Staunton, January 13 – Twenty-six years ago today, Soviet forces acting under orders from Mikhail Gorbachev shot and killed 14 Lithuanian demonstrators and wounded 600 others whose only “crime” was seeking to recover de facto what they had never lost de jure, their state independence that Moscow stole from it by means of a criminal deal with Adolf Hitler.
Sadly, on this anniversary, there are still those in the Russian capital who claim absurdly that the Lithuanians were killed by the Lithuanian independence movement and that Lithuania, despite international law and the desire of the Lithuanian people, should be within a Russian sphere of influence or even be part of a new Russian empire (svpressa.ru/society/article/164193/
But Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė speaking today said what Lithuanians felt than and feel now: “We were all worried and literally glued to our TVs and radios and it seemed that everything was at an end, that we did not know what would happen in the next minute” (ru.delfi.lt/news/politics/prezident-litvy-nas-mozhno-vremenno-okkupirovat-no-pobedit-nelzya.d?id=73437714).
However, she continued, “we knew then and we know now that defeating us is impossible. It is possible to occupy us temporarily or to sometimes hurt us, but we cannot be defeated.” That is “because each of us knew what freedom is, knew its price,” and Lithuanians again and again throughout history have been prepared to defend it.
Everyone must remember, the Lithuanian leader continued, that freedom is “inviolable, that we won it, and that it will always be ours.” And that has special meaning today because of the link between freedom in general and media freedom in particular – after all, the Lithuanians died at the Vilnius TV tower and at the radio and television headquarters.
Today, Grybauskaitė said, media freedom must be defended “so that no one will be able to undermine it and so that our people will know the truth. Only under the banner of freedom could we defend our country” in 1991 and can we defend it in the future.
The Lithuanian president is absolutely right about all of this; the only thing that is sad, even tragic, is the renewed aggressiveness of Moscow under Vladimir Putin and the doubts some have cast on the West’s commitment to defend Lithuania and other NATO members make it necessary for her to reaffirm these things.
But her remarks underscore something that the powerful often forget: however strong a state appears, it will not last if it comes to be viewed by those it rules over as illegitimate. The possession of the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal did not save the USSR, and it won’t save Russia.
Instead, the Soviet Union was defeated by peoples who recognized their rights and demanded that the powers that be respect them or get out of the way. Russia today if it continues along the authoritarian, even totalitarian course Vladimir Putin is pursuing will go the same way. It too may have nuclear weapons; but it cannot hope to defeat peoples conscious of their rights.
Those peoples, as Grybauskaite reminds us, may be occupied for a time; but they can’t ultimately be defeated either.