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Vincas Kudirka


Vincas Kudirka (1858-1899), physician and writer, who did much to revive Lithuanian national and cultural consciousness at the end of the 19th century, author of Lithuania's national anthem, born in Paezeriai, county of Vilkaviskis, on December 31, 1858. From 1871-1876 he studied at Marijampole High School, showing musical and literary talent. Although he attended Lithuanian language classes at the high school, he preferred Polish literature, especially the works of Adam Mickiewicz and, following that writer's example, began to consider himself gente lituanus, nations polonus (of Lithuanian birth, of Polish nationality). In 1877 at his father's insistence he entered the Theological Seminary in Seinai, but showed no desire to study there. In 1879 he returned to Marijampole to complete high school. Here he began to write poetry and to publish a supposedly clandestine student newsletter in Polish; the publication included his poetry and humorous and satirical articles.
In 1881 Kudirka entered the University of Warsaw, studied philology for one year, then transferred to medicine. In 1885 he was arrested and tried by the Russian police for helping to prepare for copying an abridged translation of Marx' Das Kapital. Apart from this technical help to Polish Marxists, Kudirka matured under the influence of liberal positivism. Later in Warsaw he recognized the marked difference between Lithuanians who had adopted Polish culture and native Poles. He became convinced that Lithuanians and Poles had distinct national differences. His final conversion was caused by reading the first truly Lithuanian newspaper Auszra (The Dawn) by Jonas Basanavicius. During his final year of study in 1888, Kudirka and other Lithuanian students founded a secret society in Warsaw called Lietuva (Lithuania); in 1889 they began to publish the Lithuanian newspaper Varpas (The Bell), which played a significant role in the Lithuanian national revival.
Kudirka's work in Lithuanian political and national movements lasted only ten years. When Varpas began to be published, it became obvious that Kudirka was suffering from an advanced stage of tuberculosis. However, he completed his studies and began to practice medicine in Sakiai. Sakiai was not far from his birthplace and was close to the Russian-German bor-der, across which Varpas was published because of the Russian government's ban on Lithuanian literature. He was that newspaper's editor and most important contributor. As his illness progressed, Kudirka went to Yalta in 1894 for treatment, but returned home due to lack of funds. He moved to Naumiestis, by the German border, and forsook medicine to concentrate on editing, journalism and literature. Here he was arrested by the Russian police, who suspected him of authoring articles in Varpas. He was released for lack of evidence. Kudirka then sought treatment in Sevastopol, but in the spring of 1896 returned to Naumiegtis. His illness had so advanced that he could only write lying down. He died in Naumiestis on November 16, 1899. The town was later renamed after him Kudirkos Naumiestis.
Kudirka was the first true columnist in Lithuanian journalism, and was a most significant influence on the Lithuanian nation. His column in Varpas, called Tevynes varpai (Homeland Bells), is the backbone of collections of his works. Much of its contents (mutatis mutandis) is almost as relevant; to the 20th century as it was to the last decade of the 19th. His writings were affected by Adam Mickiewicz and Friedrich von Schiller and their romantic idealization of the combatant spirit of liberty in nations and peoples. Yet Kudirka also sought to solve actual problems and was a practical positivist. Fascinated. by. Lithuania's heroic past, he popularized its history to protest the subjugation of the Lithuanian people by the Russian tsar. He unmercifully unmasked the injustice of the Russian government's laws as applicable to Lithuania, especially the absurdity of the ban on freedom of the press, and exposed the Russian bureaucrats' inane actions in Lithuania. Yet he did not spare his compatriots, especially the Lithuanian intelligentsia, whom he castigated for their apathy, inferiority complex, acceptance of their lot, political cowardice, not fighting for national rights, and for internecine squabbling because of ideological differences. Kudirka saw as heroes the high school students who, while Lithuanian and Catholic, refused to pray in Russian before classes, or the farmers who, even on pain of death, did not fear to resist the Russian administration's attempt to destroy their church.
Kudirka was not inciting revolution or riot. He urged Lithuanians to first enlighten themselves and learn their rights, and then to demand and protect these rights. He urged and taught political, cultural and economic resistance. Considering the attainment of Lithuania's national rights and good as the most important task for the Lithuanian population, Kudirka urged the people to discount religious or social differences and to strive for their goal with a unified front. Although many political parties eventually developed in Lithuania, all excepting the communists accepted Lietuva, Tevyne musu (Lithuania, Our Homeland), written by Kudirka, as the national anthem. The anthem is a fifty-word condensation of his program of political ideals for the Lithuanian nation. The first lines of the hymn describe Lithuania as the homeland of Lithuanians and a land of heroes. He is, of course, speaking about historical heroes and urging Lithuanians to draw inspiration and spiritual strength from \ their heroic past. He speaks not of conquest or the reinstatement of a powerful state, but rather wishes that Lithuanians would be people of the highest integrity who work for their homeland's good and for the good of humanity. The hymn further expresses a wish that Lithuania become a source of enlightenment, defeat ignorance, and be a stronghold of truth and justice. Finally it urges patriotism and national unity. Kudirka also wrote the melody for the anthem; both words and music were published in Varpas in September, 1898. The second stanza of the hymn, comprised of 23 words, was chiseled on Kudirka's gravestone. By order of the local Russian police chief, the inscription was later obliterated.
In addition to journalism, Kudirka was a pioneer in political satire in Lithuanian literature. He left only 4 stories of this genre: Lietuvos tilto atsiminimai (Recollections of a Lithuanian Bridge), Virsininkai (The Chiefs), Cenzuros klausimai (The Question of Censorship) and Vilkai (The Wolves). The satires compromised the Russian administration even more effectively than Kudirka's journalistic writings. After nearly a hundred years they may be read with as much pleasure as if they were directed at current events. As a satirist, Kudirka was a follower of the Russian writers Krylov, Gogol and Saltykov-Shchedrin. In his poetry he taught his countrymen how a good Lithuanian should act in life. Even more than by original work, Kudirka enriched Lithuanian literature by good translations. Characteristically he chose to translate works which were thematically concerned with Lithuanian history or with other nations' struggle for political freedom against foreign domination. The first category includes: Mindowe (Mindaugas) by J. Slowacki, Kiejstut (Kestutis) by A. Asnyk, Narymont (Narimantas) by T. Werblowska, Dziady (All Souls' Day, Part III) and an excerpt from Konrad Wallenrod by A. Mickiewicz. The second group includes: Wilhelm Tell and Die Jungfrau von Orleans by F. von Schiller, Cain by G. Byron, and Dust of the Earth (in Polish) by M. Radzewiczowna. He also translated the satiric fables of M. Krylov. Furthermore Kudirka, an originator of Lithuanian literary criticism, published a provisional Lithuanian writing manual and an article on principles of versification; both texts greatly helped to improve the new Lithuanian journalism and literature. He prepared and published Kankles (Lithuanian Zithers), an anthology of Lithuanian folk songs (2 parts, 1895 and 1899), and pieces for the violin (which he played) and pianoforte. Herewith Kudirka was an impulse in many branches of Lithuanian cultural activity. His works were the basis for the political ideology of Lithuanian liberal and nationalistic parties which later developed.

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