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Seimas Commemorated the 40th Anniversary of the Sacrifice of Romas Kalanta and the Youth Resistance. Address of Mrs Irena Degutienė, Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania


 

 

On 11–23 May 2012, commemorative events were organised in Lithuania to mark the 40th anniversary of the sacrifice of Romas Kalanta and the youth resistance: http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter/w5_show?p_r=8524&p_k=2.


Romas Kalanta, the herald of freedom, sacrificed his life in the name of Lithuania's independence. He realised that the totalitarian regime was murderous and summoned the courage to shed his life thus contributing to Lithuania's liberation. Kalanta self-immolated on 14 May 1972 in Kaunas city garden, near the musical theatre. According to official data, he died at 4 a.m. on 15 May 1972.


Kalanta’s self-immolation caused a spontaneous resistance
and unsanctioned protests in Kaunas, which offered a suitable environment as a city famous for its Lithuanian national spirit, a rather strong influence of the Catholic Church, and informal youth movements. The attempts of the Soviet KGB to prevent any gatherings of people by hastening Kalanta’s burial only worsened the situation. The young people, who were late for his burial as a result, were outraged. They took the flowers to the place of his death.


Anti-Soviet unrest began in the city, resulting in open resistance. Demonstrations on 18 and 19 May 1972 were attended by several thousand people. As they walked down the streets of Kaunas, the people were chanting, “Freedom to Lithuania!” and “Freedom to hippies!..” The appeals “Long live independent Lithuania!” and “Long live 18 May!” were distributed throughout the city. It is noteworthy that the anti-Soviet unrest in Kaunas attracted the largest number of people in the Soviet Union at the time. In addition to the Soviet police, the authorities commissioned paratroopers and security services to crack down on the protesters.


This event raised many repercussions and promoted the cause for Lithuania’s liberation, which, under favourable circumstances, evolved into the Reform Movement Sąjūdis. The Kaunas dwellers annually commemorated the 14 May. The Lithuanians residing abroad organised commemorations, published books and stamps, erected monuments and other symbols of remembrance in the gathering places of Lithuanian communities.


On 4 July 2000, Romas Kalanta was posthumously awarded the 1st Class Order of the Cross of Vytis. On 27 December 1990, an order was issued announcing Kalanta’s tomb a historical monument of local significance. Romas Kalanta was conferred the status of a freedom fighter in 2005.     

 

 

Address of Mrs Irena Degutienė, Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania,

Made in Kaunas at the Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Death of Romas Kalanta

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Every nation has its legends. A great many of them come from the ancient times, from the nation’s mythology and folklore. However, there are legends whose birth can be witnessed by anyone through fate and God’s grace. Romas Kalanta is our living legend, comparable to Margiris, defender of Pilėnai, the Grunewald Battle, the post-war partisans, the victims of 13 January 1991, the customs officers in Medininkai, and a number of other people who sacrificed their fates, health, and even their lives on the altar of freedom. Romas Kalanta and his courage and sacrifice became the most conspicuous expression of the thirst for freedom. It sent an infuriating message to the invaders and their allies that any attempts at assimilation, forced oblivion, and imposed obedience had suffered a shameful defeat.

 

The love for freedom and motherland felt by the nineteen-year-old boy from Kaunas, who deliberately became a living torch calling for an independent Lithuania, shook and frightened the Kremlin. The Communist Politburo was troubled not only because of Romas’ heroic sacrifice, but also because his act ignited a fire in the hearts of other Lithuanians, as a few thousand young people committed to the cause of a free Lithuania joined the rally in Kaunas.

 

The Kremlin was anxious that the sacrifice of Kalanta and the disturbance in Kaunas could discredit the Soviet foreign policy, because 8 days later the official visit of the United States President Richard Nixon to the Soviet Union was to begin in Moscow. The dramatic events in Kaunas in 1972, on the eve of the visit of US President, reminding of the events in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968, clearly destroyed the myths created by the Soviet Empire about the alleged friendship of nations and love of the working people for the Soviet system.

 

Of course, it is sad that Romas Kalanta had to pay a very high price – the price of his life – for the fundamental right to freedom. However, in many faiths, including our Christianity, death is perceived not as the end, but rather as a bridge and exit to the other, eternal and meaningful state of being. This is particularly evident in the case of Romas Kalanta: his death was far from being the end, to the dissatisfaction of those who were engaged in slander and psychologically terrorised his loved ones even after his death. The living torch of Romas Kalanta became a historic bridge and a historic connection between his time and the spirit of the post-war struggle for freedom, demonstrating the spiritual strength of the nation.

 

Therefore, the death of the young man, as an exodus from the dehumanised Soviet reality void of spirituality, carries a very noble message. This is what gives us strength and greater clarity; out of single individuals, it makes us stand united as a nation and as a state.

 

This will never end, never lose its relevance, nor value. In the words of Maironis, the Lithuanian national poet, the angels of heaven are weaving a crown of diamonds to the ones who shed their lives (free translation of the poem). I firmly believe that these words also refer to our Romas Kalanta.

 

Irena Degutienė

Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania



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