Lithuania first declared independence from other European states on February 16, 1918. Their sovereignty lasted but two decades. Per the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Lithuania was "allocated" to the Soviet Union who occupied Lithuania (along with Estonia and Latvia) beginning June 15, 1940. Their country was ravaged, their governments removed, their rights abolished, their property seized; those who resisted were arrested and deported to Stalin's gulags. Lithuanians then saw Soviet tyranny replaced by Nazi tyranny during World War II. 1944 saw Soviet rule and control reimposed on the Lithuanians. For the next 46 years, they lived as Communist slaves under the Soviet Union.
On November 9, 1989 a wave of freedom began sweeping over Eastern Europe with the opening and eventual demolition of the Berlin Wall. On February 24, 1990 the first free, multi-party elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet were held. A parliamentary majority by non-Soviet aligned candidates was won. Of the 141 members, 91 were endorsed by Sąjūdis, the anti-Soviet Lithuanian Reform Movement.
These freely-elected Lithuanians knew that from 1944-1952 their countrymen had fought a guerrilla campaign against the Soviet occupiers that saw thousands killed and thousands imprisoned as they tried to regain their freedom.
They knew that the Hungarians had attempted a revolt against their Soviet occupiers in 1956 and were violently put down.
They knew that the Czechoslovakians had tried to regain liberties in 1968, and were also put down by the Soviet Union and its proxies.
They didn't care. Their cause, their purpose, was liberty. They acted.
On March 11, 1990 the new Lithuanian Supreme Council, formerly the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet, adopted the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania, declaring their independence from the Soviet Union.
The vote was 124-0, with six abstentions. Lithuania, a tiny area about three-tenths of one-percent of the Soviet Union's land area, had become the first Soviet republic to reject their Communist oppressors.
Here is the text of their resolution:
The Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania, expressing the will of the nation, decrees and solemnly proclaims that the execution of the sovereign powers of the State of Lithuania abolished by foreign forces in 1940, is re-established, and henceforth Lithuania is again an independent state.
The Act of Independence of February 16, 1918 of the Council of Lithuania and the Constituent Assembly decree of May 15, 1920 on the re-established democratic State of Lithuania never lost their legal effect and comprise the constitutional foundation of the State of Lithuania.
The territory of Lithuania is whole and indivisible, and the constitution of no other State is valid on it.
The State of Lithuania stresses its adherence to universally recognized principles of international law, recognizes the principle of inviolability of borders as formulated in the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Helsinki in 1975, and guarantees human, civil, and ethnic community rights.
The Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania, expressing sovereign power, by this Act begins to realize the complete sovereignty of the state.
All one-hundred and twenty-four men and women who voted for it - libertarian patriots standing against tyranny just as our Founding Fathers had with the Declaration - signed their names on the printed page that was entered into the record of the assembly. The die was cast.
In January 1991, the rapidly disintegrating Soviet Union tried to put down Lithuanian independence and reestablish their tyrannical control. They failed.
On February 11, 1991 Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuania's regained status as a free and sovereign state.
On August 2, 1991 the United States became the second country to recognize Lithuania's independence from the Soviet Union. Furthermore, President George H. W. Bush stated that should the Soviet Union react militarily against the Lithuanians henceforth, the United States would "react accordingly".
Fifteen days later, the Soviet Union acquiesced and recognized Lithuania's independence. The battle was won. Liberty had triumphed.
So today, twenty-two years since the declaration of Lithuanian independence, here are the names of the 124 Lithuanian patriots who, like the men in Philadelphia in 1776, placed their lives, fortunes, and honor at risk for the ideal that they should be free to lead themselves and determine their own fates (every other name is bolded for readability).
These men and women deserve to be recognized and honored by all those who love liberty, and I am proud to recognize them in this space today.