Jonas Basanavicius (1851–1927)


Signatory of the Act of Independence of Lithuania Jonas Basanavicius was born into a family of peasants, in Ozkabaliai Village (current Vilkaviskis distr.) on November 23, 1851. Following the completion of Marijampole Gymnasium, the signatory entered Moscow University in 1873. Jonas Basanavicius spent one year studying at the Faculty of History and Philology and later he chose to study medicine. After the studies he was granted the qualification of a physician in 1879.

Unfortunately, Jonas Basanavicius was unable to apply his knowledge properly in Lithuania due to the policy of appointment of officers in the Russian Empire. Concerned about financial difficulties, Basanavicius accepted the invitation of the Bulgarian authorities to settle in Bulgaria. During 1879-1882 and 1885-1892, he worked as the head physician as well as the head of the hospital of the district of Lom city. In 1884-1885, Basanavicius was also appointed the head physician of the town of Elena. During the period from 1892 to 1905, he worked as a doctor of a local gymnasium and the residence of Duke Ferdinand near Varna city. Jonas Basanavicius was highly respected by patients and was always open to various innovations of medical science. His detailed publications in Lithuanian, Russian and Bulgarian provided information to the society on prevention and treatment of various diseases. Numerous medical terms coined by him were later included into the standard Lithuanian language.

Jonas Basanavicius was always highly interested in the past and traditions of Lithuania, the Lithuanian language and literature. In 1880, he prepared numerous articles for the Lithuanian press. In 1883, due to his efforts a Lithuanian cultural newspaper Ausra (Eng. The Dawn) appeared and encouraged respect towards the native language, customs and the history of the motherland. Jonas Basanavicius worked as an editor of the newspaper for some time.

Throughout his life, Jonas Basanavicius visited Vienna, Prague, Leipzig, and various other European cities. During his journeys, he accumulated historical and medical knowledge, and showed great interest in the dispersion of national ideas in Central and Eastern Europe. In Prague, Basanavicius met Gabriele Eleonora Mohl and they got married in 1884. However, they spent together only five years as his wife died in 1889. The death of his beloved Gabriele came to Basanavicius as a great shock. Only his constant devotion to hard work, academic, public and political activities helped him to overcome the tragedy. In 1891, the Lithuanian physician acquired the citizenship of Bulgaria and worked in the Council of Varna City from 1899 to 1903. In 1892, he was granted the Bulgarian Fourth Degree Medal “For Civil Merits”.

Although Jonas Basanavicius had the possibility to remain in the country where he had earned respect and recognition, he returned to his motherland in May, 1905 as soon as he learned of the news of the abolition of the press ban in Lithuania. Having settled in Vilnius, he soon became one of the most significant ideologists of the National Movement. Lithuanian intellectuals encouraged and led by Basanavicius invited approximately 2,000 Lithuanian representatives to the Great Seimas of Vilnius, which was held on December 4-5, 1905. The main national requirement announced by the Seimas was the striving for Lithuanian autonomy. Later, Jonas Basanavicius dedicated himself to national cultural, educational and social activities. He took care of the establishment of the Lithuanian Scientific Society and in 1907, having become the chairperson of the society, he also supervised the publishing of the collected folklore as well as the publications of the society. In 1898-1926, Jonas Basanavicius published the folklore collections and studies Lietuviskos pasakos ivairios (Eng. Various Lithuanian Fairy Tales), Is gyvenimo veliu bei velniu (Eng. From the Life of Ghosts and Devils), Ozkabaliu dainos (Eng. The Songs of Ozkabaliai), Vilnius lietuviu dainose (Eng. Vilnius in Lithuanian Songs), Lietuviu raudos (Eng. Lithuanian Laments), and etc. He also edited the publication Lietuviu tauta (Eng. Lithuanian Nation). Furthermore, he participated actively in the Lithuanian press as well as in the preparation of various political documents.

Jonas Basanavicius was one of the organisers and the chairperson of the Lithuanian Conference, which took place in Vilnius, on September 18-22, 1917. He was elected to the Council of Lithuania. On February 16, 1918, he led the meeting of the Council, during which all the members signed the Act of Restoration of Independent Lithuania. In January-April, 1919, the signatory ran a newly established Museum of History and Ethnography. Jonas Basanavicius remained in Vilnius even in 1919 when Poland occupied the capital. Until 1924 he worked as a physician at the Vilnius Lithuanian Gymnasium, fostered the library and manuscripts of the Lithuanian Scientific Society, and defended the rights of his country-people within the land occupied by Poland. He died on February 16, 1927 and was buried in the Rasos Cemetery, Vilnius.