1990 Liberation of Lithuania | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Restored Independent Lithuania (1990 And Beyond)

In 1990 Sąjūdis won the first free elections in Lithuania and the independence was restored on March 11th, 1990. The Soviets subsequently attempted to reimpose their control by force and the attack of January 13th, 1991 led to the deaths of 14 unarmed civilians (together with tens of thousands of others, they protected key buildings such as the Vilnius TV tower and the Supreme Council from the Russians). On July 31 of 1991, seven customs officers were killed by Russian forces on the newly established Lithuanian-Belarusian border. These attempts consolidated the Western support for the Lithuanian independence and de jure recognitions started to pour in by early 1991 (many countries, like the USA, never recognized the occupation of Lithuania and thus did not have to recognize independence). By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union completely collapsed and turned into 15 independent countries. Russians withdrew their final soldiers from Lithuania by 1993 (the first completed withdrawal in entire Eastern Europe).

Pope John Paul II in the Hill of Crosses during his 1993 visit of Lithuania. Unimaginable under the Soviet anti-religious regime merely 5 years ago this event boosted Lithuanian morale and signified regained freedom. John Paul II and the Vatican were always sympathetic to Lithuania.

Long-awaited independence brought many personal freedoms which the people had eagerly sought. This was an era of massive new churches, telenovelas and anime on prime-time TV, hip-hop, mass import of used non-Soviet cars, and the first travels to the West. Criminal news (hidden from the public in the Soviet Union) were now the first pages of a newspaper a regular reader would skim. It was easier for new ideas to gain acceptance than ever before or since.

Private property was again the norm and nationalized land was returned to former (pre-1940) owners where possible. Everybody who lived in Lithuania by the time it restored independence (1990) was allowed to get the Lithuanian citizenship (regardless of his/her ethnicity or language skills), therefore Lithuania avoided the problem of stateless people that plagued Latvia and Estonia.

Freedom euphoria was, however, joined by a hardship of economic transition. Factories that had been built for the Soviets were horribly outdated and unable to compete in the free market both due to low technology and their management not understanding things such as marketing. The inefficient system of collective agriculture has been swiftly disbanded. Only a small part of these Soviet-established businesses survived.

In the meantime, Lithuanians started new businesses in places like Gariūnai marketplace with some of these early traders now being millionaires or billionaires, like Nerijus Numavičius of VP Grupė whose Maxima supermarket chain later catapulted him into the Forbes billionaire list.

'Metal garage districts' were one of the 1990s peculiarities. Car ownership rates soared but few would drive every day or keep cars near home, having opted for such far-away garages instead. This Bing Bird's eye image taken in 2009 shows a largely abandoned 'garage city' in Vilnius which has subsequently been cleared for IKEA mall.

The early years of Lithuanian economy (1990 – 1995) had a frontier feeling with organized crime (especially extortion) burgeoning. Some people that stood in the "mafia's" way (businessmen, a journalist, prosecutors) were murdered. Only by 1995, the police was strong enough to defeat the villains; the Vilnius crime boss Boris Dekanidze was sentenced to death while the Kaunas “Godfather” Henrikas Daktaras served a term in prison.

By 1997 the lawless businesses gave way to modern developments, while certain key state institutions (telecommunications, passenger sea lines, oil refinement) were privatized by foreign consortiums. What started with the first skyscrapers of Vilnius in 2000 quickly expanded to other main cities. By the year 2003, Lithuania was effectively a modern society.

Outdated Šiaulių oda Soviet factory, once abandoned (left), has been transformed into modern shopping mall Bruklinas in 2007 (right). Lithuanian entrepreneurs pioneered massive shopping mall development in Eastern Europe in the 2000s. Right image ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the year 2004, Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO, both memberships having been a major foreign policy goal since independence. European Union membership required an adaptation of Lithuanian laws, ushering the end of 1990-2004 libertarian Lithuania. Entrepreneurship decreased, bureaucracy replaced idealism while political correctness engulfed the freedom of speech.

Foreign policy goals in the East were less successful with Russia (also Israel and Belarus) refusing to try the Soviet war criminals now residing in these countries. After the rise of Vladimir Putin, Russia refused to recognize the Soviet occupation of Lithuania altogether claiming that the Soviet Union had “liberated Lithuania”.

Despite independence, Lithuania at first remained completely dependent on the Russian gas and oil imports, as there were no infrastructure connections to the West. Building alternative means to ensure commodity supply was among the first major goals of Lithuania, achieved with Būtingė Oil Terminal (1998), Klaipėda Liquid Gas Terminal (2014) and electricity connections to the West. While going for "energetic independence", Lithuania of 1990s and 2000s still often tried to pursue so-called "pragmatic policy" vis-a-vis Russia ("forgetting the past to have more opportunities today"), hoping its companies would be able to export the know-how to the Russian market. Russian films, music, and TV were still quite popular in Lithuania at the time. However, with the rise of the Russian imperialism in 2008 (Georgia war) and especially 2014 and 2022 (Ukraine war), Lithuanian last remaining economic and cultural ties with Russia disintegrated.

The post-independence economic growth has been sweeping but the Soviet occupation left Lithuania decades behind the West (leading to lower salaries). Some Lithuanians refused to wait and opted to leave their homeland instead (primarily to the United Kingdom and Ireland). This emigration gained epic proportions after Lithuania’s admission into the European Union made it legal to settle anywhere in Western Europe. The population of Lithuania went down from 3,5 million to 3 million people in a decade between censae of years 2001 and 2011. Currently, the population of Lithuania is even smaller than that before the World War 2. Such emigration levels are unheard of anywhere outside of the countries struck by wars and disasters.

Comparison of economies (left) and populations (right) in Lithuania and Finland. Prior to 1940 Lithuania and Finland had similar histories and economies. After Soviet occupation however the Lithuanian GDP per capita amounted to merely 21% of the Finnish one but it has been steadily growing since (55% by 2013). However, the relative decline of Lithuanian population continues. Lithuanian population amounted to 83% of Finnish population in 1940, 74% in 1990 (300 000 Soviet settlers failed to compensate for the 1940-1953 genocides) and merely 57% today. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

See also:
Top 10 post-independence sights in Lithuania
Ethnic relations in modern Lithuania (1990-)

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  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful website full of great info, it helped me finish my thesis on time.

  2. Thanks, you said some major trues about the horror of USSR and the EU hehe… Lithuanians, listen to the swiss example…


  4. Sorry but this is filled with one sided false and untrue history. Written and sponsored by wrong people. Just look at this:

    “The short period of prosperous freedom was cut short again by the World War 2 (1940). Lithuania was occupied once by the Nazi Germany and twice by the Soviet Union, both powers perpetrating genocides. The brutal Soviet occupation lasted for 45 years and only ended in 1990.”

    FALSE in so many levels.
    Lithuania was GIVEN to Russia in 1939 by Nazi Germany. So it cannot be occupied!
    “The Brutal Soviet occupation lasted 45 years? So not true! Lithuania was the best country out of 15 republics in USSR and most rich one. The best roads were build for Lithuanians as the first people in USSR! And so on and so on! All Lithuanians know this! At least those before born year 1980. Because in 90’s the brainwash started.
    Please stop fake history propaganda!

    And of course this will be delete asap…. Cause the truth is not a solution.

    • The facts you mention are already in the article (however, they are taken out of context).

      Firstly, the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did indeed partition Eastern Europe into “zones of occupation” according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (and these zones were then altered). However, all the Eastern European countries were independent at the time they were secretly “partitioned” (and, understandably, they did not wish to join either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union). Therefore, military occupations (through invasions and ultimatums, followed by a brutal suppression of dissent) were performed. Neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union had a right to cede what was not even theirs.

      As it is currently written in the article (“Interwar” section): “A secret Molotov-Ribentropp pact protocol included Lithuania in the German zone of influence, but the Smetona’s refusal to invade Poland together with Germany led to the change in the protocol with Lithuania being “ceded” to the Soviet Union”.

      Secondly, due to a more laborious and educated population, a shorter influence of communism, and other reasons, the Baltic States did indeed fare somewhat better economically than the other Soviet-ruled areas, especially the Central Asia. However, such intra-Soviet differences were minuscule compared to how much the Soviet-occupied Baltic States (and the entire Soviet Union) lagged behind the non-communist countries (USA, Western Europe).

      As it is currently written in the article (“Soviet occupation” section): “Still, however, the Lithuanian economy remained one of the most robust ones inside the Soviet Union – in Central Asia, Siberia or the Caucasus the situation was even worse”.

      Of course, the economy was just a minor part of the plight for the Lithuanians. The genocide, persecutions, totalitarianism were the major part. ~1990 the Soviet censorship ended and the victims of it started speaking openly. However, unlike under the Soviet occupation, there existed a freedom of speech, so the opponents of the Lithuanian independence (mainly Russians and Russian-speakers) also voiced their opinions freely. However, the strong majority of the population have been victimized under the Soviet occupation, while the privileged few were a small minority (largely composed of non-Lithuanian Soviet settlers). Therefore, over 90% voted for independence restoration in the 1991 referendum. All the voters of that referendum were born before the 1980s, so your claims that there is/was some difference in the opinion between the generations is wrong.

    • I agree that this is one sided, no mention of the vibrant Jewish population of 100,000 flourishing in Lithuania for centuries. The majority brought to Ponary woods 7 miles away to dig their own graves and be shot with the expert help of the Lithuanians and of course, the Nazis.

  5. As a documentarian creating the story of the “Vilna Ghetto Theater” I found this very informative and for that I thank you. Shockingly, there is no mention of the vibrant Jewish 100,000 community of Vilnius, their massacre at Ponary with the help of the Lithuanians. Recently an ambassador from Lithuania spoke at our temple and he confirmed that Lithuanians don’t want to know, admit or take responsibility for the complete destruction of its own Jewish population. It’s like they were never there, and that is incomprehensible.

    • You are commenting under the article on the post-1990 history of Lithuania. Of course, the Holocaust did not take place in the 1990s but rather in the 1940s.

      Holocaust is well-mentioned in the other articles, to name just a few:
      Introduction to Vilnius city – https://www.truelithuania.com/vilnius-15
      World War 2 in Lithuania – https://www.truelithuania.com/world-war-2-in-lithuania-1940-1944-249

      Also, please check this long article on the interethnic relations in Lithuania which describes it all in detail – https://www.truelithuania.com/ethnic-relations-6272

      The Holocaust is well known in Lithuania and many memorials have been built and are being constructed for its victims. What is true, however, is that Lithuanians do not “take responsibility” for that, and for a good reason. During the time, Lithuania was occupied by the Nazi Germany. Lithuanians had no say whatsoever in what was going on in their country. There was no local government as there was e.g. in Vichy France. All the decisions were taken by the occupational power of Nazi Germany and its German leaders. Disenfranchised Lithuanian leaders often protested but to no avail – many ended up in concentration camps themselves.

      Under any occupation, a small part of population collaborates with the occupational authorities. This happened all over the Europe, with both Nazi German and Soviet occupations and genocides. However, what is also true is that Lithuania has more Yed-Vashem-recognized righteous-among-nations people per capita than any other Eastern European country. It is second in the entire world only to the Netherlands by this percentage. Among those righteous-among-nations is the pre-WW2 president of Lithuania Kazys Grinius, by the way. Pre-WW2 (while it was independent) Lithuania was especially Jewish-friendly. It was Lithuania that organized the first anti-Nazi trial in Europe in 1935 (it annoyed the Nazi Germany so much that it had Lithuanian sportsmen banned from Berlin Olympics, an unprecedented measure).

      Given all these circumstances, it is understandable that Lithuanians, a repressed nation that itself lost some third of its population to the genocides of 1940s-1950s, takes a great insult in being blamed for the Holocaust when that happens for the sole reason that some Lithuanian criminals followed the orders of illegal occupational authorities. In such blaming, all the righteous-among-nations Lithuanians (and, according to Yed Vashem statistics, there was a larger percentage of those in Lithuania than in nearly every other country) are disregarded, just as are all the Lithuanian anti-Nazi and pro-independence activists, and Lithuanian victims.

      What is more, such distortion of history dates back to the Soviet occupation, when Soviet propaganda sought to portray all the Lithuanian pro-independence activists as Nazis (supposedly, what was anti-Soviet must have been fascist; even the Berlin wall was officially known as “anti-fascist wall”). This was the very same vehicle of propaganda that was used by the Nazis themselves in 1941-1944, by the way, as they sought to portray all the Jews as communists (and thus responsible for whatever the Soviet Union did) because a part of Jews collaborated with the Soviet Union during its occupation of Lithuania.

      It is strange to seek to put on the entire nation the responsibility for the actions of less than 0,1% of its population, who were effectively traitors of that nation as they followed orders of the occupational regime. Under such logic, any nation could be blamed for anything, as there are criminals and traitors within every nation (under such logic, it would be, for example, possible to blame the actions of ISIS on every nation whose citizens fight for the ISIS). Yet again, Jews are perhaps the nation that suffered the most from such “scapegoating”, as, throughout the European history, it was common to put the responsibility on the entire Jewry for whatever wrong action some Jews would take.

      Going back to the post-1990 era which is the topic of this article, Lithuanians also often see such blaming accusations as dangerous, as they may well be used in promoting anti-Lithuanian hatred abroad and supporting another occupation of Lithuania by Russia, which still promotes itself to be a fighter against Fascism and blames neighboring countries for supposedly being Fascistic. Essentially, Lithuania fears to become the next Ukraine where heavily distorted WW2-era historical facts are used to promote the modern-day Russian military actions. Yet again, such fears are not dissimilar to the way many Jews see any kind of “selective” mass-blaming of Jewry as an incitement of anti-Semitism, which could become dangerous on its own right.

    • A Documentarian, Spreading Anti-Lithuanian Bias on a Lithuanian History forum, What other Zionist Fantasies do you believe? Do you Believe that 6 million Jews died during the supposed Holocaust? Even though there was only less than 3.5 million Jews in all of Nazi occupied Europe, Or the Do you believe the myth about the gas chambers? Which even after decades of extensive research, No one can find any Nazi documents mentioning Gas chambers, No traces of Zyklon B in the supposed Gas chambers nor any eyewitnesses, The Only supposed Eye Witnesses are all Fakers, because they mention events that are impossible, Such as one man who claimed that 100,000 Jews were placed into one gas chamber at once, Which is impossible because even the one at Auschwitz can only hold 2000 people at once, Or one woman who claimed that they threw five Jews into an oven and burned them in 20 minutes, Even though those ovens could only hold one person at a time, And would take 8 to 10 hours to fully burn one body, So it would take 40 – 50 hours to burn five!

      And dont tell us these fantasies about us being the monsters, And the Jews being the Victims, In the Ponary Massacre a large amount of Poles, Russians and Belarusians died, 100,000 Jews did not die, The Polish Armia Krajowa Counted less than 70 thousand deaths, And they were under their accounts mostly Poles and Russians.

      And i wonder, How many Russians and Lithuanians died because of the Jews hiding behind the Communist Back, As a documentarian you should know that the Russian Revolution was funded by the Jews, The Communist Party was predominantly Jewish, And the Aim of the revolution was to create a Zionist state, But because Lenin died early Stalin rose to Power and the idea of Zionism within Russia died out, However the Communists Exiled over 250-500 thousand Lithuanians during World War Two, And Killed 15-20 million Russians, And the Jews take no responsibility, And Now the Jews are in Israel, Stealing land from the Native Palestinians and violating Human rights, but this get overlooked, Because they are JEWS!

      And you should feel ashamed, You are creating a Propaganda documentary, That will shove propaganda and lies into the throats of our children and make them blind about the crimes of the Zionist Kikes, You should feel ashamed that you are ruining our world and taking our liberty.

  6. Thank you so very much for the information and your efforts to publish online.

  7. Still haunting our minds is the painful issue of Jewish genocide carried out by the nazi regime in Lithuania during the second world war. I deplore the extermination and regret that some Lithuanians participated in the punitive actions. Indeed, all war criminals must be disclosed and punished. We have been working on that, and we call on all interested organisations and individuals to co-operate. Some things are still to be said about these tragic events. We are ready to discuss the issue and with open hearts we seek understanding with the state of Israel as well as with Jewish communities in Lithuania and outside her boundaries. A solid point of departure for this discussion is not only the centuries-long coexistence of Lithuanians and Jews on a common soil but the sacrifice of hundreds of Lithuanians who sheltered the Jews from war persecutions. We should also remember the practical steps undertaken by the Lithuanian Government during the past four years to restore numerous Jewish cemeteries and monuments and revive Jewish culture and education.

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