Actually, Lithuania has more than one birthday. Due to it’s difficult history people in this part of the world had to declare, defend and build their independence over and over again. However today we will talk about one special date – 16 February 1918.
Officially this day marks Restoration of the State of Lithuania. Why restoration? Because Lithuanian people draw their inspiration for the new modern independent state from historic Lithuania (1253-1795).
But let’s start from the beginning! Since the last Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania was part of Russian Empire for more than 100 years. Even though, during this time, both Lithuanian and Polish people tried to restore their independence many times, their first real opportunity arose when both Russia and Germany were weakened during the World War I.
On the 16 February 1918, the Council of Lithuania (elected in 1917 September) proclaimed the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania, governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. Sound majestic doesn’t it? You could think thousands of people were waiting for this in the streets of Vilnius and a mighty party lasted for a few days? Well reality was much simpler…First of all it was winter, so no parties in the streets. Secondly, most of the Lithuanians didn’t actually knew that any document was signed until much later. In the early morning on 16 February 20 men met in a simple room and signed a piece of paper with a declaration, later known as the Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania. However, the publication of the Act was prohibited by the German army authorities present in Lithuania at the time. So the text was distributed and printed illegally. The situation changed only when Germany lost World War I in the fall of 1918. Since then Lithuanian independence became reality.
Today, you can visit the house and the memorial room where this historical event happened: it is in Pilies st. No. 26. In 1918 it was not some official government building, but a house owned by a rich merchant, with a restaurant in the ground floor and rented apartments above it. So why the Council of Lithuania met there? Well, at the time of cold winter and the long war, this was almost the only house in Vilnius, which afforded to buy expensive fire-wood to heat it’s fireplaces. And it is well known fact, that you cannot sign important documents with freezing fingers!
However, what Lithuanians celebrate now is not one date but the entire century of the success story created by thousands of people – from farmers to sports heroes and politicians. The entire Lithuania and Lithuanians abroad will celebrate it in their own way – by continuing the old traditions and creating the new ones.
So what are those traditions? Here are couple of the things you might notice in Vilnius on the big day:
All day long public transport in Vilnius will be free, so it is a nice opportunity to travel outside of the city center. You can visit Rasų cemetery, where some of the members of Council of Lithuania and other famous Lithuanian people are burred.
Palace of Grand Dukes will also be free of charge. Do not miss educational programs and photo exhibitions dedicated for the occasion! More: http://www.valdovurumai.lt/en
12:00 p.m. The flag raising ceremony of the three Baltic States will be held in Simonas Daukantas Square in Vilnius. the President of the Republic of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė will address citizens and guests of Vilnius in the public speech.
12:30 p.m. All the bells in Lithuania will start ringing, thus inviting everyone to start the celebrations.
3:00 p.m. Everyone are invited to listen and sing together with folk groups of Vilnius in the park between Cathedral and National Museum under the installations „Šventaragio sodai“.
5:00 p.m. 100 symbolic bonfires will be lit along Gediminas Avenue in Vilnius (from Cathedral Square to Independence Square).
7:00 p.m. Celebratory concert “I Am Singing Lithuania” will be held in the Cathedral Square in Vilnius.
As well week “between the 9th and 18th February will take you 100 years back. You will be given possibility to experience Lithuanian capital Vilnius just as it was a century ago. It is planned that at least part of institutions will change their signs to those that were seen 100 years ago, restaurants are going to include dishes that were popular those times in their menus, they also plan to invite musicians who will perform live playing pianos or fortepianos. All around the city you will find plenty of features that will take you back in time.” promises Karolis Žukauskas, advisor to the mayor of Vilnius City Municipality.
But that is not all: 75 various cultural events will mark the date around the world. For example the Los Angeles International Airport in the US will light up in the colors of the Lithuanian flag to mark the occasion.
We will remember the Centennial through out the entire year as well. The Song Festival that will happen on 30 June – 6 July will bring together 20 000 Lithuanians and guests from around the world. There will be a breath-taking and uniquely massive choir performance on the closing day culminating in a joint signing of the National Anthem by the Lithuanians all around the world.
So join our country in the celebrations of independence, democracy and freedom!
More on the events and special programs check: http://www.lietuva.lt/100/en