Vladimir Putin was once quoted as saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. But it's actually the opposite of that observation that's true - the establishment of the USSR in 1917 (formally in 1922) ushered in seven decades of misery that resulted in the deaths of millions of people, from the Red Terror and the Holodomor to the Great Purge and the Gulag Archipelago. Lithuania's experience as an unwilling constituent republic from 1940 to 1990 saw the deaths of thousands from executions, deportations and armed resistance to the Red Army. So it comes as no surprise that Lithuanians treasure their independence and sovereignty. Today is a public holiday, the Day of Restoration of the State of Lithuania (Lietuvos valstybės atkūrimo diena), which, along with March 11 (the Day of Restoration of Independence of Lithuania), serve as important markers in establishing a sense of national self-identity. February 16 was the day in 1918 when the Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed in Vilnius, proclaiming the country as a sovereign state independent of the collapsed Russian Empire. At the time the country was under German occupation, but aspiration became reality later that year with Germany's defeat in the First World War. The 16th of February became an official holiday with the restoration of Lithuanian independence and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990-1991, and is celebrated with various ceremonies held throughout the country. I wanted to participate in some of these events, but She Who Must be Obeyed had decreed this Thursday to be the day when new light bulbs must be purchased to replace several that had recently burned out in our kitchen and in one of the bedrooms. Still, I found time in the late morning to take a walk into Old Town and see what was going on.
As with most things in Vilnius, I began at Cathedral Square:
Inside Vilnius Cathedral, preparations were under way for a special commemoration mass:
Outside in the square preparations were under way for the Celebrate Freedom Concert, to be held from 7-9 p.m.:
The House of Signatories (Signatarų Namai) museum on Pilies gatvė. It was here that Lithuania's Declaration of Independence was signed on February 16, 1918. A flower laying ceremony was scheduled to be held there in the middle of the afternoon today:
A group with a guide gathers in front of the Town Hall:
Having a little fun with filters and flags:
With my usual impeccable timing I showed up at the Presidential Palace soon after President Dalia Grybauskaitė had given her speech and the flag raising ceremony had been completed:
Displays of patriotism in the middle of the afternoon as we walked to the lighting fixtures store for the aforementioned light bulbs. The shop turned out to be closed for the holiday, of course:
The Boy with a Big Shoe in His Hands, a statue of 9 year-old boy holding a shoe (a depiction of French novelist Romain Gary, who was born and raised in Vilnius), was also showing some pride this afternoon:
After the sun had set, my daughter and I left the apartment again and walked over to Gediminas Prospektas, to check out a series of sixteen bonfires lining the street from Vincas Kurdika Square to Vilnius Cathedral, enjoying both the atmosphere and the warmth in the -1°C (30°F) evening air:
This group was singing a Lithuanian song:
At one point Amber pointed out a drone flying overhead. A few moments later I heard a loud buzzing noise. I looked up at the drone, and suddenly it dropped out of the sky and crashed onto the road about a meter from where I was standing. In the 21st century you need to be aware of not only what's around you, but what's above you as well:
In Cathedral Square, where preparations were underway for the evening's concert:
The Three Crosses lit up in the national colors (yellow, green and red):
The statue of Gediminas in front of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania:
Lithuanians are justifiably proud of the hard-fought restoration of their independence, first in 1918 and again in 1990. Uglier expressions of nationalism, like those often seen in places such as China, Russia and, sadly, at times in the United States are largely absent here. If we're in town next year at this same time (we're leaving tomorrow on a weeklong trip to Finland and Estonia), I hope to convince Shu-E to join my daughter and me in going out and taking part in the celebration of Lithuanian statehood.
website of the Lithuanian document processing center. We were given a tour of the center last week, and it was fascinating to see the machines in operation producing passports and identity cards.