Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Lithuania
|Publication Date||10 July 2008|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Lithuania, 10 July 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4912b62312.html [accessed 1 October 2014]|
Period of democratic transition: 1991
Pro-democracy civic movement: present
After gaining its independence at the end of World War I, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 under a secret protocol of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. Under Soviet rule, tens of thousands of Lithuanians were imprisoned, deported, or killed, as were any political dissidents.
Lithuania's Communist Party leadership was unreceptive to USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika. Encouraged by dissident movements in neighboring countries, Lithuanians began to support Gorbachev's ideas as well as democratization. An umbrella movement embracing Communists and non-Communists, the Lithuanian Reform Movement, or Sajudis, was formed in June 1988 and at first cautiously focused on ecological issues and the crimes of Stalinism before fully adopting pro-independence and pro-democracy aims. Some protests were coordinated among the three Baltic states, including a human chain organized in 1989, consisting of more than two million people across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Sajudis employed mass demonstrations, and the strength and importance of these movements was made clear when Communist Party leaders found participation necessary. After the March 1990 Supreme Soviet elections, in which Sajudis won a clear majority, Parliament voted overwhelmingly for independence. The vote was rejected by the USSR, which imposed economic sanctions. In January 1991, a Soviet attempt to remove the Lithuanian government in Vilnius resulted in the death of 13 civilian protesters. In the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt in August 1991, international recognition of Lithuania was rapid.
In October 1992, openly contested multiparty elections were held for the legislature, as was a referendum that established a parliamentary-presidential system. In December 1992, Lithuania freely elected its first president, Algirdas Brazanskas, previously a Communist Party first secretary, marking the return of the former Communist Party. Although elections have continued with regularity, persistent political instability has plagued Lithuania.