Lithuanian cinematography of the history of struggles for freedom, from the theatrical to documentaries, has received mixed reviews. For some – they are too heroic, for others – too little. For some – they are too sad, for others – they are too slow. And the partisans are repeatedly confronted with betrayal, their own and strangers’ Member of the Lithuanian Parliament Arvydas Anušauskas wrote.
We have the cinematic launch of the film “Sutemose” by Šarūnas Bartas, which has divided viewers and experts into two camps – some see the demeaning of partisans and even the distortion of history; others noticed the authenticity of the portrayals of the partisans and their feelings. It may be that a feature film cannot claim the accuracy of a documentary film (although it wants to). But let’s ask ourselves, was the partisan struggle mere inspirational poetics without episodes of frustration, anxiety, or fear of death before decisive decisions?
Were there not all kinds of people who not only sang songs but also lifted their glasses? Wasn’t life in the bunkers slow, while masking the traces of everyday life? And the fatal encounters with the NKVD agents didn’t happen so often? Apparently, everything happened, as in everyday life. And the cinematography highlights the partisans’ heroic choices by contrasts with the betrayals and lies.
We also have the film “Portrait of the Hawk” by director Vytautas V. Landsbergis, which also does not shy away from showing lies against the background of the partisan experiences. These very experiences are well documented in the A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas diaries. The acting storyline of an artist who paints a portrait of Vanagas is complemented not only by the authentic testimonies of his contemporaries but also by the uttered defamations of Vanagas heard in the background.
And I attribute this to the undeniable value of the film, which allows us to feel all the emotions – from anger about the lies to pride in the partisan leadership. Idealism and dedication have always fought against lies and betrayal (you will be able to see for yourself, as V. Landsbergis’ film “Portrait of the Hawk” will be shown in Lithuanian cinemas starting on January 12).
We always want the triumph of justice, but life is less predictable and less dependent on our desires. I will share one true, tragic story that took place almost seven decades ago. That story involved very young people – nineteen years old or just over twenty years old. At the Anykščiai High School, the MGB controlled the underground organization through students who had already become Soviet security agents – “Moose” (Bronius Žilius) and “Trickster” (Petras Janukėnas).
They formed connections with partisans in the area. When the meeting was co-ordinated, before April 14th, 1951, agent “Moose” was provided with a bottle of vodka containing a speciality preparation of “Neptune-22”, and a pistol. The deception involving vodka with a psychotropic preparation was elaborately thought out.
Agent “Briedis”, within eyesight of “Trickster”, had to buy two half litres of vodka, necessarily Stolichnaya, in the Anykščiai store so that it would resemble the bottle with the speciality preparation. Along the way, he was to exchange the bottles so that the one with Neptune-22 would fall into the hands of agent “Trickster”, who would initiate the drinking. He would be the first to start drinking, and he had to offer vodka to the partisans in such a way that none would remain for “Moose”.
Afterwards, “Moose” would do the same with his bottle, so that none would be left for “Trickster”. “Special instructions” were given because the partisan platoon commander Antanas Bagačiūnas-Dumas would drink little or sometimes no alcohol.
If someone would decline to drink the vodka with a psychotropic substance and offer a drink to “Moose”, the MGB had the written instructions that: “you are to accidentally throw down the glass while spilling the contents (…). In the event of a reaction, as far as possible, take measures to disarm the bandits and immediately go to our point of contact; use a weapon to physically destroy the bandit who did not participate in the drunkenness.” After completing his task, he was to give a signal to a nearby operational group – the employees of the MGB Anykščiai Division and twelve soldiers of the intelligence group of the 298th Rifle Regiment.
After the covert operation, the younger of two sisters, liaisons to the partisans, noticed the MGB agents passing by. But she couldn’t overtake the MGB agents, who were driving, by running through the fields. The poisoned partisan Albertas Pakėnas-Sailor was able to come as far as the former Mieliauskas homestead and say that it was Janukėnas who did it. The liaisons Emilija and Ona Mieliauskaitė nevertheless tried to rescue the unconscious partisans.
They harnessed the horse, loaded all the partisans into the wagon, and wanted to leave. But the battle began. Bullets struck the wagon. Viktor Potocki, one of the privates in the MGB, stabbed one of the Mieliauskaitė sisters with a bayonet. Thus, in the Dobulė forest of the Niūronys village, both liaisons and the Tiger Squad partisans of Vytautas County, all 20-26 years old, were killed: Vytautas County headquarters staff member Antanas Bagočiūnas-Smoke, Justinas Puodžiūnas-Frost, Albertas Pakėnas-Sailor, Vytautas Pačinskas-Storm. Only Povilas Budreika-Cloud was arrested, seriously injured, interrogated and divulged the location of the remaining empty bunker (containing partisan documents and a typewriter). Two weeks later, this partisan also died…
Five decades passed. And in Independent Lithuania, after an investigation into the death of the partisans in the Anykščiai district, the prosecutor refused to open a criminal investigation into Petras Janukėnas because the partisan squad Smoke was destroyed in a military operation.
Seven years later, Rimvydas Valentukevičius, the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Investigations Unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office, overturned the decision to suspend the pre-trial investigation as unlawful and unjustified: “from the protocol of the examination of the witness, Petras Janukėnas, we can see that this person was never even asked a question about his collaboration with the MGB, his recruitment and existence as agent “Trickster”, there is no other evidence that this person could have been provided with archival documentary evidence of his collaboration with the MGB and of his presence as a member of the Smoke partisan squad members and liaisons – data of archival documents of the civilian sisters Mieliauskaitės …”.
On August 30, 2010, having been examined by the prosecutor, P. Janukėnas wrote in the protocol: “I do not admit guilt because I was not agent “Trickster”, “I do not know anything about an underground organization “Unity” operating in the Anykščiai secondary school (…) Overall, I didn’t know a single official at the State Security Ministry. Then there was the court case. Justice was not quick. The application of one of the criminal articles required a constitutional court decision. Finally, the panel of judges acknowledged that the MGB documents could not be disbelieved because they were entirely secret and the MGB had no purpose to falsify them; P. Janukėnas’ behaviour may not have been moral, but there were no elements of a crime in his actions as an accomplice. He was acquitted. Now, let’s imagine this story, which took place seven decades ago, in the cinema. And if we didn’t even know or didn’t divulge the betrayers’ faces?