Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė. Lithuania, ask not for whom the bell tolls

Monika Garbačiauskaitė - Budrienė
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

The centenary of the reestablishment of the modern national Lithuania is a good opportunity to ask ourselves – what is contemporary Lithuania about?

Too rare are serious talks of this matter despite all of us feeling that something is malfunctioning in our country, even given exceptions for a young democracy with all its childhood illnesses. The suspicion remains that the development of re-established Lithuania has some sort of developmental flaw, an error in its programming that prevents it from stably continuing to develop.

We are a society of contrast – developing high technologies and at the same times beating and abandoning our children. Some Lithuanians study in the best school and universities in the world, while others finish high school without reading a single book. What worth is a country where day care centres for children become the last refuge for children to remain safe, to eat and to wash? As is said, a society is only as strong as its weakest link.

We are talented and hardworking, impetuous and even aggressive. Entrepreneurial, but not avoiding to exploit our close ones and uninclined to share, we want everything here and now.

We are modern, but tense, even holding complexes, not trusting ourselves. We are known for our excellent artists, but we are also consumerist, often choosing form over content. We try to appear very Western and will not write a sentence on Facebook without three Anglicisms or instead guard our language with machine guns and chop fingers for wrongly placed accents.

The centenary is a suitable time to raise this question of where are we going and its analysis is greatly hampered by the tens of thousands who pack their bags every year and irrevocably leave for the West.

Scientists say that these processes cannot be easily reversed; officials responsible for relations with Lithuanians abroad shrug and say that Lithuanians abroad are just the same Lithuanians.

They do not even have to speak Lithuanian, what matters is that they feel Lithuanian. Long live global Lithuania and emotion. After all what matters most is not how it is, what the reasons are and how to change it, but how others feel. Because it is just easier to live that way. Economist Raimondas Kuodis is critical of this feeling, stating, “If Lithuanians are fleeing their country, what are we to do?

We describe this process as global Lithuania. […] However, I do not believe that it is Lithuania. Either Lithuania is here or it is not at all. Take the Estonian strategy for example – simple and clear, with no superficialities. The main goal is for our nation to live in those lands forever. In other terms, the nation says, “We do not wish to disappear and want to remain in these lands.””

Are we becoming economic people and the nation becoming a populace, asks philosopher Alvydas Jokubaitis. Or perhaps the state political and intellectual elite failed to propose fresh and stable ideas and did not put in enough effort in state administration so that it, even if still developing, would grant the nation hope? Perhaps the squalid higher education is no longer able to nurture real statesmen?

“The centenary of Lithuanian statehood is an excellent opportunity to think about its disappearance because it may be the only way to avoid disappearing,” A. Jokubaitis says. According to him, Lithuanians do not have a clear answer to the moral question of why it continues to be meaningful to be Lithuanian.

“If Lithuanian internet portals and television would cease to talk about the state – it would cease to exist,” A. Jokubaitis says.

The portals and televisions talk the way they know. They try to unite for a common idea, present the recipes of successful countries. People name that which is unsavoury and what hurts the most, select several operational-technical level goals, which should have long appeared in the programme of any cabinet, which thinks if only a little and these are called centenary ideas. Politicians sign under and are content that they got off so easily, after the first part of the Change conference they leave the hall together. The president’s term is nearing its end and the prime minister together with the Seimas speaker will always be able to say they did not have a majority.

The nation feels it has expressed itself, the news media – that it has worked for Lithuania, everyone has gotten PR with the politicians. It was impressive and beautiful, but ideas did not appear…

Where are the thinkers, where are the real, educated politicians, where are the intellectuals, where are the political scientists, who could propose new, sustainable and appealing conceptions?

Who would talk in essence on what Lithuania should make of itself. Should a separate Idea for Lithuania be organised for the professionals? Why are the country’s artists so rarely vocal on relevant questions, not just culture and #metoo? What happened in Lithuania that elections are won by landslide by the “Farmers“, promising to ban everything?

The few thinkers who care about these questions and who dare to express themselves in public are often afraid of the shadow of Brussels falling on Lithuanian prospects. They are concerned that the European Union is destroying Lithuanian national identity and that Lithuania no longer belongs to the Lithuanian nation. The questions are correct and necessary, just it is somehow difficult to remember discernible efforts from Lithuanian intellectuals to create a unique, prominent national vision for Lithuania, which Brussels would seek to block somehow.

The issues is that we ourselves do not wish to be visionaries and think broader than projecting ourselves in the international arena or thinking about domestic issues.

We limit ourselves by claiming that we are small and can do little, we do not seek ingenious ways and real leadership. We cower and watch the shifts in the major European states, unwilling to be written off into the second speed Europe, but unable to find our own uniqueness. It is absolutely difficult to compare ourselves with Estonia on the occasion of the centenary, but the country which is twofold smaller and has a large, reactionary Russian ethnic minority and had no real advantages has managed to create visions and competitive advantages for itself. They successfully foist it to the West and are now proud of it.

When reading the biographies of the February 16 Act of Independence signatories, one common factor stands out – unconditionally GIVE to Lithuania, share knowledge, create and unite for Lithuania. And competence. These were not just some minor formal efforts after winning the elections or thinking about benefit for oneself and one’s family, these are serious decisions and serious personal sacrifices through which the country was reborn. They designed water supplies, established new transport routes, implemented new technologies, wrote textbooks, educated farmers to earn more, set out mandatory education for their subordinates and educated themselves. Not to talk of public work, financing newspaper and book publishing, the nurture of Lithuanity.

Signatory Jonas Smilgevičius had the opportunity during both the Soviet and the Nazi occupations to move his family’s money from Lithuanian to Swiss banks, however chose to not do so because it would be unpatriotic.

Comparing the state creation in 1918 and 1990, political scientist and historian Egidijus Motieka said that, “In 1990 the political elite of independent Lithuania could have better managed the situation in the country than in 1918 due to advances in communications technologies. Meanwhile in 1918-1919 it was very difficult to manage the situation. Lithuania was totally rural.

Its elite performed a feat of heroism in 1917-1919 by “forcing” the citizens to support its aims. (…) the current elite is far more bureaucratic. The elite, which formed Lithuania in 1918, was more Western. Despite the fact that a large portion of them back then had finished their educations in Russian universities.

Back then those universities were beholden of a fairly democratic spirit. Now it is people who finished Soviet higher education who are in government.” As E. Motieka says, in 1918 in essence two hundred intellectuals created Lithuania.

Soviet roots left an irrevocable brand on the Lithuanian elite and it is a major problem, which has decided Lithuanian development. As philosopher Nerija Putinaitė says, Soviet nomenclature has smoothly transitioned into the elite of independent Lithuania without even wetting its feet.

Lithuania has not accomplished fair lustration and Soviet nomenclature could continue to enjoy positions of power, bringing in their rotten, selfish views though they should have been immediately banned from any leading positions in the state sector.

According to N. Putinaitė, Soviet nomenclature manage to pretend being one of our own and shift the nation’s hatred from the Lithuanian communist nomenclature to Moscow. “And we continue to think this way, in nationalist paradigms, that Lithuanians should not yield to Russians.”

Russia is a real threat and Lithuania has done much to attract the attention of the international community, however “not yielding to the Russians” must not become the main paradigm of Lithuanian politics despite it being very convenient to the inert and lacking ideas political elite, which has now been greatly diluted by inexperienced newcomers.

The threat of Russia is a constant and it has continued for more than 200 years now, Lithuania has been occupied by Russia a number of times, but the reasons for occupation was certainly not just advantages in military power. And the threat should not be used to cover greed, inactivity, incompetence and even lasciviousness.

On the topic of Lithuania’s re-established centenary I wished to write a playful and optimistic text that Lithuanians lack ever so little, that we are great, only lacking self-confidence. However, despite wanting for the better, it turned out as always. Colleagues pointed out that Lithuania’s centenary will be accompanied by the tolling of bells. Is it not symbolic?

So that from a nation we would not turn into a populace, we need real leadership, real ideas and real statesmen, not pretenders enjoying power plays. Lithuania has to answer important questions – what it is and in what direction it wishes to go.

About Monika Garbaciauskaite-Budriene 12 Articles
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