Celebrations in LithuaniaOn the 15th of July, 2010, we will celebrate the anniversary of one of the most famous battles of medieval Europe, being at the same time one of the most important events in the history of Lithuania – the battle of Grunwald. On July 15, 1410, the united army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland defeated the Teutonic Order, stopping the Teutonic expansion to the eastern coastal lands of the Baltic Sea. The battle (called in Lithuanian the battle of Žalgiris, and in German – the battle of Tannenberg) left a lasting mark in the historical memories of many nations. The memory of Grunwald and of the Grand Duke Witold who played an important role in the victory influenced the historical awareness of the Lithuanian nation, becoming a permanent symbol of national identity. The memory of the battle enhanced the political awareness of the magnates of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania between the 15th and the 18th centuries, as well as of the national revival activists in the 19th and 20th centuries.
For the 600th anniversary of the battle, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania announced a jubliee programme with the intention to protect the memory of the battle of Grunwald, search for new ways to underline the meaning and importance of the historical event in Lithuanian society and consider the common future with other countries of the region.
The programme of the celebrations will include events that will present to the Lithuanian people and to the international community the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the war heritage, diplomatic traditions, the commemorations of the battle of Grunwald and its importance for the development of the Lithuanian state identity.
The celebrations will be coordinated by the Ministry of Domestic Defense, with participation of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Transport, the Bank of Lithuania, the Lithuanian Postal Service, the Lithuanian Museum of Art, the National Radio and Television, Vilnius University, University of Witold the Great in Kaunas, the Institute of the History of Lithuania, the Lithuanian Sports Association „Žalgiris“, the State Department of Tourism, municipal governments, social organisations and others.
The anniversary is an occasion to emphasise cooperation between Poland and Lithuania. The victory of the Gand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, the common fight for shared values and for freedom from 600 years ago ramain an important historical event that, to this day, has its bearing for Europe and the world. The celebration programmes in Lithuania and Poland are mutually consulted and both sides coordinate participation in common events, state ceremonies, historical performance at the place of the battle; joint academic conferences and exhibitions are also organised.
Between the 14th and 18th of July the main event of the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Grunwald – the historical performance of the battle – will take place at the place of the fight close to Olsztyn in Poland.
The theatrical performances of the battle of Grunwald began in Poland in 1998. Every year almost a hundred thousand spectators has watched the show that gathers knights from all over Europe. Beginning from 2004, a group of knights from Lithuania, and from 2008 the soldiers of the Lithuanian Company of the Honorary Guard, wearing 14th-century armours of the knights from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, have taken part in the event. Also the knights from the organisation „Heralds of the Middle Ages” („Viduramžių pasiuntiniai“), gathering the fans of the medieval history and knight fights, take part in the performance. So far, it has been assumed that the armies that clashed at Grunwald were led by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order and the King of Poland, Jagiełło, while the role of Witold the Great has not been duly appreciated.
In the jubilee year, the representatives of Lithuania were invited to take part in the preparation of the scenario of the historical performance of the battle. The role of Witold the Great and of the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the historical victory over the Teutonic Order is crucial for us. We will participate in the performance of the battle under the leadership of Witold the Great, and it is planned that two knight detachments (each of 35 knights) under the banners of Gedymin Pillars and Pogoń will take part in the fight.
Vytautas the Great
During the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Grunwald, for the first time the role of Witold the Great will be played by a Lithuanian representative.
It will be performed by Donatas Mazurkevičius, a 39-year old Captain of the Lituanian Army. He was chosen from a group of a dozen candidates from the army and the police. The selection was made on February 19 in the riding school of the Horse Company of the Patrolling Brigade of the Police Station of Vilnius District. During the competition candidates were asked questions about the person of Witold the Great, their motivation, knowledge of foreign languages, mastery of word and ability to lead groups of people, and then, they demonstrated their skill in horse riding. The performer of the role of Witold the Great was chosen by a committee including the representatives of the Ministry of Domestic Defense, police and independent authorities, chaired by dr. Aleksiejus Luchtanas, a teacher at the Archeological Faculty at the Historical Department of the Vilnius University.
Members of the jury declared that physical appearance had no bearing on the choice of the actor playing the role of Witold the Great. According to dr. A. Luchtanas, at the time of the battle of Grunwald, Witold was about 60-years old, was quite a short man and had half-long hair, but no beard. So the chosen performer will probably have to grow longer hair.
„The performer of the role of Witold will be in the spotlight during the event, so his soldier’s look is important, he should know how to give orders and should not be afraid of the crowd and the interest from spectators”, explained the director, Mindaugas Urbonavičius, when describing how Witold the Great should behave during the historical performance of the battle of Grunwald.
Captain D. Mazurkevičius said that the fact that he was chosen as the performer of the role of one of the greatest heroes in the history of Lithuania is a great honour to him. D. Mazurkevičius has served in the army for almost 20 years, since the end of 1991 when as a volunteer he joined the brigade of the Voluntary Domestic Defense Service. Today, he serves in the Engineering Batallion in Kaunas of the name of Juozas Vitkus where he is a head of Public Relations department.
All his life D. Mazurkevičius has been interested in history, he graduated in history at the University of Witold the Great in Kaunas. He also studied at the Lithuanian Military Academy of the name of General Jonas Žemaitis, and now continues his master’s course at the Academy. In the village where he comes from, Kybartai, he organised a historical museum of the southern Lithuania named the “Backyard of Jaćwings”.
During the performance, Witold’s closest collaborator, and his double – if the first one is indisposed – will be Algis Norvaišas, 41-year old lieutnant from the Horse Company of the Patrolling Battlion of the Police Station of the Vilnius District.
Witold the Great, together with his suite on horses, will lead about 50 knights to the place of the battle, a detachment including members and friends of the brotherhood of the Troki Castle “Heralds of the Middle Ages “.
The main banner of the Lithuanian regiments, the medieval Pogoń, will be guarded by soldiers from the Company of the Honorary Guard of the Lithuanian Army, dressed in 14th-century uniforms of soldiers from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The armour for Witold the Great will be crafted by armourers from the brotherhood “Heralds of the Middle Ages”. According to the head of the brotherhood, the weight of the armour may reach even 30 kilograms. The saddle for the Witold’s horse will be made according to medieval methods, and ornamented with wrought brass elements. Witold the Great, as he will look during the historical performance of the battle of Grunwald, will present himself for the first time during the holiday of the Army and the Society on May 15 in Zakręt Park in Vilnius.
Officer of Lithuanian Army, Captain Donatas Mazurkevičius. Photo by G. Maksimovicz