Independent Decade
In Vilnius, a nation has been reborn. Forty-eight years ago, Lithuania vanished from the map of Europe as an independent state, a morsel thrown to Stalin by the ignoble Nazi-Soviet secret agreement of 1939.

But this weekend, it rose again: first in the modern concrete assembly hall on the bank of the Neris, where the Lithuanian Reform Movement, Sajudis, held its inaugural congress, then across the river, in Gediminas Square at the foot of the old city. The crowd gathered from every direction, slow streams of people carrying candles, torches and the long-banned red, green and yellow flags of "bourgeois" Lithuania. As they approached the square, the streams became rivers of their own, of old and young, children on their fathers' shoulders, walking to the soft rhythmic chanting of patriotic songs which everyone knew by heart.

Finally, there were 200,000 of them, crushed together under a night sky like black crystal. The mood was of rapture, barely suspended disbelief, as they listened to songs and poetry long-prohibited. The smell of candle wax filled the air. Behind, half-obscured by the haze of smoke and forest of flags, stood the old cathedral and Gediminas Castle on the hill above, guardians of a sovereign Catholic nation.

The rally was a climax of a hardly imaginable week. Hectic meetings in the modern citadel of Soviet Communist power had chosen a new reformist party leader and effectively and unceremoniously sent his Russian deputy back to Moscow, whence he had come two years before. But even those belated acknowledgements of the need for change failed beside the inaugural congress of Sajudis.

This autumn, 40 years of bottled-up grievances and frustrations have been uncorked. For Lithuania, the Baltic states, indeed the entire Soviet Union, the uncertainty is the same: where will it all end?

Rupert Cornwell was Foreign Correspondent of the Year in the 'What the Papers Say' awards in 1988. Lithuania became fully independent in 1991, the year the Soviet Union was dismantled.

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