January 13 – Freedom Defenders’ Day


Freedom Defenders’ Day is a deeply meaningful anniversary for Lithuanians throughout the world. Flag-raising ceremonies, commemorations, concerts, Freedom Runs and Walks are organized in Lithuania and Lithuanian communities abroad. Candles are lit on that day in memory of the siege of Vilnius by Soviets on the night of January 13th, and the efforts of the Lithuanian people to defend Seimas – the Lithuanian parliament, where President  Vytautas Landsbergis and his government were ensconced. A number of Lithuanians were crushed by Soviet tanks.

At the flag-raising ceremony in Vilnius, President Gitanas Nausėda reminded Lithuanians that although it was a night of sadness and pain, it was followed by a morning of triumph for the nation and an example of courage and inspiration for other occupied countries.

For Freedom Defenders’ Day, bonfires were lit at the Vilnius television tower and the Lithuanian National Radio and TV headquarters, which had been attacked on that night 33 years ago. Flowers were laid at the March 11 Independence Day monument, at cemeteries and monuments throughout the country. Masses, exhibitions and ceremonies were held in Vilnius, Kaunas and most cities and towns in Lithuania.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola was in Vilnius for January 13 events, to be awarded the Lithuanian Parliament’s Freedom Prize. The EU legislative body declined the cash prize, accepting only the statuette, a small replica of the Freedom Monument by sculptor Juozas Zikaras. She will suggest allocating the 11,000 euros to investigators of Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Also awarded was dissident, underground press activist and former political prisoner Petras Plumpa, a participant of Lithuania’s unarmed resistance to the Soviet occupation regime.

The Freedom Prize was established by the Lithuanian parliament in 2011 to honour “individuals and organisations for their achievements in and contribution to the defence of human rights, development of democracy, and promotion of international cooperation for the cause of self-determination and sovereignty of the nations in Eastern and Central Europe”.

Over 7,000 people ran in the annual Road of Life and Death event commemorating those who died on January 13, 1991, in Lithuania, and 1,300 Lithuanians in the diaspora participated in similar events in a total of 22 countries. Most were in Belgium, Poland, Estonia, USA, Canada, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, United Kingdom and Spain.

In Toronto, Canada, participants gathered at the Resurrection Parish on January 14, and walked to High Park, stopping at several Lithuanian sites. Commemorative runnning events were also organized in Vancouver and in Ottawa, where mayor Mark Sutcliffe declared January 13 as Lithuanian Freedom Defenders’ Day in Ottawa.