While Lithuania moved along the road to independence,
a few of her countrymen discovered the path to full freedom.
In 1980 Rimas was studying art at the Pedagogical Institute in Lithuania when a fellow student returned from the Olympics in Moscow with some books on Krsna consciousness. As Rimas was greatly attracted to Vedic culture, he and several like-minded students decided to live together and practice Krsna consciousness. They did many paintings of Krsna and gradually turned the house into a temple.
At the time, the KGB had many spies, so they quickly learned of the students' Krsna conscious activities. Rimas and his friends were members of the Young Communist League, because there was little chance of entering a university without being a member of the League. So when reports of their religious activities spread, they were called to a meeting and expelled from both the League and the school. The local newspaper called them CIA agents.
Rimas taught his father, Haris, the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Haris was a member of the Communist Party and worked as a chief engineer at the Lithuanian Production Training Center. Haris knew he could benefit spiritually from Krsna consciousness, so he began chanting at home and on the job.
One day during a kirtana at Haris's home, the KGB arrived, destroyed his altar, and confiscated his religious paraphernalia. They claimed that the religious rituals he was practicing were harmful to health. At his job the KGB began to harass him by spreading false rumors. Haris tolerated their antics for many months just so more people could hear about Krsna. Finally he was expelled from the Communist Party and automatically lost his job. But he was satisfied because everyone in the factory knew something about Krsna.
In 1983 Rimas and Haris became initiated members of ISKCON. Rimas received the name Rama Bhadra Acarya Dasa, and Haris became Pundarika Vidyanidhi Dasa.
While working as an artist in a theater, Rama Bhadra Acarya met Rita, a student of journalism at the university. He gave her the Bhagavad-gita As It Is in English. They began to discuss devotional topics in parks or as they walked outside so that their conversations wouldn't be overheard. They didn't dare speak about Krsna on the telephone or even out loud in their own rooms.
Rama Bhadra Acarya: "The KGB were aware of our every move, whether at school or on the job. They made us feel as if we were on a stage. They knew everything."
Soon Rita's Krsna conscious activities were detected, and she was threatened by the KGB. One agent tried to blackmail her: "I know where your father's garden is. Something was stolen near there, and I can prove that you did it—unless you decide to leave the Hare Krsnas." They also tried to discourage her by saying that a sectarian person cannot become a journalist.
Rita finally left the university of her own accord because she knew that sooner or later she would be expelled. Eventually she married Rama Bhadra Acarya and became an initiated devotee, receiving the name Rati Pradha Devi Dasi.
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In the spring of 1981 Razita was studying to be a librarian at the university in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Her boyfriend, Gintaras, studied mechanical engineering. During school vacation they worked in a theater as pantomime actors. Some of their friends were artists interested in Eastern culture and philosophy. They gave Razita and Gintaras some books about Krsna. There were no books available in their native tongue, Lithuanian, but someone had typewritten copies of Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers and Bhagavad-gita As It Is, without purports, in Russian. They also read a few small articles from Back to Godhead.
As Razita and Gintaras began to appreciate the sublime Vedic philosophy, their friends invited them to the forest for a kirtana. They all knew that they could be persecuted for religious activities, as their communist government's official doctrine was atheism. Nevertheless, thrilled with their newfound experience of chanting, they continued to chant Hare Krsna near loud waterfalls so as not to be detected.
The next year Razita and Gintaras helped their friends print a magazine in Russian called Hare Krsna. They published it with an old date to make it look as if it had been printed several years earlier. They could then tell the police, "I don't know where this came from. It was already here; I just found it."
One day Razita and Gintaras went to a kirtana at a friend's house. Twenty people had been chanting for one hour when the police came. The police took them to the police station and released them after they'd made appointments to speak with the KGB.
When Razita met the KGB agent, he told her, "We are here to help you. You must think about the future. If you want to stay in the university, you must sign this document denouncing the Hare Krsna movement."
Razita refused to do so, even though she felt that her studies might be endangered.
Sometime later an opportunity arose for her to study in Czechoslovakia. She thought it might be a better place to practice Krsna consciousness. But the school's KGB refused her application, saying, "There's no question of your going to study there. The question is, Will you be allowed to continue to study here? We know you were singing Hare Krsna in the street."
After some time Gintaras married Razita, and they both became initiated members of ISKCON, receiving the names Gangambupada Dasa and Rasikananda Devi Dasi.
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In 1985 the devotees of Lithuania and Latvia came together for a festival on Janmastami, the appearance day of Lord Krsna. One devotee was the caretaker of a museum construction site at an isolated location. It seemed to be an ideal spot for the festival. More than fifty devotees were cooking preparations to offer Lord Krsna. The police arrived and took the devotees' devotional clothes, japa beads, and books. The devotees had posted verses from the scriptures on the walls, and some policemen began to read the verses out loud.
Rasikananda: "We were listening to verses from the policemen's mouths, by Krsna's grace. This was our Janmastami celebration."
Rati Pradha: "Some situations were horrible, but we were prepared and waiting for them. We were thinking that we simply must persevere until the end and do whatever we can to spread knowledge about Krsna."
Rama Bhadra Acarya: "Until 1986 it was an extremely dark and hopeless period in our lives for openly spreading the Krsna consciousness movement. It was a black time; there was no hope, and things seemed to be getting worse."
It was at this time that a worldwide campaign was begun to "Free the Soviet Hare Krsnas." Citizens of many countries sent thousands of statements to high-ranking Soviet officials imploring them to grant the devotees religious freedom. Demonstrations were held in some countries.
Around the same time, the Soviet government began experimenting with the new politics of glasnost and perestroika, which appeared favorable for those interested in pursuing a religious path. The Lithuanian devotees made a brave and bold decision: they would chant and dance in public, something never before done in Lithuania.
At the first public kirtana, hundreds of onlookers watched with approval. And when the fifteen devotees were arrested and taken away, the people complained: "Leave them alone! Let them sing! We will stay!" For one hour the crowd stayed and discussed what had taken place.
Gradually the situation in Lithuania began to improve. In 1989 the devotees published their first book translated into the Lithuanian language, Sri Isopanisad. Also in that year a historic event took place when the first Rathayatra in the Soviet Union was held in Kaunos, Lithuania. Crowds surrounded the chariot with the Deities, and hundreds of people came to take prasadam.
Rasikananda: "Before glasnost, devotees couldn't work, study, or travel. My mother told me she would have me sent to Siberia and my daughter institutionalized. In the last few years we've been able to travel abroad. I'm distributing Srila Prabhupada's books, and intelligent people are listening. Now my mother is favorable."
Rasikananda's husband, Gangambupada, binds the books and distributes them as well.
Rama Bhadra Acarya is now the chief Lithuanian translator of Srila Prabhupada's books. His father, Pundarika Vidyanidhi, is the president of ISKCON Vilnius.
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The developments that have taken place in the Soviet Union in the past year were unimaginable five or ten years ago. The Republic of Lithuania has declared its independence, and Krsna conscious activities are flourishing there as well as in Russia. Devotees are planning many temples and Krsna conscious schools and farm communities. Srila Prabhupada went to Russia in 1971, and one Russian youth became his disciple. The seed of Krsna consciousness Srila Prabhupada planted has grown to fruition, and thousands of people are awakening their dormant Krsna consciousness.
Nartaka Gopala Devi Dasi, an American disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has been distributing his books since the early seventies. She and her husband now live in India.