True Lithuania

The heroes of Lithuanian national revival (19th century)

After a long period of decline and persecution, the Lithuanian spirit rose again in late 19th century when the Spring of Nations influenced Lithuanian aspirations to restore independence. The Russian Empire that ruled Lithuania at the time regarded the territory as unquestionably Russian, leading to a cultural struggle which meant many deaths, deportations, and imprisonments for the Lithuanian elite.

At the vanguard of the national revival stood a handful of men, each of them helping to safeguard and shape the Lithuanian identity in a particular sphere of life.

The Vienybės (Unity) square of Kaunas was laid in the 1920s to celebrate the Revival and Freedom. Each hero of the 1820-1920 century has a bust there, including Maironis, J. Basanavičius and V. Kudirka in this image. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Simonas Daukantas (1793-1864; 28 urban streets) was the first historian to publish a history of Lithuania in the Lithuanian language, that way breaking with the tradition which preferred the use of Latin and Polish languages for sciences and humanities.

Motiejus Valančius (1801-1875; 21 urban streets) was a Catholic bishop of Samogitia (by that time the Diocese of Samogitia covered the majority of modern-day Lithuania). He is best known for having established the Sobriety Movement that challenged the Russian policy to make peasants addicted to alcohol (and thus easier to control).

Vincas Kudirka (1858-1899; 37 urban streets) was the author of the Lithuanian national anthem “Tautiška giesmė” (written in 1898 and adopted in 1918). At the time when Lithuanian press was banned by the Russian government, he used to publish illegal Lithuanian newspaper Varpas thus pioneering Lithuanian-language media.

Jonas Basanavičius (1851-1927; 36 urban streets) is frequently styled the Patriarch of the Lithuanian nation. He put a lot of efforts to advance the idea of independent Lithuania and eventually he saw it bearing fruits when he was among the 20 signatories of the independence declaration on 1918.

Maironis (real name Jonas Mačiulis, 1862-1932; 30 urban streets) was a priest famous for his volumes of patriotic poetry that have inspired generation after generation of Lithuanians, not only in the 19th century but also under the Soviet occupation.

Jonas Jablonskis (1890-1930; 8 urban streets) was the linguist who standardized the Lithuanian orthography and coined countless neologisms to replace the then-common Russian and Polish loanwords. Only a part of these neologisms took hold but still the efforts of Jablonskis altered the face of the Lithuanian language. If you read a 19th-century Lithuanian text it will be quite different from the language today. However, there will be few differences between a 1920s text and 2010s text.

Most Lithuanian litas banknotes depict people from this historical era.

National Revival heroes on banknotes: M. Valančius (2 Litas), J. Jabonskis (5 litas), Maironis (20 Litas), J. Basanavičius (50 Litas), S. Daukantas (100 Litas) and V. Kudirka (500 Litas). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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