A Man of Direction

There comes a time in existence of every country, when in the face of danger and difficulty, the nation has to prove the world and, firstly, itself, its worth, distinctness and right to be independent. In circumstances like these, all of the cultural, social and political powers have to work as a whole to maintain what the people from one generation to another have created. Artists contribute to the common goal by awakening the nation through music, art and literature, politicians commit by serving their country and representing it abroad, everyday heroes try to improve the state of the nation in the boundaries of their own competence. Everyone contributes something to achieve the common good, but every movement of resistance must have a leader who would be the conjunctive link between all these forces. Someone who would find the right words of encouragement and comfort, who would be brave and able to take responsibility for the nation in its darkest moments. Today, I am proud to present one of the most influential leaders of Lithuania – Vytautas Landsbergis.

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Vytautas Landsbergis speaks to his followers in Vilnius in 2011 (Flickr: Saeima/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The 20th century was one of the most changing and challenging in Lithuania‘s history. The declaration of independence in 1918, the secret pact of Molotov-Ribbentrop, which led the Soviet Union to annex Lithuania in 1940, a year later the occupation by Nazi Germany, but it was the summer of 1944 from which began a new chapter in Lithuania‘s history. This was the start of more than 46 years of occupation as a part of the Soviet Union. The liberty of the Lithuanian nation became a distant dream as various economic, cultural, social and political sanctions had taken place. The censorship of press, limitation of human and civil rights, political persecution and sovietization became a reality. Born on October 18 in 1932, V. Landsbergis was a living witness of Soviet repressions. His parents were well-known architect Vytautas Landsbergis-Žiemkalnis and ophthalmologist Dr. Ona Jablonskytė-Landsbergienė, who received the title of Righteous Among the Nations for sheltering a Jewish teenager in 1944. Growing up in an intelligent, patriotic family and witnessing all the destructive actions of Soviet invaders turned the young man into a sensitive, conscious and social individual. V. Landsbergis had a creative soul, took interest in art, especially music, graduated and later received a degree of doctor habilitus from the Lithuanian Conservatory of Music. His diversity and knowledge made him an acclaimed artist, professor, historian of art, music and culture, with more than a hundred books covering various fields of his interest published, and, most importantly, one of the best known politicians in Lithuania.

V. Landsbergis’ political career began in 1988, at a time when the fight for the liberation of the Lithuanian nation was becoming more and more intense. Broad-minded and bright people like Landsbergis were priceless to Lithuanians. He was the kind of leader who could guide a nation on the path to freedom. Landsbergis entered politics as one of the founders of the Lithuanian pro-independence movement Sąjūdis (the Reform Movement of Lithuania) and soon became its chairman. At first, Sąjūdis focused on promoting national issues such as restoration of the Lithuanian language as the official language, revelation of truth about the Stalinist years, environmental protection and many others, but in February 1989, the Reform Movement publicly declared its one and only goal – to return to Lithuania the long anticipated status of independence. Sąjūdis embraced peaceful and democratic means of liberation and tributed to a so-called “Singing Revolution” which was spreading among the Baltic states. The Reform Movement organized nonviolent mass meetings and demonstrations to accomplish their intensions. The chairman of the movement, V. Landsbergis, was always in the center of action. In his frequent speeches, the politician stood out as an incredible orator. In one of his many orations dedicated to the matter of independence, V. Landsbergis pointed out:

“We will never realize, what we are capable of until we start to take action. Words will not solve our issues, only direct national activity will prove our will, strength and distinctive boarders of our capability.“

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The Lithuanian people demonstrate for independence in 1989 (Rimantas Lazdynas/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

These words reveal not only his own beliefs, but also his political methods. Landsbergis was capable of using his personal qualities – intelligence, creativity and historical context in which he grew up to find the suitable words of inspiration and encourage the nation to take responsibility for itself. His words and activity of the Reform Movement had definitely not gone to waste. In February 1990, Sąjūdis representatives won 101 seats out of 141 in the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR. Vytautas Landsbergis was once again elected the chairman. To Sąjūdis and the whole Lithuanian nation winning an absolute majority in the elections meant that the long-awaited dream of restoration of liberty was now only a moment away. On March 11 of the same year, after more than four decades of occupation, Lithuania finally became the first Soviet Republic to reclaim its independence.

After the restoration of liberty, new challenges rose for newly-born Lithuania. Many social, economic and political reforms had to be made to rebuild the country from many years of living under occupation. The newly elected government had to deal with issues such as economic recession, lack of international connections and attraction of foreign investments, to name a few. Regaining independence was only the first step towards being recognized in the international arena and being able to exist as a sovereign country. V. Landsbergis expressed the same view in one of his speeches:


“Independence exists, but it is constantly put to the test. There are many international and internal fronts, in which we have to take a position in order to maintain it.”


As a new country, Lithuania had to find ways to become an acknowledged member of the European continent to sustain its sovereignty and find allies to assure safety if the events of 1944 were to recur. For those reasons, in 2004 Lithuania became an acclaimed member of NATO and the European Union. V. Landsbergis once again took part in these events of national importance. He believed in the value of these organizations and in the first Lithuanian elections to the European Parliament, Landsbergis rose as a candidate and won.

Since his election in 2004, V. Landsbergis had been in office for 10 years until 2014. In his time of service, the politician was an active member of Committee on Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, subcommittees on Security and Defense as well as Human Rights. As a member of the European Parliament, V. Landsbergis gave special attention to the condition of the Baltic states. He has always been a fierce critic of Russia’s intentions to impose any kind of influence on the Baltic region. His long fight against communism reflected on his work. V. Landsbergis urged other members of parliament to ban all Soviet insignia, became a founding signatory of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, and a member of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. His work for Lithuania and Europe was not left unnoticed. Through his lifetime Landsbergis has received more than fourteen awards, including the Grand Cross with Golden Chain of the Order of Vytautas the Great (the highest award of the State of Lithuania). With more than a decade in office, he once again paid his tribute to the Lithuanian nation and (in the words of his speech I presented previously) held both the “internal” and “international” fronts for Lithuania.

Through its many years of existence, the 20th  century was one of the most intense periods in the history of Lithuania. A small nation by the Baltic Sea was striving for its fair right to regain independence from the Soviet Union for more than four decades. Resistance which at first seemed like an endless struggle between David and Goliath reached its breaking point when the Reform Movement of Lithuania entered the political arena. 35 active, intellectual people gathered to represent a nation who longed for a change. V. Landsbergis was elected their leader and has not stepped out of politics ever since. Taking in consideration all his creative, social and political work, it is undeniable that V. Landsbergis was and is not only a master of eloquence, but also a man of action. It is a characteristic that not many of his fellow politicians can boast about having. Even by his opponents he is called a “Man of direction“. Landsbergis had a clear intention – the liberation of Lithuanian nation and his path towards it never lost course. The same can be said about any type of activity he participates in, whether it is representing Lithuania abroad or in his homeland. Being able to maintain his values and beliefs under any circumstances made him a stand-out persona in Lithuania‘s political arena and one of the most acclaimed leaders of the 20th century.