet" information or confining books to collections of restricted access, continued until 1989, when the special departments of restricted access were abolished. Many works of Lithuanian writers and scientists, as well as books by T. Venclova, S.T. Kondrotas, K. Eringis, were removed from the library collections after the authors went abroad. At present the collections of Lithuanian libraries are accessible to all users.

Content of the Beacon for Freedom of Expression

The database contains the complete list of banned publication during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania 1940-41, published 1994 by the National Library of Lithuania in the series of publications on Lithuanian libraries; historical sources and historical research: "Forbidden Authors and Publications, The first years of the Soviet occupation 15.6.1940 -21.6.1941", by Klemensas Sinkevicius. (Original title: Uzdrausti autoriai ir leidiniai: pirmieji sovietinos okupacijos metai, 1940.06.15- 1941.06.21. Klemensas Sinkevicius . Vilnius, 1994)

The author Sinkevicius notes by 28.05.1940, Glavlit agents had inspected 71 libraries and 52 bookshops. No information is available on how many libraries and shops were inspected by local organizations' committees. The summary list is based on the reports from 29 inspected sites, of which 13 were state public libraries, 4 - school libraries, 7 - private and organizations' libraries, 5 - bookshops. 14 of these documents are signed by Glavlit agents.

The lists of the withdrawn publications contain books in the Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, German, Hebrew and other languages. However, only the books that were published in Lithuanian are included into the summary list.

Methods used for making the summary list

Library inspection documents were usually drawn up in haste, and inspectors' bibliographical skills were often lacking. Persons who were carrying out the inspection - library employees, members of local organizations' committees and Glavlit agents - had no common criteria for making lists of withdrawn publications. They included the information that they considered important, often shortened book titles, confused editors with authors and made grammatical mistakes. Obviously, in order to make a summary list, the data of the documents had to be checked against some other identified bibliographical sources.

Full national bibliography of all the printed material of pre-Soviet years does not exist. Therefore, bibliographical publications of that time had to be used for the identification (bibliographical magazines "Knygos", "Bibliografijos zinios"; "Lietuvisku knygu sisteminis katalogas" by I. Kisinas etc.). Use was made of the catalogues of the largest Lithuanian libraries (National Library, Vilnius University library, library of the Academy of Sciences).

The few publications that failed identification attempts are included into the summary list for two reasons: 1) they provide some information about the character and subjects of censored literature and 2) they might be identified in future.

The summary list is made up of 2034 titles of books and periodicals which were to be withdrawn - or, actually, got withdrawn - from 29 libraries and bookshops: totally more than 4000 copies. From the statistical point of view, the number of the withdrawn publications which are identified is small in comparison to the total amount of destroyed literature. The inspection reports from various libraries indicate that a large part of the withdrawn literature is identical throughout all the places were those inspections were carried out. That allows us to draw general conclusions about what types of publications were censured, and what kinds of content and geographical area of publication the censorship was aimed at.

From the total number of 2034 entries, 1905 are the titles of books, and 129 - of periodicals; i.e. periodicals make up 6,3 per cent of the total amount.

The largest percentage of withdrawn literature had been published within Lithuanian borders (in Vilnius, Klaipeda, and Kaunas). Only 10 per cent of the entries in the summary list (200) are titles of books and periodicals that had been published abroad (Brookline, Tilsit, Riga). A bit less than 100 of the withdrawn books and periodicals (around 5 per cent) had been published before 1918, i.e. before the declaration of Lithuanian independence.

The largest part of the withdrawn literature (31 %) had religious content. Fiction and youth literature, which contained quite a large amount of religious poetry, short stories and novels, make up 29 % of the total amount. 16 % of the publications were withdrawn either because they were considered to be "hostile to Marxism and SSSR" or because they dealt with issues of Lithuanian history and politics.

The remaining 24 % are various scientific literatures. Those are works of a very wide thematic scale: education and child upbringing (first and foremost concerning scout movement), sciences of law and warfare (especially concerning the Lithuanian army, its regulations etc.), economy and cooperative system, arts, sports, and other issues that were antithetical to the idea of totalitarianism.

Notes by Klemensas Sinkevicius are translated by Ingrida Melaikatie Mytting.


Publications banned in 1940-1941 in Lithuania.

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Publications in other languages relevant to censorship and freedom of expression in Lithuania