Lithuania: Two Independences and an Inflatable Doll Race

arch 11 is always a special day for the people of Lithuania. This year the date marks the 22nd anniversary of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania, an action that saw it become the first country to peel itself away from the Soviet Union and declare independence. But 1990 wasn’t the first time such an event happened. And March 11 isn’t the only day of national independence celebrations.

Like so many central and eastern European countries, Lithuania has a history of being tossed about like a rag doll by bigger, tougher nations. During the 18th century the country found itself acting as just one of numerous organs in the Russian Empire, that is until the 1917 Revolution put paid to that and Lithuania was rewarded with its own governance the following year. Come 1939 though, the Soviets and Nazis were divvying up countries like slices of birthday cake. Lithuania was assigned to Russia and soon after occupied, initially thrown into the despair of a Stalinist regime, and following the dictator’s death, retained under less violent but nonetheless miserable regime.

All of this was ended on March 11 1990 when all members of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R. finally agreed that the country should be restored to its inter-war status. It wasn’t until September 1991 that a stubborn Russia finally accepted Lithuania’s independence.

Interestingly enough, Lithuania has a national day for each of its declarations of independence; the one marking its 1918 Act of Independence takes place on February 16. Here, joyous celebrations are sparked off all over the country, with the hub centering on the House of Signatories in the capital Vilnius, where the 1918 declaration was signed. From this building the national flag is hoisted and speeches are made from the balcony by various political figures.

The significance of both independence acts is still recognized the world over. The U.S. has already paid its dues this year; On February 14, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said: “The United States joins all citizens of Lithuania as you celebrate Lithuania’s independence and the inspiration it provides to countries around the world. Know that the United States stands with you as a dedicated ally and a friend as we work towards a more peaceful and prosperous world.”

Both national days are marked by the usual festivities; marching bands, street shows and fireworks.

Less orthodox celebrations are to be observed on Lithuania’s (unofficial) National Men’s Day in May. Last year, 20 men competed in a race that took place on the Neris River, Vilnius. This may not seem strange in itself, until you realize the men were not racing with rowboats or canoes, but rather inflatable sex dolls, which they had commandeered as rafts. Said winning competitor Liudas Pestininkas about his unusual vessel: “Vaida was a very good girl, and only listens to me. She is cool. Other participants don’t have dolls as cool as mine.”  It’s good to see that a country which has been through so much has retained its sense of humor.