The Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania or Act of February 16 was signed by the Council of Lithuania on February 16, 1918, proclaiming the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania. The Council was chaired by Jonas Basanavičius.
The Act formulated the basic constitutional principles that still apply in Lithuania. The Act itself was a key element in the foundation of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence in 1990. Lithuania, breaking away from the red terror of the Soviet Union, pointed out that it was simply re-establishing the independent state that existed between the world wars and that the Act had never lost its legal power. But before it happened Lithuania had gone years through the Red Terror.
Independence turned to be only temporary. Since 1940 the Baltic states were occupied by the Soviet Union which had agreed upon it previously with Nazi Germany on 23 August 1939 in Moscow and was entirely secret. This document was called the Hitler–Stalin Pact or the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
Since inclusion in the USSR in 1940, the inhabitants of the Baltic states were forced to live under the dictatorship of the Communist Party where freedom of thought and speech was restricted. The occupation continued but the USSR denied the existence of the Pact and claimed that the Baltic states had voluntarily joined the Soviet Union.
The Day of Mourning and Hope, and the Day of Occupation and Genocide
On June 14, 1941 at 3 o’clock in the morning the Soviet authorities started mass deportations and arrests. This was the first wave of Soviet mass deportations in Lithuania
During 1941 and 1953 some 132,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia, remote parts of the USSR, the area of Arctic Cirle and Central Asia. More than 70 percent of the victims were women and children.
During the Soviet occupation Lithuania lost about 800,000 residents. Many died as the result of hunger or exhaustion or were killed by the Soviet authorities. Deportation operations were held at the same time also in Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.
Based on data from the Genocide and Resistance Research Center, from 1940-1958 every third Lithuanian became the victim of the Soviet genocide and terror.
At 19:00 on 23 August 1989, 28 years ago, approximately two million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians joined hands forming a human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius. The human chain they formed spanned nearly 700 kilometers, was composed of approximately 2 million people, and was a clear sign of their solidarity and wish for freedom!
On 23 August 1989, the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the inhabitants of the three Baltic states demanded public acknowledgement of the Pact’s secret protocols and the renewal of the independence of the Baltic states.
The USSR acknowledged the existence of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and declared it invalid. It was one of the most important steps towards the renewal of independence in the Baltics and attracted a lot of international publicity to the joint struggle of the three countries.
11 March: Day of Restoration of Independence of Lithuania: KOVO 11
On 11 March 1990, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania adopted an Act on the Restoration of an Independent State of Lithuania. All members of the Council signed the Act of Restoration. On this day Lithuania declared Independence from the USSR.
The Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania served as a model and inspiration to other Soviet republics. However, the issue of independence was not immediately settled and recognition by other countries was not certain.
Mikhail Gorbachev called the Act of Independence illegal and the USSR demanded revocation of the Act and began applying sanctions against Lithuania including an economic blockade.
Soviet aggression on January 13
On 13 January 1991 armoured Soviet forces drove through peaceful crowd which gathered to protect the symbol of Lithuania’s independence – the Vilnius TV Tower. Soviet tanks crushed the victims and shot them to death. 14 innocent people died and more than 500 unarmed civilians were injured.
Soviet forces tried to regain power but they failed. After these terrible days, referendum was held in which the population confirmed that they wanted to be independent from the Soviet Union. Moscow did not recognize the referendum. However, it was recognized worldwide after a failed coup attempt by communist hardliners in Moscow in August of 1991.
International recognition of Lithuania
On May 31, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Moldavian SSR voted to recognize the Restoration of the Independence of Lithuania. The Parliament of Moldavia was the first in the world to recognize Lithuania’s Independence, but Moldavia was still part of the Soviet Union.
Iceland was the first to recognize Lithuanian independence on February 11, 1991 followed by Denmark, Slovenia and Croatia (within Yugoslavia) and Latvia. After the failed August Coup, Lithuanian independence recognition was reconfirmed by the United States on September 2. President George H.W. Bush announced that if Russia were to use armed force against Lithuania, the U.S. would react accordingly.
Finally, on September 6, 1991 Lithuania’s independence was recognized by the Soviet Union. Then recognition of Lithuania’s independence was quickly followed by several countries including China, India and Belarus as well as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. On September 17, 1991, it was welcomed as a member of the United Nations along with Estonia and Latvia.
Since 2004, Lithuania along with Estonia and Latvia became members of the European Union and NATO. The country eventually banned displays of Soviet and Nazi symbols in 2008
On March 29, 2017, the original document from 1918 was found at the Diplomatic archive in Berlin, Germany. Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaitė asked Germany to send the document back,document is now on a loan in Lithuania.
By Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska
Sources: Communications-Unlimited.nl, Washington Post, Embassy of Lithuania to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Wikipedia.
Text: Central and Eastern Europe Center: Communications-Unlimited.nl © Copyright www.communications-unlimited.nl, 2020. All rights reserved.