Some might have cried police brutality, but not Simas Kudirka, 50, one of 18 Lithuanian-Americans hauled off to a Washington, D.C. jail for eight hours after attempting to chain themselves to the gates of the Russian embassy last July. “Jail is jail but how different it would be in Russia,” explains Kudirka. “Guards would not permit us to go to the toilet during interrogation. It would stink with excrement. Here the guards offered me cigarettes and water. Criminals have more rights than police.”
Kudirka knows his subject firsthand. Ten years ago he was the center of an international incident when, as a radio operator on a Russian fishing trawler anchored off Martha’s Vineyard, he leaped to an American Coast Guard cutter and begged for asylum. The Americans, fearing repercussions, turned Kudirka back to the Russians, who bound and gagged him, threw him aboard the trawler, and eventually banished him to 10 years in a labor camp. Lithuanian-Americans eventually discovered that Kudirka’s mother had been born in Brooklyn and that Simas—an illegitimate child—was in fact entitled to U.S. citizenship. In 1974 he was allowed to emigrate.
Ironically, he now faces another trial, scheduled this week in a District of Columbia court. He and his fellow Lithuanian nationalists are charged with demonstrating within 500 feet of a foreign embassy. The maximum penalty is $100 and 60 days. “I go to jail with tears, but proud that I understood things,” affirms Kudirka. “When we are blindly obedient, we are like sheep.”
Kudirka has been fighting the Soviets ever since he arrived in America with his mother, wife Gene, now 41, daughter Lolita, 20, and son Evaldas, 14. He has had an audience with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, written an autobiography, For Those Still at Sea, and watched Alan Arkin play him in a 1978 TV movie. He still speaks on Radio Liberty broadcasts beamed behind the Iron Curtain and lectures on the perils of Russian imperialism. “America is asleep,” he says grimly, “just like before Pearl Harbor.” Simas and Gene earn a combined salary of $15,000 as caretakers of the Lithuanian Cultural Center in Brooklyn. Simas augments their income by painting houses. “Before I was radio operator. My wife worked in store. Today we clean toilets but we are not ashamed,” he says, in his halting but emphatic English. “I come to U.S. not for stomach. I come for liberty.”