How a Lithuanian from America ended up in the middle of historic January 13 events in Vilnius

Linas Muliolis was your average young Lithuanian born in the USA. The son of World War II refugees, Linas grew up in Cleveland's Lithuanian community. In January 1991, he was just a month away from turning 21 years old and was in Vilnius during the historic January 13 events.
Linas Muliolis in 2012

LTnews.net talked with Linas about his experiences in 1991.

How did a young man from Cleveland end up in Vilnius during a 'revolution'?

I went there (Lithuania) to live for a year, to study language at Vilnius University. Things were heating up and in the beginning of January, I went there (parliament building) and volunteered to be an interpreter. I worked in the information bureau with Rita Dapkute.

Were you at the parliament building on Jan. 13?

Yes. I was there for four days with only two, four-hour breaks of sleep ..... Had my own gasmask issued to me. (it was 108 hours with 2 four-hour naps)

Were there any other "volunteers" from abroad there?

From America, I think Rita Dapkute, Darius Suziedelis and I were the only 3. There was a group from Moldova. There was about a half dozen of them, in case of attack, they were there mostly for moral support but it was nice to have them there... very well received.

Photo by Linas Muliolis
Photo by Linas Muliolis

So the Moldovans were there to defend the parliament building?

Basically yes... I can't remember if they were armed... I think I only remember seeing guns once ... on the main floor...

Did you ever worry about what would happen to you if the Soviets tried to or did take over the parliament building?

No, not at all, why would I worry about that? (he answered jokingly). I made sure I kept my passport with me at all times, in case... Who knows if it would have helped, though. I always said the rest of my life would be anti-climactic.

Photo by Linas Muliolis
Photo by Linas Muliolis

Were you ever told what to do if the building was attacked? Were you given a gun?

No - there were practically no guns to be seen, this was primarily a peaceful protest... I WAS issued a gas mask though, because there were rumours of attack by gas.

Was there ever a time you thought to yourself 'what am I doing here? Am I going to die'?

Yes, the whole time!

What was the mood like inside the parliament building on Jan. 13?

Stress! Pretty much what you would expect, desperation, frustration with the rest of the world, stress, worry, fear... etc.

What was the frustration with the rest of the world?

About non action. I remember one newspaper cartoon, for example, a rear view of Landsbergis facing a window, you see from the back that he is holding a phone, the view out the window shows a new oil well spraying oil in the air. He says "President Bush? Guess what!"

The world was focused on the first Iraqi war, but yet on Jan 13th, we still made the top headline.

Photo by Linas Muliolis
Photo by Linas Muliolis

Did you ever cross paths with Vytautas Landsbergis during this time?

Yes. I was in his office once or twice, I was called in to help translate one night. But I didn't do a great job, though, I have to admit. Once you get technical in some subject, you know how hard it can get.

What was Landsbergis like?

He was calm, focused, definitely calm and reserved.

When did those of you in the parliament building hear about the civilian deaths?

We heard about the deaths as they were happening. I remember the death count rising. I was surprised how accurate the news reports were in the US and in the UK, everything was pretty accurate, sometimes the number of deaths was off, but considering how confusing the time was overall, the news articles I saw were close to reality.

Photo by Linas Muliolis
Photo by Linas Muliolis

Did you have any contact with your family back in Cleveland?

Yes. After I took the photo of the Soviet tanks (posted below) I was on the phone with my mother at the time, "Mom, don't be scared, but there is a column of tanks going by" probably was not a good thing to say to my mom. She turned gray that year.

Being an American-born Lithuanian, how were you treated by the native Lithuanians in the parliament building?

People were grateful for me being there. I was generally well accepted. By that time I had learned to look and act local, gotten rid of most of my American accent, though.

Photo by Linas Muliolis
Photo by Linas Muliolis

Was there any single moment that stands out for you?

The single most amazing thing I saw happened late at night, I believe it was on the night of January 12th, I may be wrong. Do you remember the photo of the lone Chinese man standing in front of a column of tanks at Tiananmen Square? The Parliament Building is right next to the river, and there was a bridge over it leading to the square where hundreds of thousands of people were protesting and guarding our fledgling government. That night, suddenly someone in the room called out, said there were reports of a column of tanks racing towards us. Hearts pounding, we raced to the windows. I was on the fourth floor so had a great view. A long column of tanks came racing towards us. The most amazing thing I have ever seen in my entire life, was the mass of people simply rush in to block the way. Those tanks would EASILY have crushed hundreds of people in seconds if the continued through. I have never witnessed such bravery and selflessness in my entire life. Luckily, however, at the last seconds, those tanks and APC's slowed down and turned right, away from the Parliament Building.

When did you feel everything was going to be ok?

When most of the tanks left.

Cleveland Plain Dealer on January 14, 1991
Cleveland Plain Dealer on January 14, 1991

Any final thoughts?

This was definitely one of the most memorable times of my life, something I will never forget! My whole life I had been taught that someday Lithuania will again be free, that we needed to keep the language and culture alive. Then, when I was 20, turning 21 - it happened and I was a part of it!

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