What we did know was this: Had they summoned up their courage – or let their desperation gain the upper hand – to use military force against a nation unarmed, we would have experienced a bloodbath on a horrendous scale.
But if they could be restrained – at the brink of the abyss – we knew it would be the beginning of the end of empire; and the end of the beginning of the irresistable movement towards the restoration of freedom and independence for Lithuania and all of the Baltic countries.
Now we know what happened.
The rest is history.
I arrived in Vilnius during the 3d week of January 1991 at the urgent insistence of president Landsbergis, who at that time feared for the worst. He insisted that the presence of a NATO foreign minister – as an act of solidarity – mattered.
And what did I see?
I saw the president of the Seimas on alert, day and night; I saw a few scores of volunteers inside this building with rifles, ready to sacrifice their lives against an expected and overwhelming force; I saw this building barricaded by blocks of stones and trucks, set up for resisting the coming onslaught.
And when I wandered into the streets and squares of Vilnius – during those bleak winter nights – I looked into the eyes of the people – trying to keep warm by the bonfires – who calmly left me in no doubt, that despite the overwhelming odds, they would never give up. They would stand their ground, come what may.
This was a moment of truth – and beauty. I shall never forget it, as long as I live.
A decade and two years later we gather in this historic – and once beleaguered – building, to celebrate the rewards of freedom.
To the guest´s eye the transfomation that has already occurred, is beyond our wildest dreams; knowing full well that we „ain´t seen nothing yet“ – compared to the as yet unrealized opportunities for reconstruction and developement in the Baltic Sea region. With the pace of reform so far achieved noone doubts that this region will see, in the near future, a profound transformation in the quality of life and the wellbeing of the people of the Baltic states.
That is the reward of the courage of your conviction and the blessing of your hardwon freedom.
At the historic NATO-summit in Prague in November Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were welcomed into the new security structure of a united and peaceful Europe. And in Copenhagen, a few weeks ago, another historic decision was made, meaning that the Baltic states will once again rejoin the European family of democratic nations.
At long last the ghosts of the past have been laid to rest.
Together we can now face the future with confidence and optimism, firmly based on new realities. It is indeed – a cause for celebration.