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Lithuanian Resistance


The knygnesiai (booksmuglers) movement and rejection of Cyrillic Lithuanian publications were not the only means of resistance. Legal protest, appeals in the courts and other means were used to circumvent the ban. A few Lithuanian intellectuals, with help from Russian academicians and liberal sympathizers, managed to publish some Lithuanian books in the Latin alphabet during the press ban period. The Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg published Kristijonas Donelaitis' Metai (The Seasons) in 1865. Petras Vileisis persuaded government censors to allow the publication of several books in the Latin alphabet in 1876 and 1877. Academic works published in Russia proper were exempted from the press ban after 1880. The University of Kazan, for example, published A. Juska's Lietuviskos dainos {Lithuanian Songs). Although these publications were not widely read in Lithuania, they weakened the legal and administrative foundations of the press ban.
At the turn of the century, the Lithuanian intelligentsia and the illegal press increased their efforts to repeal the press ban, emphasizing legal means and public protests. They organized a letter writing campaign to the Tsar, the Minister of the Interior, and other officials. The peasants, in their petitions, demanded Lithuanian instruction in the rural schools and books in the Latin alphabet.
Eventually, the complete failure of the Cyrillic reform, the inability to contain contraband in illegal Lithuanian publications and the rising tide of public protest showed that the press ban was unworkable. Russia's Council of Ministers Considered the Lithuanian press ban on October 28, 1897, and concluded that there was no practical way to halt the flow of the illegal press Into Lithuania. The ministers estimated that even with strict German cooperation, not all of the illegal press could be halted since at least a third of the publications came from the United States. In May, 1898, the Academic Committee (Uchebnyi Komitet) of the Ministry of Education concluded in a special report that the Cyrillic reform was a failure and that the press ban should be repealed. The committee complained that the press ban had produced completely unexpected results, one of which was the development of strong Lithuanian nationalism. Some Russian officials in Lithuania felt that the press ban needlessly antagonized the people against the Tsarist regime and that it was in the interest of the Russian state to have a legal Lithuanian press which could be censored. Prince Sviatopolk-Mirsky, who became govern or general in 1902, reported to St. Petersburg that “the Cyrillic script has not established itself among the Lithuanians” and that, despite the government's efforts, illegal publications were “spreading throughout the Northwest Territory [i. e. Lithuania] by the tens of thousands.” The governor general urged the Tsar to repeal the press ban. The press ban was shown to have no legal basis when in 1902 and 1903 the Russian Senate (Supreme Court) reversed two convictions in press ban cases (against Antanas Macijauskas and Povilas Visinskis). The reversals were based on the Senate's opinion that the original executive decree which had promulgated the press ban was illegal. Finally, the out break of the Russo Japanese war per suaded the Tsarist government of the need for placating Russia's nations minorities. The ban on Lithuanian publications in the Latin alphabet was lifted by the Tsar on April 24, 1904.
The press ban and the resistance it aroused among the people were the central events in the history of the Lithuanian national movement in the 19th century. The struggle against the press ban mobilized and developed Lithuanian forces. Furthermore, the press ban created among the Lithuanian nation at large a tremendous feeling of national injustice and the sense of being singled out for especially harsh treatment. Vincas Kudirka wrote in the first issue of Varpas (January, 1889) that the situation of the Lithuanians was “far worse than that of the Jews or Tatars who are not prevented from speaking their language, publishing newspapers or maintaining schools.” The press ban was originally conceived to bring Lithuanian peasantry into closer relations with Russia and Russian culture. In fact, by arousing their specifically Lithuanian national feelings and inspiring them to effective resistance against Russification, it managed to achieve the exactly opposite result.

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