It’s not uncommon to hear the question – why does Lithuania have two Independence Days? The first, February 16th, restored the country’s statehood. Historically, it was a Grand Duchy from the 13th century until 1569, then formed a union with Poland until 1795, when it fell under the rule of Czarist Russia. In 1918, it succeeded in reestablishing its identity as an independent nation. In 1944, World War II brought with it the Soviet occupation, which finally ended in 1990, when the Lithuanian nation reclaimed its independence on March 11.
After nearly a half-century of oppression, and 33 years of rebuilding, Independence Day in Lithuania and communities in the diaspora is now an event expressing joy, but also deep compassion for Ukraine. And so, this year in Toronto the Lithuanian community held the commemoration of the Community’s 70th anniversary and Lithuania’s 33rd year of freedom with tributes to Ukraine in a concert “Together to Victory” at Resurrection Hall on March 12. The musical programme revealed impressive and wide-ranging talent in a concert curated by Toronto Symphony Orchestra violinist Atis Bankas, with Lithuanian, Latvian and Ukrainian performers and other TSO members as well as the Odin String Quartet.
Speeches by Lithuanian Ambassador to Canada Darius Skusevičius, Lithuanian Canadian Community President Kazimieras Deksnys and Ukrainian Congress of Canada Toronto President Petro Schturyn reinforced the importance of unity and universal efforts to maintain freedom. Well-known Canadian comedian and broadcaster Mike Bullard shared his recent experiences visiting Ukraine, where he volunteered to help deliver food, medical and other supplies and assisted with evacuating people from hot zones. He also promoted fundraising on social media for organizations helping Ukrainians, and promised to continue doing so.
Lithuanians in other cities across Canada celebrated the event with dinners and musical events. In Calgary Lithuanians enjoyed cepelinai made by “Klevelis” folk dancers, songs by Lithuanian- school students and a program by the group “Nieko rimto” (Nothing Serious). Saskatchewan Lithuanians gathered in Regina to commemorate the date, and in BC, Vancouver City Hall and the Burrard Bridge were lit up in yellow, red and green. Fourteen members of the BC Explorers Club (mostly Lithuanians) climbed 10 kilometres to the Pump Peak summit of Northern Vancouver’s Mount Seymour, where they planted the Lithuanian flag.
In Ottawa a diplomatic reception was held by the Embassy of Lithuania at the Rideau Club, with greetings from Senate Speaker George Furey, QC, former Ambassador of Canada to Lithuania Kevin Rex, Lithuanian Ambassador Darius Skusevičius and Bill Blair, Minister for Emergency Preparedness. Also present were various diplomats and representatives from the Baltic and Ukrainian communities.