US Lithuanians Rally Support
Boston activists are lobbying politicians, making views known
BOSTON — AS tension brews in the Baltics, Boston's Lithuanian community works calmly to rally support for their land's independence from the Soviet Union. In recent months, local groups like the South Boston Lithuanian-American Citizen's Association have spent long hours participating in demonstrations and lobbying lawmakers to gain US support. Though their work here may not change much in the Soviet Union, activists say making their views known is important.
``Public opinion is important,'' says Lithuanian activist Dalia Sciuka. ``We're leaving no stone unturned as far as expressing public opinion.''
In the Massachusetts legislature, these efforts have had an impact. This week, the state senate voted to support a resolution to urge President Bush to give Lithuania full diplomatic status.
Lithuanian-American groups all over the country - particularly in the past year and a half - are making impressive efforts. Groups like the Lithuanian-American Community Inc. of Virginia have sent Lithuania personal computers and telefax machines to enhance communication. The equipment is used to inform activists here of day-to-day developments in the Baltics as well as keep Lithuanians in touch with the West's reaction to changes in the Soviet Union.
Groups are also organizing trips for Lithuanian politicians to visit the US and meet with members of Congress, State Department officials, and the press.
Activist Arvydas Barzdukas of the Lithuanian American Community Inc. helped to send $50,000 worth of paper to Lithuania to publish a traditional Lithuanian history book. He says several thousand copies have already been printed there.
``There was no real, true history published of Lithuania for 50 years,'' he says.
Greater openness in the Soviet Union has made these efforts possible. It has also stirred up Lithuanian-American interest in continuing support from the US.
Enthusiasm here in Boston has been running high, particularly since Lithuania declared itself an independent country March 11. Activists were also pleased by the passage of a US House resolution this week urging Mr. Bush to officially recognize Lithuanian independence and to normalize diplomatic relations.
At a recent meeting of the South Boston Lithuanian-American Citizen's Association, activists crowded in the basement of a dingy city building to plan a demonstration. Some people waved miniature red, green, and yellow Lithuanian flags and sang the Lithuanian national anthem. All were excited about the possibility of Lithuanian independence.
``The Soviets are flexing their muscles,'' says activist Regina Baika. But the Lithuanians ``are ... a very determined people.''
Although she says it is difficult to predict the future, Ms. Baika says now may be an opportune time for Lithuanians to stand up for independence. ``If they go for it in one gulp, they may be able to do it.''
Although Lithuanian activists support greater openness in the Soviet Union and hope independence for the Baltics will follow, they are not unaware of the ramifications.
``If Lithuania gains independence, it's like the domino effect. ... This would be the end of the empire,'' says Al Skabeikis of the South Boston Lithuanian-American Citizen's Association.