Your Excellency President of the Republic of Lithuania,
Dear Prime Minister,
Distinguished Guests: Speakers of the Parliaments of Latvia and Poland
Members of Government,
Members of the Reconstitutive Seimas,
Signatories to the Act of Independence,
Relatives of the victims that died for the freedom of Lithuania,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors,
Every year since 2000, prior to the celebrations of Christmas and the New Year, the Vilnius TV tower is adorned with flashing light garlands that make it resemble a Christmas tree. This Christmas tree is a source of joy and delight to both residents and guests of Vilnius.
However, 17 years ago, on the eve of 13 January and during the night, the TV tower was the site of a national tragedy. A crowd of unarmed people, who stood surrounding the tower, was attacked by tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as by soldiers of a hostile country, who did not spare any bullets or grenades. They forced their way to the TV tower to suppress the Lithuanian television, the words of freedom, and the voice of our homeland.
On the same night, the soldiers of a hostile country who sought to ultimately put the voice of Lithuania to silence demonstrated their power at the Lithuanian radio and television building by shooting at the Lithuanian people and crippling them.
That night the enemies of our freedom killed 14 and injured about a thousand citizens of the Republic of Lithuania. Soon after midnight, the soldiers occupied the TV tower and the Lithuanian radio and television premises. It’s known that the Sitkűnai radio station was to suffer the same fate. However, because of the victims at the Vilnius TV tower and the crowds of the residents of Kaunas, who surrounded the radio station, such plans were abandoned. Sitkűnai became a symbol of Lithuania’s voice of freedom.
There is no doubt that the ultimate target of the leaders of the Soviet army and the Lithuanian dissenters who collaborated with them was the Parliament – the Supreme Council of Lithuania. However, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian people were prepared to defend it. They were even ready to die if they had to, but deliver to the whole country a free homeland. They were not frightened by one of the biggest armies in the world. They defended the Parliament, they defended Lithuania, and they defended our freedom.
Let us recall the horrible night of 13 January. Let us tell our children and grandchildren how it all happened. I will quote Stefan Lundberg, a Swedish journalist, who eye-witnessed the events of that night and shared his experience in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter on 14 January 1991.
“The soldiers pointed their machine guns at people and vehicles. In a few minutes it seemed as if hell had been let lose. Hundreds of people started making their way through to the TV tower to join the thousands of those who had surrounded the tower earlier to defend it. The tanks started moving at the people at full speed to disperse the crowd. One man stood too close to the tank and was crushed by it. It only took a few seconds for the shooting to start. The air was vibrating because of detonation. The wave impact force knocked us down. The people around were running in panic in what used to be grass, but what had turned into a slippery mud under the tracks of the tanks.
Ambulance cars took away the first killed victims. Doctors provided first aid to people with head injuries from gun butts. Some men and women were speechless, standing and watching. Others were either shaking with crying, or running for shelter. The tanks started moving onto the crowd again, but the crowd began chanting: Lithuania, Lithuania! Their chant was disrupted by a deafening salvo from the troops.”
Another Swedish newspaper wrote on the same day:
“Tears ran down the cheeks of Mrs. Daiva Vërinskienë, aged 32, a mother of two small children. “At first I thought I was going to die”, she said. She knew, however, she had to carry on to fulfil the important mission by telling everything to her daughters when they would be old enough.”
In fact, not only this woman, but also all of us who have survived the horror of that night have a task and an obligation to remember and to remind our children and grandchildren of 13 January. Moreover, we have an obligation to share the experience we gained during the whole epoch leading to 11 March.
Our children no longer remember this. Time will gradually erase this from our minds, too. However, our generation and the generations to come will always remember the fatal night of the end of the 20th century, the bloodstained night of 13 January 1991.
That night thousands of people created a human chain around the Parliament and answered the question “to be or not to be” by swearing the independent Lithuania into being.
14 citizens of Lithuania lying on their deathbed also said “TO BE’’ to the Lithuanian people, to Lithuania, and to the world at large.
And the world heard them. True, it did not happen overnight. The tanks of the hostile country and the armoured vehicles kept demonstrating their might on our territory for over six months, not letting Lithuania to breathe freely. Lithuania sustained inhumane political, economic, and psychological pressure from the Soviet Union, which was already in agony; however, the progressive Russian movements supported us and Lithuania emerged as a white swan from the historical non-existence and became a recognised state on its road to progress, European living standards, and the true expression of the dignity of the nation.
This road to freedom is unique in the history of Lithuania and Europe and it remains evident both in documents and people’s minds, as well as in material objects, such as the fragment of a barricade surrounding the Seimas premises. Presently it is covered by a glass structure and situated near the Western façade of the Seimas building. The people started constructing barricades on the eve of 13 January in preparation for the possible assault against the Parliament.
The reinforced concrete slabs of the barricades were soon adorned by simple, yet meaningful phrases: “the heart of Lithuania”, “Freedom for Lithuania”, “We will die to live”. It is all now history, but our children and the generations to come should know it.
Not only should they know and see the barricades, but also understand how the barricades of living people came to stand near the reinforced concrete slabs. Today, we already have a memorial where we can come to refresh our memories and to reflect on the past. We can reflect on the 13 January events, the way things stand today, compared to the 13 January 1991, and the present political situation on both sides of the barricades. Today it is probably useful to remember that Russia, which inherited the rights of the Soviet Union, does not want to recognise the occupation of Lithuania. It is still unwilling to recognise the damage done to Lithuania during the years of occupation. Thus, the situation has not changed much on the other side of the barricade.
On our side of the barricade, we have witnessed both qualitative and quantitative losses. In my understanding, our greatest loss is the fact that we have less of Lithuania in our hearts compared to 1991. I think that this is our most important loss.
Let us now commemorate the people whose lives allowed Lithuania to become independent. Let us commemorate the people who never spared their blood for Lithuania’s freedom. Let us observe a minute of silence and voice their names:
ALGIMANTAS PETRAS KAVOLIUKAS,
APOLINARAS JUOZAS POVILAITIS,
Thank you. Thank you for expressing respect to those who gave their lives in the fight for independence of the state. They died as freedom fighters of the post-war period, they died in an uneven battle, however, they were never scared and never abandoned the ideals of their homeland.
Long live the glory of those who died defending the freedom and independence of Lithuania.