20 June 1940
Prime Minister Antanas Merkys heaved a long, heartfelt sigh of relief as a motorized launch carried Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov across the placid gray waters of the Baltic to the waiting Red Navy cruiser.
"I swear," said Merkys, "that man would take your heart as collateral on a ten kopek loan."
His companion, President Antanas Smetona, said, "A disturbing individual, no doubt of that."
"Terrifying would be more like it," said Merkys, as the two men retreated to their chauffeured limousine. "I understand the reasoning behind his visit, but that doesn't mean I have to like it." Although Molotov liked to present an unreadable face to the world, Merkys had seen his eyes sizing up their little country the way a butcher sized up a side of beef.
As their vehicle began twisting its way through the port city's streets, Smetona said, "You can't deny that Molotov's visit has already begun to generate results."
"That much I cannot deny," said Merkys. Even while Molotov had been touring the countryside around Kaunas, the Polish Sejm had voted to make the area around Vilnius, which the Poles called Central Lithuania, into one of their autonomous "devos".
"Now begins the tug-of-war," said Smetona. "The Poles will try to draw us into a union with Central Lithuania under their 'commonwealth', while we try to draw Vilnius into a union with ourselves and out of Poland altogether."
"And all the while," said Merkys, "the Russians sit and watch like a hungry..."
"Bear?" said Smetona.
"I was hoping to provide a less clichéd simile," said Merkys.
"There are some clichés which cannot be avoided," said Smetona. "As long as there are Russians, there will be the cliché of the Russian bear, because there is too much truth in the cliché to set it aside."
"But there are indeed no more Russians," Merkys pointed out. "They are Soviets now."
"The Soviet Union is only a mask," Smetona responded. "The greatest Communist front organization of them all. Take away the mask, and you will find the same old clichéd Russian bear, waiting to consume the world."
"And yet we are making deals with this clichéd omnivorous bear," said Merkys.
"Merely discussing the possibility," said Smetona. "We say what we want, and Molotov says what he wants."
"And what Molotov wants," said Merkys, "is a Soviet naval base in Klaipėda, and Red Army troops garrisoned in Lithuania. Quite frankly, given a choice, I would rather see Lithuania become part of Poland."
"Our task," said Smetona, "is to see to it that Lithuania does not face that choice." He sighed. "We walk a narrow tightrope here," he said. "If we tilt too far in either direction, we will lose our balance and fall, and Lithuania will become the possession of one side or the other. Our only hope for independence is to maintain our current attitude, despite the shifting winds of international events. I do not know if we can walk that tightrope, but I intend to try."
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