Party Popularity Startles People's Movement

A YOUNG man bursts into Sajudis headquarters and exclaims: ``All Communists must quit our movement!'' Later that night, at a gathering of the Sajudis executive council, an equally earnest young activist stands up and declares that the time has come for the Lithuanian people's movement to declare itself a political party.

On the eve of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's much-anticipated visit to this Baltic republic, Sajudis is in the throes of a crisis. Recently, for the first time since its founding in October 1988, it slipped below the Lithuanian Communist Party in an opinion poll rating the popularity of local political movements. Vytautas Landsbergis, its leader, has fallen to No. 7 in the same poll's ranking of local political figures.

To some degree, Sajudis is the victim of its own success. After less than a year and a half of existence, this amorphous nationalist movement has forged a program that found such resonance among the public that it was virtually adopted by the Lithuanian Communist Party. Last month, the party's 20th congress voted 4 to 1 to break away from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union - an unprecedented move in Soviet history, and the cause of Mr. Gorbachev's visit.

Gorbachev's arrival has spurred Sajudis to try to regain its initiative. On Monday, it called for massive street demonstrations under the banner of ``freedom and independence.''

If Sajudis gets its way, the Soviet leader will also hear public demands for the removal of the Red Army from Lithuanian soil, official admission of the Baltic republics' illegal incorporation into the Soviet Union in 1940, and compensation for ecological damage caused by centrally controlled industries.

Yet only a few days earlier, one of the movement's top activists had said in an interview that Sajudis would lie low during Gorbachev's visit.

``Sajudis won't support any extreme anti-Gorbachev moods,'' said Romualdas Ozolas, a leading member of the movement's executive council. ``Such attitudes exist in Lithuania - anti-Russian, anti-Gorbachev, anti-Commmunist. Very few, but they exist.''

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