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SIETYNAS (Constellation), a secret society for distributing printed matter, active in Suduva (southern Lithuania) from 1894-1897. Because of the Russian ban on the printing of Lithuanian works in Latin characters, books and newspapers had to be printed abroad and smuggled into the country (see Press Ban). The smuggling was undertaken by individuals and by smaller or larger groups, especially organized for that purpose. One such group was organized in 1894 in Meskuciai. The society functioned without a name and became known as Sietynas only when its activity was traced by the Russian government. Its founders included doctor Kazys Grinius, later president of
Lithuania (1926), doctor Jonas Bagdonas, teacher Vincas Palukaitis, Vincas Slekys (chairman), Jonas Cesna (treasurer). Centered in Marijampole, the society had eight branches and around a hundred members, the majority of whom were students or village youths. They distributed primarily the newspapers Varpas (The Bell) and Ukininkas (The Farmer), published in Prussia, and Wienibe Lietuwninku (Lithuanian Unity), published in the United States. These as well as other books and newspapers were obtained by Jonas Bagdonas who lived in Naumiestis (now Kudirkos Naumiestis) at the German border, sent by mail coach to Vilkaviskis, and there picked up by Jurgis Lietuvninkas, a postal service employee, who with his wife Petronele delivered them to the society members. Sometimes the printed matter was sent through the customs office in Virbalis where it was received by a Lithuanian sympathizer Aleksander Sulkiewicz. There were others who did not belong to the society but participated in the distribution work; these included priests, clerics of the Seinai theological seminary, and students of Veiveriai Teachers' Seminary and Marijampole high school.
Members of the society carried on their work successfully for three years. Some of their names were found during a search of Jurgis Lietuvninkas' home (1897), who had been discovered receiving suspicious shipments at the Vilkaviskis post office. Also, the Russians obtained a letter of Andrius Matulaitis, then serving in the Russian army, in which he sent greetings to the group of book distributors active in his village and surrounding area, referring to it as a constellation. During the trial, this was the name given to the whole society which was accused of seeking to separate Lithuania from the Russian empire. Most of the arrests were carried out by the head of the Marijampole gendarmes, Andrei Vonsiatsky. The trial lasted two years, with more and more defendants who had no connection with the society but were known as Lithuanian activists being added to the same case. Thirty-five people were sentenced. Most of them were exiled for three years to northern Russia, some to Siberia. Jurgis Lietuvninkas
and his wife received the heaviest sentence; they were both sent to a hard labor camp in Siberia for fifteen years.