Lithuanians Dig In, as Vilnius Takes Offensive Against Moscow
NIJOLE KASPARIUNENE stands at her stove preparing breakfast for her brood of children. Three burners of her gas stove are going at once. ``If electricity will disappear, well, then I don't know what we will do,'' says Mrs. Kaspariunene.
``It's difficult, of course, even awful, but I believe in parliament. The government will arrange things. It's very inhumane from [Mikhail] Gorbachev's perspective to deprive people of everything. I just can't believe that he will let this happen.''
Even as the Soviet economic vise grip tightens on Lithuania, such a view is common here.
On Sunday, Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis urged people to avoid using their cars whenever possible, saying even ambulances might run out of fuel. He made a televised appeal to people to stand firm against the Kremlin's sanctions.
In its policy toward Moscow, Lithuania's government appeared to be reaching out and lashing out simultaneously. A four-member Lithuanian delegation headed by Vice President Bronius Kuzmickas arrived in Moscow yesterday to try to open a dialogue with Soviet officials. At the same time, Lithuanian leaders have declared they will cut gas supplies to Soviet military bases within their borders and slow shipments from Lithuania of goods that the Soviet Union needs. The retaliatory gestures include blocking international exports of goods produced by factories in Lithuania which are run by the Soviet Union. Lithuanian government officials argue that they do not want any of the foreign currency earned by their factories to go to the Soviet Union.
In another step likely to anger Moscow, Lithuanian government authorities warned Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov in a telegram sent Sunday that the republic's factories would soon be unable to fulfill their production orders if economic sanctions imposed by Moscow continue.
The retaliatory moves went into effect yesterday, along with a slew of rationing measures to cope with the cutoff of oil and gas to the republic. Lithuanian officials announced they were doing away with several mass transit routes in Vilnius, the capital. City officials shut off a handful of hot water boilers that normally supply some Vilnius residential areas in an initial effort to save natural gas.
Officials said they were considering instituting food rationing after reports reached the government that some food supplies to the republic were being cut. A senior Soviet official in Vilnius denied that shipments of goods other than oil and natural gas were being cut.
But even as Lithuanian leaders solidify rationing and retaliation measures, they say they are well aware that such gestures will be futile in coping with long fuel shortages and in solving the deadlock with Moscow.
``The first and last problem is to solve the political question,'' Lithuanian Deputy Prime Minister Romualdas Ozolas said this weekend. ``Everything that we are doing now - these are only temporary means to keep on living.''
But with goods still plentiful by Soviet standards, many Lithuanians do not seem to believe that real shortages might soon come. They believe their government will find a way out of its logjam with Moscow, and they continue to show a brave face and unwavering belief that Lithuania will some day gain the independence it declared on March 11.
In homes, restaurants, and hotels, food is being prepared as usual on gas stoves, and hot water supplies do not seem to be a problem for most. Despite reports that housewives were stocking up furiously on candles all weekend, a trip to a few shops yesterday proved candles were still to be found.
Still, many Lithuanians are taking some measures in anticipation of a serious depletion of energy supplies. Car owners now spend their days waiting in gas station lines that stretch for blocks and last hours. On Saturday, there was a long line outside a bicycle store in Vilnius, and some car owners took day trips to Latvia or the Ukraine to buy gasoline. But most stayed off the roads.
At Vilnius's largest medical facility, Clinical Hospital No. 6, officials were dusting off a diesel-powered electric generator given to the hospital long ago by Soviet authorities for use in case of war.
``All the physicians, all the workers, are ready to work without panic, just the same as in a war,'' chief surgeon Romanas Rimkezicius said. ``This is a war, after all, isn't it?''
Some of the republic's factories with plans to stay open Saturday to make up for last week's Easter vacation, gave employees a day off instead. Mazeikiai, the republic's only oil refinery, stopped all production yesterday, Lithuanian government officials said. The officials said Mazeikiai's 3,000 workers would be given vacation with pay until further notice.
In a weekend meeting with Lithuanian government ministers, directors of other enterprises in the republic outlined their needs and reserve supplies and announced most had enough to continue production for between a few days and a few weeks.
At Vilnius Grade School No. 22, several school trips to the countryside planned for the weekend were canceled because of a lack of gasoline. The school's principal said students could be given their lunches cold in coming weeks if the natural gas supply is cut.
But despite all the preparations and talk of economic blockade, it was not immediately apparent that Lithuania was short of anything at all. When pressed by Western journalists, Lithuanian government officials acknowledged that rail freight into the country appeared to be delivered as usual as of Sunday - this, following earlier cries that a food blockade had begun, after two shipments of sugar from Cuba and one fish shipment from Latvia were prevented from entering Lithuania.
Food stores were well stocked with cheese and meat - commodities in sort supply in Moscow. Lights were on as usual in buildings throughout Vilnius. They burned late into the night at Lithuanian government buildings.