Romas Kalanta

* 22 February 1953, Alytus, Lithuania

† 15 May 1972, Kaunas, Lithuania

„Please accuse the totalitarian regime of causing my death”

Romas Kalanta, 14 May 1972

On 14 May 1972, a nineteen-year-old worker, Romas Kalanta, poured petrol on himself and set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

Romas Kalanta was born on 22 February 1953 to a working-class family. His father was a Second World War veteran, a communist, and a supporter of the Soviet regime. On the contrary, his mother was religious and brought up her children in the Catholic tradition. Romas attended secondary school in Kaunas. He was enjoyed reading novels, writing poetry, playing the guitar, and together with his friends, he admired the Hippies movement which met with a relatively big response among young Lithuanians. He also liked drawing, and motifs containing crosses, fire and suffering people often appeared in his pictures.

In 1971, Kalanta had a conflict with the governing board of the secondary school, because he criticised Marxism in his history class presentation. He was also considering joining the Catholic seminary in Kaunas. Finally, he was expelled from the Young Communist League, and after not having passed the graduation exam, he switched to evening classes and started working in a factory.  

Kalanta was probably inspired to commit self-immolation by the act of Jan Palach, which was known in Lithuania thanks to international radio broadcasting. On 14 May 1972 at 12:30 p.m., Kalanta came to the main avenue Laisves Aleja (Liberty Boulevard, Kaunas) where the local youth used to gather near the fountain. The fountain was situated in front of the State Music Theatre and opposite the main building of the Soviet government in the city. Kalanta brought with him a three-litre bottle of petrol, poured it over himself, and set himself on fire. According to some witnesses, he shouted: “Freedom for Lithuania!” Near the fountain, a notebook was found with the following message: “Please accuse the totalitarian regime of causing my death.” Kalanta suffered burns on 90 per cent of his body. He was taken to the hospital unconscious and died the next day.

The authorities forced the family to begin the funeral ceremony two hours earlier than had been originally announced (tombstone gravestone was not allowed until 1982). This caused a wave of indignation among the youth. The funeral procession grew into anti-Soviet street riots that went on for two days and had to be violently suppressed. In total, 402 people were arrested; later on, seven of them were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment without probation for “hooliganism”. Hundreds of others were expelled from schools or dismissed from their jobs. According to the final report of the Vilnius Committee for State Security, 13 more people from Lithuania followed Kalanta’s example and committed self-immolation in the upcoming months.

In June 1972, the Lithuanian press published a report issued by an alleged medical commission declaring Kalanta mentally ill. He was even given back his membership in the Young Communist League. It was only in 1989 that a new medical commission was set up on the basis of the state prosecution decision presenting a contrary conclusion. It claimed that Kalanta was sane before committing the act, and therefore, it was not possible to consider him mentally ill. Several books were written about his act, and in 1999, a documentary film on these events was made. On 4 July 2000, Kalanta was posthumously honoured by Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus. On 14 May 2002, a monument was placed on the site of his tragic protest.

Bibliography: >>>

BIGGS, Michael: Dying without Killing. Self-Immolations, 1963–2002, In: GAMBETTA, Diego (ed.): Making Sense of Suicide Missions. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005, s. 173–208, 320–324, dostupné on-line: (ověřeno 8. 7. 2011)

EGIDIJUS, Aleksandravičius – KASTYTIS, Antanaitis: Romo Kalantos auka. 1972 metų Kauno pavasaris. Baltos Lankos, Vilnius 2002.

KAMIŃSKI, Łuskaz: První živá pochodeň ve východním bloku. Ryszard Siwiec (1909–1968), In: BLAŽEK, Petr – EICHLER, Patrik – JAREŠ, Jakub a kol: Jan Palach ´69. FF UK – ÚSTR – Togga, Praha 2009, s. 115–127.

LAUBE, Roman: Kaunaské jaro 1972 a oběť Romase Kalanty, In: Navýchod, č. 1 (2009), dostupné na stránce (ověřeno 13. 7. 2011).

VOSYLYTÉ, Jüraté: Romas Kalanta, In: kol. autorů: Słownik dysydentów. Czołowe postacie ruchów opozycyjnych w krajach komunisticznych w latach 1956–1989. Tom II. Karta, Warszawa 2007, s. 252–253.

Filmové dokumenty

Fontano vaikai (Dětská fontána), rež. Raimundas Banionis a Andrius Šiuša, 1999, Litva.