The shared history of Lithuanians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians and other nations who fought against Tsarist Russia in the 19th century inspires them to pursue close bonds today, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said on Friday.
Nausėda delivered a speech at the reburial ceremony for the commanders and participants of the January Uprising of 1863-1864 against Tsarist rule.
“[Our shared memory] inspires us to create close bonds, develop new visions of freedom and engage in joint work,” the president said in Vilnius' Cathedral Square.
“This is a genuine triumph. This is a true victory for those who will soon be laid to eternal rest. Their sacrifice was not for nothing – our freedom continues to burn brightly to this day,” he said.
Also taking part in Friday's ceremony are Polish President Andrzej Duda, deputy prime ministers of Belarus and Ukraine, and a representative of the Latvian government.
According to Nausėda, the motto of the uprising, ‘For Your Freedom and Ours’, remains just as relevant today as it was in 1863.
Twenty-one leaders and participants of the January Uprising, which broke out across the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, were sentenced to death by the tsar's authorities in 1864 and executed in Vilnius. Their remains were only discovered in 2017. One of them, Sygmunt Sierakowski (or Zigmantas Sierakauskas) was identified through his wedding ring.
The bodies of the uprising participants were hidden to prevent them from being “a source of inspiration to new generations of freedom fighters”, although they were never forgotten, according to the president.
“Symbolically, it was a token of everlasting love – a gold ring with the engraved names of the newlyweds and the wedding date – that enabled to make a definite identification,” Nausėda said.
According to the Lithuanian president, the reburial of the insurgents one and a half centuries later “compels us to rethink the nineteenth-century history of Lithuania and the whole region, to better understand its complexity and to find a rightful place for the uprising in our historical memory”.
“Today we realize that patriotism, loyalty, generosity of spirit, and resolve do not belong to a single nation or specific historical period.”
A page in shared past
Belarus' Deputy Prime Minister Igor Petrishenko called on nations not to claim the leaders of the 1863-1864 uprising as exclusively their own.
In his speech at the reburial ceremony, Petrishenko focused particularly on Konstanty Kalinowski, known as Konstantinas Kalinauskas in Lithuanian and Kastus Kalinouski in Belarus. He described the January Uprising as “a page of our shared past" that unites the nations involved in it.
“Each country has its own image of Kalinowski, but he must not become a historical figure used for political purposes,” the Belarusian official said in the Lithuanian capital's Cathedral Square. “On the contrary, it is a page of our shared past that we must respect and that unites us now and will unite in the future.”
“It is a truly historic moment of equal significance to the Belarusian, Lithuanian, Polish, Ukrainian and Latvian nations,” he said.
“The 1863–1864 events affected the territories of several Eastern European nations and took place on our land as well. Almost all of the people to whom we pay tribute today are the sons of the Belarusian land and share a common destiny with it.”
Belarusians regard Kalinowski as their national hero who had major influence on the evolution of their national consciousness.
Petrishenko thanked Lithuania for cooperation in identifying his remains.
Unity essential for freedom
The unity of Central European nations is a necessary foundation of their freedom, Polish President Andrzej Duda said at Friday's ceremony.
“Today we, present-day people, are here to celebrate the heroism and sacrifice of our predecessors. But we are also here, first and foremost, to demonstrate that we, just like them 156 years ago, are united in our shared memory, values and aspirations,” the Polish president said in Vilnius Cathedral Square.
According to Duda, Central European nations are bound together by their shared experiences and values, present-day partnership, aspirations and a common future.
“For it to be good and prosperous, we must rely on the principles of solidarity, friendship and mutual assistance, because the unity of the peoples of Central Europe is a necessary and reliable and strongest foundation and guarantee of freedom, sovereignty and independence of our countries,” he said.
“Just like the participants of the uprising 150 years ago were people of solidarity, we, present-day people, want to act together, in solidarity.”
Twenty coffins were brought to the renovated Chapel of the Old Rasos Cemetery following a Holy Mass at Vilnius Cathedral and a solemn funeral procession along the streets of Vilnius.
In addition to Nausė, Duda and Petrishenko, the procession also included Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Dmytro Kuleba, Lithuanian clergymen of different denominations.
The coffins were escorted by Lithuanian and Polish honour guards.
At the cemetery, Lithuanian and Polish soldiers fired gun salutes to pay their respects to the fighters.
The chapel will be open to the public from 9.00 to 21.00 through Sunday. The coffins will be later interred in crypts within the chapel.