The Communist Party leader in the Soviet Baltic republic of Lithuania was replaced Thursday by an active reformer who has supported the growing popular demand for economic and cultural autonomy for the region.
Algirdas K. Brazauskas, 56, was elected first secretary by the Lithuanian party Central Committee to succeed Ringaudas-Bronislavas Songaila, 59, who retired after only 10 months as the local party leader.
The move, reported by the official Soviet news agency Tass, follows similar leadership changes in the last four months in the other two Baltic republics, Estonia and Latvia, where the party also is trying to keep pace with nationalist demands for greater autonomy and some form of sovereignty.
Taken together, the Baltic changes appear to demonstrate the determination of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to revitalize the Communist Party through the election of truly popular leaders, committed to achieving both his reform program and the demands of their constituents.
Brazauskas, an engineer with a doctorate in economics and described glowingly by Tass as a “strategist of the new,” evidently will have the task of harnessing the resurgent Lithuanian national energy while containing any push for real independence from Moscow.
He is scheduled to speak this weekend to the founding congress of the Lithuanian Movement for Perestroika, a mass movement being formed to broaden and accelerate the political, economic and social changes that make up Gorbachev’s reform program, known as perestroika, or restructuring.
Brazauskas, who had ranked only fourth in the Lithuanian party hierarchy, already had distinguished himself from his predecessor, who had been in the party leadership for 26 years, by speaking twice before to mass rallies in support of economic and cultural autonomy for Lithuania.
“There is jubilation throughout Lithuania tonight,” Algirdas Cekuolis, editor of the reformist weekly newspaper Gimtasis Krastas and himself a party member, said by telephone from the capital of Vilnius. “This is the man the people wanted at the party’s head.
“The party knew, Moscow knew, they had to change the leader. The first secretary is due to speak at the congress, and the old one would have been whistled down.”
Songaila had lost the support of many party members as well as members of the republic’s influential intelligentsia, according to local journalists. The tough action taken by police to break up a demonstration in Vilnius last month had also angered many people.