Lithuania was the first Soviet country to declare the restoration of its independence from the Union on March 11, 1990. In January 1991, or during the January Events, as it is popularly called in Lithuania, the collapsing Soviet Union gave its last push to re-occupy the former Soviet state. The Red Army was sent to capture strategic objects throughout the country. In the capital Vilnius, however, it faced a peacefully resisting crowd of Lithuanians, burning bonfires, singing national folk songs and blocking the way for the army. After a face-off with tanks and soldiers, and despite the 13 casualties and numbers of injuries on the night of the 12th, in what was considered a miracle by many, the resistance succeeded in peacefully defending the newly-restored state and preventing the Soviet army from re-taking the House of Parliament. Soon thereafter, the army receded, and the Lithuanian independence was defended.
Such a paradoxical victory poses many questions, especially regarding the motivation of such political activism in face of mortal danger and risk for outright slaughter. In response to that, this exhibition seeks to uncover the human experiential side of these events and explain both the world-view and imaginary that lead Lithuanians to such political action. In doing so, it approaches the notion of political identity and nationhood from an existential and phenomenological angle and asks: “what was it like and what did it mean to become a post-Soviet independent Lithuanian?”.
Photography: Juozas Kazlauskas
Curator: Arvydas Grišinas
Visiting Joseph P. Kazickas Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University