Whait, again? How many independence days Lithuania has? Wasn’t it on February 16th? We asked our tour guides to explain it all and offer some things to do in Vilnius on this particular day!
Why does Lithuania have two independence days?
To understand the significance of this day we need to explain how we lost our independence in the first place. It all started back in August 1939 when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the secret Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact dividing Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. The Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) were assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence and subsequently were occupied in June 1940. After the Second World War Lithuanians tried to resist this new regime and reinstate independence by initiating guerrilla warfare. However, those attempts were unsuccessful and the leadership of the partisans was destroyed in 1953, thus effectively ending the underground partisan war. Since then nonviolent resistance continued - secret, illegal movements which focused more on social issues, human rights, cultural affairs rather than political demands.
The turning point in this story came as Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union. While attempting to revive the economy of the state, he introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). For the Lithuanian dissidents and activists, this was a golden opportunity not to be missed! Finally, there was a chance to bring their movements from underground into public life. The first unsanctioned Anti-Soviet rally to condemn the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was organized in 1987. A year later intellectuals formed an initiative group of the Lithuanian Reform Movement ( in Lithuania known as Sąjūdis) to mobilize support for democratic change and ultimately - Lithuanian independence. After numerous demonstrations and protests (better known as the Singing revolution), the first democratic election since the Second World War was finally held on 24th February 1990. To no one's surprise, Lithuanian Reform Movement candidates won an overwhelming majority (107 out of 133 seats). The first post-war non-communist government did not waste much time. During their first assembly on March 11, 1990, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania adopted an Act on the Restoration of the Independent State of Lithuania.
Of course, this was only the beginning. The Soviet Union did not want to recognize our independence right away. They initiated an economic blockade and later tried to stop us with armed forces! But that did not scare Lithuanians. And after months of uncertainty, Lithuania was finally welcomed as a member of the United Nations in 1991!
Since then we have never stopped re-building our country in democratic values. We became members of NATO on 29 March 2004, and later that year joined the EU as well. And 8 years ago we introduced the Euro as our currency. Of course, we had some ups and downs exercising our democratic rights and responsibilities. And we certainly still have a lot of things to achieve. But as the yellow strip on our national flag reminds us every day - the sun and better times are ahead of us.
So come and celebrate freedom with everyone in Lithuania! There’s going to be quite a few free concerts around town.
Vilnius people celebrating Lithuanian Independence day
Things to do in Vilnius on the independence day! 2023 edition
At 11 AM you can join our Vilnius free walking tour and ask our Tadas what he remembers from the 1990s'!
After the tour, go to St. John church in Vilnius University, where various student music collectives will perform classical and traditional music pieces. The concert starts at 3PM and is free or charge.
If you are interested to see where the Independence Act was signed and all the most important decisions of the last 33 years were made, visit the palace of Seimas (Gedimino av. 53). Open door day will last from 1PM to 5PM. The palace is rarely open to the public, so we highly recommend visiting it!
But keep some energy for the evening. At 9PM Etmonų Špunka will host the dance party like no other. The most upbeat Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Jewish folk songs will get you off that seat. All the proceedings from the tickets will be donated to Ukraine. For more info check Etmonų Špunka Facebook page.
How about some official ceremonies?
At 12.30 PM The Guard of Honor of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and the Lithuanian Armed Forces Band will march along Gedimino Avenue from Nepriklausomybės Square to Katedros Square.
If concerts or official ceremonies are not for you, then use the opportunity to see other neighborhoods in Vilnius. The entire day Vilnius public transport is free of charge!
Hopefully this blog helped you to understand more about Lithuanian history and gave you ideas how to celebrate it!