Memory – a Live Witness

Romo Jurgaičio (ELTA) nuotr.

In Lithuania, January 13th is known as Freedom Fighters‘ Day, commemorating the victims of the Soviet siege of Vilnius on January 13th, 1991. The Soviets attempted to overthrow the legitimate government of Lithuania, which had declared independence from the USSR on March 11, 1990.

Peaceful demonstrators at parliament in Vilnius, January 1991
Memorial ceremony at Antakalnis Cemetery in Vilnius

On the night of January 13, 1991, Red Army tanks charged through a crowd of peaceful demonstrators at Television Tower, the Lithuanian Radio and Television Committee headquarters. The tanks killed demonstrators Loreta Asanavičiūtė, Virginijus Druskis, Darius Gerbutavičius, Rolandas Jankauskas, Rimantas Juknevičius, Alvydas Kanapinskas, Algimantas Petras Kavoliukas, Vidas Maciulevičius, Titas Masiulis, Alvydas Matulka, Apolinaras Juozas Povilaitis, Ignas Šimulionis and Vytautas Vaitkus. Vytautas Koncevičius later died from his injuries. Over a thousand unarmed participants suffered injuries. Although Soviet units took over the Television Tower and headquarters, they did not dare attack the Parliament building, which was engulfed by many thousands of Lithuanian citizens, some having travelled from all over the country to protect its government.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė at the Memorial ceremony in Antakalnis Cemetery

During the week of January 11-17, the 28th anniversary of that tragic night was commemorated in Lithuania and its communities throughout the world. On January 11, candles were lit in windows across Lithuania, witnessing the memory of the fallen. The president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, met with the victims’ families. A ceremonial flag-raising and freedom fighters’ parade took place in Vilnius’ Freedom Square on the 12th, and commemorative bonfires blazed at various historical sites. On January 13th the anniversary was also commemorated in Parliament, and the Freedom Award was presented to seven former partisans who had fought against the Soviets. A Mass was offered at Vilnius Basilica, and a memorial ceremony at Antakalnis Cemetery was attended by Lithuanian dignitaries.

Participants of the “Run for Life and Death”

In the annual January 13th “Run for Life and Death”, the largest number of runners to date made their way from Antakalnis Cemetery to the Television Tower. There were about 7,700 participants from 19 countries. Over 4,000 soldiers from various divisions of the Lithuanian armed forces ran in formation, with almost as many representatives of other Lithuanian institutions, organizations, sports clubs, with visitors, ordinary citizens and even their pets running as well. This was the also second year that military personnel from visiting NATO forces from Germany, Holland, the Czech Republic and the United States stationed in Lithuania joined in. Similar runs were organized in Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, USA and other countries.

These photos from the Lithuanian press show glimpses of the events:

Memorial ceremony at Antakalnis Cemetery