On January 13, 1991, Soviet troops attempted to seize the Lithuanian parliament building and the television tower in Vilnius. This last attempt to impose Soviet power was the culmination of 10 months of pressure on Lithuania to rescind its March 11, 1990 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. Thousands of people poured into the streets to stand against Soviet tanks. Fourteen people were killed and approximately 600 people were injured before the Soviet forces pulled back.
When I arrived in Lithuania in the summer of 1992, barricades still stood in front of the Parliament building. Former Soviet troops, now under control of Russia, still remained on Lithuanian territory. And everyone had a story to tell me about January 13. A woman who was a translator for Parliament described staying up all night to translate information into English to send to international media outlets. A young man told me that he and his friends tried to find weapons before making their way to the t.v. tower. They knew how to use them, he explained, because they’d already done the mandatory military service in the Soviet army. Just last year, I met a man who had been an engineer at the television tower and was one of the people who locked themselves in the broadcast room and kept broadcasting when tanks surrounded the tower.
Most people think of the Baltic independence movements as non-violent — the “singing revolutions” — and they were. But it is important not to forget that violence was still used against them. I highly recommend the film “Baltic Requiem” by Latvian filmmaker Juris Podnieks. Podnieks’ crew happened to be in Vilnius on January 13 and captured the events on film. They returned to Riga and two of Podnieks’ cameramen were killed while filming a similar attack on the Latvian parliament the following week. It is a powerful film, but is unfortunately difficult to find.