Lithuania. Basketball as Resistance against Oppression
“In Siberia we built a regulation basketball court. Basketball allowed us to have dignity, to retain our sense of humanity. How did I survive? Basketball. It gave me a lot. They didn’t bury me.” These are the words of Juozas Butrimas, a Siberian Gulag survivor from the 1950s.
The whole sports club Zalgiris in Kaunas was falsely accused of participating in anti-Soviet, Lithuanian resistance organization and most of them were deported in the Siberian cold.
In the wake of the Eurobasket final, Lithuania vs. France, let me just recommend once more the 2012 documentary “The Other Dream Team” where director Marius Markevicius documents the Soviet occupation tragedy hooked to the sportive tradition of Lithuanian hoops. All four Baltic stars of the USSR Olympic team from 1988 and pillars of the Barcelona ’92 bronze medal glory had numerous family members deported.
The fantastic story of Sarunas Marciulionis, Arvydas Sabonis, Rimas Kurtinaitis and Valdemaras Chomicius is not merely culminating with hoping on the podium at the Olympics in Barcelona, but it has a background of a long resistance against communism and Soviet occupation. Whilst in the ’70s and ’80s the scene was occupied by the terrible duel between KGB harassed Zalgiris Kaunas, the Baltic ‘David’, and Spartak Moscow, the Soviet ‘Goliath’, in the ’50s the real heroism of basketball is being forged.
In the heart of the most oppressive empire in history, surrounded by the most unfriendly environment, Lithuanians were also resisting through basketball until they broke away from the red empire triggering its collapse. The story culminates with the image of the bronze medalists in tie-dyed Grateful Dead tee-shirts, however the core of it lies in fighting evil and keeping dignity. As a follow up, the documentary proposes a bright future for the ’92 born rookie Valanciunas, drafted for the Toronto Raptors and center in today’s Lithuanian national team.