Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Smugglers Day in Lithuania

  1. In Lithuania, March 16 is celebrated as Knygnešio diena, or the Day of the Book Smugglers, to commemorate the birthday of Jurgis Bielinis, a newspaperman who created a secret distribution network in order to smuggle banned Lithuanian books into the country. 
  2. KNYGNEŠYS (pl. knygnešiai), a name given to a book-carrier (knyga = book, nešti – to carry) who smuggled books and newspapers across the border during the years (1864-1904) of the Russian ban on Lithuanian publications.
  3. The ban was a result of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, which brought with it militaristic efforts to enforce Russification—including a mandate to replace all Lithuanian-language works printed in the Latin alphabet with Cyrillic works.
  4. During the summer of 1863 Tsar Alexander II issued Temporary Rules for State Junior Schools of the Northwestern Krai, ruling that only Russian-language education would be allowed there.
  5. In 1864, the Governor General of the Vilnius Governorate, Mikhail Muravyov, ordered that Lithuanian language primers were to be printed only in the Cyrillic alphabet. To put down the rebellion, he began by hanging insurgents, which earned him the enduring title of "the hangman."
  6. Muravyov's successor, Konstantin Kaufman, in 1865 banned all Lithuanian-language use of the Latin alphabet. 
  7. In 1866, Tsar Alexander II issued an oral ban on the printing or importing of printed matter in Lithuanian.
  8. Most of the Latin-alphabet Lithuanian-language books and periodicals published at the time were printed in Lithuania Minor and then smuggled into Lithuania. When caught, the book smugglers were punished by fines, banishment, and exile, including deportation to Siberia. Some were simply shot in the head while crossing the border or executed on the spot.
  9. In 1867, Motiejus Valančius, the Bishop of Žemaitija, began to covertly organize and finance this printing abroad and sponsored the distribution of Lithuanian-language books within Lithuania. 
  10. In 1870, his organization was uncovered with the help of Prussian authorities, and five priests and two book smugglers were exiled to remote areas of Russia. Other book smugglers carried on his work.
  11. The policy was lifted in 1904 and completely abolished following the disastrous defeat of the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, under the official pretext that the Russian Empire needed to pacify its national minorities. During the ban’s final years, it is estimated that more than 30,000 books were being smuggled into the country annually through a number of secret organizations and legal institutions.
  12. In 1905, soon after the ban was lifted, one of the book smugglers, Juozas Masiulis, opened his own bookstore in Panevėžys. This bookstore is still operational, and a chain of bookstores operates in Lithuania under his name.

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