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  The year of anniversaries

Matas Jakaitis
2013 09 02

This year the Baltic States celebrate the 25-years anniversary of Sąjūdis, the Independence Movement, which started in 1988. The former Popular Fronts of Estonia and Latvia commemorated this anniversary in spring, Lithuania‘s Sąjūdis Movement - at the beginning of summer.  

It was the year of nursing the spirit of Independence among the Baltic people. The Popular Fronts and Sąjūdis were involved in numerous activities, including the establishment of support groups, arrangement of own structures, provision of information to citizens on the activities/plans, organisation of mass meetings etc.   

One of the largest meetings in the Baltic States was organised on 23 August 1988 to commemorate the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact pursuant to which the lasting occupation of the Baltic States went on.  

It was not an easy task to organise the above meeting although both Popular Fronts and Sąjūdis have already been popular among their citizens. The initial idea was to organise these meetings simultaneously. One of the founders of the Sąjūdis Movement Artūras Skučas writes about the meeting of 23 August in his book „Pėstininko užrašai“  (“Notes of an Infantryman”):

„I called Latvians. It turned out that they are not planning any meeting. „If you organise the meeting we’ll do the same”. I called Estonians. „We are about to gather in the conference hall and commemorate the anniversary“. I said: „We plan the meeting in the Vingis Park, you‘ve been informed about that. Latvians are also ready to join us. What about you?“ „If you gather in your Vingis Park, we will arrange meeting in „our Vingis Park“. I called Latvians. „Okay. We will also have a meeting in „our Vingis Park“. [...] It was the biggest meeting ever in the history of Lithuania“.

There is quite a lot of material in the media about the meeting on 23 August; this is only a short summary of information provided in the website lietsajudis.lt

The meeting was attended by more than 250 thousand people, including the speakers, famous historians Gediminas Rudis and Liudas Truska, poet Sigitas Geda and others. Julius Juzeliūnas urged the necessity of condemning the crimes of Stalinism against the Lithuanian Nation. Lionginas Šepetys, member of the Lithuanian communist party, and Vytautas Petkevičius have also been given a possibility to speak to the nation.   

The speech of Justinas Marcinkevičius was especially exiting: „Whatever our politicians, historians or ideologists say, the absolute truth is that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is a vicious document of international crime“. The Poet called loudly for the inclusion of the requirement in the meeting‘s resolution to publicise the pact with all the protocols in the press, to open all the Soviet archives to citizens so that a new and honest Lithuanian history could be published.   

The meeting‘s culmination was when Artūras Skučas voiced the recorded testimony of Juozas Urbšys, who had been Independent Lithuania’s last foreign minister. He informed that during his visit in Moscow he was informed, in Stalin‘s presence, about the details of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact... Professor Vytautas Landsbergis read the extract of the letter from the U.S. senators.  

With the above MeetingSąjūdis started the struggle for Independence which had lasted for nearly one and a half years. The USSR was urged to declare that the protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact were null and void from the moment of signing. It was also the beginning of a legal way of re-establishing Lithuania‘s statehood.

Then there was the 1st Conference of the SąjūdisFounding Group, the Baltic Way, elections to the Supreme Council of the Soviet Lithuania and, finally, March the 11th. All the above events were organised thanks to the courageous work, determination and self-sacrifice of theSąjūdis activists and volunteers. The compromise with the communist party was inevitable, but the main goal – Lithuania‘s Independence – was achieved.

Later Sąjūdis which has embraced the people of different political attitudes, split into parties, movements and public organisations. This split was inevitable: Sąjūdisunited the people of different political and ideological convictions, but they all sought to become free from the political and ideological clutches of the soviet government. Differently from Latvian and Estonia Popular Fronts which terminated their activity in 1993, today Sąjūdisis still active in Lithuania.  

On 1 June the 14th meeting of Lithuanian Sąjūdis took place in Vilnius. The participants discussed political and economical issues of Lithuania, as well as problems of nationality and law enforcement, the situation in agriculture and forestry and other issues including the EU and NATO activities and common moral problems.

But why the voice of Sąjūdis is so weak in public discourse? Why the Internet comments are full of negative and often vicious evaluations directed toward Sąjūdis? Why Sąjūdis is accused of all Lithuania‘s misfortunes?

During a 1,5-year period Sąjūdis did so much and this in principle changed the economic and social situation of Lithuanian citizens; Sąjūdis helped people to break free from fear and get a fresh start with their initiatives; at the same time they were required to take the responsibility for their actions. Mistakes were inevitable. But why only Sąjūdis, right wing parties and their leaders are accused of all the mistakes? It seems that Lithuania has never been in the hands of the right wing parties (including former communists) and their leaders. Didn‘t they make mistakes? What about the ideology which prevailed (and probably is still prevailing) in the ruling party and which was referred to as „vsio zakonno“ (“everything is lawful”) by President Algirdas Brazauskas? It seems that followers of this ideology were the most „honest“ when they „privatised” the national property, appointed their party-fellows to high-level (and profitable) positions, and adopted the laws in favour of the ones who have suddenly became millionaires or billionaires.   

Today Sąjūdis does not organise meetings or other public campaigns. I don‘t want to say that it would be possible to arrange a meeting like that on 23 August 1988; yet wider contacts with the progressive society could enlighten Sąjūdis activity and help to treat national „diseases“.

From time to time I read in the press and hear people saying that the majority of them would not go to the meeting initiated by Sąjūdis. I can‘t agree with this. If people are not indifferent to Lithuania‘s problems, if they want to dethrone the perpetrators of all the misdeeds, they will definitely follow Sąjūdis. I want to believe that they will follow.


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