Lithuanians on Wednesday marked 30 years since a deadly Soviet crackdown on the Baltic state's independence drive and drew parallels with the current situation in Belarus.
In socially distanced ceremonies, the country came to a standstill to pay tribute to 13 unarmed civilians who died when Soviet tanks and troops attacked the Vilnius television tower in 1991 to take over a national broadcaster.
Thousands flocked to defend the parliament, which had declared independence in 1990, fearing another Soviet attack. Moscow's forces retreated.
Lithuania has since designated January 13 as Freedom Defenders Day.
"It was the beginning of the fall of the USSR," President Gitanas Nauseda said on Twitter.
Lithuania and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia won international recognition later in 1991 after five decades of Soviet occupation. The countries joined the EU and NATO in 2004.
Six Lithuanian Soviet-era officials were jailed in the 1990s for their role in the crackdown, but it was only in recent years that Lithuania held a trial against key suspects hiding in Russia and Belarus.
Lithuanian efforts to find suspects
In 2019, a Vilnius court convicted a former Soviet defense minister and dozens of other Russian citizens in absentia of war crimes over their role in the assault, with the Court of Appeals currently reviewing the case.
Russia rejected a request to question former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Instead, officials in Russia opened a criminal case against Lithuanian judges for what Moscow called an "unjust verdict."
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, the grandson of national freedom icon Vytautas Landsbergis, who was in charge in 1991, called for international support against Russian "intimidation."
"This is an external pressure on the Lithuanian judicial system, maybe seeking to intimidate judges through Interpol," he said.
In 2014, spooked by Putin's annexation of Crimea, Lithuania reintroduced conscription and began expanding its military spending.
US troops have been stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia since April 2014 to reassure the countries that their security will not be compromised.
Lithuanians pay tribute to Belarus
Lithuanians have also used the anniversary to pay tribute to pro-democracy protests in Belarus.
The country's parliament on Wednesday presented its annual January 13 Freedom prize to opposition leader in exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Currently living in Vilnius, Tikhanovskaya compared the protests in her homeland to the Lithuanian independence struggle.
"Nowadays, many Belarusians recognize in the events of January 13 their tragic present," she said.
"Thirty years ago, the suffering of Lithuanians was not in vain," she said. "Lithuania became a free country and is now free to help others. Last August, Belarusians began their struggle for freedom and we will not stop until it is achieved."
jf/sms (AFP, Reuters)