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Jurgis Bielinis (1846–1918) was one of the main organizers of the illegal book-smuggling at the time of the Lithuanian press ban (1864–1904). Bielinis is informally referred to as the King of Book Smugglers. Since 1989, Bielinis's birthday (16 March) is commemorated as the Day of Book Smugglers (Knygnešio diena).

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  • Jurgis Bielinis
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  • Jurgis Bielinis (1846–1918) was one of the main organizers of the illegal book-smuggling at the time of the Lithuanian press ban (1864–1904). Bielinis is informally referred to as the King of Book Smugglers. Since 1989, Bielinis's birthday (16 March) is commemorated as the Day of Book Smugglers (Knygnešio diena).
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  • Jurgis Bielinis
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  • Jurgis Bielinis (1846–1918) was one of the main organizers of the illegal book-smuggling at the time of the Lithuanian press ban (1864–1904). Bielinis is informally referred to as the King of Book Smugglers. Since 1989, Bielinis's birthday (16 March) is commemorated as the Day of Book Smugglers (Knygnešio diena). Bielinis was born into a family of Lithuanian serfs and inherited his father's farm at the age of 14. After the death of his first wife and newborn son around 1867, he decided to pursue primary education. He arrived to Kaunas in 1873 in hopes of finishing primary school and then joining the Kaunas Priest Seminary, but was robbed and joined Lithuanian book smugglers who worked with bishop Motiejus Valančius to make some money. After Aušra, the first Lithuanian periodical was published in 1883, Bielinis established contacts with and founded the Garšviai Book Smuggling Society around 1885. They purchased large quantities of Lithuanian publications in East Prussia, smuggled them across the Prussia–Russia border, and distributed across Lithuania reaching as far as Riga and Jelgava in present-day Latvia. In 1888, Bielinis traveled to Western Europe visiting Germany and France. In 1890, his home was searched by the police and he became more careful, visiting home on rare occasions and mostly living with Ūdra in Garšviai. Bielinis was caught and beaten by border patrols around 1891, but the Garšviai Society avoided more serious legal troubles for almost a decade. A series of arrests and searches in 1894–1895 culminated in the trial of six men for the possession and distribution of anti-Tsarist literature. Ūdra was sentenced to three years in prison and five years in exile. In a separate case, Bielinis' brother Andrius was sentenced two years in prison and three years in exile (he died in 1901 in Yaransk). Bielinis evaded police capture and continued to smuggle books living a nomadic lifestyle – he continuously moved from one sympathetic Lithuanian family to another, never staying too long at one location. Active as a book smuggler for 32 years, Bielinis was arrested five times but never tried or sentenced and developed a folk hero reputation for his ability to outsmart the police. Bielinis started publishing his own texts. He published three issues of newspaper Baltasis erelis (The White Eagle) in 1897, 1911, and 1912, several booklets, and a few articles in the Lithuanian press including Aušra, Varpas, Ūkininkas, Tėvynės sargas, Vienybė lietuvninkų Lietuvos ūkininkas, Vilniaus žinios. His main area of interest was the various injustices suffered by the Lithuanian serfs and peasants at the hands of the large landowners. Bielinis believed that the Lithuanian press organized by the intelligentsia did not pay enough attention to these injustices – while traveling across Lithuania to distribute the illegal press, he had collected a number of stories of discrimination and corrupt practices of local landowners. On several occasions he tried unsuccessfully to intervene and advocate on behalf of local peasants. For example, getting a priest appointed to Daujėnai in 1886, saving a Catholic church in from demolition in 1890, publishing protocols about seven specific instances when large landowners illegally seized peasant lands in 1904, acting as intermediary for the peasants of who wanted to buyout manor lands in 1907, preparing five petitions on specific injustices suffered by peasants to the State Duma in 1911, etc. In 1897, he published a history of Lithuania using the text by Simonas Daukantas up to year 1201 and then adding his own text. His other texts promoted naive and unrealistic ideas, including references to himself as the King of Lithuania and an intermediary in world peace negotiations.
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  • Pen names: Bieliakas, Jakulis, Ministeris, Baltasis Erelis
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