After 20 Years - Defence of Lithuania Parliament


Vilnius, Lithuania

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Photo by R.Požerskis
1991 01 13 – me on the left

The January Events (Lithuanian: Sausio įvykiai) took place in Lithuania between January 11 and 13, 1991 in the aftermath of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania. As a result of Soviet military actions, 14 civilians were killed and more than 600 injured. The events were centred in its capital, Vilnius, along with related actions in its suburbs and in the cities of Alytus, Šiauliai, Varėna, and Kaunas.

ME with Lithuania President

The Lithuanian Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990, and thereafter underwent a difficult period of emergence. Economic and energy shortages undermined public faith in the newly restored state. The Soviet Union imposed an economic blockade between April and late June.1
The inflation rate reached 100% and continued to increase rapidly. The fact that Lithuania had proclaimed independence unilaterally also caused discontent among the minorities of Russian and Polish descent, many of whom were supporters of the Moscow-backed branch of the Lithuanian Communist Party and the largely communist-dominated Jedinstvo movement.
Tensions rose sharply in the early days of 1991. During the five days preceding the events, Russian, Polish, and other workers at Vilnius factories protested the government’s consumer goods price hikes and what they saw as ethnic discrimination.2 (According to Human Rights Watch, the Soviet government had mounted a propaganda campaign designed to further ethnic strife).1
On January 8, the conflict between Chairman of the Parliament Vytautas Landsbergis and the more pragmatic Prime Minister Kazimira Prunskienė culminated in her resignation.1 Prunskienė met with Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev on that day. He refused her request for assurances that military action would not be taken.1
On January 8, the Yedinstvo movement organized a rally in front of the Supreme Council of Lithuania. Protesters tried to storm the parliament building, but were driven away by unarmed security forces using water cannons. Despite a Supreme Council vote the same day to halt price increases, the scale of protests and provocations backed by Jedinstvo (Unity, in Russian) and the Communist Party increased. During a radio and television address, Landsbergis called upon independence supporters to gather around and protect the main governmental and infrastructural buildings.
From January 8–9, several special Soviet military units were flown to Lithuania (including the famous counter terrorist Alpha Group and paratroopers of the 76th Airborne Division of the VDV based at Pskov). The official explanation was that this was needed to ensure constitutional order and the effectiveness of laws of the Lithuanian SSR and the Soviet Union.
On January 10, Gorbachev addressed the Supreme Council, demanding restoration of the constitution of the USSR in Lithuania and the revocation of all anti-constitutional laws. He mentioned that military intervention could be possible within days. When Lithuanian officials asked for Moscow’s guarantee not to send armed troops, Gorbachev did not reply.

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