Lithuania: Stepping Westward

Lithuania: Stepping Westward

Lithuania: Stepping Westward

Lithuania: Stepping Westward

Synopsis

Lithuania restored her independence, after half a century of Soviet occupation, in the immediate aftermath of the failed Moscow coup in August 1991. As the multi-national Soviet state disintegrated, Lithuania evolved, without war or violence, from a communist state and a command economy to a liberal democracy, a free market, and a society guaranteeing human and minority rights. Lithuania therefore offers a notable example of peaceful transition, all the more impressive in the light of the bloody conflict elsewhere in the former Soviet Union of Yugoslavia, where the aspirations to independence of the constituent republics were either violently resisted or dissolved into inter-ethnic violence. Equally remarkable has been Lithuania's determination to 'return to Europe' after half a century of separation, even at the price of submerging its recently restored sovereign rights in the supranational European Union. The cost of membership in western economic and security organizations are judged to be worth paying to prevent Lithuania's being drawn once again into a putative Russian sphere of influence. On the threshold of a new millennium therefore, Lithuania has made a pragmatic accommodation to the demands of becoming a modern European state, whilst vigorously resisting the dilution of her rich cultural and historical traditions. These twin themes of accommodation and resistance are Lithuania's historical legacy to the current generations of Lithuanians as they integrate into European institutions and continue the modernization process.

Excerpt

Lithuania is a small country with a long history. She restored her independence in August 1991 after a half century of submission to Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism. Some 73 years earlier, in February 1918, she had reclaimed her independence for the first time after more than a century of Russian rule. An independent mediaeval state, Lithuania became a partner with Poland in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late fourteenth century, a relationship which endured until the third partition of Poland-Lithuania by the surrounding great powers in 1795.

The generation of Lithuanians who regained independence for the second time in 1991 were deeply influenced by the history of their people. Soviet rule had severed their connections with western and central Europe, and their dearest wish, and the anchor of their foreign policy, was to 'return to Europe', whose history they had shared for centuries. Returning to their historical and cultural roots, however, did not mean an uncritical restoration of what had existed before. Just as the first re-establishment of independence did not restore the old Commonwealth, so the second revival did not recreate the republic of the inter-war years, despite strong pressure from some Lithuanians to do so. Shaped by their history in so many ways, Lithuanians have not been determined by it. They have adapted, and will continue to adapt, to the rapidly changing external security and political environment. What is unchanging, however, is a determination never to submit to tyranny, nor to be drawn back into a Russian sphere of influence. Alongside that, Lithuanians are resolved, even in a period of unprecedented change, to maintain their cultural identity.

This work may be described as a contemporary history of Lithuania; its major focus is on the last fifteen years of the twentieth century. However, the leading participants in the dramatic events which occurred in this period, such as Vytautas Landsbergis, the unlikely hero of the independence movement, were acutely aware of the history and culture of their country, which they had struggled assiduously to keep alive during the Soviet occupation. To understand the actions, policies, and values of the Lithuanian leadership and the people they represented during the campaign for independence requires some knowledge of the forces which shaped them. Accordingly this book deals quite extensively with the earlier history of Lithuania in the

LITHUANIA: stepping westward

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