I travelled extensively in the 1970’s to countries behind the “Iron Curtain” namely the USSR and the countries in its captive communist orbit. I have experienced the lack of political freedom, lack of food and consumer goods and of the repression. I also had some political background as the Iron Curtain was the focus of my political science studies at university. So when I had the opportunity to review “The Jump” I was drawn to it as a bee is dawn to a flower or as the hammer is attracted to the sickle!
There are many take aways possible from the Lithuanian documentary but what they are may depend upon your interpretation which is one the strong points of the documentary. You are free of course to enjoy the story and take away nothing more than an inspiring story of a man’s drive to escape the political bullying of the communist regime. One can’t ignore the stupidity of a United States Rear Admiral’s order that took a segment of the American population years to clean up.
Simas Kurdika was a Lithuanian citizen working as a radio operator on a Lithuanian ship of course under the control of both the Communist Party commissar on board and the captain of the ship. The American government had arranged for a meeting with Soviet government officials about Soviet overfishing off the coast of Massachusetts. A meeting took take place on a United States Coastguard ship off Martha’s Vineyard on November 23, 1970. The Coast Guard vessel, “The Vigilant” anchored next to Kurdika’s vessel so Soviet officials could board it for the meeting. Kurdika saw his chance and jumped onto The Vigilant. The captain of The Vigilant reported to his superiors about Kurdika’s jump and his request for asylum and was ordered by United States Rear Admiral Ellis to return Kurdika to the Soviets thinking no harm would come to him and that the failure to return him would jeopardize the fishery negotiations between the Soviets and the United States. Ellis clearly made an inept decision which blew up in the United States government’s face as Kurdika was chased around the Vigilant and was badly beaten on the decks of The Vigilant by the Soviets before being dragged back onto the Soviet ship. Kurdika was tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to 10 years in a prison camp.
On the political side of the incident President Nixon was furious about the order to return Kurdika to the Soviet ship claiming he received no briefing on the issue. President Ford then took the matter up with USSR’s leader Brezhnev to release Kurdika to the United States. This was after 4 years of American protests about the handing over of Kurdika. Kurdika and his mother, wife and two children were released by the Soviets and arrived in the United States in November of 1974.Wanting to die in his Lithuania he retuned there in 2007 with his wife. His children decided to remain in the United States.
The story is told through rare archival footage and a dramatic first-person re-enactment by would be defector 86-year-old Kurdika.
So what are some of the takeaways?
- Americans fail to recognize how fortunate they are to live in a democratic society
- Poor military decisions by the United States were corrected by widespread protests and political lobbying to rectify an inept military decision
- The Eastern European and Baltic refugees in the United Sates were a crucial part of securing the release of Kurdika
- How much of this story is applicable to thousands of Mexican, Central Americans, Libyans, Syrians, Afghanis and other “refugees” and migrants attempting to enter the United States as a perceived land of milk and honey? Is the story of these people based on political repression or simply a cover to enter America to better improve their economic conditions?
You are free to take away as much as you want but hopefully there is more to this documentary than a story with a happy ending but kudos to the writers and director for not spoon-feeding you with take aways. I will say there is more than a complicated story to this documentary.
The documentary has been submitted as Lithuania’s entry to the 94th Academy Awards. It is a Lithuanian, Latvian and French production.
The documentary will start its virtual run in Canada on January 14th in Montreal, Sudbury, London and Victoria with more dates to be added soon.
The film is directed by Giedré Žickyt¡e.
You can see the trailer here https://vimeo.com/647052692
RKS film rating 92/100.