Sunday, January 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Soviet Version of 1991 Events in Vilnius, Sadly and Dangerously, Survives to This Day in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 13 – Twenty-two years ago today, as all independent investigations have confirmed, Soviet forces shot and killed 13 unarmed Lithuanian demonstrators at the Vilnius television tower, an event that galvanized the independence movement in that Baltic republic and triggered drives for independence from the USSR elsewhere.

            But at the time of those events and shortly thereafter, pro-communist and pro-Soviet writers came up with an alternative explanation: they insisted that the Lithuanian Sajudis movement had organized the entire event as a provocation to the point of having its own operatives shoot and kill their fellow Lithuanians.

            And some of those have even insisted that this conspiracy was part of a broader plot involving Vytautas Landsbergis who supposedly saw such a step as a necessary precondition to establishing a “fascist” and anti-Russian regime in Lithuania and even the United States which supposedly wanted a distraction as it moved to attack Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

            The most hyperbolic of these conspiracy theories have fallen as a result of their own internal inconsistencies – Landsbergis is no fascist and Washington’s Desert Storm campaign in fact limited its response to Moscow’s actions in Lithuania – but others have enough plausibility for some to discredit Lithuania’s drive to recover its de facto independence and its subsequent policies.

            Such conspiracy theories about the Vilnius events of January 13, 1991, would be of limited interest were it not for two things. On the one hand, they continue to circulate among some writers in the Russian capital. And on the other, the thinking of Soviet leaders that stood behind them, if not the specific details, appear to be informing Moscow’s policy now.

            On Friday, the portal of Moscow’s Strategic Culture Foundation featured a 1500-word article by Nikolay Malishevsky that repeats most of the claims against Lithuania, Sajudis, and Landsbergis by the conspiracy theorists and provides what he says is proof of all of them (
            Malishevsky, who has recently written articles about the mistreatment of Russian adoptees in the US and suspicions about the “real” story behind the 9/11 attacks on the United States, says that he has written this article because the Lithuanian authorities are planning to bring to court anyone who denies their events of January 13.

            In doing so, he suggests, “the Lithuanian law enforcement organs and prosecutors are ignoring or intentionally minimizing numerous facts and the testimony of witnesses” about an event now more than two decades old that Vilnius has not been able to bring any of “the murderers” involved to justice. (On this, see

            But despite such Lithuanian efforts to promote what he says is its falsified version of the events of 1991, “the truth about the provocateur nationalists shooting from the roofs of houses located opposite the television tower at people assembled below with automatic and hunting weapons has nonetheless found a way” to those who want to know.

            Clearly, the Moscow commentator continues, “the truth is something terrible to murderers and provocateurs,” a group he argues consists not of officials in the Soviet force structures but of members of the Lithuanian national movement and the Lithuanian government today.

            In like manner, Malishevsky says, that latter group which does not want to admit the truth about January 13th does not want to acknowledge that “what happened in 1940 was not an occupation but the incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR with the complete agreement of the Lithuanian authorities, only one of its leaders then fled abroad.”

            Another article underscores why the survival of such views among current Russian leaders about what happened at the end of Soviet times is potentially so dangerous.  The Tolkovatel’ portal says that “many of the methods of struggling against the opposition proposed by ‘the hawks’ in 1990 are being carried out by the authorities today” (  

            The portal draws that conclusion only after offering numerous selections from archival records of the discussions of the senior Soviet leadership at that time, discussions that featured both those who were prepared to reach out to the opposition and those who were prepared to do whatever was necessary to avoid doing so.


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