The Lithuanian Parliament, in a bloodless revolution against the Kremlin, declared the Baltic republic's independence from the Soviet Union on Sunday and elected the first non-Communist in Soviet history to serve as leader of a republic.
As crowds singing and chanting "Lithuania, Lithuania" stood in the chilly wind in the courtyard of the Parliament building, deputies inside approved a landmark resolution that severs the republic of 3.5 million people from the country. The action presented Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev with a challenge as serious as any he has faced in five years of rule.
"We are happy that Lithuania is already free in soul and in truth. Next, Latvia will be free, Estonia will be free," said the republic's new leader, Vytautas Landsbergis, referring to Lithuania's sister Baltic republics.
Deputies, who voted 124-0 in favor of the resolution, with six abstentions, then joined hands and began rhythmically chanting "Latvia will be free, Estonia will be free" as the Lithuanian national anthem resounded in the hall.
The Parliament, as if to emphasize the final nature of its decision, also changed the name of the territory from the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic of Lithuania and restored the national coat of arms showing a mounted knight holding a spear.
After the vote to change the republic's name, deputies rolled up a 21-foot-by-21-foot canvas of the hammer and sickle--symbol of the Soviet state--hanging behind the podium as the Parliament hall broke into applause.
Landsbergis, head of the grass-roots independence movement Sajudis, defeated Communist incumbent Algirdas Brazauskas by a margin of more than 2 to 1 for chairman of the republic's Supreme Soviet, a post equivalent to president.
"Outside this hall, the people are waiting. This waiting is determination (to become independent), and this determination is greater than any fear we might have," Landsbergis, 57, a music professor and accomplished pianist as well as an activist for Lithuanian sovereignty, told his fellow deputies.
"Our common goal is independence. We are not asking them (the Soviet Union) for permission to take this step. We act on our own will, according to our own conscience," he said.
As the Parliament met throughout the day Sunday, several hundred people rallied on a square outside, at one point ripping a 5-foot-tall metal insignia of the Soviet hammer and sickle from the outside of the Supreme Soviet building.
They waved the republic's red, yellow and green flag and chanted "Freedom for Lithuania" and "Independence--Yes." They distributed tulips to the deputies.
"I'll wait here all day for Lithuania's independence," said 59-year-old Aldona Noraityte, who traveled 200 miles from the village of Akmene to be present during Parliament's vote. "The Russians have kept Lithuanians enslaved for years. I myself spent 10 years in Siberia."
"I am a little bit afraid for tomorrow. I expect some punitive measures" from Moscow, said Rimantas Grigolunas, a 24-year-old economics student at Vilnius University. "But there can be no doubt about it. I see my future in an independent state because the Soviet Union is going toward chaos at a much faster rate than we are."
The resolution approved by Parliament read in part: "The Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian republic declares the restoration of the sovereign rights of the Lithuanian state which were taken away in 1940.
"From this moment Lithuania has again become an independent state. The territory of Lithuania is one and indivisible. No constitution of any other state has any jurisdiction on it," the declaration continued. "The Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian republic will stand for the realization of the unqualified sovereignty of the state."
The Lithuanian declaration represents a major test case for the country, with other republics sure to be watching closely to see how Moscow responds.
Although Lithuania is the first republic to declare its independence from the Soviet Union, others are expected to follow, including Latvia and Estonia as well as Georgia, where the Parliament on Friday passed a resolution condemning the territory's annexation by the Soviet Union more than a half-century ago.
The Soviet constitution, in theory, guarantees the right of any of the 15 republics to secede from the Soviet Union. But Gorbachev and his program of reform are sure to face tough criticism from more conservative rivals if he is seen as presiding over the dissolution of the union.
For his part, Gorbachev, who personally visited Lithuania in January in an effort to dissuade those seeking independence, seems to realize the republic is determined to achieve sovereignty and that the best he can hope for is to slow down the process.
But he has indicated he will exact a steep price for the privilege, suggesting that the Soviet Union will charge the republic $34 billion in compensation for factories and other infrastructure built during Soviet rule.
Lithuanian leaders have responded that they are preparing their own reparations bill, which they say will be higher, based on the fact that the Soviet Union has used Lithuanian land and, they say, sent 300,000 Lithuanians to Siberia as forced labor.
They also hope their declaration of independence will give them some leverage in negotiations with the Kremlin over the economic terms of their new relationship.
"The reason for declaring our independence is to give political ground to our national rebirth," explained Sajudis Deputy Bronius Kuzmickas, named Sunday to the five-member ruling Supreme Soviet Presidium. "Without a political definition of what we are and what we are not, we cannot start negotiations on an equal basis with the Soviet Union."
Lithuania was an independent country between the two world wars. In 1940, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were forcibly annexed to the Soviet Union under a secret agreement between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
The United States never recognized Moscow's annexation of the three Baltic republics, and on Sunday, the White House urged Moscow to "respect the will of the citizens of Lithuania."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said in a statement, "We have consistently supported the Baltic peoples' inalienable right to peaceful self-determination."
Lithuanian lawmakers last year declared illegal the republic's incorporation into the Soviet Union. Sunday's parliamentary vote effectively reaffirmed an act declaring independence, first passed on Feb. 16, 1918.
In its statement, the Supreme Soviet asked for support from other republics. "We are fighting for independence in a peaceful, constitutional, parliamentary way," the resolution said. "We are sure that no interests of other nations will be damaged."
Last month, Lithuania became the first of the country's 15 republics to elect a Parliament without a Communist majority. Supporters of the pro-independence Sajudis movement won more than 70% of the seats filled so far.
The last races were being decided in runoff elections over the weekend, but the new Parliament chose to rush into session so it could vote on independence before Gorbachev is given broad new powers by the nation's Congress of People's Deputies in a special session in Moscow that begins today.
The proposed new presidential powers call on the chief executive to preserve the country's territorial integrity and would permit him to declare a state of emergency in a republic by simply notifying the republic's Parliament. Nationalists such as Landsbergis have warned that these powers are intended to block pro-independence movements.
Landsbergis, who comes from an old Lithuanian aristocratic family, has never been a Communist Party member and never previously held political office. But he has been deeply involved with the Sajudis movement, serving as its leader since its founding two years ago.
In addition, he previously attracted the ire of Soviet officials by writing books about a Lithuanian composer and painter who lived in the late 19th Century and whose works were banned because of its nationalist nature.
His father, Gabrielius, was a Lithuanian playwright and journalist who was exiled to Siberia by Soviet authorities for participating in Lithuanian's national-liberation movement.
Landsbergis defeated Brazauskas by a vote of 91 to 38. Brazauskas was a popular leader who directed the Lithuanian Communist Party's decision in December to break away from the Moscow Communist Party, a move widely applauded here.
But Brazauskas' defeat was linked largely to his stand in favor of a more gradual approach toward independence for the republic, to be achieved through negotiations with Moscow.
In addition, Sajudis activists felt that a Communist president would not express the will of the people since the Communists lost their parliamentary majority in the February balloting.
Schrader reported from Vilnius, and Times staff writer Hamilton reported from Moscow.