Spanish Articles about Lithuania and the Complicated Path to Freedom

Gabrielė Gedo

“The rebel Lithuania,” a December 1989 El mundo article begins. Although most people can point to the early 1990s as the era when the Soviet Union fell, we sometimes forget about the internal changes that once made international news. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lithuania made strides towards independence while newspapers across the world discussed these historic, unprecedented moves. This phenomenon makes it exciting and fascinating to read an article like this one from late 1989 Spain. The main headline reads “Baltics challenge the Kremlin,” and the article describes how the Lithuanian parliament voted in favor of abolishing an article of the Constitution that guaranteed the political monopoly of the Communist Party and thus instituting a multi-party system. As the article states, “It was well known that this decision would unleash the ire of the Kremlin, which is opposed to a multi-party system. It [the decision] could also provoke similar challenges in the other republics and incentivize the members of parliament who want to undo this article of the Soviet Constitution.”

This change was symbolically important, but it also paved the way for the independence-seeking organization Sąjūdis to take control of the Lithuanian government. The article points out, “In March, the Sąjūdis candidates gained the majority of Lithuania’s seats in Moscow’s parliament.” While this is not as dramatic or definitive a step as declaring independence, this move was important in establishing autonomy. Over the next few years, the world would watch and comment on Lithuania’s next moves, and it is easy to boil these events down to the reestablishment of independence. But, as this Spanish article illustrates, the intermediate steps that we overlook are just as fascinating and groundbreaking as the achievement of the ultimate goal.

“The Only Way,” reads a headline in a May 1990 issue of Spain’s El país newspaper. The article goes on to describe how the Baltic states were working towards independence. It provides some historical background, explaining that all three countries were incorporated into the Soviet Union through the “a particularly odious act, the [1939] secret protocol between Hitler and Stalin.” The article then analyzes the steps each country was taking in order to gain independence.

As someone who learned about Lithuanian independence as either something worth a brief mention (American school) or one of the most important events in a country’s history (Lithuanian school), I found this article extremely interesting. It brings a new perspective to this narrative by looking at the move critically and questioning its strategic value. I was surprised and intrigued that the authors found the declaration of independence to be “the most radical path” chosen by the Baltic countries in 1990 “by proclaiming unilateral independence, hoping that western countries would recognize the new Lithuanian state and that this would obligate Moscow to accept the fait accompli.”

To me, the most interesting part of the article is the following paragraph: “The cautious reaction of the European and U.S. governments to the Lithuanian case can be explained by two fundamental reasons: the desire to avoid the propagation of nationalism, which could cause grave problems in Europe, at a stage where it is essential to establish a new security system. And, on the other hand, the desire not to push Gorbachev to a breaking point, keeping in mind the fact that the Soviet Parliament recently adopted a law that allows republics of the USSR to separate [from the Soviet Republic] if they so desire. So there exists a legal avenue by which to advance towards independence. To wish to impose it while ignoring the relationship forged over 40 years of integration into the USSR, as Landsbergis is attempting to do, does not appear reasonable.” It is fascinating to read a contemporaneous Western European perspective on these events. While the article does not seem to grasp how fundamentally important independence is to the Lithuanian nation, it does serve as an important reminder that the road to full independence is not as simple as just declaring the re-establishment of the Lithuanian state. This article is valuable in that it clearly shows how complicated the Lithuanian situation was in 1990 and why the international community had to react carefully and strategically. In retrospect, declaring independence was neither too radical, nor impractical, but I can recognize how complicated the entanglement of the Lithuanian state and the USSR must have been and how much work was left to forge new alliances in Europe. Without a doubt, the results have shown that the Lithuanian efforts in the 1990s were worthwhile, and this article serves as a good reminder of the struggle that went into creating today’s Lithuania, even beyond the most famous events of 1990 and 1991.