• 2002-02-21
Independence Day has to be more fun. That's the message Lithuanians and Estonians are putting across as they observe their biggest national days this month. The message doesn't come a year too soon.

National freedom is not something to be taken lightly, especially in the Baltic states. Virtually every family has someone who suffered during the long years of occupation.

But freedom is something to be celebrated, not solemnly marked. Something has to be done. Young people are getting turned off by the idea of remembering their country's independence. They should be feeling good about it.

One Lithuanian vice minister of culture said in an interview with The Baltic Times a few years ago how she despaired that there were so many "black ribbon days" in her country, days of national mourning on anniversaries of invasions and mass deportations, when national flags and black ribbons fly on every building side-by-side.

That's essential, she said, but let there be days of national happiness, too.

Perhaps the Baltic states could look across the Atlantic for inspiration on how to jazz up their independence days. Flag jigsaw puzzles, Lincoln slide puzzles, Fourth of July coloring pages, and patriotic printables from the Internet are what you'll find Stateside.

And that's just for the kids. The U.S. has had patriotic pin-ups since World War I.

"El Grito" is a Mexican fiesta par excellence. Celebrating Mexico's independence from Spanish rule, the events of Sept. 9, 1810, are re-enacted in every plaza in the country. Streets, houses, buildings and cars are decorated everywhere. Vendors sell flags, balloons and sombreros in the national colors of green, white and red.

Toward midnight crowds scream, shout and make as much noise as possible with toy trumpets and whistles, in a collective euphoria that climaxes with the "grito" - the cry of independence.

Closer to home, Bastille Day in France celebrates independence from corrupt 18th century kings and queens, and is similarly noisy.

But if fun and gaiety on such a chaotic scale seems over-the-top for the rather more reserved Baltic countries, the scenes of happy, flag-waving youngsters witnessed in Vilnius on Feb. 16 are at least a step in the right direction.