It was 20 years ago today

It was 20 years ago today that the Soviet tanks ran over and killed 14 civilians when taking the TV-tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. In the second largest city of the country, Kaunas, Liucija Baskauskas was sitting in their TV-tower watching live feeds. She cabled out the news to every address in her address book, and thus made the world aware of the violent crackdown. This, and her subsequent outspoken fearlessness on Lithuanian TV in the face of the Soviet threat, made her a national hero of the singing revolution, and it may well have contributed significantly to the success of the liberation of not just Lithuania but also of Latvia and Estonia.

Vilnius January 16, 1991

14 defenders of liberty were crushed to death as the Soviet tanks advanced.

These people were unarmed civilians. Just like the ones who deposed the dictator of Tunisia two days ago. There is no doubt that many, many more lives would have been lost if they had chosen an armed struggle. What the Baltic peoples demonstrated to the world, was that even in the face of a cynical dictatorship an unarmed united people cannot be defeated.

The background to the event was that Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia had declared themselves independent from the Soviet Union. Their countries were still occupied by Soviet forces, so the people stood guard around all important buildings 24/7, including this biting cold night 20 years ago. They came from all over the country, a friend of mine said she had a feeling something would happen and took the train from Kaunas to Vilnius after work, to stand guard rather than sleep.

In the following months Liucija Baskauskas told her audience, every day, not to let themselves be intimidated into silence but to keep talking about what they had seen that night. In fact, she asked them to write down their eyewitness accounts and to send them to the TV show. They got over 3,000 accounts of what had happened that faithful night. The stories were typed in a computer database, and the letters destroyed to avoid that they fell in the hands of KGB.

The database was smuggled out to Sweden, in a KGB vehicle, and that’s where I met them. Finally the hard disk of the computer was destroyed to eliminate the risk that it was decoded by KGB. This happened a couple of weeks before the coup d’État in Moscow, an expected event. Luckily something unexpected happened, and that was when Boris Yeltsin (perhaps after having too much vodka?) climbed up on that tank and gave a speech which changed the course of history, making him president of Russia.

May God bless all those who gave their life for freedom that night. They changed the course of history for the better, for all of us.

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