January 13, 1991

30 years ago, my Dad taught me what freedom meant.

Ernesta Orlovaitė
3 min readJan 13, 2021


I remember little of that Sunday. But I can imagine it to the minute detail — the story, repeated by Mum every year, gradually changing like a Lithuanian fairy tale, is my favourite. Dad left, probably on one of those buses that transported thousands of people from every corner of the country. What took place inside the Parliament has remained a mystery to me, mixed with fragments of stories I once heard, black-and-white snippets from patriotic films, portraits hanging on the walls at school, and my imagination in which heroic Lithuanians withstand the onslaught of an evil enemy.

Years ago, I found a photo taken around those days. Another detail of the puzzle — my Dad with lush, blond hair, that preposterous curl, grandfather glasses, smiling for some reason, standing boldly on guard. Only without a gun — it wouldn’t go with the smile.

Another story. A few days after Dad left, his friend paid us a visit, solemnly congratulating my Mum. “Your husband is a hero!” My Dad was a hero. He was also, I assure you, alive and well. Only the friend had failed to mention that. A heart-warming story, a little funny — one my Mum tells me and I will tell my kids. I won’t ever feel what my Mum felt back then, and my kids probably won’t feel the way I feel today — insanely proud because my Dad was there. And so it must be — my Dad defended Lithuania so that our family could be happy. So that I would know what freedom is. So that my kids would learn the word occupation from history books.

January 13 was my favourite day at school. Fourteen black-and-white portraits would hang in the miniature assembly hall. Deputy director would read the names of all those who perished that day. I would listen to her talk and want to laugh and cry at the same time. Silently — never loudly — I would burn with pride that my Dad defended our homeland. Just like today. I hadn’t been home for a long time on January 13. There, the occasion is commemorated with a delicious dinner by candlelight, a glass of champagne, and an evening of storytelling. Here, the TV doesn’t show images from the past, the radio doesn’t blast heartbreaking songs about freedom. But I am celebrating. I am celebrating with the Scorpions, listening to the wind of change at the top of my lungs. Because today is the day when my heart beats only for Lithuania.

While Mum was clinging to the TV, waiting for news — any news — I was playing kanklės. I couldn’t actually play the instrument, of course, but I had heard a beautiful lament in kindergarten. So I kept repeating it.

Oh mother, oh sea
How cruel you are
Uniting the hearts
Just to tear them apart



Ernesta Orlovaitė

Bookworm (but I sometimes go on real adventures) · Obsessive thinker · Inconsistent writer · “You live and learn. At any rate, you live.” — Douglas Adams