Nineteen years ago today the Lithuanian Parliament declared its independence from the Soviet Union, becoming the first of the former Soviet republics to do so. The whole world watched with bated breath to see what would happen after this bold declaration. What happened was that the Soviet tanks moved in, but brave Lithuanians placed their bodies in the way and ultimately the tanks were defeated by the nonviolent protest. Fourteen Lithuanians lost their lives on Bloody Sunday in early 1991, but the example of Lithuania emboldened the other republics and by the end of the year Gorbachev had resigned and the Soviet empire was relegated to the scrap heap of history.
The United States timidity towards the Lithuanian independence movement is worth noting. According to "Showdown", by Richad Krickus, President George Bush was hesitant to recognize Lithuania because he needed Gorbachev's support for the U.S. war against Iraq (the first Gulf War). Krickus notes the irony in the situation: we were going to war to restore a despot as the head of Kuwait, while at the same time we refused to support a legitimate democracy being formed in Lithuania.
Iceland became the first coutnry to recognize Lithuania, doing so on February 4, 1991. The U.S. and most Western countries waited until after the failure of the August, 1991, coup attempt in the Soviet Union, and only then recognized Lithuania. We extended recognition on September 2nd, only four days before the Soviet Union itself did the same. This illustrates the timidity and downright cowardice of the (first) Bush administration, which was in bed with the Soviets all the way.
Kudos to Iceland and to all the brave Lithuanians who showed the world how it's done!