Lithuania is celebrating the 20th anniversary of declaring independence from the former Soviet Union, the first of the iron-curtain states so to do.
The current President Dalia Grybauskaita addressed a special session of parliament in Vilnius, welcoming leaders from more than 20 countries.
Many believe Lithuania’s declaration helped accelerate the fall of the Soviet regime itself.
Today, Vytautas Landsbergis is a Member of the European Parliament. He also addressed the assembly, two decades exactly after he announced, as Chairman of Lithuania’s Supreme Council, the result of the independence vote.
Lithuania was swallowed up by Moscow in 1940 under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
But late in the evening, on the 11th March 1990, Landsbergis proclaimed Lithuania independent. 124 members of the Supreme Council had voted for the breakaway. Nobody voted against.
Despite the reformist moves by Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Lithuania’s decision angered the Soviet leadership. In January ’91, the tensions spilled over. Soviet tanks killed 14 people in clashes at the TV tower in Vilnius.
But later that year in the Soviet Union hardliners failed to overthrow Gorbachev, and the movement towards democracy gained momentum.
By early 1993, the Soviet tanks were beating a retreat. The international community had recognised Lithuania’s independence.
And now the republic is a member of the EU and NATO.