THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Lithuanian Foreign Ministry issued primitive passes for us,
and we managed to get through a long maze of controls,
barbed wire, concrete blocks and barricades that surrounded
the Lithuanian Parliament those January days in 1991. We got
the opportunity to visit this brave Parliament President,
Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, in his office. Here he
lived day and night for weeks while the Soviets
surrounded the building with troops and tanks.
Text and photos: Aage Myhre, Editor-in-Chief
This year I marked 13 January in the Lithuanian Parliament Building, 22 years after I in 1991 stood here in this building, along with Professor Landsbergis and looked out the window at the bonfires, barricades and the huge crowd of unarmed people who had gathered to protect their president and the country's future as a free nation.
I came here today with a group of young Lithuanians, most of them so young that they do not have their own memories of what happened here 22 years ago. Yet the memories of the sad events in January 1991 are very much alive and present for them. They want to remember that freedom and independence is not something you can take for granted, and they want to pursue a political career. They are Lithuania's future politicians. They are the future of young, well-educated, smart leaders that this country a few years ago could only dream about.
I walked around with them in the Parliament this 13th January. I saw their interests, and their pride in belonging to a great nation like this.
I also saw large photographs on the walls, with Lithuania's parliamentary history of the interwar time and from the years after the Declaration of Independence 11 March 1990. The sadness I felt when I walked around in these corridors 22 years was gone, now I felt only joy, and optimism regarding the country's future and its political leaders for the years to soon come.
Entrance to the old part of the Parliament.
HISTORY OF TODAY’S PARLIAMENT BUILDING (SEIMAS)
The construction of the new Seimas building began in April 1976, on the site of a former stadium. By then, the Parliament was still directly depended on the Communist Party. The legal acts passed by the Supreme Council of the USSR was just a “decoration” of the Soviet order. Selected by sex, nationality, education, professions, membership in Communist or Young Communist organisations, the local trade union, so-called deputies used to convene two or three times per year and voted on the draft legal acts already submitted. Undoubtedly, this was an imitation of government, a spectacle. Indeed, the main lobby could remind one of a theatre.
Today’s democratic parliamentarian system got its first test on 11 March 1990, when the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet elected Vytautas Landsbergis president and formally declared Lithuania to be an independent nation. The Soviet President M. Gorbachev rejected the action, insisting that a separation had to be negotiated. In April same year he ordered an economic blockade of Lithuania, cutting off all oil supplies and reducing natural gas flow to one-quarter of the normal level. The blockade ended on 30 June after the Lithuanian Parliament voted to freeze the declaration of independence for 100 days in order to permit negotiations between Moscow and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Then came 13 January 1991. That was the day when Soviet troops cracked down in Vilnius and the resulting bloodshed made headlines around the world. The action was apparently a bid to stop Lithuania’s independence drive in its tracks. But President Landsbergis and other political leaders wanted it all very differently, making the Parliament building a fortress for democracy and freedom those winter days, with thousands and thousands of unarmed Lithuanians surrounding the building and thereby stopping the Soviet troops from attacking.
ABOVE: The Lithuanian Parliament building as it looks today.
BELOW: Pictures on the Parliament walls, describing Lithuania’s parliamentarian events in 1990-1991.
ABOVE: Seimas, 11 March 1990, the day Lithuania re-claimed its independence.
BELOW: The same Parliament Hall today.
Today’s top modern Parliament Hall.
On the 11th of March 1990 the Lithuanian Supreme Council (today’s Parliament) decided to change the Soviet Coat of Arms hanging behind the chair of the parliament president (above), to Vytis, the symbol of genuine Lithuania (left).
The coat of arms of Lithuania, consists of an armour-clad knight on horseback holding an olden sword and shield, also known as Vytis ("the Chaser"). The Lithuanian coat of arms is one of the oldest national coats of arms in Europe. It is one of very few containing symbolism adopted from ducal portrait seals rather than from coats of arms of dynasties, which is the case for most European countries.
ABOVE: Barricades and bonfires outside the Parliament in January 1991.
BELOW: This is what is left of the barricades today, covered by a modern glass structure.
BELOW: The Parliament’s entrance hall on 13 January 2013, filled with activities in memory of 13 January 1991.
80 year old Liuda Komarovskaja lost her health by defending the Vilnius TV Tower in the 13 January 1991 events.
She was beaten unconscious by the Soviet soldiers and rushed to the Santariškių Hospital in the outskirts of Vilnius. Here in conversation with Parliamentarian Petras Austrevicius in the Parliament last Sunday.
ABOVE: Antanas Terleckas, founder and leader of the Lithuanian Freedom League, was awarded the 2012 Freedom Prize at a solemn event at the Lithuanian Parliament on Sunday 13 January. Read more at http://www.15min.lt/en/article/culture-society/freedom-prize-awarded-to-lithuanian-freedom-league-leader-antanas-terleckas-528-296400
BELOW: A special exhibition about Antanas Terleckas’ life was presented in the Parliament during the13 January commemoration days.
BELOW: Pictures on the Parliament walls, from interwar sessions.
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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