On the 30th anniversary of Soviet atrocities in Vilnius, President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said Europe would have looked different without Lithuania’s fight for independence on January 13, 1991.
“Our [European] Union owes Lithuania’s freedom fighters, because today’s Europe would look different without their bravery,” she said in a recorded video message. “The events of January 1991 played a decisive role in overcoming division of our continent.”
Months after Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union in March 1990, Soviet forces attempted to seize power. During the early hours of January 13, 1991, 14 people were killed and over 700 injured.
“At the time, resistance against the Soviet Union almost seemed like a hopeless gesture, but what happened that night in Vilnius reverberated across the world,” said von der Leyen. “The event caused shockwaves that in the end shattered the Soviet empire.”
Pro-democracy Russians came out en masse to support Lithuania, with many historians seeing the January events in Vilnius as a pivotal moment in the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Several months later, the failed coup in Moscow in August 1991 dealt the final blow to the USSR.
“Today, Lithuania is a proud member of the European Union and what a success story this is,” said the EC president.
“The sacrifice of the freedom defenders remind us how precious the fundamental values of our Union are – liberty, democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, and the right of each country to independently choose its future.”
“Today people all over Lithuania light bonfires and candles like the freedom defenders did 30 years ago to honour their bravery, to honour their sacrifice,” she said. “This is why today, like so many of you, I wear this little blue pin, resembling the forget-me-not flower.”
In 2019, Lithuania sentenced 67 people from war crimes and crimes against humanity. Moscow claimed the case was political and began criminal proceedings against the Lithuanian judges in 2020.