HISTORY AND THE PRESENT. Signs of a Maritime State

 

This year we celebrate at least several dates that are related to the sea or maritime activity. JŪRA MOPE SEA international business magazine, the origins of which date back to 1935, celebrates the 20th anniversary of its rebirth in 1999, which took place after several attempts to revive it. The 20th anniversary is also celebrated by KLASCO private stevedoring company, established in the territory, which was formerly known as Klaipėda trade port. Another intensively growing stevedoring company – Klaipėda Container Terminal – celebrates its 25th anniversary. Lithuanian sailors mark the 30th anniversary of the trip across the Atlantic, completed by three yachts – Lietuva, Audra and Dailė. Lithuanian Sea Museum, cherishing and promoting maritime culture celebrates its 40th anniversary. Western Shipyard – the oldest shipyard operating in Lithuania – is already 50. And the Sea Festival, reborn and held without interruptions will take place for the 60th time this year. This is also the perfect occasion to remember that it has already been 85 years since the very first Day of the Sea, celebrated as a Lithuanian state holiday.

However, the first maritime signs in Lithuania started emerging way before that. Let’s take a look at them, based on the information, collected by the museum expert Romualdas Adomavičius, Head of the Navigation History Department.* In the chronicles of the Sea Museum, he wrote that Klaipėda has been the home port of a large fleet already back in the 18th-19th c. Klaipėda Sailing Association (Memeler Segel Verein), established in 1884, used to organise fishing sailboat regattas and other maritime events. These events became a symbolic foundation that the organisers of the first sea festivals continued to build upon.

‘Our society does not have a sufficient understanding of the importance of the sea to our nation and state.’ said the report of the Lithuanian Maritime Association, established on 25 March 1925. The major goal, set in the articles of the association was to ‘invoke and promote the understanding of the significance of the sea and own coast in Lithuania, the importance of seafaring and the necessity of own fleet for the Lithuanian nation.’ This goal was supposed to be implemented by supporting the port of Klaipėda, maritime trade development, fishing and water sports, educational activity, as well as the distribution of academic and popular publications about the sea, including Jūra monthly magazine.

As one of the means to achieve these goals, on 2 August 1925, the association decided to host the Sea Festival in Palanga. The organisers received a greeting telegram from Kaunas by the Minister of Defence Teodoras Daugirdas, yet the first wave of maritime propaganda did not receive much resonance in Lithuania. Without state support and more significant acknowledgement, the activity of the Lithuanian Maritime Association did not grow into a larger maritime movement. However, the first step towards the Lithuanian maritime aspirations had been made.

It took nearly a decade to develop a demand for a maritime policy, based on economic and cultural actions. In 1933-1934, as the maritime propaganda grew more active, maritime issues were included into the state strategy. The strategy also included the establishment of a state Sea Festival, as well as the establishment and publishing of Jūra maritime magazine. This simple and effective method was supposed to imprint the images of the sea in the people’s minds, flourishing in the concept of Lithuania as a maritime state. They also had a much deeper geopolitical meaning.

The introduction of the big Sea Festival began with the celebration of the Day of the Sea on 22 July at the port of Šventoji The purpose of the event was to draw attention to the fishermen and their problems. The fishermen community of Šventoji received attention from the Lithuanian President Antanas Smetona and other high Lithuanian officials, while their wives organised charity for the fishermen’s families. The President Smetona addressed the huge crowd with poetical and moving words about the drama of the mankind and the sea, as well as the hard work of the seamen and fishermen.

‘...The sea is the beginning of culture and its cradle. ... The sea is precious, because without it we would not be able to contact the entire world. Hail to the Samogitians, who kept by the sea and preserved it for us all. We must love and respect our fishermen. Our seaside must be inhabited and full of people to protect it from foreign sand. We must take care of the locals, creating a foundation to encourage their struggle, showing that the entire nation has their backs.

The great Day of the Sea in Klaipėda began on 11 August, featuring an exceptional ceremony on the northern pier, reminding of a wedding ceremony between Lithuania and the sea.

This comparison stems not only from the ceremonial speeches, involving promises, reminiscent of wedding vows. There are analogies of close relationship between the state and the sea, expressed in the rituals of the Christian cultural tradition as well. This tradition, established by Pope Alexander III in 1177, continues in Venice to this day. Expressing his gratitude to the sea, during the annual ship parade the leader of the city throws a ring into the sea, saying: ‘In witness of the true and eternal God I marry thee, Sea.’

A similar wedding ceremony with the Baltic Sea has been done along Puck on 10 February 1920 by the Polish General Joseph Haler. Later, the Poles have reestablished their vows to the sea while building the port of Gdynia.

Yet, let’s get back to the 12 August 1934, the first ceremony of the state Lithuanian Sea Festival, which featured the famous program speech of Antanas Smetona, President of the Republic of Lithuania, announcing the state’s maritime strategy.

Unfortunately, its implementation, just like the activity of Jūra – the first Lithuanian maritime magazine, published since 1935 – and the operations of the Lithuanian Navy, established on 1 August in the same year, was interrupted in 1939, when Klaipėda region was annexed by Hitler’s Germany, and later – by World War II.

Celebrating these significant maritime dates, we would like to draw attention of the modern-day people to the pre-war Lithuania’s attempts to establish a strong maritime state, the foundations of which, first of all, must be laid in the spirit, consciousness and thoughts of its citizens, then turning into meaningful works, which leave bright marks in history.

If these significant anniversaries do not bring a new era like the changing of emperors in Japan, then perhaps they will turn a new page in the politics and development – the Lithuanian Presidential elections.

During the elections campaign JŪRA MOPE SEA magazine has offered the candidates to the Presidency of the Republic of Lithuania to describe a vision of a Lithuanian maritime strategy, including the entire presidency term and further perspectives. We have promised to print the speech of the newly-elected President together with the speech, delivered by the President Antanas Smetona in 1934. Of course, there is a risk of not receiving a speech from the new President at all. Nevertheless, we are printing the speech of Antanas Smetona, which truly is something to be learned from by the modern-day politics.

Or, perhaps, the Lithuanian President, elected on 26 May 2019, will resolve to ‘marry the Sea’? And, if the marriage vows are appropriately implemented, perhaps Lithuania will become a strong maritime state, instead of the rural province that the current government is aiming for?

*This publication was based on the historical date from the Lithuanian Sea Museum.

 

 

The magazine SEA has been published since 1935
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been published since 1999
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Ltd. Juru informacijos centras


The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
published since 1999.

ISSN 1392-7825

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