On May 14, 1972, 19 year old Romas Kalanta immolated himself in front of the Music Theater in Kaunas. Soviet authorities failed to contain the public reaction to what was deemed to be a protest against Soviet rule in Lithuania. Three reported self-immolations, and one unsuccessful attempt, followed as well as two days of riots in Kaunas on May 18th and 19th. The riots were triggered after mourners, who came to the funeral, found out that the police had already buried the victim in secret. Rioting in Kaunas and other cities involved several thousand participants, extensive property damage, at least one dead policeman, the arrests of reportedly 200 to 500 persons, and the intervention of internal security troops to quell the widespread demonstrations. Most of the participants were youths who grew up after Stalin's terror was long past. The widespread disorders indicated the fragility of loyalty to the Soviet regime.
Kalanta himself came from a family of Communists. It is impossible to ascertain the motives of Kalanta's fiery suicide and, perhaps, this is not important, for the riots that followed took on a political character. The reaction of the Communist authorities show that Kalanta's suicide was not viewed as merely an act of a mentally deranged and drug-addicted youth, as the official explanation of the suicide goes. Whatever the real motives of Kalanta's suicide may have been, in Lithuania it was almost universally assumed that they were politically oriented. The place of the suicide—in front of the theater where a Communist manipulated "People's Diet" declared the death of independence in 1940 was believed to be symbolic of Kalanta's motives.