Lithuanity today: will we vanish or will we survive

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DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Our country is faced with serious problems and challenges: massive emigration, it is becoming ever less clear, what we are and what binds us as a nation. If we wish to survive, we must embark on a plethora of urgent tasks, Lietuvos Žinios writes.

Questions of Lithuanity were discussed in a conference held in Seimas yesterday “What is needed for us to survive another hundred years?” Historians, philosophers, publicists and politicians shared their insights on what Lithuanian is today, what unites us, what ties Lithuanian citizens to the state, how to strengthen our identity.

Important identity questions

Journalist Virginijus Savukynas says that the question of Lithuanian identity, while not overtly stated, is brought up in many of our public discussions, starting with deliberations on how Lukiškių Square memorial should look, ending with emigration. The massive departure of Lithuanians abroad is, according to him, not just due to economic reasons, but also the rising estrangement of citizens and state. There is no understanding that Lithuania belongs to all of us, there is a feeling of disappointment with the institutions of the state.

“We do not believe in this country’s future. Most emigrate, want to send their children to American, British or Spanish schools and want them to grow up Spaniards, Brits, Americans or citizens of other countries. The question arises, what is being strengthened – our state or the US, UK, Spain or other countries. The question of identity is important in all countries. It is often spoken that globalisation erases all differences and talking about nationalism, identity is a doomed affair. Same with patriotism. After all this is a new global world, connected via social media and such. What is a Lithuanian, how do we find the links which would unite all the citizens of Lithuania? This question is as if not politically correct. However identity and patriotism are very important in the world,” V. Savukynas spoke.

If we do not raise questions of Lithuanian identity, according to V. Savukynas we will vanish as a nation. Especially since, the journalist notes, we are becoming a community which is not bound by anything.

The state fears the word

Vilnius University professor, philosopher and political scientist Alvydas Jokubaitis believes that Lithuanian politicians are unable to speak of the decline of the nation and the state by their own will. He reminded how even the Soviet authorities spoke about the “Lithuanian nation’s thriving in the family of Soviet republic.”

“That was demagoguery. However it did not end with the Soviet Union. There is no guarantee today that the cunning mind of history is not playing a game with Lithuanians that they have little understanding of. Paul the Apostle said: “Even I do not know what I am doing because I am not doing that which I desire, but that which I hate.” If politicians would not do what they hate, they would not have to live with their words and their actions differing. They say they are prepared to lay down their lives for the motherland, but in fact do not know of even elementary generosity. They say they love freedom, but they depend on Mammon. They create education reforms, but people’s souls are ever darker. They promise healthcare reforms, but we all know that these are all versions of a fairy tale,” he noted.

The future of Lithuania, to A. Jokubaitis’ belief, depends on citizens employing democratic procedures.

“All the post-communist period thinkers were wrong when they spoke of the incompatibility of the nation and democracy. If the nation vanishes under the conditions of democracy, it is the nation who is at fault, not democracy. The Lithuanian political elite has been avoiding talks of the nation for the past three decades. People of older generations still recall the worry over the nation, however the youth look to the future which is no longer that of Lithuania or some other political entity. Integration into the EU had the unexpected side-effect of establishing the belief that Lithuania does not create changes itself, but depends on greater actors than it. Today Don Quichottes of two types collide – ones who still live in the recent national past, while others – in the supranational future utopias,” the professor explained.

A. Jokubaitis says that the nation and the state remain only when patriotism is held as a virtue. However knowing the current condition of the Lithuanian moral self-consciousness, when no single university has a moral philosophy department and the Church is the only to try forming a moral self-consciousness, the professor believes there is little basis for great optimism for the future of Lithuania.

“The current Lithuanian state fears the word because it is a trait of the spirit. Words have to be granted to the state by politicians, however they fear their own word because they have to represent the words of the citizens who elected them. This establishes technocratic thinking at an unprecedented scale, slashing the nation state at its roots because it, as many other forms of state, grew from culture and national spirit,” he stressed.

Too little investment in civic mindedness

Lithuania is not doing overly well in patriotic education. History professor Alvydas Nikžentaitis recalled how in certain nearby states there is far more attention dedicated to it. “The construction of identity, the formation of citizenship is proceeding in other countries without loud words, just by doing very simple and boring things, but doing them every day,” he noted.

A. Nikžentaitis emphasises that without civic education, there will be no citizens. The civic education system is well developed in Germany. There every region has a special centre which organises conferences which discuss German identity, publish books. There are also numerous public academies, political party funds all financed by tax payers.

“One could say that the Germans have too much money. However let us look to the example of Poland, which is not that far from us financially. We can see that from the end of the 20th century the neighbouring country has been consistently nurturing the formation of Polish identity. I would like to highlight the National Memory Institute. It is not the same as the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, though there are many overlapping functions – they also research the newest history, also perform the so-called historical monumentalisation works. However I would like to point out that primarily what is important is the institute’s work with children, the youth. They not only release thick monographs, but also many children’s comics (with impressive print releases) about Polish history, the most relevant 20th century histories. Children are acquainted to questions relevant to Polish history from their earliest days,” the historian explained.

An important form of civic, national, patriotic education is themed amusement parks. For example Sweden has a number of such centres where Viking history, culture, traditions and such are presented. Identity is also formed in modern interactive museums. In this area we could also learn much from our neighbouring Poles. History textbooks are becoming a form of patriotic education elsewhere as well. States encourage the creation of movies or fiction based on history. This is a way that A. Nikžentaitis believes Lithuania should also go. “We have a mass of instruments to form identity. We should just consider their content, grant new functions, we must attack one another less, instead unite over this one goal – the leftists and the rightists, the reds and greens, and yellows must work together, seek constructive solutions so we do not all walk away,” the historian spoke.

Smetona-era Lithuanity

Humanitarian science doctor Vytautas Rubavičius reviewed how Lithuanity was formed in the inter-war era, during the tenure of President Antanas Smetona. The poet and publicist stated that A. Smetona performed a massive task of establishing Lithuanity and creating the modern state, our cultural and historical memory still retains the image of Smetona-era Lithuania, which successfully maintained the feeling of statehood and acted as a catalyst for national liberation.

“Unfortunately the role of A. Smetona is surprisingly lessened, even ridiculed in our cultural and historical memory. The rage of the Soviet occupation forces was understandable – of all the Baltic States’ presidents, only he was not imprisoned and forced to sign the occupation “freeing”. The entrenched negative view of A. Smetona in Polish cultural and political mentality is also understandable – he was the most consistent ideologist and practiser of reinforcing Lithuanity and the creation of the new state. After establishing independence we still did not manage to adequately evaluate his actions because we entered the new European ideological conjecture field where historical figures linked to nationalism, national statehood ideology and authoritarianism are not tolerated,” V. Rubavičius explained.

He highlighted five inheriated traits of Smetona-era Lithuanity: opposing polonisation, the mother tongue and culture as the foundation of Lithuanity, the democratic nature of Lithuanity, the protective Lithuanian nationalism and patriotism which is non-threatening and the thought that Vilnius is Lithuania’s permanent capital. “All of these traits are linked, thus when we talk of one, we must keep the others in mind as well. Also the understanding of the importance of statehood because only the state, the state organisation grants the nation the egsistential opportunity to freely live in its historical lands together with other nations based on its understanding and traditions and create its culture in its national language,” V. Rubavičius assured.

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