Algirdas Kaušpėdas: We must invest into Lithuania of the World – with our work, money and direct contacts

Algirdas Kaušpėdas

Kaušpėdas led a music band of rebellious youths which became the voice of what is often referred to as ‘the singing revolutions’. Twenty-five years on, Antis is still with us and Kaušpėdas’ poignantly ironic lyrics sound just as relevant. Interview by Global Lithuania Network.

Over 1.3 million Lithuanians live outside Lithuania. You have been an advocate of Lithuania of the World concept. You have been decorated with state awards for your merits to the country. Recently, when you were talking about Lithuania and its future on TV, you noted that you saw a huge untapped resource, a Lithuania of the World. Or, another way to put it, Global Lithuania. You also invited people to reconsider what Lithuania is. What did you mean? What is this Global Lithuania, in your mind?

Indeed, I am an enthusiast of Lithuania of the World. Back in 1989, in a song written for the “Rock March Across Lithuania”, called “The Lithuanian State”, I sand, perhaps unwittingly, “The Lithuanian state – Lithuania of the World!” Therefore I find the phrase “Global Lithuania” a little frigid and not entirely comprehensible. Do we really think that Lithuania is or will become a global, world-shaping phenomenon? “Lithuania of the World” has a much more poetic and relaxed sound to it. It means that Lithuania is an open country of the World, it is part of the World. To put it more simply, Lithuania lives with the World under the same sun (the Lithuanian word for the world, pasaulis, literally means ‘under the sun’). What I mean is Lithuania’s integration with the World – the more we are in the World, the more of the World there is in Lithuania. I am not afraid of globalization – it is an opportunity rather than threat, on the condition that we all are and will remain ourselves.

Everything changed again in the twenty-first century and Lithuania, in order to sustain itself, must embrace a pro-active life strategy. It must not retreat from the World into a Lithuanian reservation, but to build a new Lithuania of the World. A country’s strength is determined not just by geography and territorial factors, but by human resources as well. What would remain of Lithuania if it were not inhabited by Lithuanians? It would be like today’s Prussia, merely a historical fact [Prussians were a Baltic tribe conquered by German crusaders in the 13th century and later Germanized]. What would remain of Lithuania if Lithuanians lived in Lithuania sealed behind an iron wall? Soviet Lithuania, which is also history now. Therefore Lithuania of the World must be harmonious, integral and well-managed – global, if you will – system.

We cherish our homeland, our lands and every Lithuanian who lives in Lithuania and the World.

The elder generations can recall how 25 years ago, in July 1987, a group of young musicians embarked on a campaign with no precedent in the Soviet empire – the Rock March Across Lithuania. You vociferously called for Freedom to return to Lithuania. And you succeeded! Even though the price we paid for freedom was high, bloodshed and human victims. Do you remember what you felt on that fateful day of 11 March 1990? How did you imagine Lithuania to be then?

Our joy knew no bounds. Lithuania seemed to have become more colourful, brighter… even though it was a rainy night. We were focused and incredibly courageous. For a time being, Soviet functionaries were lost and incredulous about what had happened. What’s more, it was “vsyo zakonno”, all legitimate, as the Independence Restoration Act was signed by lawfully elected deputies. We outsmarted them. The Soviets were left with the only resort, brutal military force. But they did not dare to drown Lithuania in blood.

What are your sentiments now, a quarter of a century later?

Lithuania has made enormous progress over the 25 years. Today, as I hold a euro coin with our coat of arms on the obverse, I feel proud of my people who managed to become 100-percent European. We could say we’ve become Lithuania of Europe. I like the diversity of Europe, which gained even more with Lithuania’s accession, becoming even richer. No one is expected to give up even parts of their identity for integration – on the contrary, the more global the world is, the stronger must be a nation’s selfhood.

Last summer, in the Global Lithuanian Youth Meeting, you discussed zombies, your theatrical address was entitled “Zombies Are Attacking Lithuania”. [“Zombies” was the title of Kaušpėdas’ 1986 song which mocked the moribund Soviet regime] How do we recognize today’s zombies, what are they like?

Zombies are dead people who live among and inside us. They are programmes, viruses that force people to be slaves. They are ideologies, religions, stereotypes, superstitions, conspiracy theories, addictions, etc. Everything we accept and do unconsciously, because we must, because it’s more convenient, safer. Being a dead man is simpler than living, because it takes courage to be alive, one needs to take risks, leave one’s comfort coffin and open up. Being oneself means respecting oneself, one’s being alive and one’s humanity.

You have also been awarded for nurturing patriotism among the young. What is your message for today’s youth who can easily identify with people of the world, having come of age in a free country?

I have faith in our youth and can’t wait for them to start playing a more active role in the public life, in politics. We have well-educated young generation – we are leading in the EU with the share of young people with higher education. They must make a bolder entrance onto the stage of life. To form assemblies, organizations, to discuss, shape their own values and goals. The World Lithuanian Youth Union is an excellent example of what can be achieved together.

You’re an avid traveller, you keep meeting Lithuanians who live abroad. What are your observations about the Lithuanian diaspora?

These are incredibly warm meetings, I’ve met so many beautiful people. I am glad that Lithuania’s diplomats, various organizations and foundations work to bring Lithuanian communities together. The more cultural and business cooperation projects we have, the livelier our diaspora will be. We must invest into Lithuania of the World – with our work, money and direct contacts. let’s travel, be friends, invite and support one another.

Let’s talk about the Lithuanian identity. You’ve once said – to be is to have an identity. A person without identity is someone you call “zombie”. A recent survey of Lithuanian expatriates has shown that 79 percent of them care about maintaining their national identity. What is this identity for you and what it means to your compatriots scattered all across the globe?

I am glad that keeping their identities is an important issue for most of Lithuanian expatriates. The roots of this identity lies in historical memory, language, culture, religion, citizenship. One must understand, however, that national identity is a fluid, always developing thing. Each generation must make its own contribution to keeping a nation’s identity alive. Development and revitalization are a necessary condition for a prosperous, authentic and relevant identity. Lithuania of the World has a unique opportunity to let all Lithuanians nurture a leaf each on the lush tree of Lithuanian identity. To be and to create! That is the slogan for modern Lithuania of the World. To be means to be rooted, to be integrated in the world. To create means to never cease developing and revitalizing.

Do you see any contradiction between “global” and “local” Lithuania?

I do and that presents a considerable problem. There are still many who classify Lithuanians into “locals” and “emigrants”. They say that emigration is an ultimate evil and that the emigrants are unpatriotic economic pragmatists. I disagree. In our modern world, migration of people is as normal as migration of ideas, goods and capital. We can only rejoice in how many Lithuanians travel the world, learn things, accumulate experience. Standing water soon becomes stale. The problem is not migration, it is Lithuania. Once we show more respect to people, their work, creation, self-government, then migration will turn our way.

What could mobilize Lithuanians? Could we perhaps start consciously working on Lithuania of the future? Are we ready to rally under circumstances other than threat?

There are but two motivating forces: fear and love. The way of fear leads to the society of zombies, where right lies with the one who can scare most. Unfortunately, there is much fear in the world, it underlies the “survival strategy”. I hope that as Lithuanians go step by step towards greater consciousness, they will opt for live – the “convivial strategy”.

This year, 11 March events will last an entire month. Do you already have plans for commemorating the Restoration of Independence? Will there be a new Antis song for the occasion perhaps?

I will celebrate 11 March in Klaipėda, in Švyturys Arena, where Antis will give a festive solo performance. It will be a very open concert, like a conversation and shared joy. A new song is already alive in my heart, but when will it dear to venture into the world? The Creator only knows.

I congratulate you all, dear friends, on this amazing occasion – 25 years of being free!

I will conclude my wishes with lyrics by poet Evaldas Morkūnas:

We love, we know why
We’re let down, but we want to love again.
We love, we know why,
We love – we know why!

So yes, there might be a song.

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