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"Täna 30 aastat tagasi" | Sildam and Born in the middle of Vilnius massacre

Toomas Sildam and Üllar Born.
Toomas Sildam and Üllar Born. Source: ERR

August 20 will mark the passing of 30 years since the restoration of independence and an entire generation and more have grown up in independent Estonia. Those who were in the thick of events 30 years ago think back.

Soviet troops tried to occupy the Vilnius TV Tower on January 13, 1991 the defense of which cost the lives of 14 Lithuanians.

Estonian journalists Toomas Sildam and Üllar Born recalled on ETV's history program "Täna 30 aastat tagasi" ("Thirty Years ago Today") that things were still rather calm on January 12. Because there was nothing to indicate there would be riots, the reporters headed to their hotel in central Vilnius and turned in. Events started to unfold at night.

"I would have continued sleeping as I do not have a Soviet army background but Born who served roused me and said that tanks were firing," Sildam recalled.

"People were running around and yelling in the streets by then. We understood enough Lithuanian to grasp they were headed for the TV Tower," Born added.

Once free of the hotel, the unfolding events swept the Estonians away.

"We were standing ten meters from the chain of commandos keeping people at bay. I had a regular camera and thought about taking a picture of commandos and the TV Tower behind them. But it occurred to me that the flash could earn me a truncheon walloping and I thought better of it," Sildam said.

The second time Sildam felt afraid was entering the Vilnius parliament building that was surrounded by concrete roadblocks and defensive structures.

"When we were in the parliament building, a group of volunteers had single-shot sports rifles and Molotov cocktails lined against the wall. They said that they would resist in case of a helicopter landing. I asked myself whether it was where I would like to die then," Sildam said.

"Many people did not believe things could escalate to the point of shooting and tanks in the streets, attacks on media houses and the parliament in early 1991. Rather, people expected it to be solved some other way," Born remarked.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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