Romas Kalanta (February 22, 1953 – May 15, 1972) was a Lithuanian high school student known for his public self-immolation protesting Soviet regime in Lithuania. Kalanta's death provoked the largest post-war riots in Lithuania and inspired similar self-immolations. In 1972 alone, 13 more people committed suicide by self-immolation.
Life and death
Kalanta was religious; in a school essay he indicated that he would like to become a Catholic priest, which caused him some troubles with the authorities. He attended an evening school while working at a factory. Kalanta played guitar and made a few drawings; he had long hair and sympathized with the hippies. These sympathies were later exploited by the Soviets to discredit Kalanta among the older population. He had one older brother named Antanas.
At noon on May 14, 1972, Kalanta poured 3 liters of gasoline on himself and set himself on fire in the square adjoining the Laisvės Alėja in front of the Kaunas Musical Theatre, where in 1940 the People's Seimas declared establishment of the Lithuanian SSR and petitioned the Soviet Union to admit Lithuania as one of the soviet socialist republics. He died about 14 hours later in a hospital. Before the suicide, Kalanta left his notebook with a brief note on a bench. Its content became known only after the declaration of independence in 1990 and opening up of secret KGB archives. The note read "blame only the regime for my death" (Lithuanian: Dėl mano mirties kaltinkite tik santvarką). No other notes were found to explain in more detail what provoked the suicide.
After his death rumors spread that a few of his classmates formed a patriot group, and that they held a lottery to determine which of them would have to carry out the mission. The official Soviet propaganda claimed that Kalanta was mentally ill.
Riots and aftermath
The Soviet government tried to cover up the event, but its witnesses spread the news by word of mouth. On May 18, the Soviet authorities hastened Kalanta's burial by several hours to prevent publicity. The gathered people, mostly high school students and young workers, broke into a politically charged riot, which was forcibly dispersed by KGB, militsiya, and Internal Troops. The next day, about 3,000 people marched along the Laisvės Alėja of which 402 were arrested. The New York Times reported of numerous injuries and one death among Soviet troops.
Of the arrested, over half were under age 20 and about a quarter belonged to the youth branch of the Communist Party. To avoid further politicizing, the arrested people were charged with hooliganism. 50 people faced civil charges, while 10 faced criminal persecution. Eventually, eight people were sentenced to 1–2 years in prison. Demonstrations spread to other cities as well, where 108 people were arrested.
The public agitation was felt throughout 1972 and 1973 as the KGB registered 3–4 times more various anti-Soviet incidents. Lithuania recorded 13 other suicides by fire in 1972, including 24-year-old V. Stonys in Varėna on May 29, 60-year-old A. Andriuškevičius in Kaunas on June 3, 62-year-old Zališauskas on June 10, 40-year-old Juozapas Baracevičius in Šiauliai on June 22.
- Polish Ryszard Siwiec self-immolation in 1968
- Czechoslovak Jan Palach self-immolated in 1969
- Lithuanian Vytautas Vičiulis self-immolated in 1989
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