“I used to think that I might never come back, so every time I left home, I would say goodbye – you don’t know when it will be the last time,” recalls 81-year-old Kazys Algirdas Kaminskas, who, together with a group of comrades, defended Lithuania’s freedom with his bare hands on the night of January 13. For his part, public figure and activist Antanas Burokas reflects that, if necessary, Lithuanians would demonstrate their unity again. “Our society is a good one”, he believes, Agnė Liubertaitė wrote in lrytas.lt news portal.
Both Kaminskas and Burokas are members of the Union of Independence Defenders, who sought Lithuania’s freedom on the fateful day of January 13 and long before that. K.A.Kaminskas, who walked in the footsteps of the partisans, was a member of the Vilnius City Council in 1991. On January 13, he mobilised the people to gather and protect the vital buildings for Lithuania.
At that time, another drama was unfolding in the life of A.Burokas: his wife and his prematurely born son were fighting for their lives in hospital as the enemies were attacking the capital and he was on duty at the Parliament.
They told the news portal lrytas.lt from whom they inherited their sense of freedom, which events of January they will never forget, and how they feel about today’s “battles” in front of the Seimas Palace.
– How did your sense of patriotism and desire to defend freedom develop? Have you always been like that?
A.Burokas: My uncle, God rest his soul, was a border policeman between the wars, and later he went to America. My grandfather went to school together with Antanas Smetona in Taujėnai. There was also a Lithuanian revolutionary liberation front – we published “Varpas”, and every five years we planned to raise a revolution. My friends were like that, that was the environment I grew up in. We used to receive “Kronika”, “Rūpintojelis”, “Aušra”, and “Aušra”, and we were also in contact with Antanas Terleckas.
In 1989 I received an invitation to join the Riflemen’s Union. In 1990, during the congress, I was elected secretary in charge of the Chief of Staff of the Riflemen’s Union, so I had to be present everywhere. Now I am the commander of the Vilnius Branch of the Putvinskis Club – we are such old men who have survived but have not given up yet.”
K.A.Kaminskas: I was born in the Smetona era, and I grew up among the partisans – there were only forests all around, and the partisans were our everyday life. We didn’t think of Russians as Russians; we called them Asians or Asiats. That name symbolised their behaviour – cruelty, disrespect for life.
I was still going to primary school at that time when the partisans were shot, and in the towns, they were just thrown on the pavement. So we only went to school through places where there was no forest because it was terrifying for a child to walk through the forest in the evening or morning.
I remember there was one incident at school: in the third grade, I drew a picture, and I made a frame of the Lithuanian Tricolour. The teacher told me to put my hands on the table, and he hit me a few times with the stick he was pointing at the map. But not only did that not deter me, but the tricolour became a memorable symbol for me forever.
And the Asiats took everything away from us – my dad died early, we were left with six children and one mother, they took away the land, they took away the tools, the buildings, the granary and the barn, and what do we have to eat? Whoever can carry more on his shoulders will have more, but what can a child under ten carry? All along, this has been the order; the hatred has been building up.
For example, there is a lot of writing about Putin now, too – they say that he lies, bluffs and cheats. A former KGB, after all, cannot do otherwise – he will pursue the goal no matter what the cost; he has absolutely no humanity because the goal is the only goal, and all means are justified.
When I went to see my main dissertation opponent from Moscow, he asked me why we wanted to separate. I could have told him the disgust that his compatriots arouse in me, but I did not dare. I simply replied that we wanted independence and real freedom, not fake freedom. You can fetch and give something to a chained dog, but it is not free. You’re just strapped.”
– How do you see January 13 today? Do you find the experience as moving every year, or do you see it in a more detached way, as a historical event, and at the same time an event in your life?
K.A.Kaminskas: The memories have never faded away – I even remember various details because I have to lead excursions, talk about it all the time, remember it. But I often think about some of the first people of Sąjūdis, whose names I don’t want to mention.
One person has sunk to such a low point that he has been saying the same rehearsed speech every year for ten years, claiming some great post, but criticising and criticising everyone. What would happen if we gave power to such people? After all, you will not achieve anything by dumping rubbish on others.
After all, look at the events of this summer – the protesters, the rioters, are saying that here we are, we are going to take over the Seimas. Well, those people of the low intellect… Maybe someone will take advantage of that. And it’s a pity. It’s just a pity; there’s no other way to say it.
– What events and details are most memorable to you? What will you never forget from the events of January 13?
K.A.Kaminskas: We felt, and we already knew that we had to protect the particular, most important buildings. But we expected that it would be civilians, the so-called “Jedinstva”, who presented themselves as opponents of Sąjūdis. But what happened next was that people themselves found out everything through each other, and the radio helped a lot.
When I saw the first flag, I ran around to surround the people, and they walked beautifully singing with those flags. We surrounded those “Jedinstvinists”, and it was like in the childhood film “Mowgli”, when the jackals clicked their tails and went away.
On the night of the 13th, I was on duty at the Vilnius City Council. When the shooting was reported, and we heard everything ourselves, I ran so hard down Gediminas Avenue to the Parliament… But what impressed me the most when I ran was the prayer of all the people. It sparked that determination, that feeling in me… What did those Asiatics do to totally defenceless people? I thought to myself that only an Asiatic could do that.
And all that mass praying out loud – I’ve never seen or heard anything like it. That was probably the first and last time I have ever felt such emotion in people.
A.Burokas: Already after January 8, the Committee for the Defence of the Parliament was formed, and people were going to the Parliament in droves all the time – there were about a thousand people there at that time alone, and others wanted to go, but there was just nowhere to go. There were a lot of people who wanted to join our security squad. And after the putsch, I remember, we stood in formation, we asked who in the crowd would like to join, and immediately several hundred came forward.
– Were you at all afraid to go to that battlefield from which you might never have returned? Antanas, you had mentioned before that your wife was expecting a baby at the time of the fatal events.
Burokas: Yes, it was particularly difficult for me because my wife was expecting. I remember coming home, and my wife was not there. So I called her mother, and it turned out that she was already in labour because when she heard all the news, she was so anxious that she went into labour too prematurely; she was less than seven months pregnant. But they managed to save her.
Obviously, my family was the most important thing to me, but I never thought it would happen. Our other child was only ten months old, so it so happened that there was only a few months difference between my two children. So when we wanted to baptise him, we were asked whether we would baptise him or not. They said that he probably wouldn’t survive – maybe an hour, maybe two. But I said that we would definitely baptise him. So then I called the hospital every hour, I called – he was still holding, I called in the evening – he was still holding. And so it stayed.
He was not the only child in the hospital who had been ” called by shots” and was born out of anxiety – there were maybe ten others, but mine was the weakest. However, he was discharged a month later and is now a 185-centimetre man who works in a museum and has a degree in history.
K.A.Kaminskas: If you have this feeling in your heart for a long time, it’s like it’s inborn. I have often thought that I might never come back, so I say goodbye every time I leave the house because you don’t know when the last time will be. My wife also knew where my car was. You have to be sensible in battle, but anything can happen. So there was never any question of going or not going.
A.Burokas: And if you’re with your friends and comrades, you don’t think about fear at all. You can break one person quickly, but if you have a thousand like-minded people, they will not be weaker than the one who is attacking. Then the one who is attacking is also afraid.
– And how do you feel about today’s events – for example, the August riots in front of the Parliament? Some of the ralliers do not shy away from comparing themselves with those who defended Lithuania’s freedom on January 13.
A.Burokas: Maybe the organisers themselves feel unappreciated, maybe it’s because of the stupidity, or perhaps it’s because they get money for it. There are normal people out there, but in the end there are always organisers who stand there and you don’t even know who is standing there. There are also people who just want to get a fight.
K.A.Kaminskas: A group of criminals – you can’t call it anything else. Democracy guarantees that they will be treated in a civilised way, unlike when they throw stones at the police. And what did the police do to them? Why did they have to throw stones at them? And not just any throwing, but from ambush, you know, as if I were not here. If you are sensible, go and form a party, do something, compete with everybody on an equal footing, but they decide everything by force.
They are not real opponents – they are extremists of the opponents. And extremists should be shunned as much as possible not to lead and mislead the public. Because then it seems that there are many of them. But they are a minority.
Take the March of Families – let’s see how many are left. Those who were in Vingis Park saw what they were trying to do and they immediately got rid of them. And who is not pro-family today? I am also in favour of the family, but the demands must be reasonable.
– If Lithuania had to be defended tomorrow, would the same number of people turn up? Or do you no longer see unity?
K.A.Kaminskas: They would, and even more. There may be divisions over other things, but there would certainly be public resistance if a real enemy were to come. It would take 40% of the people to stop.
A.Burokas: 10 people would be enough. And then, in January, it was about that. And there were all kinds of people then, too – there were those who didn’t need the state. So I like to compare it to athletes running a marathon – those who are more enduring will win, those who keep positive, and some are looking for worms everywhere. But it is a good society.