Jonas Basanavičius was the most prominent architect of the Lithuanian national revival at the end of the 19th century, the first editor of the newspaper Aušra, one of the leading figures in the struggle for the political independence of Lithuanian nation, a doctor, a folklorist, an anthropologist, a publicist, a prominent social and cultural figure, and patriarch of the Lithuanian nation.
J. Basanavičius was born on November 23rd, 1851 in Ožkabaliai village, Bartninkai parish, Vilkaviškis district, in a family of a well-off local farmer. J. Basanavičius went to the Lukšiai primary school, and afterwards to the gymnasium in Marijampolė.
After graduating from the gymnasium, he travelled to Moscow to study at the faculty of history and philosophy at the Moscow University; in 1873–1874 he attended courses on medieval, modern and Russian history, history of the Russian literature, comparative linguistics, etc. Still, having realized that he would not be allowed to get a teacher’s job in his native country, J. Basanavičius moved to study medicine from the autumn semester of 1874. He was an active member of the Lithuanian students’ society of the time. Already then J. Basanavičius was interested in studies of Lithuanian culture. His scientific views were based on the mythological school and the classical theoretical trend of ethnography, i.e. evolutionism.
That period was particularly favorable for conducting scientific research, since investigations of material and spiritual culture of the national and ethnic communities saw rapid growth in the second half of the 19th century: it was the time when scholarly basis for the discipline of ethnography was laid out. In Europe, it was the time of cultural growth: the first ethnographic societies and museums were established, editing of the research magazines was launched.
After graduating from the university in 1879, J. Basanavičius did not get a job in Moscow and therefore moved to Bulgaria in 1880. He settled in Lom, where he obtained a place of the director of local hospital. He kept close contacts with his fellow-countrymen spread all over the Europe. In the meantime J. Basanavičius also started contributing to the Lithuanian newspapers published in Lithuania Minor, like Lietuviška Ceitunga and Naujasis Keleivis. In 1882, he initiated publication of a new Lithuanian newspaper Aušra.
At that period J. Basanavičius grew particularly interested in historical research, therefore when visiting Bulgarian towns he copied the Roman inscriptions and excavated ruins from the Roman times. Besides, he recorded Bulgarian folklore, collected ethnographic materials, and published his scientific insights not only in Bulgarian, but also in foreign periodicals. In 1891, he undertook a journey across European cities, in order to collect data supporting the theory of “thracology” that he was working on. He studied at the greatest European libraries and visited museums and exhibitions.
He was actively contributing to the Lithuanian press and publishing studies on folklore. He especially encouraged his fellow-citizens to take part in collecting Lithuanian folklore.
In 1904, when the ban for Lithuanian press was lifted, J. Basanavičius returned to Lithuania. Following the upsurge of the national revival tendencies prominent in the society, he started uniting the national intelligentsia. In 1907, the first meeting of the representatives of the Lithuanian people was organized, the Great Seimas in Vilnius, of which J. Basanavičius was a chairman. In 1907, he also initiated establishing of the Lithuanian Science Society.
In the summer of 1913, J. Basanavičius and M. Yčas went for several months to US, to collect donations for the building of houses for the Lithuanian Science Society and Art Society. During the World War I J. Basanavičius stayed in Vilnius curing people and registering documental evidence regarding the German occupation.
On February 16, 1918, twenty members of the Lithuanian Council, presided by J. Basanavičius, declared the Lithuanian independence.
When Poland occupied the Vilnius area, J. Basanavičius remained in Vilnius, continuing his unceasing struggle for Lithuanian national rights.
In 1921, the Lithuanian Constituent Assembly awarded him with state pension, recognizing his outstanding merits. He was elected honorary member and professor of the Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University.
The patriarch of the Lithuanian nation passed away on February 16, 1927. The five days long national mourning was declared in Lithuania. J. Basanavičius was ceremonially buried at the Rasos cemetery in Vilnius.