Lithuanian Themes

LITHUANIAN THEMES

 “Our train doors were opened to give us food. The people started questioning the guards who we were and where we were from. The guards told them that we were fascists from the Baltics. The crowd attacked us with stones and demanded the guards hand us over to be tried, to allow us to be killed.”
A book on Soviet deportation memoirs from the Baltic States.
“Between 1945 and 1952 Lithuania was hit by at least nineteen different waves of deportations. Relatively little was known of these displacements until Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost allowed for free discussions of the past.”
“Child deportees spent their formative years in exile. Thus their memoirs, even when written as adults, provide a clear look into how the experience of displacement affects the formation of personality and subjectivity.”
“An unknown number of Lithuanian deportees who had lost their relatives in exile chose to remain in their places of displacement in the Soviet interior and never came back to Lithuania.”
“The government spent more than 100 million Euros to build the Palace of Sovereigns in Vilnius. Neither public nor private money, however, were directed to build a flagship monument to the victims of Soviet terror.”
“The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius is a ‘hot museum,’ one that melds interpretation with a conscious attempt at eliciting an emotional response from the visitor, not by ‘showing things as they were,’ but by encouraging and anticipating emotional reactions.”

Titles from the backlist, contemporary topics on top, older themes below.

“The foundation of the first state-sponsored memory institute was approved by the Lithuanian Senate in 1993. Its institutional predecessors were founded in 1992 and consist of a state research center and a state museum that were fused into a single institution, creating the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania.”
Pioneering initiatives taken by Lithuania at addressing the painful and complicated legacy of massive trauma and monstrous crimes of the twentieth century.
“The Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania cites as one of its main objectives ‘to establish historical truth and justice’ and ‘to investigate the physical and spiritual genocide of Lithuanians.’” The Centre has also produced some scholarly work that addresses the extensive role Lithuanians played in assisting Nazi forces in the extermination of the local Jewish population.

"The Soviet regime seems to have transformed Lithuania into a kind of low-trust nation where disbelief in authorities and institutions threatens the fragile foundations of civil society, yet where people—oddly enough—place an enormous amount of trust in the media and TV, in particular. This sort of explosive and destructive potential was revealed and successfully exploited by Lithuanian populists during the presidential election in 2002 and afterward.”
“Lithuania has the highest suicide rate in the world. Moreover, growing emigration has deprived the country of many young and highly qualified people. The fragmentation and segmentation of Lithuanian society has reached dangerous limits and can become a threat to democracy, not to mention social cohesion and civic solidarity. The main characteristics of the culture of poverty—isolation, disbelief in a possibility of social link, fatalism, distrust of everything—are stronger in Lithuania than ever. Most probably it is the high price Lithuania has to pay for an incredibly fast and drastic sociocultural change.”

The distinguished Finnish philosopher, Jaakko Hintikka shortly before his death recommended the radical reappraisal of positivism as a major movement in philosophy, science and culture by a Lithuanian scholar with the following statement:
"Positivism – whatever precisely is meant by the term – is not fashionable to-day. At worst, the very term has become something of a Schimpfwort. Evaldas Nekrašas has done a timely service to us all in bringing our attention the role of the positivistic tradition, not only as a philosophical movement, but also in its wider significance. Many relatively recent writers in the analytical tradition have been speaking as if philosophy is only now finally getting rid of the restrictive views of logical positivism. Nekrašas gives a judicious evaluation of their ideas compared with archetypical positivist, and by so doing reaches more balanced perspective on the history of philosophy and history of ideas."

Bush: “We are sympathetic, strongly sympathetic, to the Lithuanians and their desire for self-determination. We don’t have a desire to interfere in your affairs, but the force or perceived crushing of Lithuania would be a problem. April 6, 1990
No other nation is mentioned on the 1000 pages of face to face conversations of superpower leaders as often as Lithuania.
Baker: Over the last year and a half we succeeded in shifting American public opinion in the direction of supporting your policies. Still, when the events started in Lithuania, some people started saying, “Look, Bush and Baker are naïve, while the bear remains a bear.”
Gorbachev:
Recently some comrades visited rural regions of Lithuania and saw that people there do not support the separatists. They are happy with the current situation; they receive concentrates from the center, the existing network. I think this is why the Lithuanian leadership is afraid of a referendum. May 18, 1990
Gorbachev
: The positions of the existing authorities are in danger. People tell them: it was better under the communists—and you are scroungers, self-seekers, you are good for nothing, just grabbing cars, dachas and other things. Meanwhile, even worse extremists, people who collaborated with Hitler in their time, and their children are lurking behind the backs of the present authorities. All in all, we have a lot of information that the situation there is close to an explosion. November 19, 1990
Gorbachev
: Byelorussia raised the question about returning its territories, which were given to Lithuania when it entered the Soviet Union. This includes the Vilnius region. Klaipeda belonged to Russia for 500 years. After the war, Stalin gave it to Lithuania at Sniečkus’ request. There is a dispute about this territory as well. But then what will be left of Lithuania after it separates? July 31, 1991

"It is unclear whether the number of unmarried mothers was truly growing in Lithuania or whether Lithuanian citizens were gradually adjusting to the Soviet welfare system by changing their marriage status deliberately in order to qualify for the allowances. Another explanation may be that the increase in single mothers was directly related to the Lithuanian resistance movement. Thousands of young males left at this time for the forest."
The study on the Office of State Benefits for Mothers of Large Families and Single Mothers (1944-1956) is in the volume on family life and childhood in Soviet times and in post-Soviet Russia and the Baltic States. Essays on subjects like motherhood, childbearing, single mothers, divorce etc: how these used to be, or have recently been, perceived and handled in this corner of the world.
"The Kupiškis County branch had started requiring mothers to submit documents, signed by an officer of the local militia, certifying that they were neither alcoholics nor promiscuous."

The huge book distribution program of the CIA that spanned 35 cold-war years and reached hundreds of thousand East-Europeans included books in Lithuanian: works by exile authors in the free world like Jonas Aistis, Kazys Barénas, and Janis Rainis, just to name a few. Censorship seems to have been the strictest in Lithuania, allowing the fewest number of acknowledgments and book requests from the entire eastern bloc.

Interwar Kaunas served as a seedbed for modernist experimentation. The Officers Club and the Čiurlionis National Museums of Art and War (and memorial) complex presented a novel form of modern architecture appropriate for a new and insecure state. Moreover, Kaunas’s singular capital architecture complemented those inventive modernist monuments being constructed in neighboring nations. Consequently, Kaunas must be recognized as contributing ingeniously to the variegated modernist expressions constructed along the Baltic’s eastern littoral. The case is analyzed alongside the metropolitan aspirations of Athens, Helsinki, Kiev, Moscow, Riga, Sofia, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Warsaw, and Zagreb. Also of Vilnius, or rather Wilno at that time. “The past is crucial for the modern would be nation state. It is this kind of modernizing that one observes in interwar Wilno: not new industry and infrastructure but the development of educational institutions and a rhetoric linking the present-day city with the glories of the Polish national past”.

"Jews did not pose a threat to Lithuanian national culture. In the sphere of national culture, the question of Lithuanian–Russian and Lithuanian–Polish relations was a hundred times livelier and more acute than that between Lithuanians and Jews.”
This explains why in Lithuania, where more than 90 percent of Jews were killed during WWII pogroms in the nineteenth century were less cruel than further down in the south. The anti-Jewish excesses that took place in Lithuania were short lived. The accounts imply that these outbreaks did not last for more than a few hours. Smaller domestic conflicts between Jews and Christians would turn into violence between young people, especially on market days.
During the nineteenth the superstition about blood libel was the strongest part of Lithuanian Judeophobia. The book discusses such cases, connected to the disappearance of a child or a young girl, especially during Easter.

“Unfortunately, today the romantic ‘Khazar’ and ‘Kypchak’ theories are considered the main official academic theory of the history of the Karaites in Lithuania. This case shows that, unfortunately, romantic mythologization often takes precedence over scientifically verified academic theories”. The history of ethnography in imperial Russia lists factors that explain the phenomenon: “First, it was in Lithuania that the Karaites were especially active in promoting their cause before and after WWII. Second, Lithuania housed the largest Karaite communities in the interwar Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. And finally, it is in independent Lithuania today that the Karaites have a strong ‘Khazar-oriented’ Karaite political lobby that influences public opinion and academia—and often silences those who think otherwise.” 

“In the Western borderland of the Romanov Empire the authorities supported Lithuanian nationalism in the hope of undermining challenges from Polish nationalism, who claimed the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania”.
The nation-building processes within the Romanov Empire are examined in parallel with related trajectories in other empires in Europe.
Starting with 1859, the authorities used language politics as an instrument of shaping identity and loyalty of the imperial subjects, regulating the usage of various languages and alphabets. In some cases (forbidding the use of the Latin alphabet for Lithuanian in areas with a Polish gentry presence) the primary goal was to promote de-Polonization. After 1863, the Polish movement began a gradual transition from the concept of the ‘eastern kresy ’ as a Polish region to the search for local allies represented by the Ukrainian movement, from the concept of the ‘Commonwealth of two nations’ (Poland and Lithuania) to the concept of the Commonwealth of three nations (Poland, Lithuania and Rus-Ukraine). However, in the course of this struggle, both the Polish movement and the empire awakened local nationalisms —Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Belarusian—and supplied them with resources.

"Small bird without milk, the stone without blossom, the water without wing: let you pain thus disappear! Let you perish forever! Amen". (Paukštelis be pieno, akmuo be žiedo, unduo be sparno: teip tu skaudulys prapulk, pražuk unt umžiu amžinuju, amen.)
A great number of such charms and healing rhymes find their parallels not only across the Baltic region but in Slavic folklore as well, exemplifying the common tradition. The international comparative research of verbal magic covered the entire continent from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.

“No Gypsy or any other person whose honor or conduct are of doubt should be enlisted”… in the army, declared the Second Lithuanian Statute in 1564. “Many documents unambiguously show that Gypsies eagerly stayed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where they found opportunities for living and refuge.”
The story of the Gypsies in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is based in greatest part on municipal archives, including the courts.
“At the office of the court of His Royal Majesty in Žagarė, appearing in person, the Gypsy woman, Magdalena, a widow, with Hrehory, a Vlach Gypsy, made a settlement”.
The names of Šiauliai, Žagarė, Ukmerge, Šeduva and other cities in Žemaitija, as well as Trakai, Janiszki, Zarasai, Panevežys are often cited in the monograph as sites of the sources or of the wandering of Roma/Gypsies in the 15 th-18th centuries.

A number of titles on the CEU Press record focus on Lithuanian themes:

  • What circumstances and considerations helped Grand Duke Vytautas become “the Great”?
  • A CEU Press Classic: the novel Whitehorn’s Windmill by Kazys Boruta (1905-1965) bears a lyrical style that gives full rein to the oral folktale tradition Lithuania is famous for;
  • A great book co-published with baltos lankos: the popular monograph on Vilnius;
  • How did Lithuanians and Jews try to define their position during the demise of the Russian empire: confront or collaborate? Essays based on material held in the archives of Lithuania, Israel, Russia, USA, and Ukraine;
  • The autobiographical account of Juozas Lukša, written before his fatal return to join his fellows in arms, fighting against the Soviets in the forests of Lithuania.

The Central European University Press has published many more comparative and collective books that carry precious chapters relating to Lithuanians and Lithuania.

  • The probably first modern introduction to the enigma of the Baltic origins and the self-identification of the Baltic people;
  • A biographical CEU Press handbook contains entries on the following Lithuanians: G. Petkevičaitė, F. Bortkevičienė, O. Mašiotienė, and M. Galdikienė.
  • German anthropologists calculated with Lithuanian racial traits variably in their search for authentic Aryan blood;
  • Books on nationalism in the Romanov empire, on forced migrations in the USSR, as well as revisiting Stalinism would not be complete without references to Lithuanians.
  • 122 top level archival documents help understand the rapid demise of the Soviet Bloc. (Jaruzelski: As for Lithuania, I mean to say that it is a matter of the Soviet Union's internal affairs. I think we should not tolerate the adventurism of Sajudis.)
  • How was restitution of confiscated property handled after the fall of the communist regime? The rich analysis of the topic examines the Lithuanian case, too.
  • Another academic success examines the state-building processes in Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and Russia.
  • The volume on the identity struggle in Belarus relates amply to Lithuania, both to the shared past, and to recent developments.
  • Occupation and genocide museums in Lithuania are observed in the context of post-1989 representation of Communism.