Lithuanians In Carroll On An Emotional Roller Coaster

Hopes Soar, Plummet As Crackdown Halts Freedom Drive In Homeland

January 20, 1991|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

ELDERSBURG — Each time their phone rang Wednesday evening, Algimantas and Kathryn Grintalis jumped and their hopes soared.

For four days they had been trying to get through to their homeland of Lithuania, trying to contact a close friend for first-hand news of the bloody Soviet crackdown against the Baltic state's fledgling democratic government.

"We can't get through, they've cut the lines," said Algimantas, agitatedly.

The friend, a woman artist who just three weeks ago stood in the Grintalis' home while in the United States for an artshow, lives in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.

Bitter disappointment showed on the Grintalis' faces when their phone call about 6 p.m. failed to go through.

Just moments before 7 p.m., the phone rang.

Kathryn Grintalis answered, not really expecting it to be their friend.

"It's Vilnius!" she exclaimed.

Algimantas grabbed a portable phone from the coffee table.

Rapid-fire conversation in Lithuanian continued for several minutes. When the couple hung up, their faces reflected a mixture of relief, anger and grief.

"She says it's very bad over there," Algimantas said. "She told me as of Thursday they can't get out of Vilnius. There are people missing who have just disappeared -- there's no trace of them."

Lithuanians were protecting their Parliament day and night, he said, "because once that goes -- the symbol -- that's it."

The woman in Vilnius had no information about the Grintalis' relatives or friends.

For some Lithuanian-Americans, the best hope for their homeland appears to be a concerted effort by the Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and the other Soviet republics to rise up against the central government in Moscow.

"(Russian President Boris) Yeltsin's going to rise up, and there's going to be another revolution,"Algimantas declared.

Last March, Lithuania, the largest of thethree Baltic republics, declared its independence from the Soviet Union and elected a democratic parliament.

At the time, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev tried to persuade Lithuania not to declare independence, but took no action against the country.

"Lithuanians were so happy," said a neighbor of the Grintalises, who asked that her name not be used. "They weren't really against the Soviet Union. They just wanted to be free, and Gorbachev wants them to be slaves."

Like the Grintalises, the neighbor fled Lithuania during World War II. She still has cousins there, and her husband, also of Lithuanian descent, has three sisters and a brother there.

"(Last Sunday's attack) was shocking," she said. "I can't eat, I can't sleep. I cry, I don't want to believe it."

Algimantas also has uncles and cousins in Lithuania. He, like his neighbor, tells horror stories from World War II.

"The Soviets took my grandparents and uncles and put them in cattle wagons, like animals, the women in one and the men in another, and shipped them to Siberia," Algimantas said.

Separated, his grandparents never saw each other again. The grandfather and one uncle died in Siberia.

"They died all because they believed in democracy," Algimantas said.

Now, as a United Nations coalition battles Iraq, Gorbachev is using the Persian Gulf war as a diversion to crack down on the Baltic republics, again denying themfreedom, Algimantas said.

Other Lithuanian-Americans agree with him.

Vaskys Vida, a 37-year-old Sykesville woman whose parents also fled Lithuania during World War II, never has been to the country of her heritage, but still considers it home.

"I'm appalledthat the person responsible for Lithuania's 'Bloody Sunday' is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize," she said. "For my parents, it's a reliving of the atrocities of World War II."

The crackdown is especially painful because Lithuanian-Americans, even through several generations, maintain strong ties to their mother country, Vida said.

"Lithuanians try to maintain a sense of nationalism and have instilled a love of the country in their families. They speak the language, they teach the language to their children, they try to instill a sense of culture in them," she said.

The Lithuanian community in America has pulled together during this latest crisis. Vida, the Grintalises and their neighbor all spent several days last week at the Soviet Embassy in Washington protesting the crackdown.

"There'sa sense of unfairness," Vida said. "The U.S. government isn't takingas strong a stand as I would like."

Ed Budelis, 64, of Eldersburg, who was born in this country after his parents came here from Lithuania around the turn of the century, also wonders why the U.S. government isn't taking a stronger stance against Soviet repression in Lithuania.

"World War II is not over," Budelis said. "We got Hitler out of Europe, but we didn't get Stalin out of the Baltics."

In separate conversations, both Grintalis and Budelis compared Gorbachev to former Premier Josef Stalin, who was noted for his brutality, and said the Soviets are barbarians who think nothing of raping, mutilating and torturing those who don't follow them.

"No matter what happens to Lithuania, we'll never give up," Grintalis vowed. "We're going to do everything we can to get our country back."

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