Crackdown in Lithuania

January 17, 1991|By The Los Angeles Times

BUDAPEST, 1956. Prague, 1968. Vilnius, 1991. Each time Soviet tanks were sent to crush subject peoples who had become bold enough to resist Moscow's rule. Each time the brutal crackdowns were accompanied by similarly unbelievable claims.

The independence movements that the Red Army extinguished in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were condemned as "counter-revolutionary," a designation that automatically put them beyond the pale of Soviet tolerance and made military force obligatory.

The harsh and unmistakable message of the military takeover in Lithuania won't be misheard in those other republics that have also declared their sovereignty. Whatever reforms Gorbachev intends to pursue in the time left to him are feasible only if the territorial integrity of the Soviet state can be maintained. If that requires using tanks and troops to coerce order and obedience, then, as events in Vilnius have made clear, tanks and troops will be used.

But the turn to force won't be cost-free. The Western world that has looked to Gorbachev with such great hope is being `f anxiously compelled to re-examine its assessments and expectations. "Partnership," said Secretary of State James A. Baker III, "is impossible in the absence of shared values." There are many in the Soviet hierarchy, including Gorbachev's recent choice for interior minister, Boris Pugo, the former KGB boss in Latvia, who have only contempt for the notion of shared values with the West. Others, the modernizers and technocrats who know how vital Western help will be to future Soviet development, know better. For now, and maybe even for some time to come, the reactionaries seem to have won out. The tanks that swept through Vilnius may have put a bloody signature to the all too brief chapter of promised Soviet reform.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.