The Lithuanian press ban

Two issues of the same popular prayer book, Auksa altorius (Golden Altar). The one on the left was illegal because it was printed in the Latin alphabet. The one on the right was legal and paid for by the government.
Two issues of the same popular prayer book, Auksa altorius (Golden Altar). The one on the left was illegal because it was printed in the Latin alphabet. The one on the right was legal and paid for by the government.

The Lithuanian press ban (was a ban on all Lithuanian language publications printed in the Latin alphabet within the Russian Empire, which controlled Lithuania at the time. Lithuanian-language publications that used Cyrillic were allowed and even encouraged. The concept arose after the failed January Uprising of 1863, taking the form of an administrative order in 1864, and was not lifted until April 24, 1904. The Russian courts reversed two convictions in press ban cases in 1902 and 1903, and the setbacks of the Russo-Japanese War in early 1904 brought about a loosened Russian policy towards minorities.

Under the ban, it was illegal to print, import, distribute, or possess any publications in the Latin alphabet. Tsarist authorities hoped that this measure, part of a larger Russification plan, would decrease Polish influence on Lithuanians and would return them to what were considered their ancient historical ties with Russia. However, Lithuanians organized printing outside the Empire, largely in Lithuania Minor (East Prussia), and in the United States. Knygnešiai smuggled illegal books and periodicals across the border. The number of such publications kept increasing despite strict sanctions and persecution of the activists. The ban created a well-defined and organized opposition to Russian rule and culture – the opposite of its original intent. The Lithuanian historian Edvardas Gudavičius has described the ban as a test of the concept of Lithuania: had there been no resistance, the language would have become a historical footnote, and the modern nation would never have been created.