Lithuania Political Amateurs Head a Government That Isn’t Governing : Baltics: ‘People are expecting changes, important changes, and they are not coming and they cannot come,’ a Sajudis leader says.


The standoff between Lithuania and Soviet authorities in Moscow has stymied attempts by the government here to implement laws to strengthen its declared independence and has exposed the lack of political negotiating experience of the republic’s new leaders.

In the more than one month that the Vilnius government has been in office, its legislature has passed few laws to implement its ambitious program of economic and social change.

Instead, legislators have spent most of their days debating the merits of candidates for largely obscure ministerial posts and their nights waiting and worrying about midnight forays by Soviet troops.


“It is frustrating. It is frustrating that you are elected, that you are a government, but you are not a government in the full meaning of the word,” said Algimantas Cekoilis, a leader of Sajudis, the pro-independence movement that brought the new Lithuanian government to power.

“People are expecting changes, important changes, and they are not coming and they cannot come,” he added.

The government here came to power in late February, in the first officially sanctioned multi-party elections in Soviet history. The voting displaced the Lithuanian Communist Party from its leading role in the government and affirmed independence as the most powerful voting issue in this tiny Baltic republic.

But the Lithuanian government’s new leaders are not political professionals. Indeed, most of the members of the republic’s new legislature have never held political office before. They include poets, philosophers, astronomers and physicists. Many are former dissidents, and most have--until now--been locked out of participation in officially sanctioned politics because they are not Communist Party members.

Now that Sajudis leaders are finally in power, the result--the government’s critics say--is a leadership of political amateurs that has adopted an unnecessarily confrontational position toward Moscow and has moved too slowly to back up its many declarations with the structural changes needed to make them work.

“Our new government is appointing ministers, naming prosecutors, working out these formal new beginnings, but these appointments are weak. They have no force of implementation,” said Arudas Jouzaitis, a Sajudis leader and editor of an independent political journal in Vilnius. “Perhaps a period of such declarations was necessary, but now it is time to deal with what is underneath.”


In its first week in session, the Lithuanian legislature issued a sweeping series of declarations, resolutions and laws. It dealt with everything from changing the name of the republic and replacing the Soviet constitution with a new one of its own design to legalizing private enterprise and turning over ownership of factories in Lithuania to the new state.

But the laws have force in name only. In reality, not one factory contract here has been altered, and the Lithuanian economy is still run from Moscow.

The new constitution closely resembles the old Soviet one, and with the republic’s prosecutor’s office now run by officials appointed from Moscow, it does not appear likely that the new constitution will have any force.

It is not surprising that the government here has done little to solidify its declared goals. Leaders here have spent most of their time in the last few weeks coping with what they term a war of nerves launched by Moscow.

Soviet forces have taken over several buildings here, the army has paraded armored personnel carriers and trucks full of soldiers through the streets and helicopters have flown low over the city on several occasions, dropping pamphlets denouncing the Vilnius government.

Government leaders here acknowledge this has put them in the position of reacting to events instead of formulating new political initiatives themselves.


“Yes, we have been on the defensive. We have been concerned mainly with protecting our government,” Deputy Prime Minister Romouldas Ozolas said. “When we are safe from the Soviet army, we will make some concrete steps toward forming the new state. But now we are mainly concerned with foreign affairs, trying to make our relations with Moscow clearer.”

Adding to the pressure on the new government is the lack of administrative experience of most of its new members.

Until two years ago, that movement did not even have offices of its own. Its leaders met in their apartments and were shunned by Soviet officials here.

In 1988, Sajudis opened its headquarters and developed into one of the most powerful and well-organized opposition movements in the Soviet Union. But the closest its leaders came to administrative tasks were organizing demonstrations and rallying support from people abroad.

“Of course we are inexperienced, but OK, show me people we can trust in Lithuania who have political experience, and they will be picked up right away,” Cekoilis said. “It was a dark time before now. To be in the Communist Party was not to be in politics, it was to be in the structure. So from where do you get politicians?”

Now that Sajudis leaders finally lead a government here, however, they have found themselves heading an administrative apparatus of little real power. And what power the Vilnius government has is being slowly pulled away from it by Moscow.


“Now, after all these years, we have all the chances to decide on the most important social and political matters,” Jouzaitis said. “We didn’t have that for decades. But to actually make it possible now--to make this government an embodiment of independence instead of just willing to be independent--we are as far away from that as we are from Moscow.”

With a president who is a music professor by trade and an executive body that includes a philosopher, a newspaper editor and a lawyer, the new government has relied heavily in the last month on the help of volunteers from abroad.

President Vytautas Landsbergis’ chief foreign policy adviser until recently was a 31-year-old New York lawyer named William Hough, whose chief qualification for the job consists of a doctoral thesis he wrote on the future of the Baltic states. He left Lithuania this week under pressure from Moscow.

For an economics adviser, the new government has Joseph Kazickes, a Lithuanian-American oil exporter from New York who brought Harvard University economist Lawrence Sumners to Vilnius for a week to give the new leaders a crash course in free markets.

By way of intelligence operations, the Vilnius government has a fax machine on which it receive communiques from Lithuanian organizations abroad.

And for an official information bureau, it has a makeshift group of university- and graduate school-age Lithuanians from the United States and Canada. They translate at news conferences, they write appeals in English to foreign governments and they act as official government spokesmen for the more than 200 foreign journalists now forced to leave Lithuania.


“We were here at 3 a.m. the other night, sitting here, and I started thinking, ‘This is just a joke. We have a music professor for a president, we have a bunch of intellectuals for a parliament, and our government information center is run by a bunch of college kids,’ ” said one of the Canadian volunteers, Loretta Stanulis, 20. “I try to explain it to my friends back home, but you just have to give up.”

Perhaps because of their long tenure as opposition leaders, the only issue on which the Vilnius government appears to have mapped out a consistent stance is its determination to defy Moscow.

But aside from defiance, the Vilnius government appears to have little resembling a program to go on. The legislature here is running on nerves and adrenaline and hopes that, somehow, someone will break the logjam with Moscow. For now, Landsbergis’ main strategy seems to be to wait for something to happen elsewhere, for better or worse.