Follow Harriet on Twitter
“Linguistic resistance” in Book Smugglers documentary
Book Smugglers is a documentary exploring the risks taken by the Lithuanian “book smugglers” who fought to preserve their language and literature when the Russian Tsar Alexander II banned it from use in 1863. Books, newspapers and educational texts became contraband but the knygnešia kept them in circulation by sneaking them into the country from East Prussia.
Retracing the history of the book smugglers our documentary, presented through the eyes of an Irish-speaking poet, inevitably draws parallels with the decline of the Irish language during the same century, a delicate and sensitive issue far from free of controversy. How is it that a small nation under comparable conditions of occupation and oppression managed to survive and preserve their “minor” national language, to the point where practically all Lithuanians today speak it proudly? And what is the relationship, for them and for us, between national tongue and national and personal identity?