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Independence celebrations kick off a year of centennials across Eastern Europe.16 February 2018
Church bells tolled amid celebrations across Lithuania today as the country marked 100 years since it declared independence from Russia.
The presidents of Germany, Poland, Finland, and Ukraine, the Crown Princess of Sweden, and top EU officials took part in the festivities, The Associated Press reports.
“No one can lecture Lithuanians about the difference between declaring independence and winning and keeping it,” European Commission President Donald Tusk said after his meeting yesterday with Lithuanian President Galia Grybauskaite.
Lithuania’s history has been turbulent, Tusk said. For centuries part of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania, the country was absorbed by Russia when that state was divided between Russia, Austria, and Prussia in the late 18th century, the AFP writes.
Lithuania then remained a province of the Russian empire until it declared independence on 16 February 1918, while still under German occupation. One by one, a string of historic or newly constructed states emerged that year from the rubble of the old order.
Lithuanian independence lasted until 1940, when the Soviet Union invaded. In 1941, Nazi forces occupied Lithuania, only to be ousted by the Red Army again in 1944. When the Soviet Union started eroding in the late 1980s, Lithuania was the first of its republics to declare independence, in March 1990.
Tusk went on to say that “the best guarantee of Lithuania's independence is its participation in international organisations: the United Nations, NATO, and of course the European Union.”
This is exactly what Lithuania has been doing over the past decades since its independence from the Soviet Union. Since 2004 the Baltic state has been member of the European Union and NATO. In 2015, Lithuania adopted the euro.
However, in recent years tensions with Russia are on the rise again in all three Baltic republics. “We can never feel relaxed,” The Economist’s Charlemagne quotes Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius as saying.
Concerns over Russia’s more aggressive stance in the region rose still further recently on reports Moscow deployed Iskander missiles, capable of carrying nuclear heads, in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania.
Russian state press agency RIA Novosti headlined yesterday its view that Grybauskaite “is scaring Europe with Russian Iskanders.”
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