But Two Independence Days?
Many people have asked this question: Why does Lithuania have two independence days? Two celebrations merely a month apart, now often merged into one event in many communities of the diaspora. Both are national holidays, and both are equally significant in historical terms. LRT.lt explains this most clearly. The celebration on February 16 is actually called State Restoration Day (Lietuvos valstybės atkūrimo diena). On February 16, 1918, the twenty members of the Council of Lithuania signed a document – the Act of Independence – declaring Lithuania a sovereign democratic state with the capital city Vilnius.
The document said Lithuania was severing statehood ties with all other nations, primarily Russia, which had ruled the land since the late 18th century, and Germany, under whose administration Lithuanians fell during World War One. Lithuania remained a democratic state until 1926, when Antanas Smetona took over from Kazys Grinius as president. Lithuania kept its capital in Vilnius only until 1919, when the city was taken over by Poland. Lithuania got Vilnius back in 1939, but only months later, in 1940, the country was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union.
On March 11, Lithuania celebrates the Restoration of Independence Day (Nepriklausomybės atkūrimo diena). On that day in 1990, the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR, the first one elected in free elections, declared the country independent from the Soviet Union.
It took another year and a bloody crackdown in Vilnius (on January 13, 1991) for the world to recognize Lithuania as an independent state, as the Soviet Union dissolved.
There is also one more national holiday celebrating Lithuania’s statehood. July 6, the Statehood Day (Valstybės diena), pays tribute to King Mindaugas, the first Medieval duke to bring Lithuanian lands under his unified rule. He was crowned 1353 and became Lithuania’s first – and only – king.