VILNIUS, Soviet Union -- It was just another weekend in the new Lithuania.
Bodies of the late Vatslava Gujiene and 118 other postwar "enemies of the people" were finally brought back from Siberia, their place of exile, for reburial in their native soil. About 5,000 mourners, including Gujiene's 56-year-old daughter, accompanied rough wooden coffins containing the remains of five exiles in a solemn procession from the medieval Holy City Gate to the newly restored Vilnius cathedral.
Democratic Party. "We don't stand for socialism with a human face," explained an organizer. "We vote with both hands for democratic capitalism as a global system."
Meanwhile, a demonstrator from the more radical Lithuanian Freedom League passed out what would only recently have been considered seditious literature and displayed a sign in English demanding "Stop Communism in Lithuania."
Not far away, a Boy Scout sat at a small outdoor table near the statue of a Soviet general who "liberated" Lithuania, collecting signatures on a petition demanding that Moscow now remove its "occupation army" and let the Baltic people chose their own "socialist political order."
And protester Nicholayas Tolpyginas pitched his tent on the front steps of the Communist Party's vast, modern headquarters building, vowing neither to eat nor move until he is allowed to emigrate.
Asked what he thought about all these manifestations, the official who is theoretically Moscow's man in Lithuania responded with a slightly nervous laugh. It just goes to show that "ours is the most democratic country in the world," quipped Vladimir A. Beryozov, second secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party.
"We don't see here anything especially worrying," he added in an interview. "On the one hand, of course, all sorts of consequences might ensue. But we feel that in our conditions, where for a long time we had no democracy, there is bound to be a certain degree of euphoria among people."
Euphoria seems a gross understatement in describing what is happening throughout the Baltics these days. If the signs of change in Moscow are amazing, here they are breathtaking.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania represent the cutting edge of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's perestroika reform program. Just last week, the country's reconstituted Supreme Soviet gave the Baltic republics preliminary approval to implement a degree of economic independence unprecedented since the earliest days of the Soviet state.
But the Baltics may also turn into perestroika's most difficult test, because nowhere are the forces unleashed by Gorbachev's reform program felt more powerfully than here on the northwestern edge of the Soviet empire.
Even as the Soviet Parliament was debating Baltic economic independence, about 100,000 Latvians took to the streets of Riga, the capital, demanding a multi-party political system.
In Estonia, ethnic Russian workers were on strike at several plants protesting what they described as discriminatory new laws with which the native majority hopes to drive them out of the republic.
To many Soviets, the Baltic people have long been a small but troublesome and ideologically unreliable minority. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were all independent "bourgeois" states between the two world wars, and they were the last of the Soviet Union's 15 constituent republics to be annexed--in 1940.
Significant numbers here saw Nazi German troops as liberators at the time of Germany's World War II attack on the Soviet Union, and bands of partisan guerrillas fought a losing battle against the Red Army into the early 1950s.
Now that Gorbachev and his fellow reformers are trying to work out a new relationship with all of the country's republics, the Baltics are where the limits are being most seriously and regularly tested. Two months ago, popular fronts in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined forces in a Baltic Assembly to coordinate action.
The developments are particularly eye-opening to a reporter who last visited Lithuania in the late 1970s, when the late Leonid I. Brezhnev was still in power and the Kremlin was most nervous about the impact in this predominantly Roman Catholic republic of a new, Polish Pope in the Vatican.
Lithuanians only talked to American reporters about their religion in a whisper then, even in their own homes.
Now Sunday Mass is broadcast on Lithuanian television.
From the archives: On the Cutting Edge of Perestroika
Breathtaking Changes Sweep Baltic Republics
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