Taking a Listen to Outside Advice : Kohl, Mitterrand offer Gorbachev, Landsbergis a plan.

For the more than seven weeks since Lithuania declared its independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, it has been obvious that neither country could get exactly what it wanted.

Lithuania, for all the intensity of its desire to be free and the determination of its citizens to suffer whatever it took to gain that freedom, could not break away so abruptly. So, too, Moscow, especially Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, could have no illusions that Lithuania would forfeit independence.

What was required was an arrangement that was more than a face-saving device for both Lithuania and the Soviet Union, and yet less than a capitulation. An idea came last week from West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterrand of France.

Kohl and Mitterrand proposed that Lithuanian leaders suspend the effect of their decision to become an independent nation--without backing away from their March 11 declaration of independence.


There still is no written version of exactly what Moscow and the recently elected government in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius might agree to. Both still phrase differently what they deem necessary to get serious negotiations going between Moscow and Vilnius and to halt the Soviet embargo of crucial shipments of oil, gas and other raw materials to Lithuania. But Gorbachev and many Lithuanian leaders seem to agree that the words do exist, can be found and will be written down. To be sure, neither side has more important work at hand.

This comes too late to save Stanislovas Zhamaitis, 52, who was buried a Lithuanian hero after igniting gasoline he had poured over himself near the Kremlin. But nothing in the proposal or Moscow’s tentative response to it is likely to cancel out the spirit of his suicide note. “Lithuanians will not live in a Lithuania that is not independent,” it read.

Perhaps the French and West German proposal could be considered a compromise, said Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene of Lithuania. It was, she said, “very close to something that has already been discussed” by Lithuanian leaders. Even Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, the most unyielding of his nation’s officials, joined the search for words, talking of a “temporary confederative link.”

As for Moscow, a spokesman for Gorbachev called the proposal “constructive,” and said that Lithuania should be able to find a way of “putting a moratorium” on its declaration of independence.

Even though many Lithuanians see the Franco-German proposal as a case of Kohl and Mitterrand putting their own reputations on the line to salvage the country’s ultimate goal, there is no deal yet.

Gorbachev may yet insist on language that would commit Lithuania to acknowledging Moscow’s sovereignty for an unspecified period of time to delay the start of his nation-empire’s unraveling. Vilnius may well refuse.

Part of Gorbachev’s thinking in bearing down on Lithuania to stay in the union is that he still wants it to pioneer in economic changes that citizens of other republics shy away from. For its part, Lithuania has had an unpleasant reminder of how close its economic ties are to Moscow. At the same time, its people have been forced farther from socialism into market-oriented thinking by recent shortages and shutdowns of production lines.

In any event, Moscow and Vilnius should take this offer and run as hard as they can--in place.