Staunton, January 13 – Twenty-four years ago today, Soviet forces shot and killed 13 Lithuanians in Vilnius as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s failed effort to block that Baltic republic from recovering its independence. Today, Russian forces are shooting and killing Ukrainians in what is fated to be an equally failed effort to prevent Ukraine from joining Europe.
Twenty-four years ago, people around the world reacted with horror at what the Soviets had done, but the response of Western governments was muted because of what some of them thought was the overarching need to keep the Soviets in line behind the international coalition to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
Today, people around the world are horrified by what Vladimir Putin is doing in Ukraine, but again the response of Western governments has again been limited, with each imposition of sanctions being accompanied by statements that the West wants to lift them if only Moscow will change course, statements that Moscow reads as an indication that the West will back down.
Twenty-four years ago, Lithuanians were advised by their Western friends to cool it, to back off and negotiate with the man who had ordered the killings. Today, Ukrainians are advised by many of the same Western friends to negotiate with the man who has ordered the invasion and to focus on economic reform rather than repelling that invasion.
Twenty-four years ago, Lithuanians stood tall and refused to be intimidated. When the Soviets fired into the crowd at the Vilnius television tower, they did not flinch but instead began singing the old Lithuanian hymn “We shall be brothers again in heaven.” And they and their leader Vytautas Landsbergis committed themselves to the fight, however unequal it appeared.
Today, Ukrainians are fighting for the rights as a nation, facing an aggressor who is if anything even more vicious than the Soviet regime of Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite the Russian invasion – a term many in the West still won’t use – they remain committed to recovering their lands and realizing their choice to be a European and not Eurasian country.
In both cases, Lithuania in1991 and Ukraine now, the peoples in these countries knew that they had the support of good people everywhere. But in both cases, they knew that ultimately to win, they had to rely on themselves because all too often the governments of other countries will find reasons not to stand up to Moscow regardless of what it does.
Truly then, Ukraine is the Vilnius of today, and when Lithuanians and their supporters follow the request of President Dalia Gybauskaite to light candles in memory of those who died resisting Soviet aggression 24 years ago, the entire world should join her in lighting candles in support of those who are resisting Russian aggression now.