1972 unrest in Lithuania
|Date||May 18-May 19, 1972|
|Location||Kaunas, Lithuania, Soviet Union|
|Also known as||Kaunas' Spring|
|Participants||Lithuanian high school students, workers|
|Outcome||the numbers of injured protesters unknown|
at least five militsiya officers injured
50 people faced civil charges, ten people faced criminal persecution
1972 unrest in Lithuanian SSR, sometimes titled as Kaunas' Spring, took place on May 18–19, 1972, in Kaunas, Lithuania, Soviet Union. It was sparked by the self-immolation of a 19-year-old student named Romas Kalanta and prohibition in taking part in Kalanta’s funeral by officials. As a result, thousands of young demonstrators gathered in the central street of Kaunas, Laisvės Alėja in anti-government protests that lasted from May 18 to May 19.
The wave of protests
On May 14, 1972, a 19-year-old high school student named Romas Kalanta poured three 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 had declared the establishment of the Lithuanian SSR. Before the suicide, Kalanta left his notebook with a brief note that read "blame only the regime for my death". It was only in 1990, when Lithuania declared its independence, that the content of this note became publicly known.
Kalanta died fourteen hours later in hospital. On May 18, the Soviet authorities hastened Kalanta's burial by two hours to prevent publicity. However, it provoked even bigger outrage among the gathered people, mostly high school students and young workers, who broke into a politically charged riot, which was forcibly dispersed by KGB, militsiya, and Internal Troops. A spontaneous rally resulted in the disturbance of traffic in the city centre, as well as four shop windows being smashed, five Militsiya officers injured and one Militsiya motorcycle burnt.
Of the arrested, over half were under 20 years old 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 ten faced criminal persecution. Eventually, eight people were sentenced to one to two 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.
The crackdown on the demonstrations was followed by stricter censorship, youth organisations and gatherings came under more thorough surveillance. Lithuanian SSR officials blamed "so-called followers of the hippie movement" for organising the riots.
The remembrance of events
The day when Romas Kalanta died and the subsequent demonstrations are called "kalantinės" and is observed annually in Kaunas. There is a monument for Romas Kalanta at the place where he set himself on fire.
In the popular culture
A 1990 Lithuanian drama film The Children from the Hotel America depicts some scenes from the Kaunas' demonstrations. A 2017 Lithuanian drama film Emilija contains a self-immolation scene, the course of events in the city centre and the subsequent crackdown by the militsia.
- Vytautas Kaladė, anti-Soviet activist; one of the most active during the protests, imprisoned
- Algirdas Vaclovas Patackas, Member of Seimas, one of the signers of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania
- Anušauskas, Arvydas (2003). "KGB reakcija į 1972 m. įvykius". Genocidas ir rezistencija (in Lithuanian). 1 (13).
- Smith, Hedrick (May 28, 1972). "Some Cracks in the Kremlin Wall". The New York Times: E2.
- Vidzgiris, Julius (September–October 1980). "Lietuvos laisvės kovos 1940–1980". Aidai. 5: 250–260. ISSN 0002-208X.