In 1990, Vytautas Landsbergis, the non-Communist head of the largest Lithuanian popular movement (Sajudis), was elected president. On the same day, the Supreme Council rejected Soviet rule and declared the restoration of Lithuania's independence, the first Baltic republic to take this action. Confrontation with the Soviet Union ensued along with economic sanctions, but they were lifted after both sides agreed to a face-saving compromise.
Lithuania's independence was quickly recognized by major European and other nations, including the United States. The Soviet Union finally recognized the independence of the Baltic states on Sept. 6, 1991. UN admittance followed on Sept. 17, 1991.
What's beyond the horizon?
- I wonder what's it like on the other side...
Many times we've stod on the beach in Åhus and looked at the Baltic Sea. For many years, the Baltic countries was just a place on the map with low pressure in the weather forecast. We'd read stories about the people who had fled from the communists after the war. And of course about the shameful "The Balts Extradition". It was a disputed political event in Sweden during 1945-1946, when Sweden extradited some 150 Baltic soldiers to the communists.
How was life for them, the people we knew was living on the other side of the Baltic Sea? We knew very little, apart from the fact that they were occupied by Soviet union. We've all seen and heard about the brutal events in Czechoslovakia, Hungaria and Poland. Over the years, forces led by Stalin, Chrusjtjov and Brezjnev assaulted the people in these and other countries in Eastern Europe. Some information made it through the censorship, but most remained a secret.
The man from Lithuania…
Anyhow, one day in 1989 I got a call on the editorial staff. There was a press conference at county administration with the county governor and people from Lithuania. This sounded interesting, maybe a possibility to ask some questions about what was going on on the other side of the sea? County governor Anita Bråkenhielm was the host, and in front sat a squat man with dark hair. That must be the man from Lithuania!
His name was Liudvikas Mikulskis, which corresponds to Ludvig in Western Europe. This would be the beginning of a very interesting friendship. Over the years we got to learn to know Liudvikas and his family very well.
The happy family Mikulskis in our home during the summer of 1994. Liudvikas and his wife Rasa with their daughter Kristina
Air line from Kristianstad to Lithuania
The manager at the airport in Kristianstad, Georg Karlsson, had persuaded the lithuanians to start regular air line traffic to Kristianstad. At a meeting at hotel Christian IV in Kristianstad, the manager for the Swedish Civil Aviation Authority, Bengt G W Johansson, approved the new air line.
This could have been the start of something big for Kristianstad. But quite symbolic, my article just became a small notice in the paper the next morning.
Lost opportunities for Kristianstad
I saw this new air line as the start of something new for a region that had been struggling for quite some time. Kristianstad now had the opportunity of being the portal to the Baltic states. With Swedens first regular air line to Lithuania, this could really evolve into something great. Of course this would also benefit Lithuania, with Sweden and Kristianstad as an entry point to Western Europe and the markets here.
But Kristianstad didn't managed to make use of this opportunity. Despite the fact that Åhus got a ferry line to Lithuania and that Kristianstad got a consul for Lithuania. The municipality failed in their task.
A different country
The first visit to Lithuania was together with a delegation from both the county and municipality administration. I represented the local press on this occation. It was a very exciting trip, we didn't know what to expect. We got to meet a number of prominent people representing Lithuania. On the downside, most of us suffered from a stomach disorder by the end of the week. Most likely the drinking water was to blame.
In total, I've made six journeys to Lithuania (two of them together with Gerd).
Lithuania with Liudvikas and Rasa
Liudvikas and Rasa took us on a tour through the country. In total we travelled some 800 miles. With the keen support by Liudvikas with got the chance to meet the manager of the Lithuanian radio, the minister of transportation and finally the former president Vytautas Landsbergis at his office. We also met with the mayor of Šiauliai; Alfredas Lankauskas. He gave me some interesting news to bring back to Sweden and my news paper. The first regular ferry line between Šiauliai and Åhus. And the ferry would get the name Šiauliai! This was breaking news, not even known to the municipality back in Kristianstad. They got the news through the morning paper...
Communists murdered lithuanians
Liudvikas and Rasa showed us a number of interesting places around Lithuania. One of them was the radio station outside the capital Vilnius where communist soldiers murdered some 14 civilian lithuanians trying to protect their country! We also went to visit the famous Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, the castle in Trakai and the resort Palanga. We've actually been to Palanga twice, the second time we stayed at a hotel owned by Liudvikas! In Palanga we met some great artists as well. Silver and amber craft has long tradition here. We also met the world known artist Rimantas Dichavicius. He told us his story, about being departed to Siberia and how most of his family died there. Eventually he managed to get back, and became a successful artist.
On one occation, Liudvikas took me to the market in Šiauliai. At least back in the 1990's, this was not a place to walk alone as a tourist. There were some really dodgy business going on at that market. If the price was right, you could buy anything including arms from the Soviet army.
2 x museum
We went to visit to the famous Devil's museum which houses a big collection of devil figures (including a representation of Hitler and Stalin dancing around a heap of lithuanian skulls).
By now Liudvikas knew my passion for classic cars. So after the visit to the Devil's museum, he asked me if I wanted to come along and visit a friend of his. This friend was said to have a large colledtion of classic cars. Of course I accepted the offer, maybe a bit to fast for my own good...
Liudvikas made a quick phone call and a Volga came along, driven by a friend of his. The drive took quite some time, and we drove along dark streets. I didn't understand a word about what they were talking about, and I started to feel a little bit worried. Suddenly we stopped outside an old building, and Liudvikas explained that we had reached our destination.
We entered the building. It turned out that it had been a factory prior to World War 2 and that they had built Volvo trucks and busses there! Now there were a number of russian built ZIS and ZIL cars. I got to sit in an old one from late 30's, that looked a lot like a Packard from those days.
Stalins spare care
- This car, Ludvigs friend told us, was actually Stalins car. It's one of the spare cars, and haven't many miles on the meter! I did felt the wings of history. Beside it was another ZIL, from the late 60's. It was once used by another communist dictator, Brezjnev, who'd used it in parades and on the streets of Moscow. How it ended up in Kaunas I still don't know. Beside it stod something that looked like a grey delivery van.
- "This was the worlds fastest ambulance" Liudvikas friend told me. Since Brezjnev suffered from a bad heart, he always had an ambulance next to his limousine in the parades.
Further there was a Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman. At one point the russian party bosses decided to look at buying German limousines instead of producing them in USSR. This wasn't very popular by the soviet manufaturers, so something was sabotaged at this car. When it was time to try it out, it didn't worked very well and the decision was taken to produce another ZIL...
When it was time to go back to the hotel i got the question if I'd like to drive back. Of course I had to accept this offering, most likely this was the only chance I'll ever have to drive a russian built car from the communist era.
Liudvikas is no longer with us. The energetic and powerful man suffered some severe blood clot and died several years ago.
Present-day Lithuania has one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union.
In Šiauliai there's a huge air force base. The runway is three km long, 100 m wide and consists of 3 m thick concrete. It was built to operate the largest aircrafts in the Soviet air force. Today it's home of "The Baltic air-policing mission" which is a NATO air defence Quick Reaction Alert
Here are two of the old soviet hangars. Once there were russian bombers stationed here, armed with nuclear bombs, ready to strike on the free world. When we were there, cows were grazing on the field!
The doors to the hangars were massive, to withstand bomb attacks. Shown here by the mayor of Šiauliai, Alfredas Lankauskas
When the communists were to abandon they stole what could be removed, and demolished the rest. These are the sad remains of a power plant
The Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai is known world wide. Once the communist understod the importance to the lithuanians they had it demolished. But once again the hill of crosses was restored. Even the Pope has visited the hill of crosses in Šiauliai
It's possible to go by boat on the river Neringa from the Baltic sea up to the the capital Vilnius
An old castle near river Neringa. When we were there, it was about to be restored into a hotel
The castle in Trakai is a huge tourist attraction