Sąjūdis (initially known as the Reform Movement of Lithuania, Lithuanian: Lietuvos Persitvarkymo Sąjūdis) is the political organization which led the struggle for Lithuanian independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was established on June 3, 1988, and was led by Vytautas Landsbergis. Its goal was to seek the return of independent status for Lithuania.

Historical background

Main article: Singing Revolution

In the mid-1980s, Lithuania's Communist Party leadership hesitated to embrace Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost. The death of Petras Griškevičius, first secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania, in 1987 was merely followed by the appointment of another rigid communist, Ringaudas Songaila. However, encouraged by the rhetoric of Mikhail Gorbachev, noting the strengthening position of Solidarity in Poland and encouraged by the Pope and the U.S. Government, Baltic independence activists began to hold public demonstrations in Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius.

Forming Sąjūdis

At a meeting at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences on June 3, 1988, communist and non-communist intellectuals formed Sąjūdis Initiative Group (Lithuanian: Sąjūdžio iniciatyvinė grupė) to organize a movement to support Gorbachev's program of glasnost, democratization, and perestroika. The group composed of 35 members, mostly artists. 17 of the group members were also communist party members. Its goal was to organize the Sąjūdis Reform Movement, which became known subsequently simply as Sąjūdis.

On June 24, 1988, the first massive gathering organized by Sąjūdis took place. There delegates to the 19th All-Union Conference of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were instructed about Sąjūdis goals. About 100,000 people in Vingis Park greeted the delegates when they came back in July. Another massive event took place on August 23, 1988, when about 250,000 people gathered to protest against the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and its secret protocol.

On June 19, the first issue of samizdat newspaper "Sąjūdis News" (Lithuanian: Sąjūdžio žinios) was published. In September Sąjūdis published a legal newspaper, "Atgimimas" (English: rebirth). In total about 150 different newspapers were printed supporting Sąjūdis.

In October 1988 Sąjūdis held its founding conference in Vilnius. It elected 35-member council. Most its members were members of the initiative group. Vytautas Landsbergis, a professor of musicology who was not a member of the communist party, became the council's chairman.

Sajudis plaque at old headquarters of the movement, now Ireland's embassy. Vilnius, 1 Šventaragio g.

Sąjūdis activities

The movement supported Gorbachev's policies, but at the same time promoted Lithuanian national issues such as restoration of the Lithuanian language as the official language. Its demands included the revelation of truth about the Stalinist years, protection of the environment, the halt to construction on a third nuclear reactor at the Ignalina nuclear power plant, and disclosure of the secret protocols of the Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact, signed in 1939.

Sąjūdis used mass meetings to advance its goals. At first, Communist Party leaders shunned these meetings, but by mid-1988 their participation became a political necessity. A Sąjūdis rally on June 24, 1988, was attended by Algirdas Brazauskas, then party secretary for industrial affairs. In October 1988, Brazauskas was appointed first secretary of the communist party to replace Songaila. Communist leaders threatened to crack down on Sąjūdis, but backed down in the face of mass protests. Sąjūdis candidates fared well in elections to the Congress of People's Deputies, the newly created Soviet legislative body. Their candidates won in 36 of the 40 districts in which they ran.

In February 1989, Sąjūdis declared that Lithuania had been forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union and that the group's ultimate goal was to achieve independence. Lithuanian sovereignty was proclaimed in May 1989, and Lithuania's incorporation into the Soviet Union was declared illegal.

On 23 August 1989, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a 600-kilometre, two-million-strong human chain reaching from Tallinn to Vilnius focused international attention on the aspirations of the Baltic nations. This demonstration and the coordinated efforts of the three nations became known as The Baltic Way.

In December, the Communist Party of Lithuania seceded from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and agreed to give up its monopoly on power. In February 1990, Sąjūdis representatives won an absolute majority (101 seats out of 141) in the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR. Vytautas Landsbergis was elected chairman of the Supreme Council. This led to the declaration of independence on March 11, 1990.

After independence

Today, Sąjūdis is still active in Lithuania, but it has lost almost all its influence. The popularity of Sąjūdis lessened as it failed to maintain unity among people with different political beliefs and was ineffective coping with the economic crisis. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP; the former Communist Party of Lithuania) was victorious in the Seimas elections of November 1992.

Much of the group, including Landsbergis, formed the core of the Homeland Union, now the largest centre-right party in Lithuania.

Members of Sąjūdis Initiative Group

See also


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