Category Archives: Lithuania

Jonas Mekas: OV (Original Vlogger)

Bjorn Ingvoldstad (Bridgewater State University)

In addition to his work as film critic, curator, and archivist, Jonas Mekas has also secured his place in film history with his prolific series of “film diaries.” With the ascension of YouTube and the practice of video blogging (or vlogging as it is sometimes called), we might fruitfully understand Mekas’ film diaries as pre-Web vlogs. As the line between producers and consumers becomes increasingly blurred, Mekas continues to claim a position as video auteur through his eponymous website, jonasmekasfilms.com.  This presentation focuses upon Mekas’ use of the Web to extend his “diary” (and its attendant archive) online.  Though largely a text-based discussion, I argue for the industrial importance of online and global Baltic cinema distribution — not just in the coming years and decades, but also in the present moment.

Greimas (1917-1992) as Schizophrenic: The Lithuanian Publications

Thomas F. Broden (Purdue University)

“I am double,” A. J. Greimas once observed; “I’m a perfect schizophrenic: I live in two languages that don’t intersect.”  The scholar, known throughout the world, was a specialist in linguistics and semiotics who taught in Paris and wrote and spoke in French.  Yet throughout his career, Greimas published continuously in Lithuanian.  A member of the first generation to grow up in an independent Lithuania since the Middle Ages and to be schooled in Lithuanian, he published in his native tongue in order to be an active member of the greater Lithuanian community, to share his knowledge of ground-breaking trends in French intellectual life, and to defend and illustrate the language.  The texts discussed in this paper reveal three facets of his oeuvre and his person quite different from his familiar academic Gallic persona.

First, whereas non-Lithuanians knew Greimas only as an “expert” in his field, he in fact functioned as a complete modern “intellectual,” publically reflecting and taking positions on a wide range of topical issues.  Secondly, alongside the French linguist’s highly scientific discourse, Lithuanian readers knew Greimas as a literary critic enamored of innovative lyrical works which he presented in an emotionally rich prose.  This voice stunned non-Lithuanians when they heard it for the first time in the scholar’s last sole-authored book written in French (1987).  Lastly, a steady stream of scholarship in Lithuanian on comparative mythology establishes that field as a major focus of his career and figures as a central component of his ongoing intellectual legacy.

Egodocumental Heritage of Lithuania: New Trends for Research

Arvydas Pacevičius (Vilnius University)

This paper introduces the concept of “egodocuments” and will attempt to reveal the prospects of interdisciplinary and regional-comparative research using private documents in Lithuania and Europe.  The national project Egodocumental Heritage of Lithuania (LEGODOK) will also be introduced.  First introduced by Jacques Presser in his descriptions of traumatic Jewish memories, the term “egodocument” is now widely used in research on first-person writings, such as family books, diaries, memoirs, and autobiographies.  The widely accepted concept of the egodocument as writing in the first person for oneself and for close relatives has been adapted to the general theory of document and archival science in which the paradigm of cultural and historical anthropology has recently been gaining prominence.  The problem is that due to the influence of historical circumstances, including confessional adherence, reading and writing strategies emerged in differing ways depending on the country and culture, and this led to a diversity of form and content of egodocuments.  In Lithuania, egodocuments include chronicles of the Western type, as well as memoirs and diaries.  These Western-style documents are usually written in Polish and include specific silva rerum writings and autobiographies of monks.  Egodocuments written in Lithuanian, however, are composed later, and their genesis and dissemination can be best described within the fields of history of the book “from below” and marginalia research.  When studying the Lithuanian egodocumental heritage one must bear in mind multilingualism and authors’ possible problematic connection to Lithuanian identity.  We can conclude that egodocuments can be viewed as a set of writing and reading practices in private space which are not necessarily connected with an autobiographical narrative but which must include expression and dissemination of personality and identity.

Keyword: Pacevicius

Aspects of the Emergence and Transformation of the Early Lithuanian Far Right Movement (1922-1927)

Vytautas Petronis (Herder Institute, Germany)

This presentation discusses the origins and development of the interwar Lithuanian right-wing radical movement, focusing on its earliest stage, that is, before the coup d’état of December 17, 1926.

The first sporadic outbreaks of Lithuanian ultra-nationalism occurred in the second half of 1922.  These were carried out primarily by young veterans of the wars of independence and students of the recently opened University of Lithuania in Kaunas. Both groups arguably represented what can be called the “tautininkai (nationalist) stream”— a movement which included a broad spectrum of right-wing activists from patriots to radical nationalists.  To a great extent this stream can be compared to the German Völkisch movement; it was liberal, democratic and at the same time conservative, patriotic, as well as nationalistic.

During the period 1923-1927, two separate groups emerged in parallel with the “tautininkai (nationalist) stream,” operating in accordance with the right-wing political parties: 1) the pro-fascist movement, coordinated by the Christian Democrats; and 2) the “Secret Officers Union” (Slapta karininkų sąjunga), which to a great extent allied with the “Lithuanian Nationalist Union” (Tautininkai Union). These two clandestine groups operated as the enforcers of the respective political parties and aimed either at strengthening political positions of their superiors or bringing them to power.

Creating National Universities in Latvia and Lithuania, 1919-1925

Per Bolin (Södertörn University, Sweden)

The formation of the new Latvian and Lithuanian states in 1918-1919 had radical implications also for academia. The crucial undertaking of creating new and national universities in Riga and Kaunas was as a way of structuring these new nations in both symbolic and institutional terms. In these projected universities, the imperatives concerning the respective nation’s history and culture could be materialized. Moreover, instruction would be conducted in Latvian and Lithuanian, languages that had hitherto been seen as simple peasant vernaculars, completely unfit for the purpose of academia or even higher abstract reasoning.

The academics assembling in Riga and Kaunas to create these new universities had to handle a number of problems and dilemmas, one of which is the focus of this paper: the recruitment of a sufficient number of well-qualified academics—who preferably were to be fluent in the state language—in a situation where very few Latvians and Lithuanians had previously received proper university training.  This gave rise to a particular dilemma: should the organizers rely on less qualified academics from the majority nations, or should they also appoint outstanding scholars and scientists of other nationalities?  While the first option would certainly fit the agenda of a nationalizing state, it would to some extent run counter to established notions within the European academic field: that appointments and promotions should be made solely on the basis of scientific and scholarly merit.

In this paper I explore the different ways the organizers of Latvia’s and Lithuania’s universities handled this dilemma during the formative years of 1919 to 1925.

Is Lithuanian Identity (Post)modern?

Linas Venclauskas (Vytautas Magnus University)

This paper discusses the development of modern Lithuanian identity in the second half of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, though the focus is on the last twenty years of independence.  What we have inherited from the past?  Have we modified our concepts of identify through new perspectives, or are we still dealing with the identity that was formed in the mid-twentieth century?  Sources for this paper include public discussions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, primarily from newspapers.  For understanding concepts of identity over the past twenty years, attention will be given to Lithuanian history textbooks; these help us understand what kind of history is being taught in contemporary Lithuania.  Important questions arise: Is Lithuania presented in these textbooks as a nation-state or there are signs of intercultural perspective?  Is Lithuania presented as part of a global world, or as a separate country with its own separate past, history and destiny?  What symbols and language are used when speaking about Lithuania?  Are they civic or national based?  Is identity perceived as an unchangeable structure, or can it be deconstructed, reconstructed and changed in answer to new global challenges?  To help compare primary narratives and their perception, some survey data of Lithuanian students will be presented as well; this will help us grasp changes in the consciousness of the generation born after 1990, in an already independent Lithuania.

Was there a “Lithuanian People” in Early Modern Lithuania?

Mathias Niendorf  (Greifswald University, Germany)

To speak of a “Lithuanian people” in early modern Lithuania raises several problems.  First, there is the fact that Lithuania from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and that the nobility of Lithuania became heavily polonized during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Language, customs, and habitus of the Lithuanian gentry were modeled along the lines of Polish patterns.  Moreover, the nobles saw upon themselves as “Sarmatians,” a social group of particular historical origin distinct from the Lithuanian-speaking peasants.  Second, the Lithuanian part of the commonwealth was, similar to the Kingdom of Poland, a multiethnic, multireligious, and multicultural realm and in it the Catholic, Lithuanian-speaking population was a minority. The question is, which criteria could nonetheless be considered to justify the concept of a “Lithuanian people” in the early modern Grand Duchy of Lithuania?  This paper examines possible indications for a Lithuanian ethnic consciousness beyond the frame of reference of state, estate, constitution, and religion.  It will also deal with the question how terms such as “people” or “ethnos” were understood in a pre-modern historical context.

Fighting Against Fascism: Lithuanian Organizations in the Americas and the Spanish Civil War

Erik Reis Godliauskas Zen  (University of São Paulo)

This paper presents an analysis of the left-wing political activities of Lithuanian residents in North America and South America during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939.  Special attention is given to the mobilization of the International Brigade and to the Lithuanian volunteers who travelled to Spain in order to defend the Second Spanish Republic.

During the 1930’s, the Lithuanian left was able to build information networks to exchange publications and newspapers across the American continent, spreading among their community the antifascist speech and conceptions of the Popular Front, oriented toward the Comintern (Communist International).  Lithuanian immigrants also organized associations in Canada, United States, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in order to support and send supplies to the Popular Front.  From these countries, they engaged in the International Brigade as volunteers.  In Spain, Lithuanians formed groups which maintained information networks connected to their community in America.  These groups also debated the political issues they were facing and denounced war atrocities.  As a result of all these activities, letters and articles were sent from the front to be published by Lithuanian newspapers in different countries.

By analyzing a series of archive documents and material from newspapers, this paper seeks to understand the participation of Lithuanian immigrants in the Spanish Civil War—one of the major conflicts of the twentieth century—taking into consideration insights from the field of immigration studies.

Keyword: Sao

My Grandparents’ Kaunas: Searching for the 1920’s in 2010

Nancy L. Heingartner (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

This paper investigates the experiences in Lithuania of Robert Heingartner, a career U.S. diplomat who served as American consul in Kaunas from 1926 to 1928, and describes the experiences I shared with Wisconsin-Madison emeritus Professor of History Alfred Senn in 2010 as we retraced Heingartner’s steps in Lithuania of the 1920s.  A career diplomat (and my paternal grandfather), Robert Heingartner spent most of his life abroad, primarily in Western European capitals, and kept a careful diary for much of his diplomatic career, documenting events that both politically and personally were of note.  Professor Senn has edited Heingartner’s diary and published it in 2009 as Lithuania in the 1920s: A Diplomat’s Diary, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.  The diary makes it clear that the life of a U.S. diplomat abroad in the first half of the twentieth century was very different from that of one in the early twenty-first century.  Most importantly, life moved at a much slower pace—air travel was uncommon and radios were considered high-tech.  In his diary, Heingartner describes countless social events he attended in Kaunas.  Though one might be tempted to think that his life consisted of nothing but parties, in truth, social events served a very important function.  Without the technologically advanced means of collecting intelligence that exist today, in 1920s Lithuania these gatherings were the main way that foreign diplomats gained access to “insider” information on conditions and attitudes in society.

Anti-Semitism in Lithuania in the Late 1930s: An Analysis of Verslas, a Weekly Newspaper of Lithuanian Merchants and Industrialists

Hisashi Shigematsu (University of Tokyo)

Western scholars who have researched the Holocaust in Lithuania insist that there was an anti-Semitic atmosphere among Lithuanians even before the beginning of World War II. Their studies, however, have usually not been based on sources in Lithuanian.

Seeking to verify whether there was or was not an anti-Semitic environment in interwar Lithuania and, if there was one, to understand the nature of this prejudice, I have used as a source the weekly business newspaper Verslas (“business” in Lithuanian), published in Kaunas from 1932 to 1940. This periodical was the “weekly of Lithuanian merchants, manufacturers and artisans,” and consisted of articles not only about economic issues but also on politics.

There were some anti-Semitic articles in Verslas, especially at the end of 1938 and the beginning of 1939. Authors writing in Verslas asserted that the Jews were communists (so-called “Judeo-Bolsheviks”) who were destroying Lithuanian statehood; that the Jews were exploiters, extorting money from the Lithuanians; and that the Jews are rapists, who sullied Lithuanian unmarried women.

In addition, Verslas often positively evaluated legislation against the Jews in Germany and other European countries, and advocated that similar laws be introduced in Lithuania too. In an article about German policies against the Jews, one author wrote that the Jews themselves were to blame for the German government’s persecution of them. In short, the writers of Verslas obviously desired to found a “Lithuania of the Lithuanians.”