Rebirth of a Nation 'Under One Moon'
LITHUANIA was already in the grip of the Soviet Army when hardliners in Moscow attempted to seize power late in August. Since an aborted coup in Vilnius in January and the attack on the broadcast tower that left 16 dead and 500 wounded, Black Berets and paratroops had been on a rampage in the small Baltic republic. A dozen customs posts were burned, and in late July seven customs agents were found executed in a gangland-style murder. As the Soviet coup began on Aug. 19, more key buildings across Lithuania were taken by Soviet forces. When the coup failed in Moscow, Lithuanians celebrated not only the triumph of democracy in Russia, but also witnessed the release of their own nation. In 28 days - under one moon - Lithuania went from a captive in a union in disarray to a full member of the United Nations. Freelance writer John Budris was in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, during these historic days. Following are excerpts from his reporter's notebook.Skip to next paragraph
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Tuesday, Aug. 20 10 p.m. Lithuanian Parliament Moscow coup is under way In the halls of the Parliament it is so dark I have to paw my way around walls of stacked sand bags. Though I can't see him, I hear a guard slipping a shell magazine into his rifle. A father and son, both members of the volunteer militia, pose for a picture. The father holds a shotgun - about a 20-gauge - perfect for shooting partridge. The son holds a bunch of gladioluses. A hunting knife is tied to his belt. Not far away are Soviet tanks. The concussion alone from their blank shells shattered the windo ws of two city blocks during the January attack on the [Vilnius] Radio and TV. The father gives me his wife's name and address. President [Vytautas] Landsbergis and the civil defense director speak to the men in what appears a farewell ritual. They pause and pray. A priest gives a blessing. Parliament deputies and staff stand in their own ranks. During the Bloody Sunday attack in January, which left 16 dead and 500 injured, Landsbergis ordered the women to leave. m a dictator tonight - you must listen to me" he said chuckling, one of the aides told me. He made no such suggestion tonight. A woman addresses the men. Her grandfather was a partisan who hid in the woods and fought against the Soviets after the 1940 occupation. "We are like them," she tells the men, looking straight at a uniformed woman militia volunteer. Intelligence sources inside the Soviet Internal Ministry units confirmed that an attack is scheduled - to be coordinated with the siege on the Russian Federation Parliament, says the director. The plan, he says, is to take Moscow and then Leningrad, Tallin, Riga, and Vilnius. They break and watch Moscow on CNN. Two Americans rehearse whipping their blue passports out of their pockets - flashing hopeful shields against kalashnikovs [machine guns]. A bodyguard of Landsbergis's says that they are ready to fight, and only a miracle will keep the Soviet forces away. His white shirt is stretched tight from the bulletproof vest underneath - the kind LA cops wear. "It was worse in January. But we are ready to fight - to die. Those kind of decisions are already made." The OMON or Black Berets took the telephone and telegraph in the afternoon. International lines are out. Upstairs a translator sits on a couch in a darkened hall. "It is a pity that I don't have a gun as I would shoot," she says. "Those who would shoot us, those who would run us down with tanks, they are not people. People could not do such a thing. So if they should come, and I have a gun, I would shoot, by all means. To just be killed would serve no purpose." Outside driving rain extinguishes campfires, but tens of thousands keep singing - as they did in the January snow.
Wednesday - Aug. 21 4 a.m. - Inside Parliament CNN delivered good news. The Russian Parliament held. In the drizzle and gray dawn, Landsbergis leaves to speak to the thousands surrounding the building. "Lithuania will be free," he tells them. A couple well past 70 tug at his sleeve. By early evening, coup organizers both in Moscow and Vilnius are fleeing. The Black Berets release the telephone and telegraph center, but Landsbergis is warned by two Soviet commanding officers to disarm the volunteer militia. He refuses. Near midnight a special-assignment Soviet hit squad raids the Parliament and kills a young militia guard who came back early from vacation.