Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Book This Date!

Here's a National Celebration I had not come across before - today in Lithuania it is Book Smuggler's Day.

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.
After the Third Partition of Poland in 1863, Lithuania was governed by Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. A ban on press in Latin alphabet was issued, prohibiting the press in Lithuanian for that matter. Under the ban, it was illegal to print, import, distribute, or possess any publications in the Latin alphabet. For many Christians, this meant they would not have access to Bibles or Prayerbooks which they could read. The first person to organize printing and smuggling was Motiejus Valančius, a Catholic bishop. In 1873, he was joined by Jurgis Bielinis who created a secret distribution network for banned books and newspapers. Bielinis made a significant contribution to the Lithuanian National Revival, therefore his birthday, March 16, was declared Book Smugglers Day. Many books were printed and translated abroad and smuggled into the country by book-smugglers and the total amount is several millions of printed units smuggled in during the ban. Many patriotic Lithuanians became ‘book smugglers’ facing prison or deportation if caught. They travelled in small groups, staying over or leaving the books at designated places in forests or with trusted people. In 1904 the ban was lifted . 

Here is the statue of Nežinomas Knygnešys (The Unknown Book-Smuggler) 

What bravery - to risk your life so that your people could read books in their mother tongue. And if you can't locate Lithuania, here is a helpful map. Surrounded by Russia, Poland, Latvia and Belarus [and the Baltic] and the capital is Vilnius.

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