On a mission to regain America’s attention, Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said Thursday that Soviet troops still occupy the television stations in his tiny Baltic Republic and that Lithuanians struggling for independence are living every day under the threat of military invasion.
The difference between Lithuania’s independence as a sovereign nation and a bloody battle with the Soviet Union could be United States recognition of his newly elected non-Communist government, the soft-spoken president said at a luncheon held in his honor at the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace.
“This danger is not over,” said Landsbergis, who was invited to Thursday’s event by Nixon when the former President visited Lithuania last month. “It’s only a pause right here in the aggression.”
Landsbergis met earlier this week with congressional leaders who are considering a resolution that would put the United States on record as recognizing Lithuania’s government. Kremlin officials have warned that Lithuania’s challenge is an internal matter, but the United States has never accepted the Soviet Union’s annexation of Lithuania after World War II.
Landsbergis, wearing a double-breasted, charcoal-gray suit, wire-rim glasses and his well-known goatee, said at a press conference that he read the text of the congressional resolution to a crowd of pro-independence demonstrators in Vilnius, his nation’s capital, last Saturday.
“You can imagine 200,000 people shouting and applauding,” Landsbergis said through an interpreter. “Several times, I had to tell everybody that this is not yet an accomplished fact. I would actually like the U.S. Congress to see the video of the people in this rally.”
Through a speaker-phone, Nixon greeted Landsbergis and the audience of about 400 people from his home in New Jersey. Nixon said he told Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Moscow last month that independence for Lithuania and the two other Baltic states--Latvia and Estonia--is vital.
“I am profoundly pro-Lithuanian,” Nixon said. “But that does not mean that I am anti-Soviet. It is in the interests of the Soviet Union to find a peaceful solution to the question of the Baltics. It is far better for the Soviet Union to have as a neighbor friendly people living in an independent nation rather than unfriendly people living in a captive nation.”
Landsbergis was elected last year to be Lithuania’s first non-Communist leader in half a century. In January, Soviet troops seized the republic’s television station and crushed public demonstrations in an uprising that left 14 people dead.
A month later, Lithuanians voted in a plebiscite in which 90.4% favored independence.
Landsbergis began his half-hour speech by reading from gruesome accounts of the Jan. 13 attack by Soviet troops. Then he appealed to the audience for support in challenging Moscow.
“Put the top Soviet leadership on the spot by asking them these simple questions: Why don’t you return the television and radio buildings you stole? Why do you continue to be in possession of stolen goods?”
Landsbergis said Western world leaders, including President Bush, are “too much influenced by Soviet propaganda and the image of Gorbachev.” And he said the Lithuanian people look to the United States as a model for their future.
“Here, in this country, the people like truth,” he said. “This country is based on justice. We want to be such a nation. That is our goal.”
Landsbergis was presented with a giant, colorful print of the Statue of Liberty that he said will be hung in Lithuania’s parliament building. “This picture will . . . not only decorate but inspire,” he said.
And in return, he presented Julie Nixon Eisenhower with a tape, among other gifts. She was at the library to serve as hostess for Landsbergis in the absence of her father.
Landsbergis, 58, is also an accomplished pianist who has authored nine books about music and made two recordings. While touring Nixon’s birthplace, he played a Lithuanian song on the same piano that the former American president used as a child.