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[Discussion] Badass Book Smugglers – A Historical Reality? How Brave Intellectuals Struggled To Keep My Language Alive

Today I’m going to talk about something different, and something you have probably never heard about. I have even postponed the #NewBloggers post for one week, because this is a topic important enough for me and my country that I have to talk about it. And it had to be this particular day! Because today is the national day of the Book Smugglers, and we are going to learn why they were heroes.

…Plus, book carrying rebels! Guys!!! They’re like bookworm super heroes!! You clearly want to learn about this, don’t you?

Alright, so maybe now THAT much. But let’s get back on topic.

The reason I’m posting this today is because today, the 16th of March, is the book carriers’ day. And I struggle to even translate the word – because it only exists in my language. Scratch that – I think THE CONCEPT only exists in my country.

You might be really puzzled now. Book smugglers? Wait, why?

The history of my country is quite bumpy. During the middle ages, we actually had a few moments of stardom, when very briefly we were the largest country in Europe. But it was so long ago, nobody would even believe it now! You haven’t heard about it either, I’m sure. And that’s mostly because it was downhill from there!

The past, oh, I don’t know, 400 years are riddled without various larger countries stepping on our toes and claiming our land for theirs. And THIS is where the book smugglers come in.

See, we have our own language: it’s very old, used by a handfull of people, comparatively, and only one other country (Latvia) shares any roots with it. It’s pretty complicated and archair, and as for any country that has been denied its own heritage at times throughout history, it remains a very important part of our identity. But back when we were under the rule of Imperial Russia (basically the 18th-19th century, give or take – history is REALLY not my strong suit, though), they really wanted us to get rid of it. Peasants with an understanding of their own culture are harder to subdue! Even harder still, if they are literate.

So they banned writing in our language.

And they banned books.

You read that right. THEY BANNED BOOKS.

Because that involves studying the language and keeping it alive.

They might have not banned books in Russian – I don’t really know or care, because that’s not the language our people spoke in. Bottom line, they banned any written form of our spoken language. This happened between 1864 and 1904 (as Wikipedia says, and you can read more about this phenomenon here in general). The goal was to force the nation to forget their culture and just become Russian already. Which is why we get so pissed off all the time when people from other countries think we’re Russian. Which we are not. We are not even Slavic. We’re very proud of our Baltic culture, thank you very much.

Anyway, we had our intellectuals. They were not happy with the situation, so they formed quite a few secret societies for the education of the folk. These published secret newspapers with relevant news and patriotic content (which was punished severely if you were caught), but it wasn’t like you could just go to the market and buy a banned paper.

And that’s where the Book Smugglers come in. The most badass vigilantes of the book world, these brave people faced the danger of capital punishment (or going to a death work camps in a really, really cold land you’ll never come back from) – all for the sake of bringing people news in their language, and more importantly – books for their children to study language from.

Image courtesy of Kultūros Uostas

Cause, oh, I didn’t say. They banned schools too. For kids to learn reading in the banned language, right? So these groups formed underground secret schools for kids. And they needed books to teach them letters. The underground schools are a whole new topic to talk about, and I’m also very proud of the people who did that in order to not let our culture be snubbed out.

So personally, I think this is a pretty cool fact of my country’s history. And one that probably nobody else had. We smuggled books in order not to be robbed of our language and culture. I would say that’s pretty cool, don’t you agree? So next time, when you need a bookish hero, think of the Book Smugglers. If they’re not badass enough for you, I don’t know what is!

Do you have any bookish heroes in your own culture? What about bookish inventors or game changers? Share with me in the comments!

I’m Evelina and I try to blog about books that matter, with a bit of fun there too! Disability and equality will be topics you see a lot, but there’s also a lot of scifi, fantasy and… GIFs. I’m also the proud founder of #ARCsAnonymous.

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ireadthatinabook
Guest

That’s really cool! Great post Evelina!

Danielle
Guest

Wow! What an interesting history! Thank you for sharing!

the crazy reader
Guest

Actually, in Ancient China, when there were still kingdoms and emperors, there was a time when all books were burned and scholars were buried. You can find more about it on Wikipedia if you search ‘Burning of books and burying pf scholars’.

Rosie Amber
Guest

A really sad piece of historical fact. Glad the smugglers rebelled.

Darius Jung
Guest

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for a while, but this post looked so intriguing I just had to read it. What a fascinating look at the bookish history of your country. Very cool post, thanks for sharing!

Emma
Guest

Wow. This is such an amazing piece of history, and certainly one to be proud of!

Paul Liadis
Guest

That was very interesting, reading this about your country. It is quite amazing that those fought for their culture.

The USA has a dark history, of course, and one we rarely admit to ourselves. We did a similar thing during the slavery years. We had anti-literacy laws: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-literacy_laws_in_the_United_States

There were a few good people who fought back against that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Crittendon_Douglass

These are the things that aren’t often discussed in polite society or focused on much in schools. But they should be because if we forget them they are bound to happen again.

Louise Nettleton
Guest

That’s really amazing history. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. 🙂

Jenn @ Bound to Writing
Guest

I never knew any of this. Thank you so much for sharing your country’s history! I learned so much and am so glad that the book smugglers kept the language and culture alive!

Jovita
Guest

This is a wonderful post, thank you Evelina for the history lesson of your country. I had no idea about this.

Lily
Guest

ha I actually did not know that this happened, but I cannot say that I am surprised that it had happened. On the other note my birth country is experiencing the same thing. I am from Ukraine and we get super pissed off when we are called Russian. Different country, different language and costumes. Plus, what Russia did and is doing to our people is horrific so it just disrespectful when it happens.

Brian Joseph
Guest

Thanks for posting this fascinating history. I had never heard of The Book Smugglers or Book Carriers Day. I think that there is great potential for a film based upon them. A quick Google Search indicates that there are a couple of books on the subject.

Lashaan Balasingam
Guest

This was a wonderful history lesson, Evelina! It reminded me a lot of the Book Thief and also Fahrenheit 451 hahaha These peepz were the real deal and awesome heroes all right! 😀

Aqsa
Guest

That’s very interesting post. Thank you for sharing your wonderful and kinda difficult history.
Book smugglers, real heroes. They saved the real heritage of your country.

Myrth
Guest

An amazing history. Books will always find a way to the hands of people who need them and make heroes of us. Closest thing I remember about book smuggling is when my mom went on a “tour” of China when I was a kid. They actually smuggled bibles for the underground churches there. They were almost caught twice.

Dani @ Perspective of a Writer
Guest

WOW! You gotta love serious bookworms!! Anyway this is so cool… we wouldn’t have been able to read about this any other way than someone from your country sharing it with us… so thank you Evelina!! I love learning about lost little histories like this… <3

Kristina
Guest

Oh wow, that’s interresting !!

We kinda fought to have our french taking as much place & respect as the english did … but eeeh.. not like that x)

Nicole @ NewbookcatsREADS
Guest

Great post! I really enjoyed this history lesson, which is so close to your heart which makes it even closer to mine. I kind of wish/don’t want to wish that this happened to my ancestors. I think it would be really cool to say that since my ancestors are booklovers it means I am one too, but it would be sad to hear someone say that my culture was almost destroyed by an overruling government. Anyway, have a fun time celebrating your national holiday!

Charvi
Guest

Wow this was such an interesting and insightful post! Thanks for sharing your history with us

Norrie
Guest

no wonder russians make a good villain in any story…
this was a really interesting post and i love learning interestig bits about other cultures. i used to work with a latvian woman annd she mentioned some stuff about the russian influence every once in a while

they took over my native country for a while as well, but never got this far thankfully

Bookish Luna
Guest

Wow, that is just bonkers to even think about. These book smugglers really are heroes. Thanks for enlightening me!

Tizzy Brown
Guest

Wow, I had never heard about this. Writing, books and schools were banned? It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451. I’m glad there were some brave people in your country willing to risk everything for the sake of education. There is so much we take for granted!

Lydia Tewkesbury
Guest

This is the coolest story! I’m always so impressed at the lengths people will go to protect their histories. It’s seriously inspiring.

JJ @ This Dark Material
Guest
This is so cool, Evelina!! And definitely a part of your country’s history worthy of plenty of pride 🙂 You’re right: I had no idea that this had happened, or even the details of Russia’s dominance in the area. (For better or worse, my world history course emphasized non-white cultures, so while we learned a TON about Asia, Africa, and South America, my recall of European history is much shakier than I’d like.) Do you know if there are any English-language books on all of this, or is Wikipedia the best source? I’d love to read more about it sometime… Read more »
Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer
Guest

Very cool post. Book Smugglers are badass. I shared for this weeks Sunday Post 🙂

Andreea
Guest

This was an amazing post and I loved learning more about these awesome book smugglers <3.

Anastasia
Guest

Nice! Very cool piece of history 🙂 True heroes indeed

Oh those Russians…

Hmm well in Finland, we (as many other countries) had a stage of so called romantic nationalism. And this era led to a lot of great stories of a small brave country stuck in between two great empires (Sweden & Russia) + tales of female huntresses + Kalevala + https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tales_of_Ensign_St%C3%A5l (story basically describes Finn-Swede who courageously fools Russians every chance he gets…)

Jennifer | Book Den
Guest

Wow, that’s fascinating! Thanks for sharing that.

sjhigbee
Guest

Sadly, that is a very good way of overwhelming a country. You invade it, then you obliterate its history, customs and language, often by killing the educators and those who are custodians of its traditions, then you enslave/resettle the men and boys, while intermarry with the women and within two generations, there is no culteral identity left. It’s been practised repeatedly throughout history and is a tried and tested way of invading and absorbing a country and expunging their culture. How brave and far-sighted of those book smugglers to fight back in that way…

Stephanie Jane
Guest

I had no idea about any of this story. What an amazing part of your culture to remember and to celebrate. Sadly for me, being English, my country has spent far more time trying to stamp out other cultures than in needing to preserve our own. Your book smugglers are real heroes!
Here’s a question for you – can you recommend Lithuanian books/authors for my WorldReads?

Sarah
Guest

What an amazing story, thank you so much for sharing it. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like when someone is trying to take away your whole identity. Thank goodness for the Book Smugglers!

Sim @ Flipping Through the Pages
Guest

What a great post Evelina! I had never heard of this thing or even the concept like “Book smugglers”. This is pretty nice to read about. And wow, your country really has muhc history 🙂
I don’t think that my country has even a history something like this. As far I have studied, the literature was not a main “thing” in ancient India and often women were not allowed to read. I am glad my country has gotten far from that situation 🙂

Cahleen Hudson
Guest

Wow, I had no idea this happened. Thanks for educating me!

Jane
Guest

I love this! Rebelling gets a bad rap, but it’s one of those things that really depend on the context and personal morals. I enjoy random, seemingly useless facts, because they make for good tidbits in conversations (and generally good conversations). This factoid especially interests me because of the education bit, in that it proves just how important it is! Ugh, my kid cousins are all, “What is the point of an education?” but the more people know, the less likely someone is able to control them.

Daniela Ark
Guest
Since you asked if I had any bookish heroes in my own culture… I do have a post coming up in May about gems and geniuses of Spanish literature. It will be Spaniard and Hispanic [latin america] Since my family is from Spain but I was raised in South America. So Spanish Cervantes, Nobel prize Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chilenean Isabell Allende, Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos, Cuban Jose Angel Buesa [best poet ever!] among others! This is a absolutely awesome post! I loved learning more about Lithuania. So terrible that they banned writing in your language and schools! Of course I… Read more »
Caro @ bookcheshirecat
Guest

Omg I didn’t know anything about this
This was definitely a very interesting and cool post for me to read – I love it

Lucie
Guest

Your post was so interesting, I had no idea about al of this. Thank you for sharing it! 🙂

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[…] Book Smugglers – a historical reality? http://avalinahsbooks.space/discussion-badass-book-smugglers-historical-reality/ I loved reading this amazing story of resistance and bravery in the face of overwhelming […]

Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy
Guest

This is fascinating! You must be extremely proud of your heritage, it’s such a cool fact that I’m sure is unique and special

Darque Dreamer
Guest

What a great, informative post! I can’t imagine having to live in a time where books were banned period. It’s so sad to think about things like this in history, but its awesome to learn about those strong ones who fought!

Cam
Guest

I love this post so much, Evelina! It’s amazing how the bravery people show to protect their culture, that’s why no matter how “traditional” or “conservative” I may come across I’m so proud to show off my cultural heritage whether it be in what I wear or what I read. God alone knows the unwritten troubles our country men have gone through <3 This has inspired me to look more into the topic!

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[…] Who Reads discusses 5 books that made her cry ~ Evelina @ Avalinah’s Books tells us about badass historical book smugglers in her country ~ Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl talks about books that belong in the freezer ~ Sim @ Flipping […]

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Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction
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I love hearing this history! Thanks for sharing!

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[…] we all have our own unique interests. I’m part of this this wonderful discord chat Evelina @ Avalinahs Books created and honestly, I feel like I’ve found my people. *chuckles* when you can have  a […]