January 13, 1991. It’s been two days since Soviet tanks entered Lithuania to dissuade any hint of independence. After taking control of several public buildings in Vilnius, the military stormed the audiovisual communication tower. The operation kills 14 and pushes 50,000 Lithuanians to a mass mobilization in the capital, where the country’s independence was proclaimed in March 1990. Moscow must retreat. Soviet troops leave the country on January 13. The USSR was shattered on December 26 of the same year.
The memory of this day is still very vivid in Lithuania. “On this day, which took as its emblem a small blue flower, the Myosotis, (“forget me not” in English, “do not forget me”), Lithuanians have got into the habit of meeting outside around large fires on the night of 12 to 13 “, underlines Emilija Pundziute-Gallois, doctor in political science associated with Ceri. Gatherings made impossible by health restrictions for this thirtieth anniversary marked with the slogan: “The virus of freedom”.
The commemoration is nevertheless invited at school, and this from kindergarten. The Lithuanian National Museum has 6,000 drawings made by children of the time to relate these painful events, and today’s pupils are called upon to sketch this scene again, so as to ensure intergenerational transmission. “It is a collective day based on shared memory, with many testimonies, while this memory does not yet exist in written form, in the absence of historians who work in a coherent and structured way on this field of research. “, underlines Giedré Cibulskaité-Versinskiené, from Vytautas Magnus University, specialist in national minorities and human rights in Lithuania.
The past is far from over with Moscow, but the conflict continues through the courts. A long-running trial that began ten years ago for crimes against humanity resulted in 2019 in the conviction in absentia of some sixty senior Soviet officials involved in the repression of January 13. The Russian justice for its part prosecuted the four Lithuanian judges engaged in the proceedings.
“This is what we call Russian legal cynicism. Moscow still does not want to acknowledge having occupied from 1940 a country founded in 1918 which democratically regained its freedom in 1990 ”, comments Emilija Pundziute-Gallois. The researcher evokes a strained relationship between the two countries, since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 : “The youth of today can calmly contemplate the future. Lithuania, integrated into the EU and NATO, has sheltered itself from a new invasion. At the same time, there remains concern and vigilance in the face of Russian interference and propaganda ”. More and more young people are volunteering in the army. Cross-border channels are regularly suspended by the audiovisual authorities.