Coup of the Volunteers
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The Coup of the Volunteers was a stand-off that occurred in 1993 in Lithuania near Kaunas between the group SKAT (Savanoriškoji krašto apsaugos tarnyba - "Voluntary National Defense Service"), which had been formed during the period when Lithuania was winning back its independence from Russia, and some forces loyal to the newly elected Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania (LDDP).
Although it concluded peacefully, the stand-off led Lithuania to the brink of civil war just after its first democratic elections, which would have played into Russia's political and military goals in the region.
The group called SKAT was established when Lithuania attempted to reclaim its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. The unit was formed when a group of young volunteers agreed to serve without pay and were sworn in. At that time, the Soviet army still had full control over Lithuania. On March 11, 1990, Lithuania declared its independence. The Soviet Union responded by imposing an economic blockade and later by using military force in events of January 1991. The volunteers, as well as unarmed civilians, played a role in defending Lithuanian government institutions.
In 1992, the LDDP, the former Communist Party of Lithuania, won a majority in the country's first democratic elections and formed the government. At the time, Lithuania's military was still very weak, and Russian troops were still in the country despite the end of Soviet domination. The volunteers were seen as disloyal to the new, formerly communist government, so there were plans to dissolve the SKAT. Funding was reduced, not enough weapons and uniforms were provided, and several incidents between SKAT and the police took place, with the volunteer group portrayed as criminals.
In 1993, an armed SKAT unit near Kaunas refused to obey the government and hid in local forests, where they were joined by additional recruits. The leaders of LDDP considered attacking the rebels. The state was on the brink of a civil war, which would have served Russia's interests, demonstrating that Russian troops were still necessary in Lithuania to prevent disturbances and riots. But the Russian army had left Lithuania just before the coup. The leaders of other military units refused to attack the rebels, and some even declared support for the rebels. The government had to seek a peaceful solution,[clarification needed] which eventually was found by the end of 1993.
The coup remains controversial. Some historians claim that it helped to ensure the independence of Lithuania — that if SKAT had been dissolved in 1993, Lithuania effectively would have been left without military defence. Others claim that the coup did nothing good for Lithuania and was merely a fight over influence in the newly reborn state.
Different sides are also blamed for the coup: some blame LDDP government and others blame the Russian secret service, while still others blame certain leaders of the volunteers.
- Artūras Jančys, Žmogus su šautuvu, Extra, May 15–21, 2000, No. 18 (81)
- Andrius Sabatauskas, Sausio 17-oji - Krašto apsaugos savanorių pajėgų gimtadienis, Slaptai, January 20, 2004