• 2001-01-18
This week, the Baltic countries of Lithuania and Latvia mark the 10th anniversary of the fights for independence in January 1991.

The year of 1991 was the one that irrevocably changed many people's lives in the Baltics - in fact, the most crucial events in anyone's personal history are somehow related to the desperate struggle for independence that began with peaceful demonstrations, climaxed with the blood of January, and ended with the ill-fated Moscow coup-d'Žtat in August.

The fight for independence meant not only a fight for 'better lives' - more food, warmer homes, American chewing gum and instant coffee. A lot of people already had better lives then, ten years ago. The Orwellian 'big brother' gave them everything they needed. He guaranteed a job, a place to live, free healthcare and education, and a state pension for everyone's survival.

The only thing he dispensed in small drops was information. Information on what was going on abroad, behind the 'iron curtain,' but most important of all, information on what was going on inside. The Soviet people, who were trained to judge the political climate in the country by the order of the appearance of the Moscow Politburo on the front pages of newspapers and TV news broadcasts, and who had to listen to the Western radio to hear the news on the explosion at Chernobyl, drank thirstily from the stream of information coming out of the liberated media after the wave of independence began at the end of the 1980s.

It turned out to be the crucial mistake of the Soviet regime to let those media beasts free. The people started to hear, see and think. And it was this that ultimately became more important than any seemingly equal 'welfare' that existed behind the curtain bars.

Now, ten years later, the young people who at that time were only around ten years old are living in a very connected world. The global communications network has tied the Baltics together with the whole world. You can chat with people in the U.S. or in Brazil, make friends, visit them, study abroad, move somewhere else to live with little effort. It's all available.

And it is hard to imagine that all this communication can be cut off at one moment, that there could be an 'iron curtain' again. It seems unbelievable, almost as unbelievable as it was nearly ten years ago, on August 19, 1991, to hear the Russian radio anchor's grave voice broadcasting the news.

So the question asked by The Baltic Times to people on the street, would you go to the 'barricades' again if needed, is only partly rhetorical. Former Yugoslavia can serve as an example of how physical violence can destroy a prosperous land in a day.

Almost all the answers were unanimously positive. "Yes, we would go." Because now, with all those hardships behind us, we also have something very important to lose.