Today is commemorated in Lithuania as Knygnešio diena (Book Smugglers Day). The book smugglers were an important part of the Lithuanian National Revival. Book smuggler Jurgis Bielinis, who created a secret distribution network for banned Lithuanian books, was born on 16 March 1846, hence the date of commemoration.
In the late 19th century, smugglers transported Lithuanian language books printed in the Latin alphabet into Lithuanian-speaking areas of the Russian Empire, defying a ban on such materials in force from 1864 to 1904. The book smugglers (Lithuanian: knygnešys, or plural knygnešiai, Polish: kolporterzy książek) opposed imperial Russian authorities’ efforts to replace the traditional Latin orthography with Cyrillic, and transported printed matter from as far away as the United States to do so, becoming a symbol of Lithuanians’ resistance to Russification. A want to salute them today as a general tribute to ALL people who resist tyranny, especially attempts to control ethnic populations through policies of enforced homogeneity.
After the Polish-Lithuanian insurrection of 1863, the Russian Imperial government intensified its efforts to Russify the Lithuanian population and alienate it from its historic roots, including the Roman Catholic faith, which had become widespread during the years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the summer of 1863 Tsar Alexander II issued Temporary Rules for State Junior Schools of the Northwestern Krai, ruling that only Russian-language education would be allowed there. In 1864, the Governor General of the Vilnius Governorate, Mikhail Muravyov, ordered that Lithuanian language primers were to be printed only in the Cyrillic alphabet. Muravyov’s successor, Konstantin Kaufman, in 1865 banned all Lithuanian-language use of the Latin alphabet. In 1866, the Tsar issued an oral ban on the printing or importing of printed matter in Lithuanian. Although de jure the order had no legal force, it was executed de facto until 1904. During this time, there were approximately 55 printings of Lithuanian books in Cyrillic.
Most of the Latin-alphabet Lithuanian-language books and periodicals published at the time were printed in Lithuania Minor and then smuggled into Lithuania. When caught, the book smugglers were punished by fines, banishment, and exile, including deportation to Siberia. Some were simply shot in the head while crossing the border or executed on the spot.
In 1867, Motiejus Valančius, the Bishop of Žemaitija, began to covertly organize and finance this printing abroad and sponsored the distribution of Lithuanian-language books within Lithuania. In 1870, his organization was uncovered with the help of Prussian authorities, and five priests and two book smugglers were exiled to remote areas of Russia. Other book smugglers carried on his work.
During the final years of the ban, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 books were smuggled in annually. About one-third of them were seized by authorities. Lithuanian books reached every settlement in Lithuania, and many legal institutions served as undercover transfer points for the books. A number of secret organizations distributed the books throughout Lithuania, including Sietynas, Atgaja, Teisybė, Prievarta, Aušrinė, Atžala, Lizdas, Akstinas, Spindulys, Svirplys, Žiburėlis, Žvaigždė, and Kūdikis.
The ban’s lack of success was recognized by the end of the 19th century, and in 1904, under the official pretext that the minorities within the Russian Empire needed to be pacified after the Russo-Japanese War, the ban on Lithuanian-language publications was lifted. In 1905, soon after the ban was lifted, one of the book smugglers, Juozas Masiulis, opened his own bookstore in Panevėžys. This bookstore is still operational, and a chain of bookstores operates in Lithuania under his name.
This historical episode was widely suppressed during the years when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, book smugglers were honored in Lithuania with museums, monuments, and street names. A statue dedicated to “The Unknown Book Smuggler” stands in Kaunas.
Cepelinai (lit. ‘zeppelins’; singular: cepelinas) or didžkukuliai is a traditional Lithuanian dish of stuffed potato dumplings. The dumplings are made from grated and mashed potatoes and stuffed with ground meat or dry cottage cheese (curd) or mushrooms. They are often served with a cream sauce and bacon bits. It is sometimes called the national dish of Lithuania. Brown button mushrooms have various names throughout the world. I call them crimini mushrooms but they are also known as Swiss brown mushrooms, Roman brown mushrooms, Italian brown mushrooms, brown cap mushrooms, or chestnut mushrooms. They are used in this recipe but it’s no great disaster to use white button mushrooms instead. A normal Lithuanian main dish would be two dumplings, plus sauce, plus vegetables, plus bread. One dumpling is enough for me.
400g waxy potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
250g ground pork
½ tsp ground caraway seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
1 tsp butter
200g crimini mushrooms, sliced
200g crème fraîche
2 strips streaky bacon
fresh dill, chopped
Divide the potatoes into 2 batches. Peel one batch and dice them small. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until they are tender. Drain and mash them.
Peel and finely grate the remaining potatoes. Place them in a large bowl lined with a clean tea towel. Bring the edges of the tea towel together and squeeze tightly to expel any liquid. Keep 2 tablespoons of this juice and discard the rest.
In another large mixing bowl, add the reserved potato juice, the grated potato, mashed potato, and half of the beaten egg. Beat everything together well and season to taste with salt. Set aside to cool, then chill while you prepare the filling.
Mix together the one-third of the shallots, ground pork, caraway seeds, garlic, remaining egg and salt to taste.
Mix 1 tablespoon of flour into the potato mixture and divide it into 8. Dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Lightly shape the potato dough into flat, round patties, approximately 1cm thick. Divide the pork filling into 8. Put 1 portion of the pork filling in the middle of each patty, then gently pull the dough up and around to encase the pork and form a dumpling. Roll them in your hands to achieve the signature zeppelin shape.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Carefully lower in the dumplings, cover and cook gently for 30 minutes. If you do not have a large enough pot you will have to do this step in batches. It is crucial to keep the water at a gentle simmer and not to let it boil, otherwise the dumplings will disintegrate.
Grill or fry the bacon until it is crisp then chop it into bits and set aside.
Pour 100ml of boiling water over the dried porcini and leave them to stand for 5 minutes. Heat the butter over medium heat in a saucepan and add the remaining shallots. Cook them gently until they are translucent. Add the crimini mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes. Pour in 1 tablespoon of the water from the porcini mushrooms. Chop the porcini mushrooms and add them to the pan. Fold in the crème fraîche, bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste.
Put 1 or 2 dumplings on each plate and pour over the mushroom sauce. Sprinkle the dill and bacon pieces over just before serving. Serve with a green vegetable and crusty bread.
Yield: 8 dumplings