Section I

REVIVAL AND REPRESSION, 1914-1985

Chapter 1

INDEPENDENT LITHUANIA BETWEEN THE WARS

Mikhail Gorbachev's attempt to modernise and revivify the Soviet economic system through the processes of glasnost and perestroika loosened the controls imposed on Lithuania since the Soviet occupation of the state in 1940. Western commentators were surprised by the speed, energy and ingenuity of the Lithuanians who, like 'greyhounds in the slips', were impatient to seize their opportunity for self-determination. Their response to Gorbachev's challenge revealed to a somewhat bewildered world the abject failure of the Soviet policy of assimilation. At the same time, it showed that the memory of independence in the inter-war period remained very much alive in popular consciousness. The sense of a separate and distinctive Lithuanian identity survived both Stalin's savage attempts to destroy it and the persistent efforts of his successors to replace it by a new Soviet allegiance. Just as the Lithuanian national renaissance prepared the ground for the restoration of independence in 1918, so the experience and achievements of the inter-war years strengthened the foundations of Lithuanian identity. Stalinist repression served to reinforce rather than to undermine those foundations.

At the time of Gorbachev's accession to power the Lithuanian people remained keenly aware of their history, culture, and practical achievements, despite the passage of several generations since the independence period. The confidence stemming from this awareness, combined with their revulsion against the Soviet system, enabled them to strike out in the direction of self-determination. Despite all attempts by the Soviets to eradicate or re-interpret the Lithuanian collective memory, the population held fast to its history, using it like a compass to plot its course to independence. Some familiarity with the history of Lithuania since 1914 is therefore crucial to an understanding of the second restoration of independence in 1990-91.

LITHUANIA: STEPPING WESTWARD

-1-

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