On the Monuments in Lithuanian Provincial Localities in the Mid-19th and Early 20th Centuries: Did Lithuanians Raise Monuments to the Tsar?

Laima Laučkaitė (PDF)

The article deals with the official monuments raised in the tsarist period in the Lithuanian provincial localities. The discussion of the theme is divided into two parts: the raising of monuments and the later maintenance of their memory. Except for the town of Zarasai (Novoalexandrovsk at that time), there were almost no monuments in the provincial towns. From 1830 to 1836, the Russian Empire built the first road connecting it with Europe through the St Petersburg-Warsaw road. Tsar Nicholas I himself inspected the project of the century in 1836. To mark this event, a new town named after the Tsar’s son Alexander II was established, and in 1846, a memorial, a cast iron obelisk, was erected in Zarasai.

In 1911, Russia was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom. From St Petersburg to the outskirts of the empire, monuments to Tsar Alexander II, who abolished serfdom in 1861, were built on a mass scale. Alexander II busts appeared in the towns of Utena, Tauragė and Varniai in Kaunas province. The archive sources reveal that they were built by the Lithuanian peasantry from their own resources. The interpretation of such monuments is difficult. They were built in 1911, at the time when anti-tsarist ideas of national liberation were already spreading. They evidently stood in contrast to such ideas, especially as the abolition of serfdom in 1861 followed by the 1863 uprising, its suppression and subsequent repressive measures produced a difficult situation for Lithuania. However, compared to the period of serfdom, the post-slavery years brought economic growth and social layering of the peasantry to Lithuanian villages. Thus, the attitude of the Lithuanian village towards the abolition of serfdom and its outcomes was not only negative, which might explain the erection of monuments to Alexander II in Lithuania. How did the memory of the tsarist monuments function in the 20th century? The obelisk of the Zarasai road became a propaganda tool for political regimes in the 20th century, namely the independent Republic of Lithuania and the Soviet authorities. Monuments dedicated to Tsar Alexander II remained in Lithuanian towns from 1911 to 1915. During World War I, they were demolished, and their basements were used for new monuments. To conclude, in the 20th century, the monuments were used for manipulative purposes, and they underwent metamorphoses and changes in inscriptions and symbols. Like in other politically unstable Central and Eastern European countries, commemorative memory in Lithuania in the 19th and 20th centuries was an ideologised sphere, depending on the political regime.

Keywords: memorial monuments, bust, obelisk, monumentalities of the Russian Empire, Lithuanian province in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, abolishment of serfdom, tsar Alexander II, ideology, monuments for animals in manors