On May 14, 1972, a 19-year-old high school student set himself on fire in the center of the Lithuanian city of Kaunas in protest of the Soviet occupation.
Don’t blame anyone for my death. I knew that sooner or later I had to do it. I hate the socialist system. I am useless. What is it for me to live? To kill this system? I better kill myself … there will never be freedom here. They forbade even this word … “freedom” …
These are the last words in the diary of a 19-year-old young man from Lithuania, left by the fountain on the Alley of Freedom in the center of the Lithuanian city of Kaunas. Meters away, Romas Calanta’s severely burned body writhes in agony.
The dark-eyed and black-haired high school student poured 3 liters of gasoline and scratched his stick, shouting “Freedom for Lithuania”. The year is 1972, and the date is May 14. Opposite, the windows of the building housing the Soviet authorities in Kaunas are tightly closed. There are many people near the fountain of the Musical Theater. This is a favorite meeting place for young people in the city. Seeing the living torch, many of them rush to help. Romas was taken to the city hospital, but with 90 percent burns. 14 hours later, in the early morning of May 15, the young man died.
On February 22, 1953, Adolfas and Elena Calanta became the parents of a boy. Romas was born in the city of Alytus in southern Lithuania. Father Adolfas is a World War II veteran, communist and supporter of the Soviet regime. However, the mother Elena is a believing woman and raises her son in the spirit of Catholicism. In 1963, the family moved to Kaunas, where Romas attended high school. The awake young man impresses his peers – he reads a lot, writes poetry, plays the guitar and loves to paint.
However, in 1971, Romas Calanta’s participation in a historical seminar criticizing Marxism led to his expulsion from the Communist Youth Union and from school. Thus, Romas fails to finish with his peers and get a high school diploma. This forced the 18-year-old boy to enroll in evening high school and start working in a local factory.
“Long live independent Lithuania”
Romas’ funeral is scheduled for May 18, 1972. However, KGB agents in Kaunas forced his parents to say goodbye to their son two hours before the scheduled time for worship. They also forbade the family to place a tombstone.
Their actions provoked outrage among hundreds of young people who failed to attend the funeral. Anger drew thousands of protesters to the streets of Kaunas and neighboring towns and villages to protest against Soviet rule. On May 18 and 19, Kaunas resounds with the chants “Freedom for Lithuania!”, “Long live independent Lithuania!” and “Long live May 18!”.
The regime is sending 7,000 police officers to the Lithuanian city to crack down on the riot. Hundreds were detained, and dozens were convicted and jailed for hooliganism.
In his report to Moscow, the first secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party, Antanas Sniečkus, tried to convince the leadership that what was happening was a minor manifestation of local hooligans. In support of his claims, the entire communist apparatus in Kaunas was harnessed.
A statement from the prosecutor’s office was published in the local press on May 20 and 21: “Regarding the suicide committed on May 14 in front of the Kaunas Musical Theater, the city prosecutor’s office said the accident was being investigated. forensic and forensic psychiatric “.
A month later, a specially formed psychiatric commission announced that based on the letters, pictures and diary entries in Romas Calanta’s diary, as well as interviews with his parents, teachers and friends, they concluded that the young man suffered from a mental illness – schizophrenia. . Proof of this was his suicide in a strange way, as well as the fact that Romas had long hair and in a school essay claimed that Lithuania would one day be free.
Kalanta was declared an enemy of the people, but in the same month a metal cross was erected on the road near Kaunas with the inscription “Romas Kalanta, who sacrifices himself for Lithuania”. A report from the KGB department in Vilnius from the end of 1972 testified that in the months after the death of the 19-year-old, 12 more people set themselves on fire in protest against the Soviet government in Lithuania.
To this day, the sacrifice of Romas Kalanta is not forgotten and he is considered a national hero in Lithuania. In 1989, a new special commission of psychiatrists categorically rejected the conclusions of the previous one and declared that the young man from Kaunas was absolutely healthy and had sacrificed his life with a clear conscience.
On July 4, 2000, Romas Kalanta was posthumously awarded by the Lithuanian President, and two years later the Seimas declared May 14 the Day of Civil Resistance in memory of the “burning herald of freedom”.
Photo: Museum of Exile and Resistance, Kaunas, Lithuania