Lithuania Marks 100th Anniversary of Press Freedom
Glosiene, Audrone, Information Outlook
Library Week in Lithuania is a special event, indeed. We celebrate not just libraries, but the freedom to have them in the first place.
The Lithuanian Parliament has proclaimed 2004 to be the Year of Language and Books (www.spaudos.lt) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of ending the ban on the Lithuanian press.
In 1864, the Czarist Russian authorities banned printing, publication and dissemination of books using Latin characters. Lithuanians were allowed to print and read only in Cyrillic script. The ban also applied to Lithuanian schools and libraries. Lithuanian books in Latin characters were printed abroad and smuggled into the country illegally and disseminated under great risk.
Tough national resistance finally led to the lifting the ban in 1904--after 40 years.
Lithuania is the largest country among the three independent Baltic states and belongs to the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region. It is a democratic parliamentary republic with a president as a head of the state. Total population of the country in January 2000 was 3,475,600 (similar to Ireland). There are 2.3 million urban residents and 1.1 million rural residents in Lithuania.
Ethnic composition of Lithuania's population is as follows:
* 82 percent Lithuanians
* 8 percent Russians
* 7 percent Poles
* 1.5 percent Byelorussians
* 1 percent Ukrainians
* 0.7 percent others
Lithuania has an ancient and dramatic history that was often determined by its geographical situation--on the crossroads between the East and the West.
As a politically active state, Lithuania appeared in the history of Europe in the 13th century. The first Lithuanian book was printed in 1547 in Koenigsberg. It marked the determination of Lithuanian culture to look West rather than East and Lithuania's decision to build its own culture distinct from and resistant to the overwhelming Polish and German influence.
In 1570 the first academic library--nine years before the academy itself--was established in Vilnius. Today Vilnius University Library is one of the richest in the region.
The 17th and 18th centuries saw the disintegration of Lithuania's state. In the 19th century Lithuania lost its independence completely and was included in the Russian Empire. Several uprisings marked the fight for national independence.
After the uprising in 1832 Vilnius University was closed, part of its library's collection was taken to Russia. After the uprising in 1864 the Czarist authorities prohibited printing, publication, and dissemination of the books in Latin characters. Lithuanians were allowed to use books in their own language only if printed in Cyrillic.
A few primers, calendars, and religious books were printed in the Russian alphabet, but although these books were distributed free, they did not become popular; Lithuanians regarded them as tools of Russification and destroyed them.
The ban lasted for 40 years and was met with unexpected and tough resistance: Lithuanians refused to accept the strangers' script and the books (first religious, then secular ones too) began to be published in Lithuanian language and Latin fonts in Eastern Prussia and secretly, under the risk of prosecution, smuggled into Lithuania.
This resistance movement played an extremely important role in forming the national identity. The mutiny against Russia's regime became not only wider and more popular, but it also accustomed Lithuanians to reading texts in their national language, which is a primary symbol of the national and European identity.
Since then, for Lithuanians, the book is deeply connected to the struggle for political and national independence. A book is sacred arms, a symbol of a silent resistance against the strangers and occupants. Along with such keywords as "tradition" and "culture", we must write "national identity" to describe the historic role of books and libraries in Lithuania's society. …