Remembering Lithuania's struggle for independence

On the twentieth anniversary of a non-violent protest, Lithuania looks back at its two decades of independence and struggle in the post-Soviet world.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Remembering Lithuania's struggle for independence - NewsMavens
A protest in Lithuania 1988, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

A Lithuanian public broadcaster talked to some of those who participated in an unprecedented non-violent protest against the Soviet colonization of the Baltic states 20 years ago. Although many in Western countries seem to believe that the USSR collapsed when it lost the Cold-War race with the US, and that all the various members of this large empire unexpectedly found themselves independent, images and narratives from the turbulent late 80s still shed light on how various underground groups eventually came together to lay the groundwork for the Baltic States' independence movements.

Artūras Skučas, an independence movement activist, told the Lithuanian public broadcaster that, with Perestroika relaxing the rules of public gathering, many people felt they could finally be free to gather in public.The gathering exceeded the organisers' estimations. Over 150,000 demonstrators gathered in Vilnius.

Among them was folk singer Veronika Povilionienė, who, caught in an historical photo, became one of the faces of the gathering.

In the article recommended below, a popular folk singer remembers how young people in the 80s took up a seemingly apolitical activity -- touring villages, collecting folk songs and stories, and then singing them in various gatherings. She even remembers when a group burst into song on a bus -- an act of bravery in such a tightly controlled society.

Details from the story:

  • In August 1988, various underground groups started mobilizing to commemorate an anniversary of the German-Soviet nonaggression pact. The Soviet regime forbid mentioning it, because knowledge about it went against the official narrative that the USSR entered into WW2 to fight fascism, when it did so only when Nazi Germany violated the territorial agreement of the pact. The USSR subsequently annexed the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in August 1940, but in 1941 Nazi Germany violated the pact and attacked the USSR.
  • Folk singing groups started gathering in the 1960s in an attempt to carefully, without overstepping the strict boundaries, reconnect with their heritage.
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