WHEN Balis Gajauskas was a young man, he took to the woods to join the "Forest Brothers," the Lithuanian guerrillas resisting the Soviet occupation of their Baltic nation in the early years following the end of World War II.
From his capture in 1948 until his release in a 1988 amnesty, Mr. Gajauskas undertook a 37-year tour of the prison islands of the Gulag archipelago, released only briefly in the mid-1970s before he was again arrested for "anti-Soviet activities."
Now, in an independent Lithuania, a grim and unbowed Gajauskas sits in judgment upon his captors. He heads a special parliament commission to investigate the activity of the KGB, the Soviet secret police, in Lithuania.
The immediate target of this commission, under a law passed last December, is to ferret out KGB "collaborators" in the parliament. The probe has already removed several parliamentarians, among them former Lithuanian Premier Kazimiera Prunskiene, whose labeling as a KGB agent was upheld last month by the Lithuanian Supreme Court.
But the investigation of parliament deputies is only the start of a broader effort to purge the society, from the highest level of government to ordinary citizens, of the taint of their former Soviet overlords, Gajauskas says, his tall, slightly hunched frame wrapped in a black leather jacket.
"We must expose the whole system which destroyed nations and destroyed people's lives, especially to those in the West who, maybe even now, don't understand the system here." The sweep of Gajauskas's broom is wide. "Every member of the Communist Party is guilty, but some of them are criminals and some of them are morally guilty," he says. Legacy of the past
Lithuania is hardly alone in confronting the legacy of a totalitarian past. In Eastern Europe, countries such as Czechoslovakia and former East Germany have conducted similar investigations, opening up secret police files to public scrutiny. But others, such as Hungary, have decided largely to keep history closed.
Lithuania is the first of the former Soviet republics to take on this problem, although charges of KGB connections were prominently aired during the recent Estonian elections as well. In Russia, not only the KGB's files but its organization remain largely untouched. And there is little movement to touch them.
"I'm against opening KGB files," Vadim Bakatin, the liberal who briefly headed the KGB after the failed coup last August, said in a recent interview. "This is only possible in a highly tolerant society. Otherwise, this plays into the hands of petty politicians."
Even in Lithuania, where hatred of the former Soviet occupiers is almost universal, such fears are widespread. Many parliament members accuse Gajauskas and his commission of being on a mission of vengeance, not justice. The targets of its probes are chosen for partisan political reasons, they say, and are aimed at harming the opponents of President Vytautus Landsbergis's right-wing government in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this Sunday.
"Politicians are using this problem for political games, not to find real KGB agents," says parliament member and nationalist activist Arunas Degutis. The charges of KGB collaboration are being made without real documentation, he says.
"We cannot use the same methods as the KGB used against us before," says the young politician, who tells a familiar tale of being fired from his job 10 years ago when he refused KGB pressure to become a spy within the nationalist movement.
Centrist movement leader Egidijus Bickauskas, the Lithuanian ambassador to Moscow, questions the professionalism of the investigators. His party sponsored a no-confidence vote against Gajauskas last month.
The conservatives reject left-wing and centrist charges of bias. They point to the fact that the first victim of this purge was Vergilius Cepaitis, one of Mr. Landsbergis's closest aides.
His case lead to the current law which provides that members of parliament who are proven to have collaborated with the KGB until the March 1990 declaration of independence must face a special election. Anyone who continued those ties after independence is open to criminal prosecution.
"This is by no means a settlement of past accounts," insists Lithuanian leader Landsbergis, in an interview in his parliament office. The aim is to end KGB influence over Lithuanian society, he continues. Those who confess their past ties will not be prosecuted or their names published.
Yet in several cases, Gajauskas and fellow commission leader Povilas Varanauskas have published newspaper articles accusing parliament candidates of being KGB agents before any legal process has begun. One such target is the retired rector of Vilnius University, Jonas Kubilius, a renowned mathematician and candidate of the Democratic Labor Party, the pro-independence wing of the former Communist Party.
The professor, who served many years in the former Soviet parliament, angrily denies the charge, turning it around and accusing his opponents in the right-wing nationalist Sajudis movement of being used by Moscow. "People who are spies for other countries should be found and sentenced," he says, "but this should be done in the court and not on the street." Courts questioned
But even the court process is subject to controversy. Mrs. Prunskiene accuses the court of being politically biased and claims that the documents submitted to prove her KGB links were forged in at least one key case. The evidence against her includes reports the former economics professor filed on trips to West Germany and Hungary for work on her doctoral thesis, a standard practice; a KGB report supporting her application to travel to the US; and the reports on her filed by her assistant, allegedly a KG B spy. The most damaging document is a handwritten agreement by her to work for the KGB, the original of which was never produced and which she says is forged.
Mr. Varanauskas indirectly acknowledges the less-than-convincing nature of the evidence: "I don't think she knowingly worked with the KGB, but I have the impression she was a toy in their hands," he says defensively.
Commission head Gajauskas admits a more troubling problem - the KGB carefully took all of its files on its agents back to Russia, leaving only files which provide at most tangential indications of its work with informers and others. But he claims that his 10-man staff will, "step by step," find the information they are looking for.
After the election, he vows to expel KGB collaborators from parliament and pass a broader law on "de-Sovietization." But centrist Bickauskas is worried: "If we begin this storm, we won't be able to stop it."