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History is always relevant: marking the Day of Honouring Partisans and Military and Public Unity

On May 14, as per tradition, we marked the Day of Honouring Partisans and Military and Public Unity along with Civil Resistance Day, which honours the sacrifice of Romas Kalanta in resisting the occupying Soviet regime. Historians, members of the military, and public information specialists agree that during this time, when free people are being brutally killed in Europe’s largest state, Ukraine, it is important to reinforce the meaning of these historical dates in order to rally and unite all of our citizens. 

“It’s symbolic that the Day of Honouring Partisans and Military and Public Unity, which is always celebrated during the third weekend in May, this year coincides with Civil Resistance Day. Exactly 50 years have passed since the day that Romas Kalanta chose a radical manner with which to protest the occupying regime — political suicide. News about the radical step [self-immolation] taken by this brave young man, notwithstanding efforts by the KGB to limit the spread of information about it, got around Lithuania — his sacrifice became a symbol of our civil resistance. And today we see the unbreakable will of Ukrainians in their fight for their country’s freedom, independence, and democratic values. States that have won their freedom in battle against an armed aggressor never forget the cost of that freedom and its value,” said historian and communications expert Luka Lesauskaitė.

In her view, every person can give meaning to the sacrifices made by freedom fighters and strengthen civil preparedness by joining volunteer associations or by serving in the Lithuanian Armed Forces or Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union. 

Major Donatas Mazurkevičius sees the strength of the state’s defences in the rapport between the military and the public: “This commemoration of our freedom fighters binds the people of Lithuania through a type of ritual in which we feel that we are more interconnected. All of us — soldiers and their families, Lithuania’s allies and Lithuanian institutions, community organisations and opinion leaders, citizens and politicians, businesspeople and employees, city folk and country folk, young and old, fellow nationals, whether they live in Lithuania or abroad, are united in spirit by a single idea — that the security of our country and our ability to defend ourselves is a common affair and the right and responsibility of every Lithuanian citizen.”

According to him, there have been three important stages in the strengthening of Lithuania’s security: Lithuania’s accession to NATO and the EU; Lithuania’s participation in international missions (especially in the reconstruction of Ghor Province in Afghanistan); and the reintroduction of military conscription. 

“However, the invasion by the Russian Army of Sakartvelo (Georgia) in 2008 and of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 reminds us that threats still exist and that they lie close to our borders, which is why we must remain united and we must all contribute to the strengthening of the country’s defences,” Mazurkevičius said.

Alkas Paltarokas, an organiser of commemorative excursions that honour the memories of partisans, said that the long period of post-war resistance demonstrated the ruggedness of Lithuanians and showed that there was a point to continuing the fight even when they were outgunned.

 “It’s important to always remember those Lithuanian partisans, those brave people who have their lives. Our country bears the battlescars from that fight with the enemy: we mourn the fallen, we lower our heads in the places where they were killed, but in the face of real threats historical dates encourage us to look back at what they practised and then do what is realistic today,” Paltarokas said, who includes tactical weapons training in his hiking programme.

He said that refugees from the war in Ukraine have taken an interest in the hikes he organises to visit battlefields, and that several hundred participants in his tactical shooting programme afterwards decided to join the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union and obtain a licence for a personal protective weapon. Due to the high level of interest, he regularly organises hikes that include training and lessons in wilderness survival and teamwork. These practical skills can be useful in daily life and the training strengthens the bonds between people.

A. Paltarokas says that the project Vanago Lietuva (The Lithuania of Vanagas, named for a legendary partisan leader), represents a part of history that was of greater interest to Lithuanians themselves, but that the younger generation and foreigners have also begun to take an interest in the period. “That flame of resistance, which to the older generation always seemed like a natural given, is cherished today as a special power. Participants in these excursions wonder where Lithuania’s partisans found so much resilience, why they didn’t give up, how they survived for so long in the woods and in their underground hideaways.”

“The growing interest in the history of Lithuania’s freedom fighters and the questions that come up about how to prepare for possible scenarios motivate me to spread these practises and, in so doing, improve the readiness of our citizens and their will to defend themselves,” said Paltarokas, a communications specialist and organiser of hikes.

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