Dawn of Independence Finds Lithuanians in a Wary Mood : Secession: Most are waiting for reaction from Moscow. There's a new sense of caution in the legislature.


The day after they declared independence in Lithuania, it was rainy and cold, and for most people nothing much had changed.

The night before, as the independence-minded legislature of the Baltic republic boldly severed Lithuania's ties to the Soviet Union, there were parties and demonstrations and crowds of people tearing Soviet emblems off state buildings.

But the celebrations here were muted in contrast to the feisty demonstrations that helped bring Lithuanian opposition leaders to power over the last two years.

The rallies drew crowds of hundreds, not tens of thousands, and the vote that restored Lithuania's independence was taken quietly and politely and almost without fanfare.

The next morning, there was little about the historic declaration in the newspapers here. The Lithuanian television station put enough stock in the actions of the republic's Parliament to broadcast it live throughout the day, but few seemed to be watching.

After voting the opposition into power last month on the strength of overwhelming support for independence, Lithuanians said the declaration itself was a foregone conclusion.

Most seemed to be waiting for the reaction from Moscow--and wondering just how difficult achieving this freedom they are seeking is going to be.

"We have been demonstrating for two years, and now people are tired," said Arudas Degutas, a deputy to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet and a member of Sajudis, the republic's independence movement. "Of course, it is a very important moment now, today, but the time for demonstrations is over. We must act politically."

The relative sobriety here is a function also of the character of Lithuanian nationalism. The opposition movement in Lithuania has been characterized neither by the euphoria with which Eastern European governments have been toppled in recent months nor by the violence that has marked nationalist unrest in the southern Soviet republics.

That is not the character of these people.

Lithuanians have a reputation for determination and reserve, and their nationalist opposition has chosen to make its future quietly in the staid halls of the republic's Parliament.

"Violence, shouting, this is not our way," said Bronius Kuzmickas, a Lithuanian opposition leader who Sunday was elected to the republic's Supreme Soviet Presidium. "We are perhaps a bit cold, to you, but this is what we are."

It is with characteristic efficiency and deliberation that the republic's newly elected legislature has cut Lithuania's ties to the Soviet Union over the last few days. The votes came with little ceremony and in rapid succession.

They changed the name of the Lithuanian republic and its flag and restored a coat of arms. They annulled the constitution of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and installed a new one in its place.

They did all this almost unanimously.

On Monday, however, the mood in the halls of Parliament was distinctly more tense. In contrast to the rapid voting of the first full day of the parliamentary session, legislators were more cautious.

They debated for hours, for instance, the prudence of a proposed law to place Soviet-owned factories and enterprises in the republic under Lithuanian jurisdiction.

Deputies argued throughout the morning, some wondering aloud whether Lithuania's access to raw materials, transportation and gas supplies would be cut by Moscow.

"This is not any more radical a piece of legislation than any that we passed yesterday," said newly named Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimira-Danute Prunskiene, appealing to the legislature to pass the law. "I don't understand the fear of the deputies today to oppose Soviet rule."

But that fear was understandable, other legislators said. They said they are reluctant to continue passing laws that would provoke Moscow at this critical moment.

"How do we answer the question of the airport and the railroads? Possibly after the passing of these laws it happens we are not going to have any airplanes in our airport," Degutas said. "We don't know what will happen. We are small, and we are terribly dependent. We must keep in mind the reactions of our bigger neighbor to the east."

Among the people who stood in the cold outside Parliament for more than nine hours Sunday waiting for independence to be declared, there was also trepidation.

"It is a difficult question, whether it is the right time now for independence," said Rasa Rimkute, 25. "Perhaps it is right to declare independence now, but it will be very difficult after that. We have not considerably weighed the question of markets, of our economy. I am afraid we are a little bit premature."

But Lithuanians, even the majority who don't seem openly excited about the independence declaration, say they are confident the republic will survive.

"It is very important for Lithuania, for my children," Jurgais Krapaviskas, 59, said. "It was terrible after the war, when people were exiled to Siberia. But now it is not so terrible in these times."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World