An Irish Poet and a Lithuanian stage director retrace the steps of the 19th-century Lithuanian Book Smugglers, who resisted Russification and saved their language from extinction.
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-This is the Revolt, the Peasants' Revolt?
-This is the old church?
-You see Mackiewicz.
-The priest. It's in winter time in this photo.
It's very different in winter.
This is Father Skaiderus. And this is Gearoid from Ireland.
We're here to find out about the book smugglers.
-Can we look inside?
The church was built by a young priest, Father Mackiewicz,
who, several years later, became one of the main leaders
of a national and social uprising in Lithuania and Poland
against the Russian Empire.
The rebel priest, he was one of the only priests to actually stand up?
Yes. He was the only man of the cloth
who engaged in armed rebellion.
Bishop Valancius was engaged in cultural, national,
political renewment also, but he said to that priest, Mackiewicz,
"Don't go, you will lose your men
"and yourself will be executed,"
but a young man, a young heart, a burning heart for freedom,
he didn't listen to the bishop, to the diplomatic.
He wanted it right now.
-But to take arms and to be leader...
-..and go to forest,
to be a partisan, to be uncatchable, as the Russians called him - uncatchable guerrilla -
was the only example.
Book smugglers, book carriers, after the Revolt,
that was the result of the crashed Revolt.
The Revolt didn't succeed, but the fruits of it
was more and more national and international, maybe, movements.
-And this is the hanging itself?
-There was a bishop who also organised the book smuggling and printing?
And he published books
and he founded the first illegal publishing and distributing organisation.
That was the best part, as a result of the failed Revolt.
It was like a fire burning in the future.
So, was the resistance movement -
was it more to do with Catholicism or language?
Historically, everything worked together in one thing.
At that time, Lithuanian identity, they could not separate the Church from the language?
Not from the language and the faith.
Today, it's more complicated, maybe, but in 19th century,
it was, of course, inseparable, I suppose.
So, what do you think about this priest?
He's a good priest.
It's good that the Church was on the side of the peasants
and you had rebel priests to keep the language
and help the book smugglers.
So, did the Church not help in Ireland,
to keep your language, to protect Irish?
The strange thing is the Presbyterian, Protestant Church.
They wanted to protect the language.
They published Bibles in Irish, the New Testament in Irish.
And in a way, the Catholic Church,
by supporting the national school system in the 19th century, finished what the English couldn't do -
they made the people speak English. They took control of the schools,
and the school system.
Children were punished if they spoke Irish.
They were made to feel it was a sin and they had to wear a stick
around their neck and if parents or older people caught children speaking Irish,
they put a notch on the stick and then the children get beat.
So it made them ashamed to speak the language.
I think also in Lithuania, the Church defends first herself.
And you understand that if they will defend the Catholic Church
and they use Lithuanian language, Lithuanian prayer books,
they will keep these peasants for all time.
How do you feel?
So, we're good? We go to work?
-Let's go to work.
-To catch book smugglers.
And people are... Then they get the letters,
the newspapers, books.
They understand that there are a lot of people who think the same like they think.
Understand what's happening outside.
And I think they started understanding that we are Lithuanian nation,
that we could get independence. It's real,
because we have our language and so why we can't get our country freedom?
-So the paper, the word became almost like a new weapon?
-I think an uncatchable weapon.
-An uncatchable weapon, right.
BUZZ OF CONVERSATION
-What does it mean?
-It's not to Siberia, just to the prison, but, you know?
People went to work.
-Or labour, labour camp?
So it means to the labour camp.
So, where to now?
We are going to visit one couple.
Her grandfather was a book smuggler.
-An actual descendant of the book smugglers.
There's probably more to learn, as we go along, so...
This barge will take us to the Baltic Sea.
Before, there were a lot of these barges.
Not smuggling, maybe, but just carrying wood from forests, or stones to sell.
Now, this is the last one. Like the last connection to the past.
And it's like the barge is carrying us through the past,
through this smuggling territory.
Soon we will get to Tilze. It was like the capital for the old smugglers.
So, where are we now?
100 years ago, there was Prussia.
-Prussia, Prussia, Prussia.
And there was Russia.
And, now, there is Russia.
And there is Lithuania.
So, where is Prussia?
-Like an illusion?
This is Tilze.
And now it's Soviet, the new name, this town here.
-Tilze is now Soviet?
And it's where many Lithuanian books were published during the press ban.
One of the biggest publishers of Lithuanian books was Otto von Mauderode.
Maybe we can find his publishing house.
OK. Let's go.
This is from a short story that was written by Vincas Kudirka,
called Memoirs Of A Lithuanian Bridge.
It's a satire about Russification.
It is the bridge that tells the story.
The basic idea is that a Russian officer and a Jewish contractor make a deal
to repair a bridge, each year.
-But the bridge is...
so year by year, the bridge becomes...
So they try to Russify the bridge?
-They try to Russify, they change it...
-Like the books?
-Like the books.
-Here is the...the Russian.
-And this is the Jew?
It's a very stereotyped caricature.
-You can't now...
These nationalism today and 100 years ago, because...
I think maybe Kudirka was trying to help Lithuanians define themselves
and contrast to other people who live here.
-So, you find out who you are by saying who you're not?
Do you know, when I read this story, I thought it was a bit anti-Semitic.
It made me worry if too much nationalism is a bad thing.
Kudirka, I think, was the main leader
-of our ideology of national...
And, here also, in Kudirkos Naumiestis where Kudirka lived.
-This is where he lived?
-Yes, he lived and died in this town.
And the museum is on the same place where his house was standing.
Kudirka was also a translator.
-Joan of Arc?
-The Maid of Orleans.
Ukininkas, The Farmers' Journal, and Varpas, The Bell -
these were illegal newspapers that Kudirka founded in Soviet,
in Tilze, where we just left.
These are prayer books.
-It's written in Lithuanian language, but only...
And this guy in the model is Muravyov.
How many people did he hang?
-I don't know. I think...
-..a lot, yeah.
-The national anthem.
Kudirka wrote the words and music also for the national anthem.
And what is your national anthem?
We have three.
One for the soldiers, one for the Queen and one for the rugby players.
I bring some examples for Varpas in double-bottom of my magic box.
-It's The Bell.
-Varpas, The Bell.
Just a normal newspaper?
-But illegal, yeah?
So he was bringing modern news of what's going on around the country,
And also he puts his translatings.
-And also traditional folk songs.
So, Varpas really was... The Bell really was to awaken people...
to the importance of their own language,
rather than Polish or Russian?
Yes. That is why Kudirka is so important for us,
as Basanavicius was also.
These publishers are our national heroes.
You can see their names everywhere, in every town and city.
Why do they plant oak? Why choose oak?
Also, in Ireland, it's a tree which is linked to old mythology
and old pagan times, almost, like a magical tree.
Is it possible to be Lithuanian without Lithuanian language?
Can you ask?
So, in Ireland, we have two languages.
And there was a shift to English.
Would he still consider them to be Irish - the ones who do not speak...?
From my own experience, sometimes I work writing poetry in Irish,
talk in Irish, and sometimes I drift, I forget Irish,
and communicate in English.
But, in essence, I still feel Irish.
Doesn't matter if I'm writing in English or Irish?
I can switch, but still feel the same essence.
You are the same. Without language, you are not the same.
Is it not possible to keep a balance?
He called me an illusion.
He don't call YOU an illusion.
You are real.
But your imagination that you could put two things together,
two languages together, and still feel yourself, like Irish?
-That's an illusion?
-It's an illusion, he said.
People who don't speak Irish, they're also an illusion?
No, they don't think that they need Irish,
so it's not illusion.
But illusion is when you are thinking about unreal things, yeah?
I think, as he said,
that you wrote your poetry in two languages?
It's illusion that you want to be an Irishman,
so you should write in Irish, not in English.
But Irish people have English and Irish.
-So they can move from one to the other.
-It's not illusion. It's real!
It's illusion if you move from one to another.
-Now I'm speaking in English.
-Which one is the illusion?
# Pretty river Sing a river song
# Pretty river Sing a river song
# Pretty river Flowing on and on... #
# ..Pretty river Flowing on and on
# Pretty river Flowing on and on
# Pretty river Sing a river song. #
HE SPEAKS IRISH
HE PLAYS BACK RECORDING
So, there is very famous doors into university library.
It's like history of our language.
And, of course, the history of our country.
Jonas Basanavicius, Jurgis Bielinis also.
They're all there, yeah.
What if there had been no book smugglers?
And everyone here was reading Russian?
What was if - it's like fairy tale. We never know.
-The Tower of Babel?
But it seems that this tower became the tower of bubbles.
The tower of bubbles?
Yes, people speaking a lot of languages,
they have their own bubbles, their own space.
It seems they can't live without a bubble.
Do you think Lithuanian has a bubble?
It's a bubble from one side to live in the bubble of languages.
-You isolate yourself, yeah? Isolation.
But what is interesting, then two bubbles met, together.
What happens? Do they become the bigger bubble?
-Or they broke?
Yes, and everything disappear, like illusion?
Like nations disappear from history.
-Yes. Like Prussia example.
Each time you need to find a compromise,
to live in your own bubble, in your own language, in your own country,
and communicate with others.
And how to save your bubble, because it's very thin.
An Irish poet and a Lithuanian stage director retrace the steps of the 19th-century Lithuanian Book Smugglers, who resisted Russification and saved their language from extinction. Travelling through the forests and along the rivers, each looks into the mirror of the other country's history and explores the links between language and identity.