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At the end of the Second World War, the world was splintered into two factions: east and west. On one side, the Soviet Union and its satellite states. On the other, a coalition of democratic powers led by the United States.

Lithuanian Independence

So began the Cold War.

During this period, both sides attempted to bring as many other states into their sphere of influence. One of the first to come under Soviet Influence was Lithuania.

Having once been a part of the Russian Empire, the Soviets were keen to have the nation under their control again. At the outbreak of WWII, they seized the opportunity by forcing Lithuania to join the Union.

The country was variously occupied by German and Soviet forces until the end of the war found them firmly in the eastern bloc. There they would remain for the next 45 years.

Lithuanian Independence Is Declared

Lithuania consistently chafed under Soviet rule. But there was no way that they could repel their occupiers by strength of arms, and the western powers made little effort to support their independence.

But the first glimmer of opportunity would appear in 1985 with Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power. Gorbachev pursued policies that were intended to lessen tensions with the west. One of his biggest policy moves came in 1989 when he repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine.

The Brezhnev Doctrine was an article of Soviet policy that established that the Soviet Union would be justified in exercising force to preserve existing communist governments.

Lithuania nationalists viewed this act as a sign that the Soviets would not pursue force if the attempted to leave the Union. So on March 11, 1990, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania declared itself an independent nation.

The Soviet Union did not accept their declaration.

Gorbachev was willing to allow Soviet satellite states to fall to democratic movements, but Lithuania had long been a part of the Soviet Union itself. As such, he declared the act illegal and demanded its repudiation.

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Lithuania refused to do so, and tension quickly flared.

The Soviet Union Disintegrates

As the Soviets struggled to regain control of Lithuania and an increasing set of nations officially recognized their independence, the other satellite states saw an opportunity to secure their independence.

The Soviet Union struck back swiftly, first with economic sanctions, and then by sending in troops to occupy key cities. But unlike in 1945, this time the United Stated responded with action.

The U.S. issued its own wave of sanctions against the Soviet government. And further weakening his position, Gorbachev's grip on power within his own government was slipping.

As the Soviets struggled to regain control of Lithuania and an increasing set of nations officially recognized their independence, the other satellite states saw an opportunity to secure their independence.

By December of 1991, 11 of the 12 Soviet Socialist Republics had declared their independence. Gorbachev's resignation would follow that same month, and for all intents and purposes, the Soviet Union was finished.

In the time since the exit from the USSR, Lithuania has seen a reversal of its fortunes. The nation now boasts a high Human Development Index, high living standards, and has generally enjoyed a long period of peace and stability.

It's even become a popular cruise destination for tourists. European cruises are full of culture and history, so given its inspiring history and rapid development, Lithuania is an ideal locale.

Small Actions Can Yield Large Results

There was no guarantee that the push for Lithuanian independence would have succeeded. Nor was it likely that anyone could have predicted the ultimate result of its success.

The actions taken to secede from the Soviet Union hastened its dissolution, and the last 30 years may well have played out differently had they not taken place. It may be one of the most underappreciated moments in contemporary history.

And to read more inspiring stories like Lithuania's gambit, check back with LA Progressive for an always-increasing archive of smart news, views, and retrospectives.

Rokey Jhonson

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