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For Love of Language

Commemorating the Centenary of the Restoration
of the Lithuanian Printed Word

"Lithuanian Heritage". 2004 January-Fabruary 

The sculpture „Vargo mokykla“ („School of Hardship“ by Petras Rimsa, symbolizes the condition of the Lithuanian school during the Press Ban periodOn May 7, 1904, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia issued an order restoring to the Lithuanians the right to use the Latin alphabet in printing Lithuanian books and newspapers. So 2004 marks the 100th Anniversary of the re-establishment of the free press in Lithuania. During the forty years of prohibited Lithuanian printing, known as the Press Ban, Lithuanians suffered greatly. Many of Lithuania's sons and daughters rotted in cruel Russian prisons, while others were banished to the wilds of Siberia to die in exile. It is impossible to estimate the moral and physical loss caused by this prohibition of printing which threw the Lithuanian Nation into mental stagnation for nearly half a century; and all this for the love of Lithuanian language, Lithuanian books and newspapers.
Here is some historical background, which appeared in the October, 1928, Vol. 9, No. 2 issue of The Journal of Race Development, under the section "Lithuanians":
"The Russian Governor-General Muravyov, 'The Hanger,' in 1863, forbade the use of Lithuanian (Latin) characters in all printed matter, from prayer books to newspapers; and, in the following year, made such printing a crime. He also decreed that all books should be printed with Russian (Cyrillic) characters in order to accustom the people to adopt the Russian language and forget their own. This infamous ban lasted forty years. The Lithuanian literature was not allowed to live in Lithuania, so it sought a new home in Tilze (East Prussia, Lithuanian Minor), from whence books printed in Lithuanian characters were smuggled into Russian-occupied Lithuania.
In 1904 a great revolution broke out in Russia. Fearing that the Lithuanians might join the revolution, the Tsar, in order to gain their good will, restored to them the freedom of the press. Previous to this not only All books, such as the kantickos or book of hymns above, were allowed to be printed only using the Russian alphabetwas the liberty of the press denied to them, but all national movements, which tended to keep alive the national spirit and language, were forbidden and punished by banishment to Siberia. This severity had the most telling effect upon the Lithuanian people. Their sturdy sons left their birthplace for all corners of the globe; about a million Lithuanian coming to the United States of America.
During oppression's darkest moments, each Lithuanian mother taught her children in secret the beloved tongue; taught them to read in smuggled and hidden books the great stories of their past; whispering to them: 'Soon perhaps, our freedom may come again. You, my son, may help to free us.' During the short period of fourteen years between 1904 and 1918 when Lithuania regained its independence, there was a remarkable growth of Lithuanian literature of permanent value. Writers and poets, such as Jonas Maciulis-Maironis, Vincas Kreve-Mickevicius, Jonas Biliunas, Ignas Seinius, Antanas Zukauskas-Vienuolis, Julija Zymanriene-Zemaite, Marija Peckauskaite-Satrijos Ragana, and others created wonderful gems of Lithuanian literature.
Besides there were organized many societies of education, as well as a scientific society to conduct searches of ancient tombs and burial places for the purpose allowed to be printed discovering the nature of Ancient Lithuanian culture. Mention must be made of the Society of Fine Arts and the Temperance Society, the former for developing the Lithuanian national style and the latter for saving the poor people from squandering their possessions to obtain vodka. The Lithuanian Nation, once the commercial door to Russia and the political barrier between Prussia and Russia, has arisen in the midst of the world war wreckage, raised an army for self defense, set up a republic, elected a president and a parliament, established a financial and judicial foundation. A splendid achievement."