THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Heavy tanks were used by the Soviet forces when they attacked the Vilnius TV tower and the Parliament building on 13 January 1991. They were met by a wall of unarmed people who refused to allow the intruders to again take control of their homeland.
Text: Aage Myhre, editor-in-chief
"Lithuanians, do not resist, your government has betrayed you. Go home to your families and children."
This was the repeated announcement from the Soviet military vehicles with loudspeakers on the roofs, so-called sound trucks that rolled through the streets of Vilnius in January 1991. But fortunately for Lithuania and the United Europe that we now take more or less for granted, there was a music professor and a complete small nation that wanted it all differently.
Had it not been for this peaceful struggle of recovered freedom against an invasion and occupation, the people of the Baltic States never wanted or agreed to, the map of Europe would most likely have looked quite different today.
If there were those in the West who had not heard of Lithuania before, they almost certainly had by the end of the day 13 January 1991. It was the day that Soviet troops struck in Vilnius. The bloodshed that followed made headlines around the world. The attack was apparently an attempt to stop the Lithuanian independence movement in its very beginning.
When the smoke of the Soviet weapons ceased, more than a dozen people had been killed, hundreds injured. Soviet’s attack, and especially the killings at the TV tower, brought not only fame and sympathy for Lithuania from around the world, it was also a defining moment for the Lithuanians themselves.
The bloodshed meant that a point of no return had been crossed. If there was someone who until now had believed that a peaceful settlement with Moscow was possible, it was now clear to everyone that such a thing was unthinkable.
The 1991 January events took place in Lithuania between January 11 and 13, in the aftermath of the Act of the re-establishment of the State of Lithuania. As a result of Soviet military actions, 14 civilians were killed and more than 1000 injured. The events were centered in Vilnius, along with related actions in the cities of Alytus, Šiauliai, Varėna, and Kaunas.
Professor Vytautas Landsbergis was the central actor in the drama that took place . The colourful, sometimes tempered music professor who was elected Lithuania's president (chairman of the parliament) in March 1990, and from then on become the symbol of the Lithuanian liberation movement. Before the attack in January 1991, his constant talks about breaking free from the Soviet Union, and Lithuania's moral right to do just that, alarmed observers in the West almost as much as in the Kremlin. When the rage was taken completely out of hand in January 1991, Gorbachev seemed as if he did not understand what was happening right in front of him.
Our little Norwegian delegation met with Landsbergis in the parliament on the 19th of January 1991. He lived there, entrenched, protected by his own people. Tens of thousands were ‘camping’ outside the building, inside homemade barricades of concrete blocks and barbed wire. Trucks and tractors were also part of the barricades. In a circle further out stood the Soviet forces, ready to attack when the command word would be given. Fortunately it didn’t happen. The pressure had become strong from all around the world.
We got through the barricades. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had provided us with appropriate admission papers. It was a moving encounter with a brave man we experienced inside. The little stroke that fell the huge oak. World history was created there and then. In front of our eyes. We were the eye witnesses.
The editor with President Vytautas Landsbergis in the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas), while the
Soviet troops and tanks continued to surround the building in January 1991.
Bonfires, day and night, outside the Parliament, January 1991.
Photo: Aage Myhre.
Bonfires outside the Parliament, January 1991.
Photo: Aage Myhre.
A human barricade surrounding the Parliament, January 1991.
Photo: Aage Myhre.
With Landsbergis inside the Parliament, 19 January 1991, and his handwritten greeting to the editor.
Homemade barricades of concrete blocks around the Parliament.
Photo: Aage Myhre.
It was very touching to see how the Balts acted to keep their newfound freedom and protect their home country during the very difficult January days of 1991. Here, at the entrance to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the young men have put on homemade clothes that are meant to look like uniforms. They carry rifles and other weapons they have found in their homes. Sand bags have an important symbolic effect. Brave guys!
Photo: Aage Myhre, 18 January 1991.
Inside the city armoured vehicles on rubber wheels were used. It was a bizarre, almost surreal experience to always be spotting, hearing the noise, feel the ground tremble when we were in meetings or trying to get a meal in one of the city's few restaurants.
VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the editors: editor@VilNews.com.
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