The battle between Chinese communists and Hong Kong demonstrators has unfolded in Šiauliai, Lithuania—home to the Hill of Crosses.
Yesterday several Hong Kong tourists to Lithuania, the first Soviet-occupied nation to declare its independence, witnessed a Chinese woman defacing and desecrating crosses there.
What’s the significance behind the Hill of Crosses?
Known as Kryžių kalnas in Lithuanian, it is a holy pilgrimage site for Christians—especially Catholics. Lithuania is a predominantly Catholic country like its neighbor Poland. Pope John Paul II even visited the Hill of Crosses in September 1993. There are reportedly 100,000 crosses and religious symbols found there today.
When it comes to explaining the origin of the Hill of Crosses, there are almost as many myths as crosses. Some claim it was created in three days and three nights by the bereaved families of warriors killed in a great battle. Others say it was the work of a father who, in a desperate bid to cure his sick daughter, planted a cross on the hill. Pagan traditions tell stories of sacred fires being lit here and tended by celestial virgins.
Crosses first appeared here in the 14th century. They multiplied after bloody anti-tsarist uprisings to become a potent symbol of suffering and hope.
During the Soviet era planting a cross was an arrestable offence – but pilgrims kept coming to commemorate the thousands killed and deported. The hill was bulldozed at least three times. In 1961 the Red Army destroyed the 2000-odd crosses that stood on the mound, sealed off the tracks leading to the hill and dug ditches at its base, yet overnight more crosses appeared. In 1972 they were destroyed after the immolation of a Kaunas student in protest at Soviet occupation. But by 1990 the Hill of Crosses comprised a staggering 40,000 crosses, spanning 4600 sq metres. Since Independence they have multiplied at least 10 times – and are multiplying still; some of the most recent ones include tributes to Ukrainians killed in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war.
Few international outlets have reported on the incident. One of Lithuania’s major publications, 15min LT, first wrote about it. I’ve taken the liberty of getting a translation from Lithuanian to English for our readers here at The Resurgent.
On Sunday morning, Artūras Šliavas, the Head of Communication Unit of Šiauliai County Police Headquarters, also commented on the situation. He said officers went to Mount Cross and the situation would be assessed there. “We have received a statement regarding this incident and have also seen video and photos. Officials are currently traveling to Mount Cross, where they will assess the situation and take photographs. As far as we depend, we will do it. We will gather all the information and evaluate all the circumstances. So, we’re starting our investigation, ”said Sliavas 15min Sunday morning. Police Department spokesman Ramūnas Matonis said earlier on Sunday at 15min that a statement had been received regarding the incident.
Leung Kai Chi 梁啟智, a lecturer at CUHK Journalism, first drew attention to the vandalism at the Hill of Crosses.
Simon Shen, an International Relations Scholar from Hong Kong visiting Lithuania, tweeted about the incident.
“Yesterday, we went to the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, and found that some tourists from China vandalized the crosses placed by the locals with insults aiming at HKers, instead of placing their own crosses according to tradition…” Shen said. “… This is not only disrespectful towards HKers, but also damaging to the local culture. This has been shared by @LeungKaiChiHK earlier & has been reported widely on the news. Unexpectedly, this is followed closely by another tourist from China destroying a cross placed by HKer.”
One Twitter user, @YinHo411, tweeted the cross that was desecrated and tossed belonged to them.
Swift condemnation of the act came from Lithuanian politicians.
Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted, “Shameful, disgraceful act of vandalism currently under investigation by Lithuanian authorities. Such behaviour can’t and won’t be tolerated.”
Aušra Maldeikienė, a member of European Parliament from Lithuania, added her condemnation.
Modern-day China is not a paragon of freedom by any means. Anyone saying otherwise is either misguided or deluded. Seeing Chinese tourists desecrate religious sites in Lithuania is par for the course for those opposed to Hong Kongers’ quest for freedom.
Let’s continue to offer our support for Hong Kongers and their quest for freedom.