A state funeral ceremony for the commanders and participants of the 1863-1864 insurrection – or the January Uprising – is held in Vilnius on Friday, attended by the Lithuanian and Polish presidents.
Coffins with the remains of Zigmantas Sierakauskas (Zygmunt Sierakowski in Polish) and Konstantinas Kalinauskas (Konstanty Kalinowski), the leaders of the Lithuanian uprising, and 18 other participants of the uprising will be taken in a procession from Vilnius Cathedral to the old Rasos Cemetery with a stop at the Gate of Dawn on the way.
The presidents of Lithuania and Poland, Gitanas Nausėda and Andrzej Duda, as well as Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Petrishenko are giving speeches at the ceremony in Vilnius Cathedral. The events will be also attended by Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Dmytro Kuleba.
Members of the public will be able to observe the ceremony in large screens, and it will be also broadcast on Lithuanian and Polish TV.
The Lithuanian-Polish uprising against the Russian Empire took place in 1863-1864. Its commanders were executed in 1864 and their remains were found in Gediminas Hill in central Vilnius in 2017.
Celebration of three nations
Several hundred Belarusians holding white-red-white national flags of Belarus, often used by the opposition to the current regime, gathered outside the Cathedral at the beginning of the ceremony.
Pavel Konovalov, who came from Belarus, told BNS that the funeral of the uprising participants was a three-state celebration for him.
“They are our national heroes. Heroes of our three nations of Lithuania, Poland and Belarus. I am here because all of this is in my heart,” the 31-year-old construction worker said.
Julija Pilipiuk, 25, is only a passer-by, but her father is Ukrainian and this ceremony is also important for her.
“I think these are people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom, therefore, we need to respect them. It's a beautiful ceremony evoking warm feelings,” the young businesswoman said.
Pensioner Kazimieras Jankūnas watched the start of the funeral ceremony with a camera in his hands. In his words, it's very important that the remains were found and can now be buried.
“It's our history. One cannot say anything else. It's a message about the fight against tsarism. We now remember that and want to say goodbye to the uprising participants. It's important that their remains were found,” the 78-old-man told BNS. “It’s an important ceremony for Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania. It's a memory of our common past.”
On Thursday the Polish and Lithuanian presidents held a joint press conference where they said that the January Uprising participants are heroes for all the countries in the region – Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine – and that dividing them up by nationality was senseless.
“We should not divide heroes based on their affiliation with one or another nation, but to realize that their fight for freedom was the key, and fight for freedom unites all nations,” Nausėda told journalists at the Presidential Palace on Thursday.
The presidents responded to a journalist's question about how historians' discussions on the nationality of the uprising's commanders would impact the countries' relations today.
“I am very glad that the Belarusians consider Mr. Kalinowski their hero. I will say this: we all consider them heroes. It's very difficult to distinguish them today, considering it from today's perspective, who is whose hero,” Duda said.
He added that Lithuania and Poland have a similar ongoing discussion about the poet Adam Mickiewicz (known as Adomas Mickevičius in Lithuanian), but neither of the nations needs to appropriate the 19 century artist.
“We don’t need such a discussion, it’s our common poet,” the Polish president said. "We should also have a similar view about the uprising heroes, and I would like to underline that I am very glad that representatives of the Belarusian government will also attend this event.”
Belarusian historians claim Kalinauskas had major influence on the evolution of their national identity. Meanwhile, Sierakauskas was born in the region of Volyn in present-day Ukraine.