In the Soviet republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, a nationalistic fervor has been growing so quickly that the Kremlin, vacillating between Gorbachev’s perestroika policy and resistance to the perceived threat of the Baltic states’ secession, has been unable to keep pace with the demand for reform.
“For years we have gotten used to speaking of the party’s monopoly on power,” explains Communist Party leader Vaino Valjas, “We have forgotten the principle that the party has power only as long as the people trust it.”
The three westernmost Soviet states, which border Poland and the Baltic sea, have been pushing toward reform more strenuously this past year and they appear to be intent on securing national sovereignty. Those within the Communist Party’s leadership have seen this trend begin with Gorbachev’s reform policies and then accelerate quickly.
There are many, including Valjas, who see this trend moving toward an inevitable conclusion. Valjas states, “Our ideal is an independent, sovereign Estonia within the Soviet Union or within a federation of sovereign republics.”
In the two other Baltic republics, there is a similar analysis from political leaders. Ivars Kezbers, the Latvian Ideology Secretary, foresees “a free republic in a free Soviet Union.” Vladimir Berezov, the Lithuanian Second Secretary says, “Our common goal is independence, even if the ways of getting there are different.”
Political change has been quickly sweeping through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Gorbachev’s campaign for revitalizing the Soviet economy has been greeted with enthusiasm in the Baltic states, but the people have taken this notion one step beyond reform. In order to insure autonomy, each Baltic republic has already established political parties which have progressively adopted Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika and have then moved beyond, breaking free of communist ideology.
The Christian community has been influential in the establishment of a force which promises to erase communist ideology from party politics and to lead the way in the creation of sovereign states. The Estonian Christian Union, the Latvian National Independence Movement, and the Lithuanian Party of Democrats have espoused the deeply nationalistic feelings of the Baltic people and have promised to work toward complete independence from the Kremlin’s influence.
Many Latvians and Estonians are Lutherans; and Roman Catholics make up over half of the Lithuanian population. It is among these and other Christian groups that spiritual revival has been occurring with greater fervency than in any other place in Europe. According to one American missionary, the Soviet Union is on the verge of an awakening of unprecedented proportion akin to the Great Welsh Revival at the turn of this century.
At the end of the summer, 18,000 people attended a three day “Gospel Youth Festival ’89” in Tallinn, Estonia. The three day campaign was led by a team of 75 from the United States, England, Scotland, Finland, and Poland. A gospel music concert featuring Scott Wesley Brown and Sheila Walsh was organized by Youth for Christ International and Outreach for Christ International at the request of Estonian Christian leaders.
“We had complete freedom to sing Christian songs and give invitations for persons to confess their faith,” said YFC President Jim Groen. According to the outreach leaders, about 1,800 came forward to make public confessions of faith. The outreach team also organized street meetings, distributed posters and pamphlets, and was covered by the local newspapers and television news. Prior to their arrival in Tallinn, the team held rallies in Warsaw, Helsinki, Leningrad, and Latvia. A similar event is planned for next summer with a special Christmas presentation in December.
The Baltic States have been in the forefront of a move of the Holy Spirit which will transform the make up of the Soviet Union. One of the strongest cries for freedom has come from the churches of the three dispossessed Baltic nations.
In Lithuania, the main support for reform has clearly come from the Christian community. One year ago, Algirdas Brazauskas received a standing ovation as he proclaimed, on the eve of the Lithuanian National Front’s founding congress, that the Vilnius Cathedral would be returned to the Roman Catholic Church.
The insistence of the communist government on promoting Marxist atheism has only spawned a greater mistrust among the people of the Kremlin’s authority. The restrictions against the Church are viewed by the Baltic people as an attack on freedom. This has made them more sympathetic than ever to the message of liberty found in the gospel and has created a nationalistic uprising which is destined to overthrow the yoke of totalitarianism.
- Last May, the Latvian Popular Front met with leaders of Latvian exile organizations in France to create slogans and programs for December’s local elections.
- In early June, members of the Lithuanian delegation walked out of the Kremlin’s Palace of Congresses in protest of Gorbachev’s plan to create a new Committee for Constitutional Supervision.
- At the end of August, the Kremlin issued a statement which proposed a policy which would grant greater freedom to all 15 Soviet republics and suggested that the 1922 treaty creating the Soviet Union and its government should be severely revised. The written statement openly declared “a need for radical transformation in the Soviet federation.”
These political events have been fueled by emotion coming with the 50th anniversary of the Soviet takeover of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during World War Two. The existing domination of the Baltic states by the Soviet government is a leftover condition of post-WWII Europe. “We must solve the Baltic question,” urges Estonian Popular Front leader Rein Veidemann, “and recognize the fact that we were first occupied and then annexed.”
During the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a treaty between Josef Stalin and Nazi Germany which gave the Soviet Union control of the Baltic states after Hitler’s take-over of Poland, Lithuanians appeared with posters exposing the still-existing Nazi-Soviet agreement.
In a show of national patriotism, the Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians once again have been displaying their historic flags in demonstrations for independence. Other banners read: “How Long Will the Red Army Be Master of Our Land?” and “Moscow! Hands Off From Estonia.”
At the end of August, two million people linked hands across the Baltic states from Tallinn to Vilnius, demanding freedom from Soviet rule. In protest of the Soviet-Nazi pact, a document from the Baltic people was issued to the Kremlin which read in part:
“The USSR has infringed on the historical right of the Baltic nations to self-determination, presented ruthless ultimatums to the Baltic republics, occupied them with overwhelming military force, and under conditions of military occupation and heavy political terror carried out their violent annexations.”
The social upheaval which has occurred in the Baltic states, Soviet Georgia, and Armenia, has made Soviet officials seriously grapple with the increasing cry for freedom.
In their push for liberty, the thinking of the people has been moving ahead so fast that newly established political parties have had difficulty keeping abreast. And in the midst of the political activity there are new ideas emerging which are even more radical than Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika or the emergence of the Baltic states’ splinter parties.