In the heart of Lithuania, literally just a few kilometres from the geographical centre of the country, lies the small town of Akademija, and in the town of Akademija stands a water tower…
For anyone who doesn’t know so much about the country, Lithuania is a beautiful place, a small country next to the Baltic Sea. The problem is that this nice location meant that for large chunks of the 20th century Lithuania wasn’t actually Lithuania at all. During that time it was frequently a battlefield for Russia and Germany, and spent the largest part of the century under Russian/Soviet occupation.
Getting back to Akademija…
The town, close to Kedainiai, takes it’s name from the Academy of Agriculture that was based there from 1924 to 1945. In 1944 the Germans blew up the academy’s building and so the decision was taken to move the academy to a new location close to Kaunas (about 68km away and also called Akademija, which isn’t confusing at all). Even without it’s agricultural academy, the town of Akademija (the first one) has retained some kind of studious atmosphere with a (admittedly small) population who are active in culture, science and arts.
On a spring morning in 1956
Something happened in Akademija on the morning of Easter Sunday 1956, the 10th of March, when Lithuania had been under Soviet occupation for the past twelve years. It seems like a small thing, but for sure it completely changed the lives of five young people, and probably many more.
On that fateful Easter morning, five high school students who were part of a secret organisation committed to defending the freedom of LIthuania raised the tricolour (the name that LIthuanians give to their national flag – yes it is the same name the French give theirs) on the top of the water tower in the town.
This was a well planned and prepared action, the flag had been made by Laimutė Mackutė and Ieva Navardauskaitė in the school’s library, the flagpole constructed by Alekso Laniauskas and the remaining members of the group Jono Burnys and Stasys Minkevičius climbed to the top of the tower and let their flag fly.
Of course their actions had to have consequences. The Soviet administration made searches and each member of the group was arrested and interrogated. Jonas Burnys was the instigator of the plan and unfortunately for him was also the only one over the age of 18, he was sent to a ‘corrective labour camp’ for 3 years. The others were still legally children but they were kicked out of school and could not continue education. This one action cost these bright students their chances to complete secondary education, to study further and to have careers.
On a spring morning in 2016
Sixty years later on the 10th of March 2016 a memorial plaque was erected on the wall of the water tower (now long disused) in honour of these brave youngsters and their actions in heralding a freedom that would not arrive to the country for a further 34 years after their raising of the tricolour.
At the time of the plague unveiling Laimutė Mackutė, one of only two still living, said “I grew up in a family of true patriots. In our home we listened to ‘American Voice’. We had hopes that Lithuania would sooner or later be free. As we were young, we were struggling for freedom and we managed”. She added that despite all of the consequences that came from the events of that Sunday more than half a century earlier, she would not hesitate to repeat it all.