WHEN CANNONS ROAR: The traditional shooting near the Lithuanian presidential palace on Mindaugas Coronation Day.
VILNIUS - Lithuania celebrates on July 6, when the country celebrates the coronation of Mindaugas, the king of Lithuania back in 1253, as the birth of the centralized Lithuanian state, and it is the jolliest state holiday because it falls in summer. The founding fathers of subsequent epochs, who proclaimed re-establishment of Lithuanian independence in 1918 and 1990, did not think about future celebrations and proclaimed those acts in February and March, when the Lithuanian weather is not so kind for some outdoor fun. The celebration mood this year had many accents of basketball and was prolonged for a few days due to this game, which has the rank of the second nationwide religion after Catholicism in Lithuania, since the 1930s when Lithuania became Europe’s No. 1 in basketball.
“Let us not forget that citizenship means a special bond between an individual and the state - a relationship that is best defined by giving, not taking or demanding,” Grybauskaite said after both Lithuanian flags (the flag from the 14th-18th centuries and the modern post-1918 tricolor) were hoisted near her palace on July 6. Her words, of course, were an obvious plagiarism of the famous statement by playboyish U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”
At 21:00 Lithuanian time, Lithuanian-Americans at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Lithuanian eurocrats in Luxembourg, Lithuanian workers in Dublin, the Lithuanian U-19 national team and their fans near the Lithuanian embassy in Riga, Lithuanians in Kudirkos Square in Vilnius (including some Lithuanian-Venezuelans), and Lithuanians near the monument of pilots Darius (after his return from the USA, he was the first to publish Lithuanian-language booklets about basketball in the 1920s) and Girenas in Kaunas sang the Lithuanian anthem simultaneously, which became a world-wide tradition for Lithuanians all over the world two years ago when Lithuania celebrated 1,000 years since its name was mentioned for the first time in written form (in German chronicles). The latter, singing in Kaunas, as almost everything now in Lithuania, was dominated by accents related to the coming EuroBasket (on Aug. 31-Sept. 18) which will be held in Alytus, Klaipeda, Panevezys, Siauliai, Vilnius, and Kaunas. Arvydas Sabonis, the best European (and maybe the world’s) basketball center of all time (he spent the last years of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers when his best health powers were already in the past), was also present at the celebration in Kaunas.
According to the earlier plan, the celebration of July 6 in Kaunas was planned to coincide with the opening of the new Zalgiris Arena of 15,000 seats (with the technical possibility to have an additional 2,000 seats in the case of some bigger events in the arena). However, it seems that the construction work in the arena will be completed only on the eve of the EuroBasket. The arena in Kaunas will also be used for concerts: James Blunt on Oct. 1, the British electronic music duo Hurts on Oct. 12, Jean-Michel Jarre on Oct. 16, Lenny Kravitz on Nov. 12, the German band Rammstein on Feb. 6 – (tickets are already on sale via www.bilietupasaulis.lt while Sir Elton John (on Nov. 4) will be the only celebrity left for the capital city of Vilnius (Siemens Arena). Regardless, the Euroleague’s matches of Kaunas Zalgiris will be the main business for the new arena in Kaunas. Zalgiris is preparing for the new season by looking for some additional players, including from the NBA, which now is quite an easy task due to the lockout in the NBA. In July, Zalgiris signed a one-year contract with Sonny Weems, who was supposed to play his third season with the Toronto Raptors.
The televised address by Grybauskaite a couple of minutes before the singing of the national anthem at 21:00 was also full of remarks related to the coming EuroBasket. On the eve of the Mindaugas Coronation Day, on July 5, Grybauskaite met with the organizers of EuroBasket, including Sabonis. Grybauskaite emphasized that this championship will attract 30,000 foreign fans and it is a matter of honor for Lithuania to guarantee comfort of the highest standard for them. “It will be the best championship ever,” Sabonis said cheerfully despite a rather unexpected defeat for the Lithuanian national team (where his son Tautvydas Sabonis plays) from the USA on that day (105-107 after an overtime, while the match of the same teams a few day earlier in Vilnius finished with a Lithuanian victory, 108-75) in the world championship for 19-year-old (and younger) men in Latvia. On July 10, Lithuania became the champion of the world after it beat Serbia in the final game. The Lithuanian team was supported by 8,000 Lithuanians who occupied all the seats in the arena in Riga for that occasion.
This victory, although it was quite predictable for Lithuanian fans, was kind of a Mindaugas Coronation Day-2 and it was a real feast for the nation. On July 11, the victorious team paraded through Vilnius in an open top bus and was greeted by crowds in the central streets and Rotuses Square in Vilnius’ Old Town, where the main feast took place.
The world’s U-19 championship was quite an experience for the young Lithuanian players. At the group stage in Liepaja, their money was stolen, allegedly by local chamber maids. Jonas Valanciunas, the leader of the team, said that the organizers of the championship appointed the time for the Lithuanian team’s daily training in local arenas at such a time which contradicted their match schedule. The red, white and blue balloons falling from the ceiling of Arena Riga during the award ceremony showed that the organizers wanted victory for some other team (those colors coincided with the national colors of the USA, Serbia, Russia, and Croatia). The team’s main point guard, Vytenis Cizauskas, could not play against the USA due to an injury. Two other players on the Lithuanian team were called back to Lithuania to take the school exam of the Lithuanian language on the day of the quarterfinal match against Poland. However, the ‘what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger’ axiom was proven to be true in this case.
“This new generation was born in an independent Lithuania. It will be a new page in Lithuanian history. It is an honor to be Lithuanian,” Antanas Guoga, also known as Tony G, a 37-year old Kaunas-born Lithuanian-Australian businessman who made his first millions playing professional poker and who financially supports Lithuanian national basketball teams, including the national team of adults, said to the young crowd meeting the world champions at Rotuses Square.