Happy Independence Day, Lithuania!

The Lithuanian flag at the embassy in Washington, D.C. I assume the ambassador who followed me sees this every day!
The Lithuanian flag at the embassy in Washington, D.C. I assume the ambassador who followed me sees this every day!

Today is the independence day of a fantastic country I’ve been learning about recently: Lithuania. It all started when the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States, Žygimantas Pavilionis, followed me on Twitter. Now, I have no idea how he found me, some random American girl among millions (billions?) of Twitter accounts, but he did. Of course, I followed him back and have had great Lithuania-related tweets in my Twitter feed ever since.

It’s all because of the Lithuanian people I follow on Twitter that I know today, February 16, is Independence Day over there. I honestly don’t know much about Lithuania—even though I did my best to specialize in Eastern European history as an undergraduate, I missed out on learning much about any of the Baltic countries.

A quick internet search reveals this: Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990. I expected that they would celebrate independence on the day they broke away from the mess that was the Soviet Union, but apparently I was wrong. Independence is celebrated on the anniversary of the day the country broke away from the Russian Empire. (Actually, it was more complicated than that: Germany was involved in this too, since by the time Lithuania declared independence, the Bolsheviks were taking over in Russia and wreaking general havoc. But that’s beside the point.)

Many people, at least those who were alive during the Cold War, are probably vaguely aware that Lithuania was once a part of the Soviet Union, under Communist control. People were forced to speak Russian—I haven’t met that many people from Lithuania, but all the ones I have met have spoken very good Russian. What people forget is that Lithuania was also a part of the Russian Empire. I’m very impressed (and happy, of course) that they managed to keep their language alive. I’m not an expert on language policies in the Baltic states, but from what little I know on the subject of language policies in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union is that the powers that be weren’t often accommodating towards minority languages. I’m pretty sure Ukrainian and Belarusian were outright banned at various points in history (one could argue that Belarusian has never really recovered from this), and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lithuanian was banned, too. It’s great the language has managed to survive, as there’s nothing sadder than a language going extinct, in my opinion.

I definitely need to read more about Lithuania, so if anyone has any suggestions for books, please me know. And, of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without wishing this fabulous country a happy independence day—in multiple languages.

Happy Independence Day, Lithuania! Su gimtadieniu, Lietuva! С днем независимости, Литва!

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7 thoughts on “Happy Independence Day, Lithuania!

  1. All the little countries the Russian Empire (and then the Soviet Empire) gobbled up had to fight for the existence of their languages, which were forbidden due to the process of russification. They even had to fight for their own existence, as huge chunks of native populations were forcibly moved to Siberia, Kazakhstan, or other remote parts of the empire, and different populations brought instead to colonize.
    It was very brutal. And the Russians are still meddling in the life of those countries, while at the same time crying wolf over the perceived injustices perpetrated against their own Russian-speaking minority in Ukraine.

    1. The notion that national languages were forbidden during the Soviet time is a blatant lie and propanganda. Especially in the case of Baltic languages. From my own experience, I visited Lithuanina in 1986, I know that everything was written and spoken in the local language. There was no trace of Russian at all. As to Russification it is largely a myth. On the contrary the Baltic countries during all the Soviet time, especially in the last decade of it, have undergone a gradual process of elimination of the Russian language from the public sphere. Google the web, read wikipedia, find sources before making such unfounded statements.
      In that regard I have a question: what source of information do you rely upon? Is it just general Russophobia or you are really taught that way in school?
      As for those as you say “perceived” injustices commited during the period of the Ukrainian independence, I would like to say that it would be a good idea to establish a museum of the Ukrainian occupation in the Crimea where all the evidences would be displayed, including Ukrainian language laws, school textbooks and other hateful anti-Russian propaganda pieces.

      1. My Russian professor, who was born and raised in Western Ukraine, told me that people there were allowed to have their education in Ukrainian, if they wanted. He chose to go to school in Russian and implied that the quality of the Ukrainian education was subpar, though. I know those local languages are still spoken in the Baltics—but a ton of people had to learn Russian, too!

  2. Do you know how much effort was made by the Soviet authorities to preserve minorities languages? That was a deliberate policy to support minor ethnicities, sometimes at the expense of the Russian. The Soviet Union was a strange empire indeed. Instead of trying to eliminate all traces of diversity it was in fact cultivating it.

    1. Have you read Terry Martin’s The Affirmative Action Empire by any chance? I’m pretty sure that’s his thesis in that book. Not that I’ve read it, but I had a professor who used to talk about it a lot.

  3. No, I have not. Actually I don’t need to. I lived under the system and have therefore first hand experience of what it was like.

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