Each year Lithuania celebrates Independence Day on 16 February, which is the date on which the country declared its independence in 1918. Until this time, the country had been under Czarist Russia rule until Germany occupied the country during World War I.
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The Act of Independence signed in 1918 by the Council of Lithuania proclaimed the right to national self-determination based on the Vilnius Conference Resolution of 18-23 September 1917. The country was to be founded on democratic principles with Vilnius as the capital.
However, in 1940, Russia annexed the country and it remained under Soviet rule for almost 50 years until it became independent again in 1990. For this reason, February 16 is celebrated as State Independence Day while March 11 is celebrated as Independence Restoration Day.
At the time independence was declared in 1918, Lithuania was under German occupation as Germany advanced toward Russia. Germany encouraged the establishment of the Council of Lithuania as long as they agreed to a union with Germany over Russia.
Lithuania’s declaration of independence did not appeal to Germany and, as a result, publication of the act was prohibited in Germany and the work of the Council was hindered. When Germany was defeated in World War I, the Cabinet of Lithuania was established and the Council gained control of Lithuania until 1940 when it was annexed by Russia.
Lithuanians celebrate Independence Day enthusiastically. All major cities in the country hold festivals, public speeches and parades. The capital holds public shows of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Concerts are held in Cathedral Square that are free to the public. Offices, closed and governmental agencies are closed on Independence Day.