Lithuania charges Communist leader in connection with Soviet army assault

February 04, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Lithuanian authorities have filed criminal charges against a leader of the republican Communist Party in connection with his role in the Soviet army seizure of broadcasting facilities Jan. 13 in which 14 people died, the Tass news agency reported yesterday.

The charges against Juozas Jarmalavicius, the Lithuanian Communist Party's ideology secretary, set the stage for further confrontation with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the rest of the Communist Party leadership in Moscow.

Soviet radio broadcast a demand yesterday of the party's Central Committee for "the urgent repeal of all anti-constitutional acts," which in the party's view include the declarations of independence passed by Lithuania and several other republics.

Saying events in the country have reached a "dangerous boundary," the Central Committee also denounced what it said were anti-Communist attempts "to change the social system of the U.S.S.R." It called on all citizens to try to save the Soviet Union in its present borders.

Mr. Jarmalavicius was charged under Article 68 of the Lithuanian criminal code for "public calls for violating the sovereignty of the Lithuanian state and overthrowing state power with the use of violence," Tass said.

According to some witnesses, Mr. Jarmalavicius' amplified voice was heard as troops attacked Lithuanian television facilities in the early hours Jan. 13. He reportedly appealed to demonstrators standing around the facilities to go home.

Whether or not he was present that night, he was the chief public spokesman for the self-appointed Lithuanian National Salvation Committee, which has never identified its members and purportedly communicated with Mr. Jarmalavicius through couriers. A reporting team from the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda concluded that the National Salvation Committee did not really exist and was merely a front for the hard-line, Moscow-loyal Communist Party in Lithuania.

Tass said the Lithuanian parliamentary commission formed "to investigate crimes of the Soviet armed forces in Lithuania" is also considering whether the Communist Party played a role in the "unconstitutional activity" of the National Salvation Committee.

The committee issued a statement prior to the Jan. 13 violence claiming that it was seizing power in the republic. Top Soviet officials explained the army assault on the broadcasting units by saying that the National Salvation Committee had requested its help in stopping anti-Soviet and anti-army propaganda broadcast by Lithuanian radio and television.

A move by the Lithuanian government to put Mr. Jarmalavicius on trial or to jail him would pose a dilemma for President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who is also general-secretary of the Communist Party.

On the one hand, attempts by an anonymous National Salvation Committee to overthrow the elected government of Lithuania and to direct army violence against unarmed citizens are hard to reconcile with Mr. Gorbachev's ostensible devotion to a "law-governed state."

On the other hand, despite denials from Mr. Gorbachev and other top officials, there is strong evidence that high-level Kremlin figures controlled the National Salvation Committee and ordered the assault on broadcast facilities. KGB, army and Ministry of Internal Affairs units that take orders only from Moscow all took part in the attack.

According to the Lithuanian Health Ministry, in addition to the 13 civilians and one KGB lieutenant killed Jan. 13, 580 people have sought medical help as a result of the main assault and other clashes with army and riot troop units.

While only a few of the speeches from last Thursday's Central Committee plenum have been made public, they suggest that it was an extremely hard-line affair.

Ivan K. Polozkov, the reactionary leader of the Russian Communist Party, declared that perestroika, Mr. Gorbachev's reform program, had failed and been taken over by "so-called democrats" bent on destroying the state.

"There can be no question of a multiparty system here at this time," Mr. Polozkov declared. He said there is only the Communist Party and anti-Communists -- "little political groups" seeking to seize power.

An article published Friday in Moskovskaya Pravda, a Communist Party paper, went so far as to charge that the CIA was responsible for the violence in Lithuania. Recent hard-line accounts of the events in the Baltic republics increasingly emphasize the alleged role of the West in stirring up trouble there.

In Riga, the Latvian capital, a famous Leningrad television personality was allegedly shot at yesterday by unidentified people.

The target, Alexander G. Nevzorov, has turned his hit television show, "600 Seconds," into a forum for a Russian nationalist defense of Soviet violence against the Balts. His melodramatic broadcasts are considered by many Soviet journalists and citizens to be so far from the truth that rumors abound of his selling out to the KGB or Communist Party.

His account of the seizure of the television tower in Vilnius, for instance, blamed the civilians and asserted that the troops were "heroes" who had "saved Lithuania."

That and other broadcasts infuriated many Balts, so there is a motive for attacks on Mr. Nevzorov. But he is seen with such suspicion that his detractors are likely to say the alleged shooting was staged by the KGB or other forces to drum up sympathy for Mr. Nevzorov and whip up the opposition to Latvian independence.

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