New Historian

Lithuania Takes Back its Independence

Lithuanian Parliament

<![CDATA[Friday marks 26 years since the re-establishment of independence in Lithuania. It's an anniversary which is hugely important for Lithuanians, as well as marking a turning point in the history of the former Republics of the Soviet Union. When 124 Lithuanian MPs voted for the re-establishment of independence on 11th March 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet Republic to proclaim its independence from the USSR. Although eventually triggering a military and economic backlash from the USSR, it effectively signaled the beginning of the end of years of oppression in the Baltic State with a population of around 3 million people. Like its fellow Baltic nations, Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania had lost its independence in a secretive agreement between two of the most infamous dictatorships in European history - the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed by the foreign ministers of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler respectively. The pact illegally divided up independent nations in Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union, creating an invisible line through Poland to demark the two empires. The fragile peace the pact forged didn't last long, but following Nazi Germany's defeat in the Second World War the massively expanded USSR elected to keep control of the territories it had won through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, including the Baltic States. Lithuanians fought hard to resist the Soviet takeover and maintain the independence they had first won following the end of the First World War. As the Red Army marched through Eastern Europe en route to Berlin in 1944, a bloody guerrilla uprising erupted in Lithuania to prevent Soviet forces taking control. It was a fight which lasted until 1953, despite the Lithuanian guerrillas being severely outnumbered. Decades of Soviet control followed, with Lithuanians struggling to maintain their identity in the face of Soviet attempts to create a unified culture in the name of Communism. Throughout, and particularly in the years immediately following the Second World War, the 'West' failed to intervene against the Soviet Union on behalf of the nations it had occupied. The first steps towards the events of 11th March 1990 came in the late 1980s. In 1988, a group of Lithuanian intellectuals and writers founded Sajudis, the Lithuanian Movement for Reconstruction. At a mass rally in the capital Vilnius, the group's leaders boldly declared that the USSR had occupied Lithuania illegally, exposing the deception of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was a domestic movement inspired by broader trends within the Soviet Union as a whole. Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, had imposed his Glasnost policy, encouraging more openness in the USSR, and repealing the Brehznev Doctrine which claimed that the Soviet Union was justified in using force to preserve existing communist governments. In Lithuania and elsewhere, nationalist movements saw the period as an opportunity to try and win back independence. Reforms saw Lithuanian laws start to take precedent over those imposed from Moscow. Later, elections saw the Soviet Communist Party replaced by an independent Lithuanian Communist Party. The biggest step however, came in 1990, when Sajudis won the country's elections. Sajudis' leader, Vytautas Landsbergis, was nominated head of the parliament. Immediately and unanimously, MPs voted in favour of the Re-establishment of Lithuanian Independence. (Six MPs abstained from the vote, but none voted against independence). Gorbachev was unwilling to let Soviet Socialist Republics break from the Soviet Union, and immediately issued an ultimatum to the Lithuanian government to renounce independence. Lithuania refused, and the Soviet Union reacted aggressively, placing heavy economic sanctions on the country and sending Soviet troops to occupy the capital, Vilnius. In January 1991, the USSR launched a large scale military operation against Lithuania. It was an event which caused shock around the world, leading to a withdrawal of economic assistance to the USSR. In December of that year, eleven Soviet Republics declared independence, following the example set by Lithuania in March 1990. It effectively brought the Soviet Union to an end. ]]>

Exit mobile version