On May 14, 1972, Romas Kalanta, a 19-year old long-haired, denim jacket-wearing resident of Kaunas, poured 3 litres of gasoline on himself and set himself on fire in the heart of Kaunas. He died in the hospital the following night. He left a note that stated, “blame only the [Soviet] regime for my death”.
The self-immolation act took place near Laisvės alėja, in the city garden in front of Kaunas State Musical theatre. Coincidentally or not, this was the very same theatre where the Lithuanian SSR was declared, and Lithuania joined the Soviet Union in 1940.
A few days later, after the Soviet government unsuccessfully tried to hide the event (it was also officially stated Kalanta was mentally ill, but this was most probably not true), a few thousand people, mostly teenagers, students and young workers, gathered in the streets of Kaunas and clashed with the Soviet militia and other forces. More than 400 people were arrested.
The aftermath of the riots was quite harmful and extended; rock musicians were forced to forget their guitars (or take them deep underground), gatherings of young people became unwanted and unacceptable; the Soviet government tried many other methods to make sure such revolts would not happen again. When Gorbachev loosened the chains in the 1980s, rock music and people inspired by it played a significant part in disbanding the Soviet Union.
In 2002, 30 years after the Spring events in Kaunas, sculptor Robertas Antinis and architect Saulius Juškys created a modest yet impressive horizontal memorial called “Field of Sacrifice“. The monument includes 19 stones – the number symbolises the age of Kalanta at the time of his death.
Kalantinės, a peaceful and sentimental rock music gathering, used to be organised every May, but, in 2018, the Kaunas calendar lacks the event.
Marcelo Brodsky, an Argentinian artist and human rights activist, chose to include the Kalanta event in his book “1968: The Fire of Ideas” which is about 70s social movements and their relationship with bloody Latin American dictatorships of the late seventies but includes other significant events of the kind around the world. In October, Brodsky’s exhibition will be opened in Kaunas gallery.