Swiss-born Algirdas Paleckis, a former Lithuanian diplomat, assemblyman of the Council of Europe, and member of the Lithuanian Parliament, currently spends his time teaching English to fellow prisoners behind bars in Kaunas.
Paleckis, once the darling of the Lithuanian establishment, has been sentenced to 8 years of prison for espionage. The charges he adamantly denies. “They are trying to force our entire community to keep our mouths shut,” – he told PressJazz TV in his recent interview.
Algirdas, the grandson of Justas Paleckis – a Soviet-installed president of Lithuania, was arrested in 2018 and accused of spying for Russia. However, his trial has questioned the state of freedom of speech in Lithuania and the entire European Union.
An organization founded by Paleckis – the ‘Good Neighborhood Forum’ has recently been attacked by Lithuania’s Prosecutors. The Service of Prosecutor General has requested the court to deem the organization illegal as “it is working against the constitution of Lithuania.”
Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD) has recently detained and interrogated three members of the Forum. The organization has been deemed “pro-Russian” for visiting neighboring Belarus to meet with the authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko and for subsequent visits to Moscow. VSD has called the organization “a threat to national security.”
Laurynas Kasciunas, a high-ranking member of the ruling ‘Homeland Union’ party, has expressed support for stripping Paleckis and others of their Lithuanian citizenship “for crimes against Lithuania.” “If [they] are imprisoned, they will have a tough time taking action,” – said Kasciunas to the news website DELFI.
Paleckis has continued his political activities behind bars and has become a frequent guest on online talk shows. Paleckis has recently complained about new restrictions preventing him from participating in political activities. He has warned his supporters on the possible prohibition of calls from prison: “these fascists are so afraid of my calls to you that they are willing to change the law just for me.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Lithuania’s judiciary would utilize a new law to disadvantage Paleckis. In 2011 Paleckis was trialed for breaking the “denial of crimes” law for questioning the historical version of the bloody January 13th events. Paleckis’ version of events remains a matter of controversy to this day.
Sixteen people died, and over seven hundred got injured during the bloodshed in 1991 when a young Baltic state declared independence from the Soviet Union. Paleckis claims that some “of our own were shooting at our people,” referring to the leadership of Lithuania’s independence movement.
Whether Paleckis’ claims are credible is challenging to verify. They are viewed skeptically by many. However, famous Lithuanian writer Vytautas Petkevicius has described a similar version of events. His book, the ‘Ship of Morons,’ has been banned by the Lithuanian courts for “slandering” the first President of reestablished Lithuania – Vytautas Landsbergis.
The events of 1991 are painful to remember for many Lithuanians. However, Lithuania’s Governments actions against Paleckis and his supporters appear to be systematic persecution.
Lithuania’s application of double standards to Paleckis and constant violation of the presumption of innocence for members of his movement question the legitimacy of the entire Lithuanian judiciary.
Lithuania’s authoritarian actions have not stopped Paleckis’ movement. The Good Neighborhood Forum has recently announced its expansion to Latvia and Poland. “You cannot kill an idea,” Paleckis wrote in his book titled ‘Handcuffs for the Mind.’