President Dalia Grybauskaitė

AFP/France 24: "Lithuania honours anti-Soviet self-immolation hero"


AFP - Lithuania on Monday paid tribute to a student whose self-immolation 40 years ago sparked mass anti-Soviet protests in the Baltic state, an unwilling Soviet republic at the time.

"Freedom is more valuable than a life. This message by Romas Kalanta has now been alive in our memories for four decades," President Dalia Grybauskaite said in a statement.

Lithuania declared independence in March 1990 after almost five decades of Kremlin rule, becoming the first republic to secede from the Soviet Union. The nation of three million went on to join the EU and NATO in 2004.

Ceremonies honouring Kalanta were held in the central city of Kaunas, where 19-year-old Kalanta set himself on fire on May 14, 1972, in a fatal protest against Soviet occupation.

His suicide and a move by the authorities to hold a secret burial earlier than planned, brought thousands of young people out into the streets in protest, chanting anti-Soviet slogans and demands for freedom.

After clashes with police and troops sent by Soviet authorities, over 400 people were arrested.

In an attempt to defuse tensions, the Soviets set up a special commission that declared Kalanta insane, but Lithuanians never accepted this conclusion.

"For us, Kalanta is a hero who loved Lithuania with all his heart, whose moral principles were against ideological screws," Kaunas mayor Andrius Kupcinskas said at Monday's ceremony.

The Soviet-era protests in Kaunas were the largest in Lithuania until the "singing revolution" which started in the Baltic states in 1987.

"I'm very glad that Romas's sacrifice has not been forgotten," his brother Antanas said.

Press Service of the President

Last updated 2016.07.08 08:56