A Death Transformed: The Political and Social Consequences of Romas Kalanta's Self-Immolation, Soviet Lithuania, May 1972
Swain, Amanda Jeanne
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"A Death Transformed: The Political and Social Consequences of Romas Kalanta's Self-Immolation, Soviet Lithuania, 1972" explores Soviet and post-Soviet interpretive narratives and political practices in response to two days of street demonstrations that followed the 1972 suicide of a nineteen-year-old man in Soviet Lithuania. My analysis reveals that Communist authorities and participating youth viewed the demonstrations as a struggle over the acceptable boundaries and content of modern Soviet youth culture. Despite extensive evidence that by 1972 youth were actively negotiating the boundaries of what were acceptable activities, Communist authorities and young people operated within an ideological framework that denied young people's capacity to express discontent with the Soviet system. In post-Communist Lithuania, social and political elites constructed narratives of May 1972 that reclaimed agency by representing the demonstrations alternatively as nationalist dissent, civil resistance or Sixties-style youth protest. The diversity of narratives reflected on-going debates about the nature of post-Communist Lithuanian identity. This work seeks to make significant contributions to the historiography of the Soviet Union and to scholarship on the politics of memory and European integration. It contributes to current scholarship that is re-conceptualizing the Brezhnev period in the Soviet Union, looking beyond stagnation to the dynamic relationships between Communist ideology and everyday life by revealing how political and social practices contributed to Soviet youth's identity formation. My analysis counters an entrenched scholarly consensus that Kalanta's self-immolation and the ensuing demonstrations are explained by Lithuanian nationalism. My project also contributes to research on the politics of memory and European integration. While most work in this area has focused on the role of externally-imposed universalist values as a result of East European EU accession, my analysis of narratives of May 1972 in popular media and official commemorations reveals that internal debates about the form of post-Communist society have equally disrupted nationalist narratives.
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