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It was a time for heroes – speech in Vilnius on the restoration of Lithuanian independence

Mr Chairman, yours Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

When looking back at the time of March 1991 there is one thing that strikes me. It seems so close and still so distant. Close because 15 years are after all not very much when talking about the development of a society. Distant because it was another time and another world that we remember.

I appreciate very much that this conference is dedicated to the late Lithuanian honorary counsel in Iceland, Jörundur Hilmarson, not only because of his important contributions to the recognition of the restored independence of Lithuania but also because it underlines that history is formed by individuals, their courage and their ability to look beyond the limits of the present.

It was a time for heroes. It was a time for visions and courage. It was a time for the belief in the unbelievable. And you had it all.

You defeated the dictatorship by peaceful and democratically means. And so you changed the history of Lithuania as well as the modern European history.

Never have we seen an empire like the Soviet one fall down so fast, because of the lack of legitimacy on the one hand and the moral right, the courage, decisiveness and, I would like to say, stubbornness on the other.

Personalities like Vytautas Landsbergis, Bronius Kuzmickas, Gediminas Vagnorius and you, Emanuelis Zingeris, made a difference for the future of your nation.

In Sweden Arkadijus Vinokuras for a long time played a significant role bridging the Lithuanian society to those of us who wanted to get in touch in order to support, at the same time being a partner for the Lithuanian independence movement and all its representatives coming to Sweden.

The biblical myth about David and Goliath took in the modern time of ours place here in Vilnius 1991. It was a demonstration of the strength of values and ideas as well as of single individuals standing up against an over mighty power.

What happened here in Vilnius during the cold nights in January 1991as well as the 11th of March and further on, gave way for the peaceful breaking up of Soviet Union and the final break down of socialist tyranny in Europe. The fact that one or the worlds then superpowers couldn’t defeat a small nation eroded the dictatorship’s self assurance and its own base of credibility.

The new Europe was formed here in Vilnius, at the streets outside the parliament and inside. Not by a decision but by courage, decisiveness and, as I said, stubbornness. We owe you all for that.

It was never a development that was given by it self. In order to understand, and to learn from, what gave the way for the peaceful transformation it is important to remember that not everyone supported it. Neither in the democracies of the West nor in the closed and suppressed societies in the East.

There were always a number of people who argued for the impossibility of another future and a different world. And there where those who preached the ideological and moral supremacy of socialism, in Sweden, West Germany and Great Britain as well as in Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn and Moscow.

And there where those who either excused the brutality and the suppression, because of its so believed noble visions or the difficult challenges the regimes were facing, or said that we had to live with common security between democracies and dictatorships, not questioning the oppression of freedom.

In the West of that time there where those – as the Swedish minister of Foreign Affairs – who denied even the fact that Lithuania together with Estonia and Latvia was an occupied country, and those- like the Swedish prime minister – who claimed that socialism anyway, in spite of it’s democratic shortcomings was an efficient economical system, just as good to deliver welfare and prosperity as any capitalistic country.

And there were those – like the Swedish deputy foreign minister – who argued that the Baltic people didn’t want sovereignty and political independence, just more of cultural identity and that there, due to the Helsinki Agreement and international law, were no place and no opportunity to ask for anything more.

And there were those who never talked about Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia as countries with their own identity but always abut of The Baltic region as a part of Soviet Union, or preferred the Soviet expression the Baltic states, as their natural identity was to be states of the union. They were wrong.

And after the fall of the Soviet Union there were always those, in the old East and in the Old West, who claimed that there should be no big changes in the economical system because it was important to build the new society upon the social progress of socialism. They advocated the concept of socialism with a human face as they had never looked in to the eyes of socialism.

And still today the people of Belarus and Ukraine are suffering of their advice. And in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia we have the leading growth economies of Europe, because you didn’t listen to those advices, you reformed.

If we are to learn from your history it should be a European responsibility to actively support the democracy in Ukraine and to stand up against the dictatorship of Belarus. The European ignorance of today must be replaced by a strong commitment for the Europeans that still live under the threats of the old regimes, with ideas from another time and another world.

You and your country certainly do what you should do but it is a challenge to us all, to stand up for the sake of democracy in those countries, to extend to them the invitation to take part in the new and modern Europe. Thanks to you we can learn one thing from the modern history of Europe, ideas and courage do matter what ever the defenders of status quo say.
When they sad the Baltic countries not were occupied they were wrong.

When they claimed planned economy to be just as efficient to deliver welfare and prosperity they were wrong.

When they told people that it was not possible due to international law to ask for the independence for Lithuania they were wrong.

When they argued that the calls for independence only were about cultural identity they were wrong.

When communists of all sorts claimed there was a moral or legal legitimacy of the occupation they were wrong.

When they advocated the moral idea of socialism they were so wrong.

My friends, we are living in a free and open Europe thanks not only to the fact that they were wrong and we were right. It is thanks to the fact that we won and better than that, they lost! Let this also be the case for the forces of dictatorship and socialism in Ukraine and Belarus. They are wrong and they shall loose!

Parallel in time with the steps to democracy and independence in Lithuania took speed I and some friends of mine –Peeter Luksep, Andres Küng and Håkan Holmberg – started the Monday movement in Sweden in support of Baltic independence, on the Monday after the last Monday meeting in German Leipzig.

We wanted to oppose all those who excused the occupation and neglected the existence of our Baltic neighbours with the help of the myths and the wrongs I just mentioned. Our aims were five.

• We wanted to make clear to you that the courageous and decisive peoples of your country, as well as of Estonia and Latvia were not alone.

• We wanted to make clear to Soviet Union that you were not alone.

• We wanted to highlight the identity of our brother nations so as to get people to understand that this was not a grey mass of people in the Soviet Union.

• We wanted to establish a platform for defending the cause of Baltic independence and to make it a regular opportunity for Baltic politicians, intellectuals, artists, school classes, choirs to voice their belief in independence and a future in Europe.

• We wanted to present the identity, the culture and the people of three different countries, to make clear to each and everyone that our neighbours on the other side of the Baltic Sea were three different nations with their national heritage rooted in the ideas of Europe, that they had the same moral and legal right to independence and freedom as any other nation.

We wanted to present this to the Swedish people and to Swedish politicians in order to dismantle the political myths that were used against the Baltic peoples and we wanted international media to see and recognize that now was it freedom in the air, nations to be reborn and a new Europe to come.

And we succeeded. After three months the official Swedish policy shifted from negligence to support. Sweden started to act, step by step, as our three neighbouring countries were states to have bilateral contacts with, that they with legitimate aims to be independent, recognized and partners with other Nordic countries. Quite soon after that we had formal representations, new links of communications and new flows of information, culture and trade.

It is worth to note and it is important to remember that the support for the independence of the Baltic nations emerged from political ideas and from the people in the Nordic countries more than from diplomacy and initiatives inside the Foreign Affairs departments. It changed the policies of our countries. The crucial change came because you stood firm and earned respect and admiration as great democrats and Europeans, neighbours to care for and to support.

I´m so proud to have met so many of those who did it, I feel honoured to be a friend of personalities that risked their lives for a free and peaceful Europe. We do all owe you a lot and if we contributed only a little when you created democracy we are happy that we had the privilege to stand close when history changed.

My dear friends, they were wrong and we were right. And to the benefit of Europe we won and they lost. That’s how our Europe of freedom and peace came to be!