Aldona Ruseckaitė
www.kamane.lt, 2012-03-28
Maironis about 1930

In brief: The biography of our prominent poet Maironis is interesting: it seems he was somehow related to many noted personalities, and Napoleon Bonaparte was amongst them.

This summer a hyperbolised event will be held for Kaunas citizens and guests. Two hundred years ago the famous Napoleon and his mighty army appeared in Kaunas to jump over the river Nemunas in order to conquer Russia. In 1807 Napoleon founded the Duchy of Warsaw, which included the Lithuanian Užnemunė, or Suvalkija, region. He also abolished the corvee and introduced the Napoleonic Code there. However, Maironis considered it a loss in his History of Lithuania (1906) for the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III was about to establish scholarships for Lithuanian children so they could become local officers with the knowledge of Lithuanian language. Yet his project was not realised since the state of war had changed.

Besides, according to Maironis, Napoleon abolished the corvee but peasants gained personal freedom only; they did not get lands and remained tenants.

In June, 1812, plenty of French soldiers came in crowds to Kaunas – happy, dandified, and eager to conquer Russia. They stayed in Lithuania for about a month and returned from Moscow the same year, in December, starving and ragged, poor and beaten. The Napoleonic march blew across Lithuania as a huge storm and brought much damage to the Lithuanian economics.

Maironis’s History of Lithuania reveals that the poet was out of sympathy with the French conqueror. As he asserts: When the war was started in 1812, Napoleon announced the abolition of corvee in Lithuania and promised her political freedom. Yet after the failure of the Napoleonic campaign, all his promises came to nought.

By the way, Maironis had an opportunity to research Napoleon before, when he wrote his scholarly opus De justitia et jure (About Justice and Law), published in 1903. In this publication Maironis analysed the Roman Law, Russian laws, Lithuanian Statute and Napoleonic Code.

Apparently, the relationship of Maironis and Napoleon is, arguably, an object of research.

As chance would have it, both men mark their anniversaries this year – Napoleon ‘honoured’ Lithuania with his crossing the river two hundred years ago and taking Lithuanian soldiers to death, whilst Maironis was born 150 years ago, on the 21st of October.

One could note that there is enough space in history for everyone. The sky of Kaunas is large enough to host both events of Napoleon and Maironis but the Municipality’s purse is too lean. However, a quarter of a million litas were thrown to repeat the operation of crossing the Nemunas while the name of Maironis was mentioned and funded very modestly. Maironis did not conquer anyone after all. So let us buy boots and hats, what else is needed to cross the Nemunas? Earplugs should not be forgotten – two hundred kilograms of black gunpowder to be fired...

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