Lithuania’s Day of the Book Smugglers, held annually on 16th March, is this year coming to London in celebration of “publishing ties old and new” in anticipation of the Baltics’ spotlight at The London Book Fair Market Focus 2018.
The Lithuanian Culture Institute will be sending a troupe of modern-day smugglers with Lithuanian literature to key cultural institutions across the city to provide insight into Lithuania’s literature, culture and history and to highlight its hopes that a new wave of literature from the region will hit British bookshelves in 2018.
Among the smugglers’ targets are London bookshops The Big Green Bookshop, Dulwich Books and Libreria along with Norwich's The Book Hive, publishers Picador and Amazon Publishing, agencies Aitken Alexander Associates, D H H Literary Agency and Janklow & Nesbit, and other media and literary organisations such as the BBC, Monocle, The Poetry Society, the Southbank Centre, The Sunday Times and The Writers’ Centre Norwich.
The book smugglers will set out from the Free Word Centre in London following a breakfast event with historical fiction author Dr Kristina Sabaliauskaitė, one of LBF’s Authors of the Day, dressed in one of the latest “haute couture” collections by Lithuanian designer Juozas Statkevicius, inspired by the book smuggling tradition. All attendees will be given their own book smuggler bags to take away including a book to read, information about rights available and titles publishing in the UK.
The UNESCO-recognised day in Lithuania marks the birthday of “King of the Book Smugglers” Jurgis Bielinis, who created a secret distribution network in order to smuggle banned Lithuanian books into the country - including from the UK - while it was under Russian occupation.
During the press ban on Lithuanian language books, enforced by the occupying Tsarist Russian Empire between 1864 to 1904 in an attempt to Russify the country, almost 3,000 smugglers were punished by the Russian authorities. However, during the ban, they brought around five million books into the country and became the symbol of the national resistance movement - a pattern of dissidence set to be repeated under the later USSR occupation from 1940-1990.
The event in London also coincides with the centenary of the restoration of the Lithuanian state in 2018, a significant moment in the country’s journey to become a free and independent state.