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Analysts: Lithuania gained politically from funeral of 1863-1864 uprising commanders

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State funeral in Vilnius

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

In a spectacular three-state celebration, Vilnius hosted last week state funeral for commanders of 1863-1864 uprising. Despite the lingering solemnity, some analysts however noted that Lithuania, politically, gained a lot from the event.

Politics behind three-state funeral

Meanwhile, some others attempted to answer the question that many have raised after the remains were found and identified in 2017 – of what national identity were the uprising leaders, Zigmantas Sierakauskas and Konstantinas Kalinauskas, as well as another 18 insurgents?

To begin with, there was a good deal of politics around the funeral and during it.

«It was a big event, an open show, importantly a three-state event. It was a wise decision to include all of the countries and the nationalities in it that participated in the rebellion. Notably, we saw especially a very large turnout of Belarusians, an indication of the respect to freedom fighters they have had. It opened – perhaps improved – possibility to improve our ties with Belarus,» Kęstutis Girnius, associate professor of politics at Vilnius University, told BNN.

Several hundred Belarusians holding white-red-white national flags of Belarus, often used by the opposition to the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko regime, gathered outside the Cathedral in the heart of Vilnius at the beginning of the funeral ceremony.

Nausėda did not want to see Lukashenko?

Some of the advisers to President Gitanas Nausėda have considered inviting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to the event, however the proposal was not pursued – Belarus’ Deputy Prime Minister Igor Petrishenko came instead.

«I am not sure if there were any negotiations to get him to Vilnius, but I personally believe it would have been much better for Vilnius and Minsk relations if Lukashenko had come. I can just ponder that some Lithuanian politicians on the Conservative wing firmly believe that Lithuania should not have anything to do with Belarus while its president is authoritarian. I believe the Lithuanian President’s Office did not want to irritate the wing,» Girnius underscored to BNN.

Vilnius-Warsaw ties peak

Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor of Mykolas Romeris University, told BNN that Lithuania «strengthened» its lately burgeoning relations with Poland. «To have Duda (the Polish President) for the funeral for entire two days in Vilnius and hear from his lips that Vilnius and Warsaw have never had such excellent ties was music to the ears of many. Nausėda did definitely a great job mending the fences – his predecessor, Dalia Grybauskaitė, cannot be credited for that, to put it mildly,» the analyst noted.

Belarusian deputy PM: do not claim them as your own

Amid the louder or more silent discussions that the uprising leaders had already a certain ethnical identity, it was Belarus’ deputy Prime Minister who dismissed them vehemently at the funeral.

He called on nations not to claim the leaders of the 1863-1864 uprising against Tsarist rule, especially Konstantinas Kalinauskas (Kastus Kalinouski in Belarus), as their own.  In his speech at the ceremony of reburial of the remains of Kalinowski and other insurgents in Vilnius, Petrishenko described the uprising as «a page of our shared past» that unites the nations involved in it. «Each country has its own image of Kalinowski, but he must not become a historical figure used for political purposes,» the Belarusian official said in the Cathedral Square. «On the contrary, it is a page of our shared past that we must respect and that unites us now and will unite in the future.»

Belarusian historians claim Kalinauskas had major influence on the evolution of their nation. Meanwhile, Sierakauskas was born in the region of Volyn in the existing territory of Ukraine.

Heroes cannot be divided

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian and Polish presidents, Gitanas Nausėda and Andrzej Duda underscored at the ceremony that the region should not divide the commanders of the XIX century uprising based on their nationality.

«We should not divide heroes based on their affiliation with one or another nation, but to realize that their fight for freedom was key, and fight for freedom unites all nations and makes them related,» Nausėda told journalists at the Presidential Palace.

«I am very glad that the Belarusians consider Mr. Kalinauskas their hero. I will say this way: we all consider them heroes. It’s very difficult to distinguish them today, considering it from today’s perspective who is whose hero,» Duda was quoted as saying. In his words, Lithuania and Poland have similar ongoing discussions on poet Adomas Mickevičius (known as Adam Mickiewicz in Poland) but neither of the countries needs to appropriate this creator. «We don’t need such a discussion, it’s our common poet,» the Polish president said.

Yet some Poles believe that the uprising leaders saw themselves as Poles.

«Look. In old documents available in the national archives the names and the last names of Zigmantas Sierakauskas and Konstantinas Kalinauskas are everywhere written in Polish, respectively Zygmunt Sierakowski and Konstanty Kalinowski,» suggested a Polish tourist attending the funeral.

National identity a relatively new thing

«The national identity in the middle of the 19th century was perceived far differently than now. With the nations in the region being oppressed by Tsarist Russia, it (national identity) was near to non-existent. Only after the first World War, the issue of national identities became important. The 1863-1864 rebellion commanders and the other insurgents perhaps did not identify themselves as belonging to a particular nationality – they just wanted to rid of yoke of the Tsar,» Girnius said.

Echoing, Dumbliauskas added: «The discussions on national identity of the rebellion leaders seem futile to me. During the time they lived it was more related to the religion and the language they spoke. There was no Lithuania then as we know it now, so their rebellion was against the Tsarist oppression, with no clear political goals.»

The remains were buried the old Rasos Cemetery. The Lithuanian-Polish uprising against the Russian Empire took place in 1863-1864. Its commanders were executed in 1864 and their remained were found inside Gediminas Hill in central Vilnius in 2017.


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