Amidst Russia’s continued full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many may need forgotten that the small Baltic nation of Lithuania was the primary to pay in blood for its independence from Moscow greater than three many years in the past.
Actually, Lithuania was the primary former republic to interrupt away from the Soviet Union, proclaiming the restoration of its pre-World Struggle II independence in March 1990 and sparking a tumultuous interval culminating within the January Occasions of 1991.
Following threats of violence by Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, a three-day Soviet Military invasion ended with 14 Lithuanian civilians lifeless and a few 140 injured.
But they didn’t relent, and their resistance sparked a series response throughout the Soviet bloc that noticed the remainder of the Baltics, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, in addition to states within the Caucasus and Central Asia, comply with swimsuit till the USSR’s remaining demise in late December 1991.
Since then, Lithuania has grown right into a full-fledged democracy, turning into a member of the EU and NATO within the course of.
Along with the opposite Baltic states, it’s now one of the vital fervent supporters of Ukraine because it continues to endure a bloody struggle and the Kremlin’s aggression.
Euronews View spoke to Saulius Saul Anuzis, a Lithuanian-American political knowledgeable and former Michigan Republican Celebration chairman, and a witness to the wrestle for Lithuanian independence within the late Eighties and early Nineties about what it took for the previous Soviet states to distance themselves from Moscow and what may be learnt from their expertise as Russia’s struggle towards Ukraine rages on.
Euronews View: When did you first go to Lithuania, and what was the state of affairs within the then-Soviet state like on the time?
Saul Anuzis: My dad and mom immigrated from Lithuania. My sister was born there. My different sister was born in Germany throughout the struggle, after which my brother and I had been born right here within the US, however we had been mainly raised in a type of immigrant neighbourhood in metro Detroit.
I did not be taught to talk English till I used to be seven years previous. Our neighbours had been Lithuanian. We went to Lithuanian church, Lithuanian preschool and all that type of stuff. So, we had been culturally fairly engaged in Lithuanian actions, and that is actually how I bought concerned in politics.
My first journey would have been in ’89. I went 32 instances between 1989 and 1991. Clearly, it was on the finish of the Soviet period, and it was nonetheless beneath Soviet management.
The final Common Secretary of the Communist Celebration was nonetheless in cost, the Lithuanian Communist Celebration was nonetheless the dominant social gathering, and Sajudis had simply began type of brewing.
It was a really tenuous time for individuals there. They had been all afraid, undecided precisely what was going to occur, how issues had been gonna work.
This was a singular state of affairs. Nevertheless it was type of coming to a boiling level. Individuals needed to see change. And I believe they simply had a few good leaders that mixed with others across the previous Soviet block that type of engaged and helped begin the downfall of the Soviet Union.
Euronews View: How did this group of individuals come collectively? What was the profile of the individuals who had been main this variation, and what’s it that motivated them on the time?
Saul Anuzis: The man who gave the primary speech was a man named Arvydas Juozaitis, the Olympic swimmer who received a bronze medal for the Soviets within the breaststroke. They introduced him to the border anticipating to get him out as a result of he began this entire factor calling for Lithuania’s Independence.
Juozaitis, Vytautas Landsbergis — he turned the primary president of Lithuania — and Romualdas Ozolas, the three of them had been type of the beginning of Sąjūdis, or no less than the leaders of Sąjūdis, who organised numerous the preliminary actions.
And there have been a few Lithuanian Individuals who had gone over there to assist, and clearly, the immigrant neighborhood of Lithuanians all around the world had been engaged in serving to in any means they might, which was primarily via getting info out.
On the time, I used to be the chief of employees to the Senate majority chief in Michigan, and we had been politically engaged. We attempt to assist them in any means we might with varied introductions and conferences.
Really, the primary two governments that had been there came visiting and met at Hillsdale School to listen to what Western values are and the way you run a democracy.
I gave a speech on the medical society there, and one of many medical doctors requested you what a very powerful factor they might do, and I mentioned it was determining methods to type of cleanse that Soviet mindset over a freedom-based mindset the place you had been now not stealing from the federal government, stealing from Moscow.
That was now taking from your individual individuals. Not solely did they need to do the logistical stuff of determining methods to run their very own nation.
They needed to change the best way they thought the place the federal government now was of the individuals, and so they had been attempting to create a brand new free impartial nation. And I believe that was simply as a lot of a problem as anything.
Euronews View: Lithuania is a small nation, particularly in comparison with the remainder of the Soviet Union and Russia. How do you are feeling about the truth that the individuals exterior of Lithuania and even in its speedy neighbourhood have considerably forgotten how a lot braveness and power it took for Lithuania and the remainder of the three Baltic states to be the place they’re at this time?
Saul Anuzis: It is simply a part of historical past, and other people simply moved on. I imply, there are different crises at hand.
However I do assume that lots of people, particularly those that are concerned within the type of captive nations mindset of understanding those that try to interrupt away from the Soviet bloc, know that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia nonetheless led the best way. They had been the early ones who walked out on the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.
You had the Baltic Means, when the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians stood up and down that freeway and held fingers to indicate the residents’ curiosity in having their very own independence. It turned a mass motion.
You are seeing a unique state of affairs taking place in Ukraine, however on the similar time, you have bought nations like Poland who’re very supportive and reacting as a result of additionally they lived beneath the yoke of the Soviets dominating their nation, and so they do not need to see that occur once more.
I believe these are a number of the causes you see the Baltics being supportive of Ukraine, you see Poland being supportive of Ukraine and others.
As a result of they’ve skilled each dwelling beneath Soviet rule and affect and the advantages and values of freedom and the Jap European nations, particularly these former Soviet satellite tv for pc states, have had a really optimistic affect each on NATO and the world as a complete.
Euronews View: Do you assume that the remainder of Europe, and the West particularly, have listened to Lithuanians sufficient after they, along with others, warned us of Moscow’s malign intentions?
Saul Anuzis: I might say individuals listened to them; I simply do not know essentially how they reacted. I imply, there was an amazing quantity of curiosity find out how issues labored.
In a short time, NATO, in addition to different intelligence providers, had been in Lithuania and the Baltics, studying from their experiences of how the method was arrange, what individuals did, and what individuals did not do.
Clearly, early on, there have been lots of people in management that had been a part of the Communist Celebration a part of the safety infrastructure of the Soviets. And so there was some very beneficial intelligence and knowledge that was shared with reference to course of, ways, technique and what they did in Moscow.
I believe that helped the West put together for the persevering with barrage of propaganda — how they manipulated governments or tried to govern governments and the way they engaged in various kinds of actions.
There have been institutes and foundations that had been set as much as share what occurred throughout the Soviet occupation, and all that stuff was very beneficial as a result of it was just like the first-hand expertise of all of the issues that we suspected had been happening within the Soviet Union and did not fairly have all the perfect info and essentially the total info of it.
Additionally, the KGB archives opened up. It was a really attention-grabbing time as a result of lots of people pulled every kind of paperwork and data.
They knew who was speaking to who and what they had been speaking about. I used to go and keep on the resort down at Vilnius Park, and later they confirmed us the listening rooms the place each room had recording units.
They discovered the workplace the place any person sat there, you understand and reported to the intelligence service. You had any person sitting on each ground watching who walked within the rooms and stored monitor of who individuals had been and all that type of stuff.
It was very actual and one thing that I believe most individuals within the West had no concept how restrictive and the way invasive it was in individuals’s lives.
Euronews View: As you mentioned, Lithuania, the Baltics and different neighbouring nations are extraordinarily supportive of Ukraine, one other nation that liberated itself of the Soviet Union. Is there one thing out of your expertise in Lithuania and normally that might perhaps assist shed extra gentle on the curiosity Vladimir Putin and his associates have in waging a struggle towards Ukraine?
Saul Anuzis: One of many huge classes is the truth that states just like the Baltics, Ukraine, and Poland threaten the Russian system.
As a result of individuals realise that there is a substitute for having a powerful dictator chief and a system that mainly “takes care of you” as a result of you possibly can’t someway maintain your self. There’s another that’s the hazard for the Russians.
Simply stroll via the Soviet republics and check out these individuals experiencing free markets, free minds, schooling, western values coming in, westerners coming in, discovering out they are not all enemies.
They don’t seem to be all enemies of the state. They don’t seem to be attempting to take you over from a unique means, however they’re truly attempting to institute a level of democracy and freedom and freedom of alternative.
That then interprets and type of spreads into Russia, which is an enormous hazard to their ruling system. The oligarchs and their clique of intelligence providers and former social gathering members nonetheless run a lot of the infrastructure all through Russia.
It is a cleptocracy that operates knowingly, acceptingly, even amongst the individuals. There’s nearly an acceptance of the best way Russia works, and what is going on to vary that’s the experiences of Ukraine, Poland, and different former Soviet bloc states which have moved ahead and created methods of schooling and universities and freedom of the press.
And so they’re not all excellent, and so they’re not all there but.
However they’re all working in direction of that, and finally, as democracy takes place, as individuals have interaction on this, they realise that that may be a higher system than what the Soviets had and what the Russians at present use. I believe that is the hazard.