Lithuanian: Sausio žudynės
|Part of Revolutions of 1989, Singing Revolution, and Dissolution of the Soviet Union|
A man with a Lithuanian flag in front of a Soviet tank, 13 January 1991
|National Salvation Committee of the Lithuanian SSR|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
14 civilians killed|
1 civilian died due to heart attack
|1 KGB soldier (friendly fire)|
The January Killings (Lithuanian: Sausio žudynės) took place in Lithuania between 11 and 13 January 1991 in the aftermath of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania. As a result of Soviet military actions, 14 civilians were killed and 702 were injured. The events were centered in its capital, Vilnius, along with related actions in its suburbs and in the cities of Alytus, Šiauliai, Varėna, and Kaunas.
The Lithuanian Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union on 11 March 1990 and thereafter underwent a difficult period of emergence. During March–April 1990 the Soviet Airborne Troops (VDV) occupied buildings of the Political Education and the Higher Party School where later encamped the alternative Lithuanian Communist Party, on the CPSU platform. The Soviet Union imposed an economic blockade between April and late June. Economic and energy shortages undermined public faith in the newly restored state. The inflation rate reached 100% and continued to increase rapidly. In January 1991 the Lithuanian government was forced to raise prices several times and was used for organization of mass protests of the so-called "Russophone population". During the five days preceding the killings, Soviet, Polish, and other workers at Vilnius factories protested the government's consumer goods price hikes and what they saw as ethnic discrimination. (According to Human Rights Watch, the Soviet government had mounted a propaganda campaign designed to further ethnic strife.) In protection of the rallied Russophone population, the Soviet Union sent elite armed forces and special service units.
On 8 January the conflict between Chairman of the Parliament Vytautas Landsbergis and the more pragmatic Prime Minister Kazimira Prunskienė culminated in her resignation. Prunskienė met with Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev on that day. He refused her request for assurances that military action would not be taken.
On the same day the Yedinstvo movement organized a rally in front of the Supreme Council of Lithuania. Protesters tried to storm the parliament building but were driven away by unarmed security forces using water cannons. Despite a Supreme Council vote the same day to halt price increases, the scale of protests and provocations backed by Yedinstvo (Unity, in Russian) and the Communist Party increased. During a radio and television address, Landsbergis called upon independence supporters to gather around and protect the main governmental and infrastructural buildings.
From 8–9 January several special Soviet military units were flown to Lithuania (including the famous counter-terrorism Alpha Group and paratroopers of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division of the VDV based at Pskov). The official explanation was that this was needed to ensure constitutional order and the effectiveness of laws of the Lithuanian SSR and the Soviet Union.
On 10 January Gorbachev addressed the Supreme Council, demanding a restoration of the constitution of the USSR in Lithuania and the revocation of all anti-constitutional laws. He mentioned that military intervention could be possible within days. When Lithuanian officials asked for Moscow's guarantee not to send armed troops, Gorbachev did not reply.
In the morning, Speaker of the Supreme Council Vytautas Landsbergis and Prime Minister Albertas Šimėnas were presented with another ultimatum from the "Democratic Congress of Lithuania" demanding that they comply with Gorbachev's request by 15:00 on 11 January.
During an overnight session of the Supreme Council, Speaker Vytautas Landsbergis announced that he had tried to call Mikhail Gorbachev three times, but was unsuccessful. Deputy Minister of Defense of the Soviet Union, General Vladislav Achalov, arrived in Lithuania and took control of all military operations. People from all over Lithuania started to encircle the main strategic buildings: the Supreme Council, the Radio and Television Committee, the Vilnius TV Tower and the main telephone exchange.
Following these two attacks, large crowds (20,000 during the night, more than 50,000 in the morning) of independence supporters gathered around the Supreme Council building. People started building anti-tank barricades and setting up defences inside surrounding buildings. Provisional chapels were set up inside and outside the Supreme Council building. Members of the crowd prayed, sang and shouted pro-independence slogans. Despite columns of military trucks, BMPs and tanks moving into the vicinity of the Supreme Council, Soviet military forces retreated instead of attacking.
The events of 13 January are sometimes referred to as Bloody Sunday. Among the members of the barricade were two basketball players who would later play for the Lithuanian national team, Gintaras Einikis and Alvydas Pazdrazdis.
In all, thirteen Lithuanians were killed by the Soviet army. An additional civilian died at the scene due to a heart attack, and one Soviet soldier was killed by friendly fire. All victims, except the soldier, were awarded the Order of the Cross of Vytis (the Knight) on January 15, 1991.
12 of the 14 victims were buried in the Antakalnis Cemetery in Vilnius. Titas Masiulis was buried in Petrašiūnai Cemetery in his native Kaunas, Rimantas Juknevičius was buried in the Marijampolė cemetery.
Immediately after the attacks, the Supreme Council issued a letter to the people of the Soviet Union and to the rest of the world denouncing the attacks and calling for foreign governments to recognise that the Soviet Union had committed an act of aggression against a sovereign nation. Following the first news reports from Lithuania, the government of Norway appealed to the United Nations. The government of Poland expressed their solidarity with the people of Lithuania and denounced the actions of the Soviet army.
The reaction from the United States government was somewhat muted as the U.S. itself was heavily preoccupied with the imminent onset of Operation Desert Storm against Iraq and worried about possible wider consequences if they were to offend the Soviets at that critical juncture. President George H.W. Bush denounced the incident, but was notably careful not to criticize Gorbachev directly, instead directing his remarks at "Soviet leaders."
After the events, President Gorbachev said Lithuanian "workers and intellectuals" complaining of anti-Soviet broadcasts had tried to talk to the republic's parliament, but were refused and beaten. Then, he said, they asked the military commander in Vilnius to provide protection. Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, Interior Minister Boris Pugo and Gorbachev all asserted that no one in Moscow gave orders to use force in Vilnius. Yazov said that nationalists were trying to form what he called a bourgeois dictatorship. Pugo said on national television that the demonstrators had opened fire first.
Although occupation and military raids continued for several months following the attacks, there were no large open military encounters after January 13. Strong Western reaction and the actions of Soviet democratic forces put the President and the government of the Soviet Union in an awkward position. This influenced future Lithuanian-Russian negotiations and resulted in the signing of a treaty on January 31.
During a visit by the official delegation of Iceland to Lithuania on January 20, Foreign Minister Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson said: "My government is seriously considering the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations with the Republic of Lithuania." Iceland kept its promise, and on February 4, 1991, just three weeks after the attacks, it recognized the Republic of Lithuania as a sovereign independent state, and diplomatic relations were established between the two nations.
These events are considered some of the main factors that led to the overwhelming victory of independence supporters in a referendum on February 9, 1991. Turnout was 84.73% of registered voters; 90.47% of them voted in favour of the full and total independence of Lithuania.
Streets in the neighbourhood of the TV tower were later renamed after 9 victims of the attack. A street in Titas Masiulis' native Kaunas was named after him, likewise a street in Marijampolė after its native, Rimantas Juknevičius, a street in Kėdainiai after Alvydas Kanapinskas, and a street in Pelėdnagiai (near Kėdainiai) after Vytautas Koncevičius.
The Russian Federation still claims that the Soviet troops did not use their weapons at all.
From the interview of Mikhail Golovatov, ex-commander of "Alpha-group": "The weapons and ammunition that were given to us, were handed over at the end of the operation, so it can be established that not a single shot was fired from our side. But at the time of the assault, our young officer Victor Shatskikh was mortally wounded in the back. As we have already seized the TV tower and went outside, we came under fire from the windows of the neighbouring houses, and leaving from there we had to hide behind the armoured vehicles."
In 1996, two members of the Central Committee of Communist Party of Lithuanian SSR were sentenced to time in jail, Mykolas Burokevičius and Juozas Jermalavičius. In 1999 the Vilnius District Court sentenced six former Soviet military men who participated in the events. On May 11, 2011, a soldier of the Soviet OMON Konstantin Mikhailov was sentenced to lifetime in prison for killing customs workers and policemen in 1991 at the border checkpoint with Byelorussian SSR "Medininkai" near the village of Medininkai (see Soviet aggression against Lithuania in 1990).
Since 1992, representatives of the Prosecutor General Office of Lithuania requested Belarus to extradite Vladimir Uskhopchik, a former general who was in command of the Vilnius garrison in January 1991 and the editor of the newspaper "Soviet Lithuania" Stanislava Juonene. Lithuania's request has constantly been denied. According to the Prosecutor General Office of Lithuania, during the entire period of investigation of the case, 94 requests for legal assistance were sent to Russia, Belarus, and Germany, but received only negative responses.
In July 2011, diplomatic tensions rose between Austria and Lithuania when Mikhail Golovatov, an ex-KGB general who took part in the January 13, 1991 massacre, was released after being detained at the Vienna Airport. He then proceeded to fly to Russia. In response, Lithuania recalled its ambassador from Austria.
Hearings in Vilnius Regional Court have started on January 27, 2016, with 65 individuals facing charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, battery, murder, endangering other's well-being, as well as unlawful military actions against civilians.
Defendants included ex-Soviet Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov, former commander of Soviet Alpha anti-terror group Mikhail Golovatov and Head of the Soviet Army's Vilnius garrison Vladimir Uskhopchik.
Robertas Povilaitis, a surviving son of one of the victims, requested that law enforcement authorities conduct an investigation into Mikhail Gorbachev's role in the events. On October 17, 2016, Vilnius Regional Court decided to summon Mikhail Gorbachev to testify as a witness.
To this day, the Russian Federation refuses to extradite criminals against humanity that are responsible for the January Events. Furthermore, in 2018 Russia's law enforcement even raised a case to the Lithuanian prosecutors and judges who investigate the case.
The Russian journalist Alexander Nevzorov recorded video footage commemorating Soviet spetsnaz who participated in the events and called it "Nashi". Later in Russia appeared the Russian chauvinist political organization Nashi (not to be confused with later Nashi youth movement).
The military takeover was preceded by five days of protests and strikes involving primarily Soviet and Polish workers at Vilnius manufacturing plants, angered by what they consider ethnic discrimination and by the Lithuanian government's move to increase prices on consumer goods.
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