2019.05.14 09:59

Remembering Romas Kalanta, self-immolating protester against Soviet regime 2019.05.14 09:59

On this day 47 years ago, Romas Kalanta, a 19-year-old student, self-immolated on the main street of Kaunas. His was one of the most significant acts of protests against the Soviet system and Kalanta's funeral sparked a spontaneous wave of protests hitherto unseen in Soviet Lithuania.

On May 14, 1972, Kalanta came to the square by Kaunas Musical Theatre. He emptied a container of gasoline on himself, shouted “Freedom for Lithuania!” and set himself on fire.

The 19-year-old was rushed to hospital, but he didn't survive.

The authorities tried to play down the incident and explain it away as an act of a disturbed youth, but it was clear to everyone that Kalanta's self-immolation was political protest against the Soviet regime. It sparked a wave of protests in Kaunas and across Lithuania.

In order to avoid greater disturbances, the authorities pushed Kalanta's funeral forward, which only made matters worse. Thousands of people hit the streets. In response, the government deployed a police force who detained about 400 activists, some of whom were charged with crimes.

After Lithuania regained independence in 1990, the act was memorialised and every year on May 14 a ceremony in Kaunas pays tribute to Kalanta.