• 2000-02-17
Feb. 16, Independence Day, is the main national holiday in Lithuania. On this day in 1918 the Lithuanian Council, then the nation's highest authority, gathered in Vilnius, the ancient capital. After more than 100 years of Russian oppression, the Council proclaimed the re-establishment of the Lithuanian state which flourished from the13th century to the 18th century.

In 1918 Lithuania was reborn like a phoenix rising from the ashes. In the 19th century European scientists proclaimed Lithuanian, the most archaic Indo-European language, a dying language. The Lithuanian nation was considered to have disappeared. However, intellectuals, leaders of the Lithuanian national movement, had prepared for the nation's rebirth in the beginning of the 20th century.

The re-establishment of independence on March 11, 1990 was just a repetition of the Feb. 16 act. This holiday was forbidden during the Soviet occupation. Some people were even sent to concentration camps and prisons for celebrating the holiday. So, it is no wonder that this holiday was celebrated in a rather sad manner since 1990: official speeches, soldiers with stone faces, classical music concerts, visits to cemeteries where heroes are interred.

There are reasons for this solemnity. Reason No. 1 is the country's tragic history: Soviet occupation, Nazi occupation followed again by Soviet occupation. Red and brown genocides, a partisan war, and a half-century of repression. Lithuania lost one third of its population because of occupations by totalitarian neighbors. No other country suffered such losses. The West will never understand what Communism is, which killed 110 million people in the world.

Reason No 2 is social conditions. A Jewish joke instructing one what to say to an adversary states it best: "I wish you to live in a time of changes." Times of economic transition are always painful.

Well, fellow Lithuanians! Most countries in the world are much poorer. It is not worth it to live only with the sufferings of the past.

Lithuania is not on the front pages of world press and that is a good sign. It means that Lithuania is a normal boring country like Luxembourg. It seems that Lithuania will enter NATO and the European Union in the beginning of the 21st century.

Changes in Lithuania's mood are already seen. An organization named the Rolandas Paksas Fund sponsored a Feb. 16, 2000 extravaganza with all-night fireworks, a rock concert and disco for tens of thousands people in Vilnius' Vingis Park.

It is good sign of recovery. It means that Feb. 16 will not fall in the shadow of the now-popular Feb. 14, St. Valentine's Day. The proximity of both dates is cool. Love for the person and love for the homeland do not contradict each other.

This year's celebration of Feb. 16 shows that in the future Lithuanians will celebrate their independence day just as jollily as Americans celebrate July 4 or French people Bastille Day.