To audiences around the globe, Vytautas Landsbergis personified Lithuania's struggle for freedom, its quest to rightfully restore its cherished independence after 50 dark years of struggle under occupation. For most of the world, however, this charismatic and soft-spoken musicologist who chose to challenge Soviet hegemony head-on soon disappeared from the radar screen after the restoration of Lithuanian independence. The world media's attention moved on to other figures that personified a nation's struggle, while Lithuania and Landsbergis became another fading memory.
For all the CNN footage and sound bites—ranging from the tense moments of the Soviet attack to the chaotic time during the Moscow coup—the world knew little about the man on whom they focused their attention. When Landsbergis visits world capitals, he is showered with as much attention as can be expected for a country that few know and fewer remember. Everyone is curious about 1990-91 and how the country has been transformed since then. But who is this Vytautas Landsbergis?
It was not until the year 2000 that Landsbergis' memoirs were translated and published in English, thanks very much to the work of Anthony Packer and Eimutis Šova and the University of Wales (Caerdydd) Press. Even ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been relatively little academic work on Lithuania available in English. This volume is the first such publication on the life and thoughts of this important figure in the region's history.
The text is a valuable source for those studying Lithuania's road to restored independence during the last years of the Soviet Union. Much of it focuses on the events of 1988 to 1991, with Landsbergis sharing his insights into the dramatic events that changed the world. Landsbergis discusses these events, from the founding of Sąjūdis to the unravelling of the Moscow coup attempt, through his first-hand knowledge and unique perspective on what took place in Vilnius, Moscow and even Washington.
The author's detail in describing these dramatic and chaotic events is stunning, especially in first-person mode. Landsbergis does a good job of conveying his feelings and thoughts at each moment, giving the reader the opportunity to see events unfold through his eyes.
Nearly every instance of communication with Western leaders during that period—ranging from the "be patient" letter sent by François Mitterand and Helmut Kohl in April 1990 to the countless "suggestions" made by Mikhail Gorbachev on how to "resolve" the situation—receives careful analysis in this text. This detailed look at international communications is invaluable in tracing Moscow's reaction to Lithuania, as well as the world's slowly changing attitude towards Lithuanian independence.
One noticeable tone-down in these memoirs is the limited criticism of the US government and the (George H W) Bush administration for its unimaginative and spineless policy towards Lithuania, though Landsbergis does indeed express the frustration and disappointment he felt at the time over the timidity and inaction of Washington.
As in most memoirs, many of the events described in this book are infused with hindsight and distance. A large dose of criticism is levied at both ex-Communist Party boss Algirdas Brazauskas and former prime minister Kazimira Prunskienė; though many of the written recollections are most likely accurate, readers familiar with political developments in Lithuania since the restoration of independence are likely to see some of that frustration in Landsbergis' recollections of events leading up to full independence. One particularly interesting passage comes from pages 240-241:
While the ministers were awaiting Prime Minister [Albertas] Šimėnas at the government offices they learned that Algirdas Brazauskas, the former deputy prime minister, had telephoned Kazimiera Prunskienė, who happened to be staying in the country that night, requesting her urgent return to Vilnius. She had subsequently arrived at the government offices early in the morning, where, according to the ministers' account, she had taken it upon herself to declare that the Supreme Council was 'now inoperative and that the government had to take responsibility into its own hands.' She had then tried to browbeat the ministers into deciding to elect a new head of government, and had presumed to sit in the prime minister's chair. These actions had caused the ministers present to protest vigorously, and they had rejected her proposals outright. Pranas Kūris, the minister for justice, had bluntly asked her: 'What the devil do you think you are doing here?' He was of course on very strong ground, as Prunskienė was now only an ordinary deputy, and while she had a place in the Supreme Council, she was no longer in the government.
Landsbergis later concludes that "had these moves been successful the outcome would have been as damaging as any coup d'état," adding that "a government of Brazauskas's and Prunskienė's choosing would have become the only source of authority in Lithuania, and it would have acted exactly as Gorbachev's supporters in Moscow and Lithuania desired."