Vytautas Landsbergis: Why Intellectuals Mattered

Source: The Freedom Collection www.freedomcollection.org /

Vytautas Landsbergis was born in Lithuania in 1932 to a family of noted intellectuals. During the Second World War, Lithuania was occupied by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Nazi Germany, and once again by the USSR, which abolished Lithuania’s independence and forcibly annexed it. Landsbergis studied music and pursued a career as an educator, eventually becoming a professor of music history at the Lithuanian Academy of Music. He has written ten books on music and art history, five political books, and a book of poetry.

In 1988, Landsbergis joined other artists and intellectuals in forming the Sajudis movement, which developed to support the restoration of Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union. He was elected as chairman of the movement. Under his leadership, Sajudis quickly won broad popular support from the Lithuanian population.

In February 1989, Sajudis declared the Soviet occupation illegal and formally proclaimed its goal of restoring independence. Landsbergis was elected as a deputy to the new USSR Congress of People’s Deputies in March 1989. Sajudis won 36 of the 42 seats at stake and used their mandates to lobby for Lithuanian independence.

On August 23, 1989, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet treaty that led to the abolition of the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and their forcible incorporation into the USSR, Landbergis and the leaders of Sajudis joined with their counterpart organizations, the Rahvarinne Popular Front of Estonia and the Popular Front of Latvia, in organizing the Baltic Way demonstration. Over one million people joined hands to form a 600 kilometer long human chain across the three countries. The nonviolent protest drew worldwide attention to the Baltic nations’ quest for freedom and independence.

In the first free Lithuanian elections held in February 1990, Landsbergis was elected to the legislature. When the new legislature convened in March, Landsbergis was elected chairman (speaker) and proclaimed the reestablishment of independence. In 1990 and 1991, he served as chairman of the commission that drafted the new Lithuanian constitution. He also chaired the Lithuanian delegation for negotiations with the USSR, achieving a withdrawal of Soviet military forces from Lithuania and securing widespread international recognition of the restored Lithuanian republic. In 1993, he cofounded the Lithuanian Conservative Party – Homeland Union and was elected party chairman.

From 1992 to 1996, he served as the leader of the opposition in the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament. After his party won the 1996 elections, he served again as Chairman of the Seimas until 2000. He was an unsuccessful candidate for President in the 1997 elections.

In 2004, he was elected to the European Parliament as Lithuania joined the European Union. He was reelected in 2009.

Landsbergis has received numerous international honors for his artistic and political activities. In 2013, he received the Democracy Service Award from the National Endowment for Democracy’s for his efforts to build a stable democracy in Lithuania and to assist democratic development abroad.

You could compare [Lithuania] with the situations in other communist countries. Even in Russia but also especially in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary. When the leaders of liberation became the play writers as Havel, and the philosophers as Goncz in Hungary. [Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011) was a Czech author, playwright, and dissident. He led Czechoslovakia’s peaceful Velvet Revolution against the communist government and served as President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 – 1992 and the Czech Republic from 1993 – 2003. Arpad Goncz (1922 – ) is a Hungarian philosopher, writer, and politician. A former political prisoner, he became the first president of post-communist Hungary, serving from 1990 to 2000.)

In our case they were indeed many people from the free arts. Free arts meant always some freedom. And so freedom of expression and being limited by the Soviet system, they always fought for greater freedom of expression. Even in journalism, in the press under Soviet censorship. We enjoyed a little breach in the censorship. Something was published. Censors were irritated how it could pass, how it could went through, yes? So it was a spirit of freedom in such a level of society. And there is some logic. Then free-minded philosophers, writers, some types of musicians became the spiritual movers of those movements.

The Vaclav Havel Center