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The Event that Pushed the Soviet Union into Collapse

That time where the Soviet’s occupation process went wrong…

Every country on this earth has a date that is glorified by its citizens. It usually defines the nation’s character and exemplifies its nature. For Lithuanian’s that date is January 13, 1991. After midnight, the tanks of the Soviet Union rolled in towards the TV tower. 

Soldiers with AK-47’s flooded the streets and threatened unarmed citizens. Yet, the lack of firepower did not extinguish the fire that Lithuanians had in their hearts to protect their nation. Thousands of residents gathered and circled the strategic buildings in the capital, Vilnius. Why all of this happened in the first place? How did they defeat the ruthless Soviet Union army? This story is a magnificent illustration of the power of unity.

Causes of the intervention

First and foremost, a little historical background is needed to get the full picture. Lithuania was wiped off the world map for almost 50 years by a forceful Soviet annexation in 1941. 

The abusive regime was coming to an end in 1990–91, and Lithuania used their opportunity to secede from the communists. It was the first nation out of the 15 later formed to declare independence (on March 11, 1990) from the Soviet Union. The audacity and determination to be free was not taken lightly by the Gorbachev. 

The following events during that year show that something was brewing up.

Firstly, the Soviets used a classic 5th column tactic and tried to undermine Lithuanians by using the Lithuanian Communist Party, which during April 1990 took control of the buildings of Political Education and the Higher Party School. However, 

the further blow was much more harmful. The Soviet Union imposed an economic blockade that lasted until July. All oil supplies to Lithuania were cut off, gas supplies were reduced by 80%, fuel sales were restricted, and packages with already shipped goods and raw materials have been suspended. A total of 40–60 types of raw materials and products were discontinued. 

The inflation rate reached 100% and continued to increase rapidly.

The Soviet Union had a power position over Lithuania and the consequences of the blockade to the extent that in January the Supreme Council decided to increase prices. 

For the Red Army to annexe the nation, they needed a justification. It was done by a set-up propaganda campaign, tells the findings of the Humans Right Watch. It led the Russophone population to believe they were being discriminated. 

Soviet, Polish, and other workers at Vilnius factories started to protest the government’s consumer goods price hikes and what they saw as ethnic discrimination. It was enough of a reason for communists, and five days later, the most unfair stand-off began.

How was the victory achieved?

2 A.M. Armoured trucks and tanks surround the Radio and Television Committee building and the TV tower. Shots are fired towards the workers of the building, and soon, the TV tower is occupied. The words by the communists are shouted out through the speaker:

“Brother Lithuanians! The nationalist and separatist government, which confronted the people has been overthrown! Go [home] to your parents and children!”-Lithuanian Communist Party leader J. Jermalavičius

Around 100,000 people are gathered around the Supreme Council and TV tower, fearlessly opposing the Soviet Army. If the Red Army wanted to win this fight, they had to commit mass murder, as the people were not going to stop defending their homeland. Ironically, one of the critical events that helped to raise awareness about the on-going annexation was done with the help of a TV studio that came on air unexpectedly from the 2nd biggest city, Kaunas.

A technician of the studio was calling for someone to help to broadcast the current situation in as many languages as possible. He wanted the world to know about the Soviet army and tanks killing unarmed people in Lithuania.

 Within an hour, the studio linked up with professors and other volunteers that spoke different languages. While a threatening phone call from the Soviet army division of Kaunas was received, by 4 in the morning, a Swedish news station finally saw the broadcast and started to broadcast the news to the world.

This was the recognition that Lithuanians needed.

 Countries, such as Poland and Latvia, organised solidarity protests the next day to condemn the actions of the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, the resistance by Lithuanians and international pressure is what pushed the Soviet Union to compromise and make an agreement with the Lithuanian Supreme Council.

How did it push Soviets into collapse?

Although it may seem like a small event, this event exposed a lot about the USSR and showed just how strong unity is. More importantly, it showed just how vulnerable was the expansionist empire. Losing its puppet states in Eastern Europe lead them to make decisions such as this one. An attempt to regain one of the nations that declared independence from USSR legally, Lithuania,

 was a sign of desperation and just how debilitating everything was in the communist regime. This gave other countries that were illegally annexed encouragement to seek freedom, and, ultimately, this sent the Soviet Union to collapse.

Most importantly, the event showed the strength of unity and bravery by Lithuanians. Fourteen victims, 700 wounded- all of them are smiling to see their homeland free. If it was not clear enough, it led to the overwhelming victory of independence supporters in a referendum of independence on February 9, 1991. 90.47% of them voted in favour of the full and total independence of Lithuania. 

Once again, events like these show, no matter the power of an army, no matter the influence, people’s voice will not be silenced.

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