Lithuania, 99 years since Independence: celebrations in front of the Fire of Freedom

byVerónica Crocitti

It was February 16, 1918 years ago when, from the balcony of number 26 of Pilies gatvė, aVilnius, the independence of the Republic of Lithuania was proclaimed. The place is known as theHouse of the Signatories, is located in the heart of the historic center of the capital and is now home to a museum dedicated to the history of that turbulent historical period. In fact, after the end of the First World War, between 1917 and 1918, following the dissolution of the Russian Empire, the states of Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were born.

Just two years after the proclamation of theAct of Independence However, Vilnius was occupied with a coup by Polish troops (and still in Vilnius the Polish community of Lithuania, to which John Paul II's mother also belonged, constitutes 7% of the urban population) and the capital of the Republic moved to Kaunas, the second city in the country by size and number of inhabitants.

Kaunastoday it testifies to visitors its past as a "provisional capital", as the city is still sometimes called today. And along the Avenue of Freedom (Laisvės alėja, in Lithuanian), dominated by the church of San Michele Arcangelo, the Art Nouveau buildings, where once the diplomatic representations and embassies were located, alternate with those from the late 19th century. In theUnit Squareof Kaunas, before theFire of Eternal Freedom, historical commemorations take place on February 16th in memory of those events that made Lithuania an independent and modern national state, whose path was abruptly interrupted by the war and Soviet occupation in the 1940s. The independence of the state was restored on 11 March 1990 (it is no coincidence that Lithuania celebrates its independence twice). This time, after about 70 years, Vilnius was finally returned to its role as the capital.

This year Lithuania is therefore celebrating 99 years and, for next year's centenary, great celebrations are already being prepared. The Italian and Spanish community of Kaunas, with the Accademia Italiana – Ciao Italia and Hola Espana schools also dedicated avideoto the event. Emilio Garofalo, a young singer-songwriter from Bari who found fortune in the small Baltic republic, sings the verses of a well-known song byMarijonas Mikutavičius: “I love Lithuania”.

Fabrizio Mazzella

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