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Press Ban


Petras Rimsa sculpture The Lithuanian School, a child being taught at home from forbidden books during the Press Ban (1864 1904)Press ban, imposed by the Russian authorities on Lithuanian publications from 1864-1904. It forbade the publication or import from abroad of Lithuanian books and periodicals printed in the Latin alphabet. Only Lithuanian books using the Cyrillic script were permitted. Lasting 40 years, the ban provoked a tremendous national response culminating in the successful knygnesiai movement.
Origins of the Ban
The idea of adapting the Cyrillic alphabet to the Lithuanian written language was first proposed by linguist Andrew Ugenski, professor of Kazan' University, in a letter to Bishop Valancius. This idea was further elaborated by the well known Pan Slavist Alexander Hilferding in his book Litva i Zhmudz' (Lithuania and Samogitia, 1863). He proposed that Lithuanian replace Polish as the language of instruction in schools and that the Cyrillic alphabet be used in place of the Polonized Latin script then current in written Lithuanian. Hilferding and other Pan-Slavists believed that if the Lithuanian peasantry could be drawn away from the Polonized nobility and the Roman Catholic Church, it would naturally gravitate toward Russia as its “natural” base (nachalo). The Cyrillic reform was thus intended to aid the process of Lithuania's Russification. The Polish Lithuanian insurrection of 1863 convinced many Russian military men and educators, particularly M. N. Muraviev and I. P. Kornilov, that Polish cultural and political influence was the main obstacle to successful Russian domination in Lithuania.
Jonas Juskevicius-Juska, a linguist and a high school teacher from St. Petersburg, was the first to experiment actively with the adaptation of Cyrillic characters to written Lithuanian. In February, 1864, he met with I. P. Kornilov, the chief educational officer in Lithuania. Kornilov urged Juska to rewrite some Lithuanian texts in the Cyrillic alphabet. These texts were then shown to Governor General Muraviev, who reportedly was favorably impressed with them. Juska, however, did not continue this work, so Kornilov next turned to Stanislaw Mikucki, a Warsaw librarian and close friend of Hilferding. With Mikucki's help Kornilov organized a commission to prepare Cyrillic Lithuanian books for publication by the government. In addition to Mikucki, the commission included Antanas Petkevic'ius, a convert to Orthodoxy, and Laurynas Ivinskis, a well known Lithuanian publisher. Ivinskis, sensing popular resistance to the government's Cyrillic project, later withdrew from the commission.
The first Lithuanian book in Cyrillic, Abecele zemaitiskai-lietuviska (The Lithuanian Samogitian Primer) was published in the summer of 1864. This primer was intended for use in the new government rural schools narodnye shkoly) which replaced the Catholic parish school system. The Abecele was followed by catechisms, gospels and kantickos (popular hymnals). A total of about 50 Cyrillic Lithuanian books, mainly of religious character, were published b the Russian government during the press ban period. Bishop Valancius gave his reluctant imprimatur to the first Cyrillic editions of religious books, but later came out in opposition to the press ban.
Enactment and Enforcement. In addition to publishing Lithuanian books in the Cyrillic script, the Russian government began an active campaign against the Lithuanian press in the Latin alphabet (frequently referred to as the “Latin-Polish” alphabet). In the summer of 1864 Muraviev issued an administrative order forbidding the publication of Lithuanian textbooks in the Latin alphabet. The prohibition was formalized into a comprehensive press ban on all Latin Lithuanian publications on Sept. 6, 1865 by C. P. von Kaufman, Muraviev's successor as governor-general. He also issued a circular to the governors of neighboring gubernias, asking them to cooperate in the ban on Lithuanian books. The press ban was confirmed by Russia's Minister of the Interior P. A. Valuiev on September 23, 1865, and extended to the whole Russian Empire. The government's harsh attitude towards the Lithuanian press expressed itself in the activity of the Commission for the Examination of Samogitian Lithuanian Books (Komissia dlia rassmotrenia zhmudsko litovskikh knig). This commission, established in August, 1865, was composed of members of the Russian military and civil bureaucracy in Lithuania. The commission concluded that the Lithuanian press, mostly religious at this time, was allegedly subversive, “filled with anti-Russian propaganda … and agitation against the dominant religion of the state Orthodoxy.”
During the period of the ban, Russian authorities steadily escalated the war on the illegal Lithuanian press. The first two decades were relatively mild in terms of police activity. Russian gendarmes carried out only occasional searches and book raids in the countryside. Persons who were found possessing the illegal literature were usually (though not always) dealt with on an administrative rather than judicial level and turned over to local police and judges (mirovye posredniki). At first, punishments and fines were relatively light. The vast majority of those arrested were ordinary peasants. But during the last two decades of the ban police surveillance and repression intensified considerably. This was due mainly to the proliferation of political and nationalist literature, such as the periodicals Ausra (The Dawn) and Varpas (The Bell). Russian police began to concentrate their attention on the educated segments of the peasantry. In 1897 police succeeded in breaking up the Lithuanian secret society Sietynas (Network); 38 people, mainly young members of the intelligentsia, were arrested. During 1896 and 1897 Russian gendarmes launched an unprecedented wave of searches and arrests throughout Suvalkija (Southern Lithuania) in an effort to enforce the press ban. However, such measures had little effect on the distribution of the illegal publications and by the turn of the century, more books than ever were spreading through the Lithuanian countryside.
hand in hand with repressing the Latin-Lithuanian press, the Russian authorities tried to include Lithuanians, especially the peasantry, to accept the Cyrillic books published by the government. This attempt failed completely. Subsequently Vaclovas Birziska conducted a study as to the fate of the Cyrillic books by ehamining individual school budgets in Kaunas province (gubernia) for the years 1874 to 1880. In the school at Slabada, for example, not one book had been sold out of 187 in stock. The Rumsiskes school, which received 58 Cyrillic books from provincial authorities, had not sold provincial authorities, had not sold a single one by 1878. In the 14 schools on which data were available, a total of only 154 Cyrillic Lithuanian books were listed as sold during the six year period in question. Birziska suspects that a good number of these were purchased by embarrassed local teachers who feared government displeasure at their failure to promote Cyrillic books. Some peasants who were pressured into buying the government books simply burned them at home. Prince P. D. Sviatopolk-Mirsky, governor general of Vilnius, reported in 1903 that even when distributed free, Lithuanian books in Cyrillic failed to find acceptance among the people.

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