J.E. Ambasadoriaus Giedriaus Apuoko sveikinimo kalba Lietuvos Nepriklausomybės atkūrimo dienos proga
Honorable guests, Dear friends,
First, let me express sincere gratitude to everyone who came to be with us today, although currently mood around is not extremely conducive for attendance of public gatherings.
Few weeks more than two years ago, we celebrated centenary of the Act of Independence of Lithuania of February 16th, 1918. For me, for my parents and, when it comes to events that led to that day, even for my grandparents this is history, revered and admired, but seen through the eyes, emotions and stories told by other people. Day of March 11th, 1990 of Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania is different, since it defined our own personal lives, lives of my generation, my contemporaries. We were heading towards this day carrying along our hopes and dreams and at the same time living everyday life. At the same time, if looking back it is already a history of 30 years of continuation of Independence, while the whole period of freedom in first half of 20th century lasted only 22 years. I do not intend to give scientific and objective overview of the official historical milestones, which led to regaining of Independence, but rather will try to present some personal reflections, assuming that along with hundreds of thousands of my contemporary compatriots, we were somewhat more than bystanders and observers. It was our very personal experience; we were making choices and shared responsibility.
In nineteen sixties and seventies, it was not easy to believe in possibility of regaining of Independence; we faced seemingly all-powerful machine of “mature socialism” and all-mighty shadow of communist party. I will try to describe in my view most common attitude through analogy. My grandfather, who was a farmer, was hiding farmland, confiscated by soviets, original ownership documents, issued by Lithuanian state authorities, containing coats of arms and seals with in soviet times prohibited symbols, in double bottom kitchen table drawer. They were not visible for every stranger, wandering around or coming in, they were not on display, but they were always there. Ownership was not the most important; these documents were material proof of the State of Lithuania. The same with the hope for Independent state – not on public display, not shared with strangers, but always there ready to go at the slightest opening of opportunity. There was some loosening of screws by Khrushchev, which immediately resulted in publishing some books earlier on index or suddenly remembering some personalities or ideas, that had no place in public discourse just yesterday. Events of Prague Spring and consequent onslaught in August 1968 powerfully stirred public emotions, at the beginning with hope and then despair. Since then, though only 10 at that time, I became regular listener of VOA, BBC, Free Europe and, by the way, Radio Luxemburg. I have very little doubt, that events of May 1972 were influenced by Czechoslovakia story. On May 14th, 1972, nineteen year old Romas Kalanta poured 3 liters of gasoline on himself and set himself on fire. That was happening in front of Musical Theater in Kaunas. He died 14 hours later. His act was protest against continuing occupation of Lithuania. Two days of protest with about 3000 protesters, followed, some flowerpots were flying from the windows on the heads of militia and Internal Troops used for suppression of protests, 7000 of them were amassed. Hundreds of people were arrested, tens of them tried. Kalanta’s act has been followed by less known 12 other person in 1972.
Most of the protesters were longhaired youngsters wearing boot cut, wide at the bottom, pants, rock music fans, so to say hippie like. Besides judicial persecution, reaction to protests for the rest of the year was harassment of young people, in case their haircut was not appropriate by the standards of militiamen, they were stopped on the street, shaved bald, sometimes beaten. I got somewhat of a taste of this medicine, but since weren’t of the age of most harassed group yet and my hair style taken care at school, just for wearing boot cut pants, I just spent couple of hours in militia’s precinct, questioned again and again who I am, where I’m going, why this and why that.
Last year we were talking quite extensively 40th anniversary of Baltic Memorandum, that was initiative of well-known Lithuanian dissidents Antanas Terleckas and Julius Sasnauskas, document signed by 45 dissident from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia reached the West. I would like to draw attention to less discussed fact that later on document was signed, or otherwise endorsed, by 11 Russian dissidents, including Sakharov and Bonner. It has reached West through channels of Russian dissidents, the same way as Chronicles of Lithuanian Catholic Church, unique publication, dedicated not only to the persecution of church, but also infringements on human rights.
Next decade started with the eyes set on Solidarnosc in Poland, which kept public awareness high and did not allow slipping into frustration. From here, it was not that long of a way to perestroika, first meeting of Freedom League of Lithuania in Vilnius on August 23rd, 1987, organized by the same people, who initiated Baltic Memorandum, emergence of the Popular fronts of Estonia and Latvia and Sajudis in Lithuania. Events in Baltic States were developing in parallel, at the beginning with Estonia in lead. I still remember standing at the building of Supreme Council in Vilnius in November 1988 at the rally demanding acceptance of the law provision, which would proclaim supremacy of the Lithuanian Law over the Law of USSR, just couple days after such provision was accepted in Estonia. Unfortunately, pressure of Sajudis on the communist designated members of Supreme Council was not effective enough. We on the square bitterly disappointed, that we were not able to give support to Estonians. It took until May 1989 to get on the same page, but then after mass rallies in all BS, after Baltic Chain, Lithuania was the first to declare full independence on March 11th, 1990. I don’t know anybody in Lithuania who would go to sleep that night, before final vote in Restoration Seimas. Mood was festive, but not euphoric, we knew very well that this is not going to be happy end like in fairy tale. We knew that our resolution and perseverance will be tried hard way, that crackdown is likely, threats of economic blockade were real and we still had large groups of Soviet army on our soil. All these threats materialized, there was quite brutal economic blockade, there was immense political pressure to step back, there was blood on January 13th, 1991 and consequent bloody ambushes on Lithuanian border posts, but by the August 31st 1993, 11:45 pm last Russian military unit left Lithuania.