100 hot air balloons fly for Lithuania’s 100th birthday

July 8, 2018
AFP

Balloon enthusiasts came to Lithuania from around the world. Photo: AFP

One hundred hot air balloons floated over Lithuania’s second city of Kaunas on Saturday to mark 100 years of the Baltic state’s independence.

“The first hot air balloon festival was in 1988 during Soviet times when flying balloons was formally forbidden, but no one could keep us on the ground,” organiser Gintaras Surkus, a pioneer of the activity in Lithuania, told AFP.

One balloon flew a 100-metre-long national flag, while others were in shapes including hearts and cats.

“Hot air balloons are associated with the idea of ​​freedom,” Lukas Mikelevic, a 23-year-old psychology student who is also a balloon and aeroplane pilot, told AFP before launching.

“So many balloons taking off from the city centre — it’s unheard of,” he added.

Kaunas is Lithuania’s second city. Photo: AFP

Poles, Latvians, Estonians and Chinese enthusiasts also came to fly their balloons in Kaunas.

Until World War I, Lithuania was a province of the Russian empire, which sought to crush nationalism and even banned the Lithuanian alphabet.

The Lithuanian council declared independence on February 16, 1918, when the country was still under German occupation.

Brief wars with Bolsheviks and Poles followed before Lithuania won international recognition in the following years.

Modern Lithuania was an independent nation between the two World Wars. Then the Soviet Union invaded in 1940, Nazi Germany invaded in 1941, and the Soviets returned in 1944.

One balloon flew a 100-metre-long Lithuanian flag. Photo: AFP

Democracy campaigners launched an independence drive in the 1980s that eventually made it the first Soviet republic to declare independence in March 1990.

Lithuania finally won recognition from Moscow after the failed coup by hardliners in the Soviet capital in August 1991.

In 2004, Lithuania’s pro-Western drive culminated with EU and NATO membership. In 2015, the Baltic state of 2.9 million people adopted the euro.