Monday, February 9, 2009

February 16 (Choices)

February 16, 1918 marks the day when people of Lithuania became organized enough to declare the Independence. The birth of the country was not easy: it was the aftermath of WWI, and the fighting was still going on - Bermondt troops, Reds, Poles, Lithuanians - so many groups that perhaps at times it was hard to figure out who was fighting whom. Add to this the low literacy rate due to the Czar's ban on the written Lithuanian language that expired in 1904 (ca. 50%, still good compared to the rest of the Imperial Russia).

So why the people wanted to make this choice - to have a country of their own? Especially since the alternative was clear and pushed by stronger and more populous countries - to become one country with Poland once more; or - less likely - to accept a "King" from Germany and in effect to become a vassal state. The third option was to become a Soviet state, as an artificial entity called LitBel attests.

So this leads us to the CHOICES that people make. Oscar Milosz has decided that he is a Lithuanian. My Samogitian countryman, Gabriel Narutowicz decided that he is a Pole and became the first President of Poland; his brother - Stanislaw Narutowicz - decided that he belongs to Lithuania and chose to become a signatory of the Act of Independence of Lithuania (1918). M.K. Čiurlionis - despite his spending most of his adult life in Poland made it clear that he is a Lithuanian. Equally interesting are the stories of Tadas Ivanauskas (I grew up with his books about nature) and Mykolas Römeris.

The Act of Independence perhaps was the light that helped people to overcome the WWII and post-WWII horrors and lead to the Act of Restoration of Independence on March 11, 1990 and the break-up of the Soviet Union. (A note aside, there is an almost 5 hour documentary by Jonas Mekas called "Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR")

Small things have big consequences - my hat off to those who know who they are and who strive to make the right choices. As somebody said - live as if this day is your last day - be gracious, do what is right and be not afraid ...

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