VILNIUS – For the first time, Lithuania has so solidly marked the anniversary of the invasion of Soviet troops into Lithuania, on June 15, 1940. According to Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviviene, some 150,000-250,000 Soviet soldiers entered Lithuania on that day. On June 15, a special session was organized in the parliament to commemorate that sad day which shocked Lithuania 70 years ago. It was attended by President Dalia Grybauskaite. The next day the session was followed by conference of historians in the parliament. During both events the consequences of the Soviet invasion were emphasized.
“Now we can notice the lack of trust in democracy because the communist occupation left its traces in the people’s psyche,” Julius Sasnauskas, Catholic priest and Soviet-era political prisoner, said in the parliament adding that it is quite weird that Lithuania used to commemorate, on a state level, the first mass deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia on June 14, 1941, but the date which took place a year earlier and which caused those deportations was somewhat forgotten on the state level.
“According to scientists, if not for the Soviet occupation, Lithuania would now have five million inhabitants – the same size of population as Norway, Finland or Denmark. Lithuania’s standard of living would be the same as in those countries. There would be no such emigration from Lithuania as it is now,” Parliament Speaker Irena Degutiene said during the June 15 sitting in the parliament.
Earlier on that day, she went to the Uta village of the Varena region to pay tribute to Lithuanian border policeman Aleksandras Barauskas, who was killed by the Soviet army on that day 70 years ago. Barauskas was the first victim of the USSR’s aggression in Lithuania. He rented a flat in a wooden house just 100 meters from the border with the USSR. At 3:40 in the morning, 20 Soviet soldiers crossed the border and attacked that house where Barauskas was sleeping with his wife and children. This attack was carried out before the time limit of the USSR’s ultimatum demanding allowance for the mass entrance of the USSR’s troops ran out. The Soviet soldiers hit Barauskas’ head with a sword, and afterwards shot him. After that action, the Soviet soldiers went back to the USSR, just to return after several hours, together with a mass invasion of Soviet troops. Barauskas died when his colleagues were transporting him to a hospital. His daughter, Ona Marija Brasiuniene, took part in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of her father’s murder in Uta. On June 15, 1940, her father had no idea about the secret Stalin-Hitler deals and the Soviet ultimatum to Lithuania.
On Aug. 23, 1939, the USSR and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, with secret clauses assigning spheres of influence in Central Europe and the Baltic Sea area. Later in 1939, the city of Vilnius was occupied by the Red Army during the Soviet invasion into Poland and the Soviet-proposed Soviet-Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Pact transferred Vilnius and one-fifth of the Vilnius region to Lithuania in exchange for stationing 20,000 Soviet troops within Lithuania. In 1940, Stalin presented the ultimatum to Lithuania. The ultimatum demanded to form a new pro-Soviet government and admit an unspecified number of Soviet troops. Lithuania accepted the ultimatum, as effective military resistance was impossible with Soviet troops already within the country.
“President Antanas Smetona was in favor of armed resistance. He was supported by Defense Minister Kazys Musteikis, Education Minister Kazimieras Jokantas and National Audit Office Chief Konstantinas Sakenis. They were in the minority and the ultimatum was accepted,” Defense Minister Jukneviciene said about the last meeting of the Lithuanian government before the Soviet invasion, at the commemoration ceremony in the village of Uta. Smetona left Lithuania immediately after that meeting, in fear that he could be forced by the Soviets to justify the occupation. Smetona died in Cleveland, USA, on Dec. 9, 1944, during a fire caused by unknown reasons in a house where he lived.
On June 16, historians from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland presented their findings about the Soviet aggression against the Baltics. The majority of those facts are well known. However, some interesting findings still take place. For example, according to Polish historian Krzysztof Tarka, during WWII, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt had the intention to agree officially with the Soviet annexation of Finland and the Baltic states with one condition to Stalin: those citizens of Finland and the Baltics who do not want to live under the Soviet rule should have the right to leave the USSR. However, advisers in the White House convinced Roosevelt not to do this, and the U.S., as well as the rest of Western democracies (with the exception of Sweden and Finland) never recognized the Baltics as a legitimate part of the USSR. Tarka made his finding studying documents of the diplomatic service of the Polish government, which moved to work in London when the Nazis and the Soviets divided Poland among themselves.
On June 15, Lithuanians also demonstrated that they remember not only their own history’s wounds. On this significant day, officially called in Lithuania as Occupation and Genocide Day, a square in the Uzupis district of Vilnius was officially given the name of Tibet Square. The artsy community of Uzupis was pushing the Vilnius municipality to do this for a long time, but the Vilnius municipality tried to avoid it because of fear of China’s reaction. However, the Uzupis’ bohemians were so persistent that the municipality surrendered and Vilnius Vice Mayor Gintautas Babravicius took part in the opening ceremony, enriched with various rituals of Tibetan Buddhism.
On June 15, the Lithuanian parliament, using the symbolism of the date, on the initiative of Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene, MP of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, made amendments in the Criminal Code stipulating criminal penalties for those publicly justifying, denying or playing down international crimes, as well as crimes committed by the USSR and the Nazis against Lithuania.
A total of 68 MPs supported the amendments to the Criminal Code. Five lawmakers voted against the bill while 32 abstained. In line with the amendments, those justifying or denying the aggression by the USSR and Nazi Germany against Lithuania, as well as cases of genocide of the Lithuanian people, and “grave crimes committed in 1990-1991 against Lithuania and its people” will face criminal prosecution. Those violating the law will face a fine or a prison term of up to two years only in case they justify, deny or play down the crimes “in an insulting way” or if such actions “result in the violation of public order.”
Algirdas Brazauskas, 77, died at home Saturday after suffering from prostate cancer.
Brazauskas became the Baltic republic’s president after it regained independence following five decades of Soviet occupation.
He had formerly been a leader of the Lithuanian Communist Party, but gained popularity by challenging the Kremlin with demands for more political and economic freedom in late 1980s.
Brazauskas is survived by his wife, Kristina, and two daughters