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!