Jonas Basanavičius : biography
Jonas Basanavičius ( 23 November 1851 in Ožkabaliai – 16 February 1927 in Wilno, Poland; now Vilnius, Lithuania) was an activist and proponent of Lithuania's National Revival and founder of the first Lithuanian language newspaper Aušra. He was one of the initiators and the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the 1905 Congress of Lithuanians, the Great Seimas of Vilnius. He was also the founder and chairman of the Lithuanian Scientific Society (1907).
As a member of the Council of Lithuania, he was a signatory of the Act of Independence of Lithuania on February 16, 1918. Basanavičius is often given the unique informal honorific title of the "Patriarch of the Nation" () for his contributions and help in re-establishing the Lithuanian state.
A street in Varna, Bulgaria was named Dr. Basanovich Street (after the Bulgarian rendition of his name, Иван Басанович Ivan Basanovich) in his honour.
Return to Lithuania
In 1905, upon hearing that the Lithuanian press ban was lifted Basanavičius returned to Lithuania, and continued to play an important role in the Lithuanian national revival.
He was the main force behind Great Seimas of Vilnius, that culminated with the Act of Independence of Lithuania in 1918.
Dr. Basanavičius explored Lithuanian history, culture, folklore, ethnography and linguistics, writing more than forty works in these fields.
He died in Wilno (Vilnius) on February 16, 1927, Lithuanian Independence Day, and was buried in Rasos Cemetery.
Early life and education
Basanavičius was born in the village of Ožkabaliai () in Congress Poland, client state of the Russian Empire, to a family of Lithuanian farmers. Birth complications prompted his parents, devout Catholics, to pray and promise that they would educate their firstborn to be a priest. Keeping up with the promise, the parents supported a village tutor for local children. There Basanavičius learned basic reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as serving the altar. He further attended an elementary school in Lukšiai. During that time Polish was regarded as the more prestigious language of the nobility and well educated people. Russian was used in state administration, while Lithuanian was used among the peasants. After the Uprising of 1863, Tsarist authorities implemented various Russification policies in an attempt to reduce the influence of Polish language and culture. One of such policies allowed Basanavičius to attend Marijampolė Gymnasium. Before the uprising, a son of a Lithuanian could hardly expect to be admitted to a school catering to Polish nobility. Basanavičius failed his first entrance examinations in 1865, but succeeded a year later.
Basanavičius developed appreciation for Lithuanian language, culture, and history from local hill forts and his parents, who provided a loving treasure of local songs, legends, stories. This appreciation grew and deepened at the gymnasium were Basanavičius got acquainted with classical authors of Lithuanian history (Maciej Stryjkowski, Alexander Guagnini, Jan Długosz, Marcin Kromer), studied Lithuanian folk songs, read classical poems The Seasons by Kristijonas Donelaitis, Konrad Wallenrod by Adam Mickiewicz, Margier by Władysław Syrokomla and historical fiction by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. He drifted away from religion after reading criticism of Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan. Upon graduation in 1873, he managed to persuade his parents to allow him to attend Moscow University and not the Sejny Priest Seminary.
Basanavičius traveled to Moscow first to study history and philology, but after two semesters he transferred to the Moscow Medical Academy. Again, he benefited from the post-uprising Russification policies. He received one of ten fellowships (360 rubles annually) established for Lithuanian students from Congress Poland. He also supplemented his income by taking up private tutoring, but the living conditions were harsh and that had a lasting impact on his health. Basanavičius actively participated in student affairs, followed developments in Lithuania, and continued his studies of Lithuanian heritage. Collecting data from Rumyantsev and university libraries, he hoped to write a study on Grand Duke Kęstutis. He usually spent his summers in Lithuania, collecting folk songs, fairytales, riddles.
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