The beautiful reburial ceremony for the commanders and participants of the 1863–1864 uprising has revealed more than it may appear at first glance.
Yes, the society was reminded that the January Uprising was not just a “Polish cause”, as argued even by some historians for a long time. A closer look shows that Lithuanian-speaking peasants also joined in the rebellion. The tsar's officials were puzzled: why would they do that? The tsar released them from serfdom just a few years earlier, they should be grateful, but instead they are taking up scythes and going against the Russian soldiers.
Awareness of the occupier was alive not just among the nobility, but among the Lithuanian-speaking peasantry as well. But there is more to it, something well-captured in the emotional speech by Polish President Andrzej Duda:
“In our countries, we continue to discover nameless death pits [with] the anti-Soviet partisans murdered by the red regime. Today, we also remember them, [as well as] the Polish ‘doomed-indomitable soldiers’, the Lithuanian ‘forest brothers’ and others.
“[Because] all of them, both [...] from 150 years ago and those from 70 years ago, are the freedom heroes of our nations. All of them suffered the same fate: condemnation, disgrace, elimination and oblivion. However, we, here in Central Europe, have never come to terms with that. We nurtured their memory despite the concealment, we commemorated their deeds quietly, at homes and cemeteries. And today we are doing it in a ceremonial way, together, since we are again free people and citizens of our own sovereign states.”
Fighting for freedom and remembering it – that is our, Central Europe's, geopolitical code that is often misunderstood by the West, but not by the Kremlin that is deploying all available information weapons against it.
Our lands have had a very complicated fate. Not only have we been occupied a number of times over the last 200 years, but the very existence of our nations has been questioned. We survived because we didn't give in, we fought. And we will exist as long as we remember these fights, as long as they are part of our identity.
Poles and Lithuanians learned this lesson. In the wake of the occupation of Crimea and war in the eastern regions, Ukrainians, too, have realised that they have to fight for freedom. Belarusians are a more complicated question. Will they be swallowed up by Russia or will they manage to survive? It depends on whether or not they are willing to fight – not necessarily with military force – for their freedom.
It is not romanticism, it is the geopolitical code of our region, a necessity if we are to survive. And it is particularly important in today's world which is changing fast, throwing doubts about the purpose of security structures like NATO or the European Union.
In this age of transformation, we cannot be simply a place on the map to be divided by the world's great powers. We must show that we exist, that our will cannot be ignored, where we want to be and how we want to live. That is what's best expressed by the memory of our fights for freedom.
Virginijus Savukynas is a journalist and TV host at LRT