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Jonas Basanavicius (properly)


Jonas BASANAVICIUS, (1851-1927), physician and ethnologist, leader of the Lithuanian national revival, and signer of the Lithuanian Declaration of Independence, born at Ozkabaliai, near Bartininkai, county of Vilkaviskis, on November 23, 1851. In 1873 he began studying history at the University of Moscow. A year later he transferred to the school of medicine and was awarded a scholarship reserved for Lithuanians. Upon receiving his degree in medicine, he was allowed to remaining the surgical department to prepare for a professorship, but without funds. So he would have to begin medical practice in Moscow with the risk that he would be transferred further into Russia to work out repayment of his scholarship. This uncertainty drove the young physician to settle in Bulgaria for many years.
The Physician in Bulgaria. Just at that time Bulgaria had reverted to being an independent principality (1878-1879). Believing that he would have more freedom there than in Russia, Basanavicius arranged an invitation from the Bulgarian government, and left Moscow early in 1880. In Bulgaria he was appointed a physician of the Lorn Polanka area and director of the hospi- he organized the newly-built hos- pital, and wrote for the professional journals, Russia's continued interference in the internal life of Bulgaria, caused the development of a democratic anti-Russian party, which Basanavicius joined.
When the party was removed from governmental office and began to suffer persecution, Basanavicius requested two months' leave for reasons of health. In the spring of 1882, he sailed on the Danube to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Here he was wrongly suspected of being a partisan Russophile, so without delay he left for Zagreb, and from there went to Vienna. In Vienna he worked in medical clinics and libraries. Later he moved to Prague to further his studies in medicine, and there he met a German Czech, Gabriele Elenora Mohl. They were married in Vienna on May 15, 1884.
After the wedding, they returned to Bulgaria and once more, he began duties as a physician. On Aug. 17, 1887, a Bulgarian invited him as a doctor to his home, where he wounded Basanavicius with two bullets. The motive for the shooting remained unclear. In 1888, Basanavicius traveled throughout Bulgaria gathering data for his study of sanitary conditions in Bulgaria.
The painful experience of his wife's untimely death in 1889 made Basanavicius decide to remain in Bulgaria for a longer period. In 1891 he received Bulgarian citizenship. In 1892, he was transferred from Lorn Polanka to Varna where he was assigned a position as chief physician in the department of internal medicine for the city hospital, and in 1894, he was also given the position of palace physician for Prince Ferdinand. While residing in 1 Varna, he was a member of the Bulgarian Democratic Party and acted as its representative in the city council and at various meetings during the years of 1899-1903.
After earning his pension, on Jan. 19, 1905, he sent a request to the Russian Minister of the Interior to be allowed to return to Lithuania. The same request in 1894 had been rejected. This time, after waiting a long while for an answer in vain, he crossed the border secretly and arrived in Vilnius on Aug. 1,1905.
Editor of Ausra. Although he had been out of the country for 25 years, Lithuanian affairs had never left his attention. In Lithuania Minor, which was then ruled by Prussia,, there existed a few Lithuanian periodicals, but they were all narrow in content and pro-German. Basanavicius sent articles to these periodicals in the hope of arousing interest in the past of Lithuania and in the national revival, but the editors did not understand the need of arousing national consciousness. Also newspapers of Lithuania Minor were printed in Gothic letters, which were unfamiliar in Lithuania Major. Under Russian rule publication of Lithuanian writings in the Latin alphabet had been forbidden in Lithuania Major since 1864. There was an obvious need for a new periodical which would be especially directed to Lithuania Major.
This was achieved in the spring of 1883 with the first publishing of Ausra (Dawn). The printing was carried out in Lithuania Minor, and then the periodical was secretly transported into Lithuania Major. Basanavicius had written the prefatory statement of purpose for the periodical and he acted as editor while he was abroad. By idealizing the deeds of historic Lithuanians, AuSra was prompting a nationalistic consciousness. The periodical only lasted three years (1883-86), but the movement it started continued expanding and strengthened the nation's desire for freedom. (See Ausra.) Interest in Lithuanian History. Basanavicius had written in the preface of Ausra (March, 1883): "Our most important and greatest concern should be to know the traditions of our ancient past and the works of our honorable forefathers." He devoted every spare moment to the understanding of this past. While employed as a physician in Bulgaria, he often traveled abroad, especially to Germany and Austria, gathering material for his Lithuanian studies in their museums and libraries. His prime interest lay in the study of Lithuanian prehistory, ancient religion, customs, and folklore. While he was still attending the high school of Marijampole, he recorded Lithuanian folk songs and legends. Later, although he was studying in Moscow, he kept contact with a society started by Germans at Tilsit (Tilze) in Lithuania Minor, Litauische Literarische Gesellschaft, whose purpose was to gather linguistic and ethnological material relating to Lithuania. From 1880-1885 this society's journal, Mitteilungen der Litauischen Literarischen Gesellschaft, published, songs, riddles and legends collected by Basanavicius; the legends also appeared in a German translation with the title Fragmenta Mythologiae (1886). Later songs and tales which he collected and which others sent to him were printed in Lithuanian periodicals published in Lithunia Minor and the United States, especially in Dirva (The Field) from 1898-1902.
Basanavicius collected the published and newly-gathered material into the following major publications of folklore: OSkabaliu dainos (Songs of Ozkabaliai), 2 vols., 1902; LietuviSkos pasakos (Lithuanian Tales), 2 vols., 1898-1902; Is gyvenimo lietuvisku veliu ir velniu (From the Life of Lithuanian Ghosts and Devils), 1903; Lietuviskos pasakos ivairios (Various Lithuanian Tales), 4 vols., 1903-1905. These publications included some 300 songs and about 1,000 tales and legends. In addition, in 1893, in Apsvieta (Education) he published a study, Is musu botanikos (From our Botany) which contained a classification of 284 Lithuanian-named plants, and in 1898, published another similar study, Medzega musu tautiskai vaistininkystei (Material for our National Herbal).
Basanavicius also wrote on matters of Lithuanian history, such as the grand princes, the battles with the Order of the Cross, castles and historical landmarks. He gave a romantic picture of the Lithuanian past. His interest was primarily held by the question of Lithuanian origin.
Thrace-Phrygian Hypothesis. Basanavicius considered his most important work to be his efforts to prove that the Lithuanians were descendants of the Thrace-Phrygians. Traveling widely in Bulgaria, he became acquainted with its ancient cultural heritage. He took notice of similarities between Bulgaria and Lithuania, such as in toponyms, customs, songs, and their melodies. These similarities were especially pronounced in the southeast, on the coast of the Black Sea, where Thracians of an Indo European origin lived in antiquity. On the other side of the Black Sea, part of Asia Minor was inhabited by the congeneric Phrygians. Basanavicius' hypothesis was that the Lithuanians were of the same origin, having migrated from the Balkan Peninsula to the coast of the Baltic Sea. The material he spent most of his life gathering was the basis of many articles, but he failed to convince any scholars, either Lithuanian or those abroad. Among the articles he wrote on this subject are: Lietuviskai-trakiskos studijos (Lithuanian-Thracian Studies), 1898; Levas lietuviu pasakose ir prygiskai trakiskoje dailoje (The Lion ir. Lithuanian Tales and Thraco-Phrygian Art), 1907-19; Apie traku prygu tautyste ir ju atsikelima Lietuvon (On the Nationality of the Thra cohrygians and their Migration to Lithuania), 1921; Traku kalbos likuciai vietu varduose lietuviu kalbos sviesoje (Thracian Linguistic Remains in Toponyms in the Light of Lithuanian), 1925, and others. Most of these articles appeared in the magazine Lietuviu Tauta (The Lithuanian Nation), which Basanavicius had started publishing in Vilnius in 1907.
Activities at the Capital of Lithuania. Basanavicius returned from Bulgaria and settled in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius in 1905. Meanwhile a revolutionary movement arose in Russia, seeking a democratic state system. In Lithuania, the movement was directed against the Russian administration, with the hope of gaining more freedom and autonomy for Lithuania. A Lithuanian assembly was called in Vilnius to express these goals, and Basanavicius signed an appeal to the Lithuanian nation. From the time of the publication of AuSra (1883), he was well-known among the Lithuanian public and was thought of as the patriarch of the national revival. He attempted to use this authority at the Great Assembly in Vilnius in 1905 to unite people of various political parties and ideologies, and so to bring about the passing of resolutions which would demand Lithuanian autonomy. The revolution was suppressed quickly and autonomy was not attained, but the Vilnius Assembly did achieve more freedom in the forming of organizations and the publishing of newspapers.
Basanavicius established the Lithuanian Learned Society (Lietuviu Mokslo Draugija), which began work on Feb. 15, 1907. From that day this organization became his prime concern. He donated his extensive library and took it upon himself to gather more books on Lithuanian subjects, manuscripts and material on ethnology and archaeology. In 1907, he became editor and did most of the writing for a scholarly magazine put out by the organization, Lietuviu Tauta (The Lithuanian Nation). The significance which the Lithuanian Learned Society gained was due solely to his efforts and it was the only center of Lithuanian learning before World War I. In 1913, Basanavicius, together with Martynas Ycas, went to the United States and there collected $23,709.36 in donations to build a home for the organization. The coming of the war prevented the completion of these plans, and the money, which had been placed in a bank, disappeared.
Basanavicius lived in Vilnius throughout World War I and the ensuing years. At the Lithuanian conference, held in Vilnius from September 17-22, 1917, he was elected to the Council of Lithuania. On February 16, 1918, this Council in Vilnius declared the restoration of the state of Lithuania. As the oldest member, Basanavicius was the first to sign the declaration of independence. During 1919-1920 Vilnius was occupied in turn by the Russians and the Poles, causing the Lithuanian government to move temporarily to Kaunas. Nevertheless, Basanavicius remained in Vilnius with the Lithuanian Learned Society. Breaking its agreement with Lithuania, Poland occupied Vilnius on Oct. 9, 1920, but Basanavicius continued fighting for Lithuanian rights, wrote publicistic papers, and went on with his research. He died on Feb. 16, 1927 in Vilnius.

Text from the ENCYCLOPEDIA LITUANICA I-VI.  Boston, 1970-1978