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.
5:00 p.m. 70 symbolic bonfires will be lit along Gediminas Avenue in Vilnius (from Cathedral Square to Independence Square).
7:30 p.m. The concert “Borthers” of Aistė Smilgevičiūtė and the band “Skylė” for the 16th of February