Lithuania celebrates centenary of Independence Act signing

February 16, 2018
Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite, right, greets European Council President Donald Tusk prior to their meeting at the Presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — European leaders and royals gathered Friday in Lithuania, which is celebrating the centenary of its independence declaration with festivities and church bells tolling across the small Baltic nation.

President Dalia Grybauskaite says “we got our statehood back,” adding Lithuanians will continue making a country that is “safe and prosperous.”

The nation of nearly 3 million was part of the Russian Empire before declaring its independence in 1918. Lithuania was then independent until 1940, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union. It regained its freedom in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

The German, Polish, Finnish and Ukrainian presidents, Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria and European Union officials — including European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk — were present for Friday’s celebrations of the 1918 signing of the Independence Act, which carried high notes of patriotism.

A copy of the 1918 act was found last year in German archives and has been returned to the Baltic country, but only on loan. It has to be returned to Germany in 2023.

A Lithuanian scholar discovered the missing document, which apparently was sent in 1918 to inform Germany that it could no longer control the territory that was occupied by German Empire troops. The original of the act was kept in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas but disappeared in 1940 when Soviet Russia occupied the country.

Norbertas Cerniauskas, a historian at the Vilnius University, said the document and “years of freedom between two world wars were crucial factors” to restoring Lithuania’s identity as a nation.

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