February 16, 2011

Independence Day – Lithuania

A nation has a lot of choices of when to celebrate its “birthday” or its independence. For example, the United States celebrates its independence on July 4, the date in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. Americans could celebrate on the date that the Congress voted to declare independence (July 2), the date the declaration was signed (probably August 2), the date that, years later, the British army surrendered in Yorktown (October 19), or the date almost a year later that the Treaty of Paris formally ended the Revolutionary War (September 3). I'm pretty sure we could invent a rationale to celebrate independence on some other dates as well.

Lithuania has even more choices for when to celebrate its establishment as an independent nation. A medieval version of the country was established waaaay back in the twelfth century (1100s), and the Kingdom of Lithuania was united under Mindaugas in the 1230s. Eventually the nation was called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This government was dissolved when Lithuania became part of a Polish-Lithuanian union, and the Russian Empire annexed Lithuania in 1795. Lithuanians rebelled against Russia in November of 1830 and again in January of 1863, but it wasn't until Russia was weakened by World War I, in the early twentieth century (1900s), that Lithuania was able to successfully pull away and re-establish its independence.

On September 18, 1917, a conference of Lithuanians adopted a resolution to establish its independence. On September 21, 1917, a Council of Lithuania was elected to “codify” the decision—to write out a formal declaration of independence, I guess. December 11, 1917, a first draft was passed. On January 8, 1918, a second draft was approved, and on February 16 the third and final draft was passed.

Later in the twentieth century, in 1940, the Soviet Union took over Lithuania, and again Lithuanians had to wait for the power that ruled them to weaken. Lithuania was the first country to break off from the Soviet Union in 1990, formally re-establishing independence on March 11, 1990.

One would think that perhaps this latest independence date, March 11, would be celebrated today, but Lithuanians then and now argue that the February 16, 1918, Act establishing Lithuania as an independent nation never lost its legal status. Both dates are acknowledged with receptions and observances, but it is February 16 that is the official holiday.

Browse a photo gallery of Lithuania. 

I learned a lot about Lithuania from this video.  Of course, it's very much a video cheering on only the good stuff—a rah, rah propaganda video—but well done and interesting.

For more about Lithuania's fight for independence, check out this earlier post. 

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