Anušauskas: “Occupation”, “deportations”, and other “forbidden” words in history exams

Mission Siberia 2015
Mission Siberia 2015 DELFI (V.Spurytės nuotr.)

With the debate in the Committee on National Security and Defense on civil resistance and the involvement of responsible educational institutions in such education, I simply opened up the assignments for the national proficiency examination prepared by the National Examination Centre over the previous decade. After all, checking the knowledge acquired in school on specially formulated issues is also part of education.

I understand that the number of questions is limited (25-30), plus there is an analysis of the text and the provided visual sources. Nevertheless, we always expect that a young 21st-century Lithuanian citizen has heard accounts of the 1940-1953 period, and will be asked about it.

Let’s agree that the era was exceptional – the Lithuanian State was occupied, lost its independence, and even two occupiers destroyed its inhabitants. And what? A young person answering the exam questions does not find any related questions. Maybe we are afraid to frighten them with the words Holocaust (genocide), exiles (deportations), partisans (resisters)?

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Well, it’s not that bad, someone would say, looking through those questions. Over a decade, in several hundred exam questions, the Lithuanian Freedom Movement is mentioned as many as four times. A 2018 question asked, according to the Declaration of the Council of the Lithuanian Freedom Movement of February 16, 1949, “who held the office of President of the Republic of Lithuania after the restoration of Lithuania’s Independence until the convening of the Seimas?” Was it Antanas Smetona, the President of the Republic of Lithuania, or Stasys Lozoraitis, Head of the Lithuanian Diplomatic Service, or Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas, Chairman of the Presidium of the LLKS Council, or Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, the leader of the partisans in the region of Southern Lithuania? In 2019, virtually the same question was asked. Well, back in 2011, the exam question asked who was that “professional officer who became Commander of the Local Team Battalion in 1945, joined the guerrilla anti-Soviet movement in 1949, was elected chairman of the presidium of the Council of the Lithuanian Freedom Fighting Union at the Congress of Partisan Commanders, and had the highest rank of partisan General? “Was it Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, or Juozas Lukša-Daumantas, or Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, or Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas. The LLKS was mentioned one more time in 2017, as a possible answer to a question of which organization was established abroad during the Soviet occupation.

If we talk about the pursuit of freedom during the years of Soviet occupation … dissidents are mentioned a couple of times. Maybe only once are the students asked for an analysis of primary sources of the “Kalanta” incident in Kaunas in 1972. That’s it. If I decided according to the exam questions and assignments, I would think that Lithuanian students have a good knowledge of the Middle Ages and the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. To know a little more about the restoration of the Lithuanian State a century ago, the speeches of Stalin and Hitler in the 1930s, or the foreign policy of the Soviet Union…  And to see in front of you sources taken from a book of memories of a deportee or a political prisoner, diaries of a resistance fighter, and to assess the losses suffered by Lithuanian citizens – is this already some kind of “mission impossible”?

True, exam questions do not reflect everything a young person takes out of school. Much depends on teachers, family, books, curiosity …  Living proof is the volunteers in the army, and generally, the future interest in the history of their State in the 20th century. However, in my opinion, those questions of the ‘state proficiency exams’ reflect our competency. What do we understand as important phenomena needing discussion and questioning? The date of the state history exam is set for June 15, 2020. A very symbolic date – coinciding with the military occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940. Will there be any question about the context of those events in the exams? Judging from the questions of the last decade, there certainly won’t. The most important thing now is to maintain a proper social distance between the examinees and the examiner. The “masks” worn during the exams will probably be a good symbol of how we understand what is essential and what we want to pass on to the younger generation.

Arvydas Anušauskas is a member of the TS-LKD faction of the Seimas.

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