Dissident Mindaugas Tomonis: a tragic struggle for liberty

Posted: Vilis Normanas Date: 2013-11-16 12:59

Print | Comments

Mindaugas Tomonis

A poet, a philosopher and a dissident Mindaugas Tomonis (under the pseudonym of Tomas Kuršys) – one of the most notable representatives of the dissident movement in Lithuania.

His works greatly overtook timelines, his life ended tragically just at its beginning. He was one of those people who sacrificed their lives for freedom, and who did not resign to the imposed slavery. He was one of those, who paid the highest price in order to remain human in a system that tried to eliminate all humanity. The system took away his life, but it did not manage to take away the strive for freedom, it did not succeed in making him a slave and a servant. Mindaugas Tomonis had been proposing the idea of a free man and fought against the absurdity of the Soviet Union with the best of his ability right up till the end of his tragic life.

This dissident is also interesting for his ability to openly, bravely and correctly criticize the regime of those times, and for the extraordinary insightfulness with which he was able to see, that this system would collapse sooner or later. Even more – he insightfully noticed that the future belonged not to totalitarianism, but to the dissidents: the carriers of love, truth and creativity. He was one of the first Lithuanians who dared to stand alone against the whole Soviet Union and to demand  freedom for Lithuania. As the father of this person noticed, his son had got matured too quickly for the ideas which the world realised much later. According to him, his son fanatically and idealistically believed in the arrival of freedom and the collapse of all of the totalitarianisms. And he had to pay a huge price for that. But this in no way diminishes his contribution to the history of freedom and the resistance to Soviet regime. A place among the greatest dissidents – is always guarranted for him. Since both his life and his actions show that this person was not just a honest and brave champion of liberty, but also wanted to bring more good and beauty to the world. He trully believed that the world could be more beautiful. He lived by that. And in our memory he will remain exactly like that – brave, a heroical idealist, not afraid to say the most horrendous truth and not afraid to criticize the greatest empire of Evil.

Mindaugas Tomonis was born in Vilnius on the 28th of August, in 1940 – the crucial year for Lithuania when the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania in June. From the very first days of the occupation the genocide against Lithuanian people had started and it did not bypass the relatives of Mindaugas as well. His grandfather Benediktas Tomaševičius with his wife Kristina Tomaševičiene had been taken away to the north of the Soviet Union. His grandfather died in gulag, and his grandmother died from starvation in gulad as well.

Mindaugas’ father – Stasys Tomonis (born in 1915 in Petrograd, died in 1992 in Vilnius), changed his last name from Tomaševič into Tomonis to give it a Lithuanian form. Before the war Stasys Tomonis graduated from the Law faculty at the University of Vytautas the Great, and later lectured there. For many years he worked as a librarian, and those who remember him claim that he was an incredibly lettered and intelligent person.

Mindaugas’ mother Jonė Tomonienė (1909 – 1975) was born in Chicago and had lived there until she was 18. After coming back to Lithuania she settled in Kaunas. Here she met Stasys Tomonis. They started a family and their only son will later on be remembered as a brave and strong-willed champion of freedom.

Mindaugas Tomonis was baptized by priest Kristupas  Čibiras at St. Mikalojus Church. At baptism he received two names – Mindaugas Kazimieras. At first he had been growing up in Vilnius. During the battles of 1944 the Tomoniai family had been staying in Kampai village near  Nevėžis (Kėdainiai district). In Autumn of that year they moved to Kaunas and settled in the former house of artist  Antanas Žmuidzinavičius.

In Dalia Jazukevičiūtė’s article on Mindaugas Tomonis – „Rekviem draustam gyvenimui“ („Requiem for a forbidden life“) – Stasys Tomonis remembers the early days of his son like this:

„From the very young age he had humanitarian abilities, wrote poems. He was self-contained, dreamy, read a lot. Started to write messages to „Kauno tiesa“ early, would sensitively react to the maladies of the surrounding world, which, as you know, there were plenty of“[1].

In Autumn of 1946 the upcoming dissident started going to the eight-year Jonas Jablonskis school in  Žaliakalnis. In 1950 he moved to Komjaunimas high-school (at that time this was the name of  Aušros gymnasium). He was a gifted and diligent student, however very silent and bashful. He will remain like this for the whole of his life, except in his writings and in his struggle for freedom – here he will be very eloquent and brave, he will never lack a firm word.

He finished high-school successfully in 1957 and afterwards got into the Kaunas Institute of Politechnika to study technology of chemistry.

His father Stasys Tomonis in probably the only interview, that journalist Dalia Jazukevičiūte managed to get from him, describes his son’s decision not to study humanitarian subjects in this way:

„After he had finished school, we both were considering where he should study further. Mindaugas wanted to go into journalism, however I talked him out of that. Knowing his sensitivity and observation, I thought that at a time like this that we were living, his place was not in journalism – we would only get into trouble – therefore he got into and graduated from the  Kaunas Institute of Politechnika with a degree in technology of chemistry… He read a lot of philosophical works. At the age of 18 he had the childish desease of being a leftist, just like others get into being „indians“… However, he quickly ascertained himself and gave up on marxist-leninist theories… Then he began to think and write totally contrariwise.“[2]

In Spring of 1962 he married  Aldona Vilčinskaite. After finishing the institute he moved to his appointment place in Kuršėnai – Daugėliai silicate brick mill. In early 1963 his son Rytis was born, and in Autumn the family moved to Vilnius where his parents and sisters had already been living.

After starting to work as an aspirant of the Chemistry Institute at the Academy of Sciences, he chose the manufacture of glass as his dissertation subject. At the end of 1964 Mindaugas settled with his family in Kaunas, got employed at the scientific research institute of Construction and Architecture, changed his dissertation subject. In early 1965 his second son Audrius was born. Later on he worked very intensely, finished all of his experimental works and in 1967 he successfully defended his dissertation and received a candidate degree in technological science.

He did not forget poetry either, a few poems being published in „ Kuršėnų laikraštis“, „Šluota“. In 1968 Mindaugas and his family returned to Vilnius. At first he got a job at a Physics institute of Semiconductors, and later he switched to work in Restoration shop (later – the Institute for the Monument Conservation).

As he confesses  in 1970 in a letter written to poet  Eugenijus Matuzevičius, one of the reasons why he returned to Vilnius – was the longing for the vicinity of true poets, since finally he had realized what peotry was, and had become a poetry zealot. Writing for him had become a neccessity. At night he would study the Holy Scritpture, the works of Leibnitz, Kant, Nietzsche, Solovjov, Maceina, Vydūnas, and other notable philosophers.

The years 1970-1975 were the most active and creative. Poems appear under the pseudonym of Tomas  Kuršys in the Spring of Poetry, „Literature and art“.

In 1971 Mindaugas Tomonis becomes a member of the Young Writers section. During these years he formulates two collections of poetry -  „Pro snaigių užuolaidą“ and „Rašmenys ant smėlio“, a philosophical essay „Žinia“, which he dedicates to the forthcoming 100th birth anniversary of Čiurlionis. In the poems the tune of resistance to the totalitarian violence of the Soviet system becomes stronger. In 1973 that kind of poems by Tomonis were published in „Metmenys“. He was going to formulate a history of the Lithuanian philosophy.

Together with the oeuvre the rebellious character of Mindaugas Tomonis began to appear. This is what a true Lithuanian classic Sigitas Geda wrote in his memoirs about this dissident: „During one meeting of the Young writers section in June of 1970 Mindaugas Tomonis, an unknown to me young scholar and poet, dared to question the public opinion of the elder „friends“. I could not tell now how and with what arguments he defended me. However, one thing is clear, that in that situation the very refusal to criticize and condemn me, as going the „wrong way“, was a deed and… the blocking of the road for himself… There was no waiting for the consequences. Nobody wanted to publish Mindaugas Tomonis’ articles.“[3]

However, this was not the end of the troubles of this young and rebellious man. In early 1974 the ( Paminklų konservavimo institutas ) sent him to assess the condition of the Kryžkalnis monument for Soviet army. Mindaugas refused to go, and in his explanation he demanded democracy, the freedom of press and of conscience, and most importantly – to re-establish the independent Lithuanian state. This was not just defiant and brave – it was almost insane. To demand for this in the Soviet Union, publicly and so forthright! Quite a few people had lost their lives for that.

There was no need to wait for the consequences: he got fired from his job, yet after some time he re-admitted. Then the military commissariat send him an invitation to military training. Mindaugas refused to serve the Soviet army. The occupational regime had enough – unsubmissive citizen is forcibly put into Vilnius mental hospital and is kept there for four months.

This was the first and fateful event in this young person’s life. The psychiatric inquisition was a common weapon in the Soviet Union against defiant citizens. The people would be put in and crippled mentally for the most various reasons. Sometimes for even total triviality. Nobody was interested in whether you were guilty or not, you were simply mutilated and that was it. In the Soviet Union that was common and perhaps for many it seemed normal.

In a newspaper „Sietynas“ (no. 4, 1989, p. 23) Darius Kuolys describes the situation of the dissident that did not obey the system like this:

“In 1984 I accidentally had the chance to see the history of M. Tomonis’ illness. The records are brief: had refused to go on a mission to Kryžkalnis – had argued that Lithuania needs a monument not for the liberator Soviet army, but for the victims of the personal cult; had studied the works of Kant, Hegel and had begun to believe in God; had written mystic poems and his Will (probably this is a reference to „Žinia“); he is morbidly suspicious – had started to complain that his letters are being read, his phone call are being tracked, he had been searching for hidden microphones in his room… The diagnosis – paranoia, the medicine – ever increasing doses of aminazin. The final entry:  died under a train”.

The history of the mental treatment that has been described by Dalia Jazukevičiūtė slightly differs from the one by Darius Kuolys:

„I visisted that treatment institution. The chief doctor J. Sargautis did not refuse to find Mindaugas Tomonis’history. No. 89657. There is a insetted direction from the military commissariat, where it is written: „na obsledovanije“. Signed by the commissar of Spalis district Avižienis. Overlay II men section. Kept there for 4 months, inscribed with a diagnosis: schizophrenia with a paranoiac syndrome… This is how the refusal to join a foreign army was called. This diagnosis was the fateful push towards death…

J. Sargautis spent a long time explaining the „expanded“ understanding of what  schizophrenia is in the Soviet Union (such diagnosis could have been prescribed to anyone with a more original thought), and that people are heathens and they do not realize that mental illness is not a black spot for the work of an artist… However, neither him nor the doctor of the department where M. Tomonis had been „treated“ L.  Radavičius could not validate the diagnosis in a plausible manner. They quoted the inscriptions of the illness history: „had been searching for listening device at home“…

Yet, there had been plenty of such devices, since the security intelligence would often convene and investigate Mindaugas and his father, would demand for his manuscripts – nothing unusual. And the doctors reasoned in strange manner: „he would read philosophers, type philosophical works,  would  also sign under the pseudonym of Tomas Kuršys, would give his works for the people to read“.[4]

After returning from the hospital he continued to work at the Institute of memorial conservation, wrote poems, edited „Žinia“. During December of 1974 and January of 1975 he made two lengthy entries in the guestbook of the museum of atheism, fitted in St. Kazimieras Church. In these entries he bravely and openly denounced the rough and spurious Soviet propaganda of atheism and heralded an upcoming end to the epoch of atheistic rampage.

On the 25th of June in 1975 he wrote a letter to the members of the CP and the XXV congress of the CPSU with the same demands: independence for Lithuania, democracy, freedom of conscience. This was, it could be stated, a true suicide. After suffering once, this person not only did not become a loyal apoligist of totalitarianism, but also bravely demanded what at that time had not been yet impossible – independent Lithuania. This step determined the rest of his life, or rather not his life, but his death. He himself by demanding for the independence of Lithuania signed his own death warrant.

On the 27th of June he is for the second time taken by force to the Naujoji Vilnia mental hospital. On the 29th of June his mother dies. Mindaugas is releases from hospital only at the end of July on condition that he would visit for antidepresant moditen injections. On the All Saints’ day he visits his mother’s tomb with his family. After coming back he considers with his sisters how they would celebrate their father’s sixtieth birthday on the 1st of December, and on the 5th of November he leaves home for work and does not come back in the evening… His body is found on railway tracks not far from Rasu cemetery. Mindaugas was only 35 years old…

This is what Mindaugas’ father Stasys Tomonis told journalist Dalia Jazukevičiūte about his son’s imminent death:

„While Mindaugas had been staying in the hospital, his mother died. He was allowed to leave to participate in the funeral. He had to come back the same evening. Three weeks later he was released. When giving him medicine (at the hospital I managed to find out – moditen depo! – D. J.) doctor  Stasė Meškauskienė told Mindaugas and me that after quitting taking the stuff there will be huge depression, there might even appear a willingness to commit a suicide… We left baffled. Mindaugas told me that those medicaments opiated him, disrupted his thinking, turned him into a robor and that he would not take them. That they had made him have enough of them. They discharged him on the 24th of July, 1975. He had three months left to live.

He continued going to work, writing, taking care of his children. However, he was cagey, joyless. Nobody would publish his oeuvre“.[5]

However, in order to better understand Mindaugas Tomonis dissident activity it is not enough to simply look at the fact of his life, but it is also important, and perhaps even essential to look at his oeuvre, especially the philosophical essay „Žinia“, reading which it is easy to feel that it was the sketch of the philosophy of his whole life, and at the same time it was a very open and clear challenge to the whole system of the Soviet Union. In other words, this was a manifest against totalitarianism and its evil.

Hardly anyone could have imagined, that in those times socialism would have been excoriated so strongly and would have been name as a gulag.

„First of all it is necessary to emphasize the highest in the world level of citizens’ freedom in socialism: we are freed from the necessity to pay for medicine treatment, for education, but also from the thoughts themselves about how and from what our bodies and souls have to treated and for what ideas we have to live.“[6]

Mindaugas Tomonis – even though this has not been publicly acknowledged yet – was probably the first to clearly and logically prove that socialism is nothing else but a gulag where a man is freed from the freedom itself. And that is, ironically, the highest form of freedom.

„Freedom and empire – these two words mismatch? Do not rush to answer. It is true, the socialist gulag – is the most humane system: there freedom has reached its highest degree – the liberation from the Freedom itself! When a person loses his need to be free, when his conscience has reached such high stage of evolution, when a new quality takes over – the communist consciousness – the the understanding that the absolute freedom  means liberation from all of the outdated necessities – even from the desire to be free – it is only then when he becomes free!“[7]

Mindaugas Tomonis clearly knew and noted that what many people did not understand back then, and some do not understand even today – that by giving the opportunity for unlimited “comfort” Soviet totalitarianism takes away the very essence of a man himself – his free self-determination what he should and how to live. Generally, it takes away any right to decide anything.

Mindaugas Tomonis’ father had said that his son realised too early what it was possible to maintain openly later – the crimes of Communism.

M. Tomonis was demolishing the marxist-leninist system and its “advantages” without any mercy. He considered Marx’s prophecy to be worst thing that could have happened to Russia. And that – let’s admit – was trully brave.

M. Tomonis, who felt total disdain towards marxist-leninist ideology, set to write: „Those who believed in the messianism of the Russian Communism, in the stranglehold of Russian culture in the future world, are extremely wrong. The Russian messianism will only manifest itself in the liberation of the world from HATRED. That is the future feat of solženicyn, sacharov army. The feat of Peace, Love, and cultural front.“[8]

So, this young man believed that the future world belongs to the dissidents – the people of peace, love and of culture. Those, who were unacceptable to the totalitarian system.

As a result, it is not difficult to comprehend why this dissident was put into mental hospital twice, why he was finally stricken and commited a suicide or was murdered (nobody knows what exactly happened).

Because he trully denounced the socialist gulag. He was much more provident – he denounced both totalitarian systems and was doing that absolutely straight and so bravely, that his works now resemble radicalism that of Nietzsche or Schopenhau:

„Let’s at least passingly draw a parallel between two identical (from a moral point of view) systems of coercion – Stalinism and Hitlerism, that is – socialist and bourgeois fascism. The later arrived as the most severe means of the bourgeoisie against the rising threat of the worldwide communist terror. In more than one place the socialdemocracy had been removed from government as too liberal, the black violence had risen against the red one… It would not have happened if the economic and political state evolution had gone in a European parliamentar way“[9].

M. Tomonis makes a radical providence that fascism is nothing else than the same marxism logged with nationalism and germanic philosophical pessimism. According to him, these two totalitarian systems developed from the same idea – the idea of bringing in Terror. It was exactly for that why the systems of concerntration camps and the gulag systems had been established and constant terror had been applied. It could be said that M. Tomonis said the same as Hannah Arendt did, that the key of totalitarianism is the introduction of constant fear, that all the methods of coercion are designed solely for the purpose of making people terrified and the constant maintenance of that intimidation.  That totalitarianism itself is the fear within people that you might get disposed.

Apart from intimidation and fear M. Tomonis expose and another shortcoming of socialism (which is usually not identified with socialism) – consumerism. Accroding to him, in order to make people believe in its superiority, the Soviet Union would prompt to believe in economic welfare. And even though when compared with today that consumerism looks trully humble, it is necessary to recognize the fact that a myth had been created that Soviet Union does not lack anything, that it is a wonderfull system where everyone has enough. But without morality, culture and true freedom, according to this philosopher, the economic welfare does not mean anything, it simply means fooling the people.

Without a doubt, the auther does not evade the idea of Lithuanians independence. He sees a threat to become extinct for such nations as the latvians and the estonians (and that threat was real). His call to get free from the Soviet Union in any case sound assuredly and seriously: without independence nations will simply disappear.

Without a doubt, in a dissident philosophical work one can clearly feel something else – not less totalitarian – the sound  of Christianity. The God for the author of „Žinia“ is everything – the only truth and the only faith. However, surely he is not demoniac who through his servitude to God does not grasp the world and its realia. He perfectly understands, that Christianity is his spiritual choice, which, even thoug is being repeated a bit officiously, does not sound too definitely. M. Tomonis writes about God in every of his discussed topic. God is everywhere. However, isn’t the God that the dissident is approaching Liberty?

„Through the light – towards Freedom! – this is the slogan with which we are going into a long and curvy road which everyone gone into obscurity has to overcome… Freedom, the total freedom of creativity is the distant Goal of our spiritual evolution – the freedom to create our own worlds… It is impossible without the true divine Light of spirituality – without LOVE, which is Good and Beauty, and the only TRUTH. If  we love people, nature, every single creature, if we love avery atom, the interstellar space and if we trully feel as an eternal and inseparable part of the universal entity – if we love the world with a divine Love,- we have the right to say:  AD MAIORA NATUS (we are born for better things)![10]

It is possible to see clearly that M. Tomonis was sure himself what is more important – God or Freedom? “Freedom to create our own worlds” – what could be more poetical and more beatiful than such romantic idealism?

He believed in it, fought for it, wrote about it, dreamt about it, lived for that… The question – whether he chose to die for it – remains open. Of course, it is so difficult for a person aiming for so much to endure in such system where because of your highest goals you are being held in mental hospitals, where you are an outcast, forbidden, persecuted, where you can never feel safe.

The drama of this person – like many others’ who had been killed by totalitarianism. Though this one might be slightly more heroic due to the poetic and philosophical soul of M. Tomonis.

In concluding this work I would like to say that the dissidents and their activities have not been properly appraised yet. Would we live in a free country if there had been no people like M. Tomonis? Was the whole Soviet Union demolished not by these tragic and outstanding people who did not give up, who did not believe in lies that were being said, who openly and by risking their own lives fought for freedom?

Totalitarianism is usually understood and an impersonal machine, a system that crushed everyone, even those who seem to command it. However, isn’t it quite the opposite – maybe it is not the system, but separate individuals and only them that create such Evil that surpasses any fantasy?

The story and the thoughts of the participant in this story that were discussed in this work can clearly illustrate that even one person who does not give up and fights for freedom and primarily – the freedom to be human – had a great potential.

His struggle did not pass into silence, maybe it inspired a number of the personas from Sąjūdis? Maybe those individual combatants against the system were the key element why the whole infernal system collapsed? Since if there had been more of such people, nothing like that would have ever happened.

However, history preserves the remembrence not of heroes, but of villains. Everyone perfectly knows the names of J. Stalin and A. Hitler, but are there many who know the full names of dissidents?

The tragic M. Tomonis’ battle with totalitarianism is still relevant nowadays when democracy itself becomes totalitarian. When democratic states are using violence under the guise of wars on terrorism. Also, one must not forget that Russia is being controlled by figures as monstrous as J. Stalin or A. Hitler, and who could easily repeat that in even more horrible fashion. They are not human-beings – they are fiends, total perverts.

The danger of history repeating itself is always real. The striving for freedom must be a constant attempt by a person to decide how he should live his life. It must not be cut off in any system. Since there is no guarrantee that the most free system will not liberate you from freedom, that it will not turn everything into the Great New World.

M. Tomonis – even though died tragically – did not give up after all. He did not allow himself to be turned into a robot, a slave, he did not allow others to decide his fate. Maybe at that time, being crippled by the mental hospitals, he felt that he could not live in liberty even in his own thoughts.

In any case, the courage, the resolution and the faith of this man should inspire everybody who are fighting for freedom not to give up. Not to sell out. And do not sell their sould for a few pennies.

And in the end, with the words of M. Tomonis himself from his poem „Nereikia ovacijų“: There is no need for respect, crowns/There is no need for the marble board/Only for a man who would read/For whom I would write continually.

Maybe that was the key goal of this composer and a dissident? To find a person who would read him? Maybe such did not emerge? Not  a single one?


[1]                           Atgimimo balsai. Vilnius: Vyturys. 1991. P. 39.

[2]                           Op. cit., p. 39.

[3]                           Tomonis M. Žinia. Vilnius: Baltos lankos. 1995. P. 26.

[4]                           Atgimimo balsai. Vilnius: Vyturys. 1991. P. 40.

[5]                                         [5][5] Op. cit., p. 42.

[6]                           Tomonis M. Žinia. Vilnius: Baltos lankos. 1995. P. 195.

[7]                           Op. cit., p. 195.

[8]                           Op. cit., p. 199.

[9]                           Op. cit., p. 201.

[10]                          Op. cit., p. 193.

Gamina paminklus