Family members and friends of the Defenders of Freedom who lost their lives on the 13th of January,
Your Excellency President of the Republic of Lithuania,
President Valdas Adamkus,
Chairman of the Re-constituent Seimas, Vytautas Lansbergis,
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius,
Mr. Sergei Kovalev,
Members of the Re-constituent Seimas, Signatories to the Act of Independence of Lithuania,
Members of the Seimas and the Cabinet of the Republic of Lithuania,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors,
Honourable guests of this solemn commemoration,
Like every year, we have gathered here today, on the 13th of January, to recall our experiences that we had 21 years ago, to remind others of them and to reflect upon that distinct historical period – the period of spiritual upturn and painful losses of our nation. Let‘s unite for a while with the Defenders of Freedom and honour the memory of the dead with a MOMENT OF SILENCE.
Ladies and gentlemen,
21 years have already passed since the legendary day of the 13th of January. Such a period of time is sufficient for a human being to grow up and mature. When looking through the window today we can see striking changes that have occurred in Lithuania since 1991: different faces of people, another environment, more beautiful house facades, clothes, and cars.
And what if we turn our eyes from external signs to our society and our inner world – what changes shall we see there? To what extent have we remained faithful to the values that required the sacrifice of Loreta Asanavičiűtë and other heroes? Have we really chosen the most meaningful way?
And the freedom itself – how it is perceived today and what it means to us. What form does the word “freedom” acquire in today’s reality?
At the time when we were rising for our national rebirth and defended the natural rights of our nation, the concept of freedom seemed quite clear: freedom of speech, religion and conscience. These were the landmarks which we considered our final aim under the Soviet regime and the agonising pressure of the occupation.
I can recall the thoughts and statements that our actions rested upon twenty and more years ago: we would achieve these freedoms, gain the possibilities to be the masters in our own land, to travel freely, and our main goal would be reached. Everything else was just opportunities to be implemented by our joint efforts, ideas, words, and deeds.
Regretfully, the feeling of disillusionment has overwhelmed some of us today and the short and painful “it‘s a pity” seems to be the only phrase that we are currently able to say.
It hurts when we realise that a great deal of the sense of injustice is felt in Lithuania these days and that private interests of one or a few people throw public interests into the shadow and that corruption and bribery, shadow economy and attempts to avoid contribution to the common wellbeing of all Lithuanian people by honestly paying taxes are common phenomena in various authority and not only authority levels.
We must all understand that neither the Speaker of the Seimas nor other high state officials alone are able to cope with these deep-rooted maladies. Therefore, I ask you, citizens of free Lithuania, to join and assist us as only by joining forces will we be able to create a genuinely fair Lithuania.
Only if we refuse to bribe others or accept bribes ourselves, refuse to obey our dishonest superiors’ instructions, inform about those who are stealing state property which is in fact the property of all of us, or stop them from doing this, only by honestly paying taxes to the state budget, the source of retirement pensions of our parents, salaries of teachers, doctors, policemen, support for kindergartens, schools, hospitals, and wisely, and responsibly elect our representatives to municipal councils or the Seimas, will we be able to change the existing situation.
Nobody will do this for us and thanks God for that – we were sick and tired of those 150 years of slavery when the occupants were regulating our lives. Even today, 21 years later, we can still so painfully feel their spiritual and material legacy in our country.
We should critically assess ourselves and acknowledge without fear that the concept of freedom we have achieved is getting an increasingly wrong interpretation today: for many freedom means just to be free from all personal commitments, morality rules, traditions, the oath given to the Homeland, the nation, and family members.
This kind of freedom leaves less and less space for history, the heroes who sacrificed their lives for us, responsibility for all our historical community: the dead and living ones, and those who will be born.
Our current concept of freedom is increasingly often limited to just three forms of one pronoun: me, for me and mine.
I suppose that our sense of injustice, our pessimism and disappointment in ourselves and our state derives namely from such a false concept of freedom. I find the words of the former United States President John Kennedy extremely relevant under such circumstances: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country!
Led by this slogan we re-established Lithuania’s Independence and sacrificed ourselves on the 13th of January. Why then have we now forgotten these most essential beliefs even though their implementation requires neither fatal attempts nor such sacrifices? What is needed is just our honest lives, respect to ourselves and the people around us, the God and the memory of the 13th of January.
Let’s not devalue what they sacrificed in the name of our common Freedom, the independent Lithuania, let’s not contaminate our state, our Freedom and ourselves with lasting pessimism, spreading unbelief and lack of confidence in ourselves and others.
And if we are still eager to hear the evidence from an eye-witness what freedom is and what its real price and value are, let’s ask our guest Sergei Kovalev about it.
This dear friend of Lithuania was standing together with us when we rose to national rebirth and re-established our independence. He is here, among us today not only as the first Freedom Prize Winner but also as a living symbol of the aspiration to Freedom, a living example of an honest life. We are greatly delighted and honoured to welcome such a friend on this very special day.
I would like to conclude my speech with the following quote by writer Arndt:
The one who disdains himself, will be disdained;
The nation which gets disappointed in itself will make the world dissapointed in it too,
and the history will forget it forever.
The spirit of the nation is smouldering inside each of us
So, please, allow us to be decent.