The speech which was given by prof. Vytautas Landsbergis on the 30th anniversary of the January 13, 1991 events (the Freedom Defenders’ Day) and the Freedom Prize award ceremony.
The rise of long-enslaved nations and their re-emerging democracies against the communist dictatorships in 1990 marked the time of pivotal changes across Europe, where the red empire of the USSR had for decades been the greatest and most deeply-rooted of all disasters. Accurately described by the former US President Ronald Raegan as the evil empire, today we see the Soviet Union for what it was (and, alas, still is): a dictatorship of lies, unabashed and cynical violence, war and extortion.
Ruled by a conglomerate of the Communist Party rings and the KGB, the USSR was determined to preserve the territories annexed by Stalin and keep the frontiers drawn by Molotov and the Potsdam Conference, ensuring that the map of Europe remained predominantly red-tinted, with the Baltics, Ukraine and the Transcaucasian countries firmly in the Soviet grip. The KGB clan – technically a separate unit within the military but in reality exercising total control of the armed forces – was responsible for implementing this unofficial doctrine with its network of army generals, terrorists and spies. During the last chapter of the Union’s existence the plan was mapped out by Yury Andropov, the leader of the Communist Party and the KGB, with his understudy Mikhail Gorbachev responsible for covering up the real intentions of the USSR.
During the unprecedented events of early 1990s Lithuania found itself on a unique historic mission– to tear apart the doctrine of violence and deceit and to break the red empire of lies. And that is exactly what happened. Lithuania was first amongst the Soviet colonies to witness the birth of a pro-liberation movement Sąjūdis which won the democratic parliamentary election and carried out the will of the people by unanimously voting to restore the country’s independence. And this is where construction of a new democratic society began. A society which was no longer willing to accept the dictatorial order imposed by the Soviet occupation. A society refusing to recognise the type of self-proclaimed and self-regarding leadership which followed the ‘I’m-the-boss-and-you’re-the-idiot’ (Russ. ja načialnik, ty durak) school of thought.
Having had enough of this kind of rhetoric coming from the tall towers of the Kremlin, Lithuania’s people stood up to the angry idiot in Moscow who’d been treating them like his personal serfs. From this point on Lithuania would live as a free democratic nation and proudly say: we are our own people – not yours. We will be governed only by those officials we freely vote for. One such official was elected leader of the new sovereign state under the interim Constitution. He formed a new government and selected supreme judges for the Parliament to approve, he represented Lithuania in international affairs, he signed off on the laws passed by the Supreme Council. These laws were no longer dictated by someone ruling from the towers of Moscow. This was independence – hard for the invaders to swallow and coming at a high cost to those who’d fought for it since those joyful early days following the independence declaration on March 11, 1990.
The evil empire was not going to give up easily, but no amount of threats or sanctions could break the independent Lithuanian nation – even when the Soviet army started rolling in on that crucial day in January 1991. Thousands of unarmed Lithuanian citizens confronted tanks, bullets and explosives in order to defend their freedom. And despite the deadly attacks, unarmed Lithuanians and their leaders resisted, while the villains were left choking.
Our victory at the battle of Vilnius allowed many other nations to become free too – an act which speaks a thousand words…
Prof. V. Landsbergis is Lithuania’s first post-independence leader, chairman of the Supreme Council/Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas), signatory of the 1990 Act of Independence