Baltic-Americans take protest to Soviet Embassy

January 12, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- With shouts of "No more tanks" and "Freedom now," several dozen Baltic-American demonstrators -- most from the Baltimore area -- rallied outside the Soviet Embassy yesterday, protesting the Soviet military incursion to restore its rule in the breakaway republics.

"Democracy is being crushed," declared Dr. Onile Sestokas, who arrived from Baltimore with a busload of protesters.

"We'd like our government to tell the Soviets to back out of Lithuania."

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, supported by 1,000 paratroopers, has told Lithuanian officials to restore Soviet power or he will take control.

Troops have also been sent to Latvia and Estonia, as well as the Ukraine and other dissident republics.

"I think it's very frightening," said Aldona Buda of Baltimore, standing in the cold drizzle amid the placards and Baltic flags.

"The same thing is going to happen that happened in Kuwait."

Mrs. Buda, who emigrated from Lithuania in 1949, compared Mr. Gorbachev to Josef V. Stalin and said that she feared that the standoff would result in armed conflict.

"I think there's going to be bloodshed when they try taking the [Lithuanian] parliament," Mrs. Buda said.

She said that she spoke with relatives in Lithuania before the Soviet troop movement but that since then she has been unable to get through.

"They were very upset. They knew something was going to happen," she said.

Dr. Sestokas, who said that the protesters would stage demonstrations today, took some encouragement in letters sent this week by Congress to Soviet Ambassador Alexander Bessmertnykh condemning the troop movement and saying that such actions could threaten U.S. economic assistance to the Soviet Union.

One of the letters was signed by Maryland's Democratic senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski.

Still, several demonstrators criticized Congress and the Bush administration for not extending diplomatic recognition to Lithuania and the other Baltic republics when they declared their independence from the Soviet Union last year.

Such a move, they said, might have helped to avert the crisis.

The demonstration came as Congress was debating authorization of military action in the Persian Gulf.

But Edward Sinkora, a protester from Severn, said that it was "clearly hypocritical" for Congress to press for freedom in Kuwait and say little about the Baltic states.

One placard read: "Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia = 3 x Kuwait."

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