THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Professor Vytautas Landsbergis
Lithuanians rejoice over their newfound independence.
11 March 1990 is deemed to be remembered as one of the most important days in Lithuanian history. It was on this day 20 years ago that the Lithuanian parliament declared renewed freedom and independence for Lithuania, after the country had been occupied by the Soviet Union since World War II. 124 Parliament delegates voted for the declaration (copy below), while six were absent.
The Parliament elected at the same time Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of the liberation movement Sajūdis, as Parliament President. He won over the Communist Party leader Algirdas Brazauskas with a 91 to 38 vote.
11 March 1990 became a milestone in Lithuania's history because the Lithuanian politicians that day clearly demonstrated the country’s willingness to again become free and independent. Although it took another 18 months before the international community approved the nation’s independence from the Soviet occupying power, it was the 11 March actions that made it clear to the world that Lithuania no longer accepted to be incorporated into a system and a Commonwealth it had been involuntarily incorporated into when the World War II drew to an end.
11 March 1990 was in many ways the day when Lithuania’s new freedom began, and we must believe that this country now will remain free and sovereign for all time based on democratic principles and values corresponding to those having been developing in Western Europe after World War II ended in 1945.
While this March day 20 years ago was the beginning of the new time in and for Lithuania, the day was also symbolising that nearly 200 years of tragedies of and for this country had come to a final end.
Through more than 500 years, from the 1200s when King Mindaugas declared Lithuania one nation, until it was occupied by the Russian Empire in 1795, Lithuania had been a proud and free nation, through some 300 years also one of the world’s greatest powers, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea (known as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania).
The 123 years of occupation from 1795 to 1918, however, became a long and sad chapter for Lithuania, since much of the good qualities this nation once represented in the world community were attempted to be systematically broken down by the Russian Empire occupants.
When Lithuania at the end of World War I (1914-1918) on 16 February 1918 again could declare itself a free nation, most Lithuanians probably believed that the newly won freedom would remain, but sadly, the new freedom lasted only for 22 years. Vilnius and the surrounding area was occupied by Poland already in 1920 and remained under Polish rule until the Second World War started in 1940, and Kaunas was therefore the capital of Lithuania for the years 1920 – 1940.
Nevertheless, Lithuania grew to become a strong nation during the interwar years, guided by, among others, the most famous Lithuanian leader of those days, President Antanas Smetona.
World War II and the years just after became extremely tragic for Lithuania, when the nation was torn apart under alternate German and Russian occupation, and virtually all the large Jewish population was wiped out, and Lithuania thereby lost a population group that had meant so much for this nation since the 1300s.
Also, during the war, tens of thousands of Lithuanians fled to the west, many who today live in the United States, Australia and other countries. Lithuanians were also exposed to extremely tragic abuse from Stalin's Soviet troops and his secret police (known as the KGB), when more than a hundred thousand Lithuanians were deported to Siberia and other areas in the Soviet Union where many of this country’s great citizens were killed or died during very shameful and cruel conditions.
Already during the WWII years a strong resistance movement occurred, known as the Forest Brothers, who until the middle of the 1950s fought a heroic struggle against the Soviet power from their hiding places in the Lithuanian forests. It is suggested that around 20,000 Lithuanians and 70,000 soldiers from Stalin's Red Army and the KGB were killed during those post-war years.
Lithuania became in 1990-1991 the first country that managed to detach itself from the Soviet Union. Latvia and Estonia followed soon after. We should all today be proud that this little country so bravely dared to stand up against the powerful Soviet powers. We should all be extremely happy that this little nation again enjoys freedom and democracy under the principle of equality for all its citizens, and we should be happy about the fact that 11 March 1990 was the day when Lithuania could finally put behind itself nearly 200 years of atrocities and suffering for its people – a people that had deserved so much better due to its proud history.
The Lithuanian Independence Act of 11 March 1990.
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