Here we publish a piece written by one of our friends from Lithuanian.
We live in times where information, as well as disinformation, can be found with a click of a finger. People of the world who live further away from the former Soviet Union may have a different view of the war that has been going on in Europe for the last 9 months. I am Lithuanian and I speak as a former citizen of the former Soviet Republic of Lithuania. I enjoy every bit of our independence - the freedom of speech, the free market, the open European borders... Freedom to be Lithuanian and to speak our own language, celebrate our holidays and choose our own religions was not possible up until only 31 years ago. This is why I would like to talk about the way we see Russian aggression these days.
People are prone to romanticize history. Women waiting for men to come home from the front lines. The bravery of those men and the sacrifices they make for each other while at war. Hundreds of love letters filled with hope, love and longing for home.
Since WW2, Europeans have strived to build lasting peace upon their continent. I live in the safety of my home - cold and hot water from my tap, heating, food and snacks, and so do my family and friends, who are all protected from harm. But there is fear and pain somewhere in the back of our heads, telling us that our future is being defined with every passing battle in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, I have to talk about the very non-romantic side of history, which we can now see repeating itself, even after saying ‘never again’ countless times.
A year before I was born, Lithuania suffered one of the coldest and most horrible nights in the history of our independence.
January 13th 1991 Russian tanks entered Lithuania, and the news spread that the Soviets were coming after our TV tower, radio station and parliament building. Thousands of unarmed citizens from across Lithuania gathered around these buildings to protect them with their bodies. People stood there through terror and cold, sang our traditional songs, shared tea and sandwiches. Although it was minus 20 degrees celsius, nobody even dared to think about leaving. 14 unarmed citizens were killed by the Soviets and hundreds were wounded. Soviet soldiers ran over civilians with their tanks, shot them with rubber bullets and beat them with their gunstocks. People stood their ground and our independence was recognized internationally. This night showed the world that we are not a part of the so-called “Russian World”. We are a separate nation with hope for better, suffering-free life where we can choose our friends and allies on our own.
Family history was kept secret between relatives until 1991. Then, stories surfaced. The uncle who never came home was kidnapped by the KGB, Grandpa’s brother DID die in the woods, but by blowing himself up when Soviets came into his bunker. Your maternal grandparents who hadn’t come back after emigrating, in truth were deported to labour camps and the cold prisons in Siberia. This led us to witness first-hand what Soviet imperialism actually feels like.
We still have pretty good knowledge of Russian culture - many of our citizens know the Russian language, Russian culture and the Russian media narrative. We have no dreams to “rejoin” the next great Soviet Union one day, and when we were trying to warn the Western world about Russian imperialism, we were called paranoid.
We have already seen how history was rewritten in a matter of minutes by our neighbours. One example would be the bloody night of January 13th. We still sometimes hear sentences such as “their own people were shooting at their own people”. Though we had many eye-witnesses to confirm that this could not possibly be true.
Previously occupied nations across Europe with their unique history and culture became brotherly nations in the eyes of Russians while nobody really asked if these nations felt that way, but this narrative is being repeated in their media and history books to this very day.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union we have been cautious about our neighbours. We did not hear any apology, or received reparations, nor did we hear the right side of history coming from their lips. To this day, in their history books we are a brotherly nation, wishing to join the next great Russian empire one day. Facts, such as many of us being able to speak Russian, or Russian minorities living within our borders, serve as excellent pretext to justify this theory.
This narrative helped the invasion of other countries in the past few decades - in 2008, peaceful Georgian cities were shelled and a part of their independent territory annexed. We could only watch and shake hands with their politicians.
In 2014 Russia occupied Crimea and started an unending war in the Donbas and Luhansk territories. Our president at the time called Russia a terrorist state and tweeted that:
Many Western politicians thought that this was too far-fetched and too harsh.
We tried to scream that shellings in Syria and explosions in Chechnya show one of the real faces of Russia. We call ourselves russorealists though we are called russophobes by the West.
Let’s not forget that people of Russian culture were oppressed by the regimes as well - Dostoyevsky was nearly shot by the police because he spoke against the tsarist regime. Trotsky, as we all know, had to flee and eventually was killed in exile because he opposed stalinism.
And what we see nowadays repeats the aforementioned patterns: hate and disrespect towards other smaller nations, those opposed to the established regime, and an imperialist dream of Russia stretching from Vladivostok to Lisbon. We listen to such suggestions on their media in fear, while the West thinks it’s merely a delusional joke. But we see how real it is.
We have seen several media reports of climate activists throwing food at classical art paintings, some of them protesting Britain’s increased coal production to keep their people warm in winter. However, Russian missiles are emitting more greenhouse gasses in a minute than I could in my lifetime. Tens of thousands of dolphins killed in the Black sea, mined agricultural fields to propel the world food crisis, especially in poorer nations which are dependent on Ukrainian and Russian crops. Nuclear threats, shelling close to nuclear plants or mining their cooling equipment have become daily news. Buying more gas from Russia to reduce coal production does not seem like a rational choice for saving the planet.
We can look at this war as a matter of international law, since the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteed Ukraine its territorial integrity as they agreed to forfeit its nuclear weapons. The memorandum was signed by the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Ukraine gave up its weapons but did not gain protection. We know that law is only as good as those who honour it.
When the war started, everyone I know stayed on their phones and could not concentrate for at least two weeks. We were, and we still are, feeling their pain - the pain of the Ukrainian people. Our histories tell of similar oppression.. Our families have been through so much injustice of the same sort, that we are not able to look away.
Within the first two weeks of russia’s war in Ukraine, Lithuanians raised over 17 million euros for the organization Blue and Yellow, which has been supporting Ukrainian forces since 2014. Organizations such as “Strong together” created a platform for citizens where they could register and offer accommodation for incoming refugees. 10 000 places for temporary or sometimes even permanent stay have been offered by private individuals. More than 5000 rides from the border to other Lithuanian cities were provided by volunteers. Endless protests, art performances, commemoration events were held by activists.
To mention a few:
An Olympic champion Rūta Meilutytė swam across a lake dyed red, next to the embassy of the Russian Federation. It was called How To Swim Through Pain. As mentioned before, the pain we feel is shared - the news brings us back to our own occupation and makes us aware of how little has changed on the other side of our neighbouring borders.
Every weekend local volunteers give away donated food packages to refugees. We all have a burning need to put in any effort we can to help, and attempt to make a difference.
We - Laimingas žmogus - as an organization were seeking for meaning and togetherness in these difficult times. That is why we organized a symbolic funeral for dead Ukrainian heroes, where Ukrainians sang their folk songs and recited poetry. The Eulogy from this symbolic funeral is available online to any community which would like to honor the deceased in a way that is meaningful to them. So far the funeral for Ukrainian heroes was held in 3 different cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, Molėtai).
Every Ukrainian life lost had meaning, had purpose. Everyone killed by Russian forces was a brother or sister of ours, keeping the enemy away from our safe homes… at least, for the time being…
A few months after the war started, Lithuanian journalist Andrius Tapinas started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a Turkish killer drone Bayraktar which would later be given to Ukrainian Armed Forces. Over 5 million euros were collected in less than 4 days with donations coming from all over the world.
The main moral question we ask ourselves in the midsts of this war is whether it's right to provide guns to a nation which is trying to defend itself, its values and, we should add, is also protecting all of us, who reside within territories formerly occupied by Soviet Union and which are at risk of being occupied anew.
The world would be a better place if every conflict were moral, and if there were peaceful resolutions to everything. Unfortunately, armed conflicts always stem from the failure of all moral and peaceful means - either by the inability of some to implement those, or the unwillingness of others to honour such values. The only cause for this conflict, is greed on behalf of Russia for more land - endless greed, that would only want more if any land were to be given. And therefore, the only way to prevent the avail of such greed, is to fight back.
Sometimes we want to look away from human nature - facts that hatred exists, that evil people are real, and that they cannot be changed through goodwill.
That is why we are admiring Ukraine right now. They are fighting for our freedom to speak the truth and keep our culture. Despite thousands of people killed, tortured, their livelihoods destroyed, we hear of love messages and altruistic acts everyday. The bravery of people fighting in Ukraine seem only like a sliver of hope we can rely on through these dark times. Every picture we see from Ukraine does not look like something we could romanticize later in the future.
Thousands of people killed, tortured, raped, their livelihoods destroyed. People left with no heating or water in winter. Every picture we see from Ukraine does not look like something we could romanticize later in the future. Love messages, altruistic acts, the bravery of people fighting in Ukraine seem only like a sliver of hope we can rely on through these dark times.
I truly believe that the biggest achievement anyone can have in life is to stay a kind human being. Our stories can be difficult and complicated, we may see poverty, lies, corruption and evil and we still choose to stay kind. Everyone, who chooses to do right instead of evil is making a difference.
No significantly smaller country could defend itself from a powerful tyrant alone. This is why Ukraine needs us right now: one day it might be any of us needing help. Holiday gifts could be ordered from Ukrainian businesses or the money we have set aside for them donated to foundations helping Ukraine. The list of trust-worthy organizations can be found below.
This Holiday I will visit my family members - safe and alive - in their warm homes with food on the table. I know that we will speak of war and tell each other how terrible it is and how lucky we are, so far. I wish no one would be deprived of this luxury, because the dictator next door thought it more entertaining to slaughter innocents, than to tackle his own necessitous subjects' pressing issues.
I hope you will have a happy holiday this year. I wish everyone could be this fortunate. And I hope you will do the right thing.
Written by Gytautė Gineitytė, celebrant at Lithuanian humanist organisation „Laimingas žmogus“ (eng. Happy Human)
For more information and comments: Urtė Žukauskaitė-Zabukė, director of „Laimingas žmogus“,