<< The Lithuanian Word     << Booksmugglers     << Back    


Preserving the Language

Val Ramonis
"Lithuanian Heritage". 2004 January/Fabruary

By official Decree of Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament), 2004 has been designated  as the Year of the Lithuanian Language and Book." And UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, included the commemoration of the centennial of the restitution of the Lithuanian printed word into its 2004-2005 calendar of noted dates to be  remembered and commemorated throughout the world. This is a great recognition for Lithuania, since only 40 events were selected for this honor from all those submit-
ted by the 189 UNESCO member nations.
Val RamonisThe Lithuanian printed word made its first appearance in the middle of the 16th century with the publication of the first book in the Lithuanian language – Martynas Mazvydas' "Catechism." Although pressured by various forces, both internal and  external, the printed word in Lithuania survived for centuries, and was the safeguard of language, culture, and national identity during the Tsarist occupation and the national renaissance in the 19th century.
Symbol of the "Press Ban“But Russian authorities would not allow this to continue. In order to eradicate all forms of national aspiration and manifestation, after the 1863 revolt was put down, the Tsar decreed that reading, teaching, and studying – even speaking in public places – in the Lithuanian language would be prohibited. And that the printing of books and newspapers would be allowed only in the Russian language or in the Cyrillic alphabet, commonly known as grazdanka (see page 12).
This "press ban" imposed in 1864 lasted for a period of forty years, during which the language, culture, education, and even moral standing of the Lithuanian nation stagnated and was in danger of perishing. If not for the dedication and sacrifice of the "book-carriers" (see page 14), today Lithuanian would be a dead language joining the ranks of other dead languages, and Lithuanians would be listed in encyclopedias as one  of the many ethnic groups that once inhabited Russia.
Facing strong resistance from the people, and fearing for his own survival, in 1904 the Tsar rescinded the decree and restored freedom of language and press to the Lithuanians. Fourteen years later, they themselves restored full freedom and national independence.