Tomas Jermalavicius, ICDS
On that night 20 years ago, I was just thirteen.
One tends to forget many things rather easily from such a tender age. But certain things – good, bad, or just trivial – get ingrained deeply in memory for the rest of your life.
And that night was one of those memorable things. It certainly was not trivial. Not good either.
It was fundamentally bad. Full of terror, disbelief, anxiety. But it was also filled with hope and resolve. It was a display of extraordinary resilience.
No, I was not among those thousands of heroes of all ages and backgrounds flocking to the Parliament square in Vilnius ready to face, with little more than bare hands, a brutal and deadly onslaught of Soviet tanks, paratroopers and KGB elite units.
Neither was I among those at the TV tower or national TV and radio centre, trying to dodge the eccentric bullets, avoid being crushed under tracks of heavy armour or covering my head against being hit by guns wielded by empty-eyed zombies in uniforms.
I was not among the many maimed and wounded, physically and mentally, by the most dreaded military machine in the world unleashed against the people who wanted to be free.
I wasn’t among those many thousands who came to pay their last respects to the thirteen fallen men and a woman, who were there to defend my future and paid with their lives.
So I cannot derive any personal pride from what I did that night or shortly afterwards.
I am not a hero.
I lived through that night in the safety and comfort of my home in Kaunas, woken up by and listening to the whaling air defence sirens. They unequivocally declared that a nightmare was upon us. And they seemed to go on and on and on…
I was watching that poor terrified young woman in the TV studio, repeating over and again that they — the empty-eyed zombies — were coming, that she could already see them through the glass window in the studio, that she ’d be off the air very soon, but that Lithuania was still there, still alive and breathing.
Feeling totally surreal, like still deeply in my sleep and going through one of those weird dreams (is it really happening? Did they really dare to crawl out of their stinking holes and attack us?)
Then I found myself staring at the screen of the television set which suddenly went white (don’t they call it “white screen of death” in computer parlance these days?) and realising I am actually staring into the abyss, into which we are all about to disappear for another eternity of occupation.
But then, I was observing crowds of people in the street heading to the downtown to draw yet another line and challenge the crumbling empire to cross it.
Seeing people hurrying, because the barricades had to be built or reinforced. Because “they” would be soon here too, perhaps to repeat their bloody vaudeville. (They did come for a visit, but blood was spilt only in Riga a week later)
And, with a great relief, hearing the radio coming alive after some silent moments, with that slightly trembling but determined voice declaring to the country and the world from a tiny back-up studio next to my hometown that we still stand, even if some have fallen.
That they did not dare to pierce the heart of the country and drown the Parliament square in blood of thousands of innocent people.
The morning of unity, defiance, uncertainty and the truth spoken to the world dawned. The day of mourning and black ribbons arrived.
With hindsight, it is clear now. It was the tipping point.
Beyond it, we, the school kids, would go on a class trip to see the occupied Tower and would point our fingers through the fence to the alien soldiers. They were hyenas in the zoo cage. We were free.
Beyond it, criminal Gorby (the Louis Vuitton face of today. I wonder what kind of people should be buying that stuff. Silvio and his special friend Vova, perhaps?) and his gang of old cowardly Politburo farts would see their fortune run out very quickly.
Beyond it, the empire of lies and brutality would implode, because no one wanted to listen any more to the bunch of psychopaths with blood-tainted hands (who tried to strangle each others in August of that same year).
Even George Sr., Helmut and François would not roll out red carpets and kiss on the lips so eagerly anymore. The smoke of burning Kuwaiti oilfields eventually cleared away and revealed what they had failed to notice happening in one little corner of Europe.
I am no hero. But I remember.
Those who died or were crippled for life on that night, who manned the barricades or prepared to make the last stand within the walls of the Parliament – to make sure we had the hope for the future.
The audacious reporters – Lithuanian and foreign – who brought that night to the doorsteps and living rooms of the world.
The many brave people of Russia who were so outraged and who demanded, loud and clear, to stop and pull back the drugged zombies and their local puppets.
The cheeky Iceland who said and did what was the right thing to say and do.
As long as this memory remains, yet another criminal gang of KGB cronies with an empty-eyed macho man at the helm has no chance of staging a comeback.
Because we know, who they are, what they think and what they represent.
And we also know they will end up just like Gorby & Co had. In the dustbin of history and, with a measure of luck, on the Louis Vuitton billboards.
The night they played with fire and stirred the hornet’s nest