This blasphemous question did not fall from heaven. Alongside celebrations of the centenary of statehood, much is being written and discussed regarding what we have achieved as a state, what our prospects are and what we need to survive for another hundred years.
It is worthwhile to raise such problematic questions in a place of pathos-filled discussions. However, these questions are based on the assumption that the Lithuanian people – the Lithuanian people and not only – want to have their own state. The life of the Lithuanian state, restored on March 11th and even the forms of the very centenary celebrations make it appear doubtful.
The structure of the world
The world of the twenty-first century, in the same way as the world of the twentieth century, is, first of all, a world of nation states. Borders are drawn up in fact in some places, elsewhere at least declaratively and statehood is based on the right of people to decide. The right of self-determination proposed by US President W. Wilson after the First World War to create a new world is not just an empty slogan. It is based on the obvious fact (or, in the name of sceptics, the belief) that nations have a unique character, values and norms, and must have the right to rule themselves, because only then will their laws comply with their worldview and norms.
According to this logic, the meaning and purpose of the Lithuanian state (as well as all states) is the survival and dissemination of the Lithuanian nation that established it.
In some countries, this is specified between the lines, in others – like Latvia or Estonia – specifically calling the country “homeland of the people” and “the only safe place for the prosperity of the Latvian language” in the law. Named or not, primarily the nation’s aspiration to govern itself in its own country is the only justification of a modern nation state.
The very decision to create a state signifies such an intention. Undoubtedly, all the creators, signatories of February 16th in Lithuania believed and acted on this. No matter whether from the political left or right.
The basis of the identity of different peoples is a combination of language, history, religion, customs and other traits, however, there is no discussion that the basis of the identity of the Lithuanian nation is the Lithuanian language.
Thus, it is possible to summarize: according to the logic based on the right of the people to decide, the state of Lithuania exists for the preservation and prosperity of the Lithuanian nation, and thus of the Lithuanian language.
Ethnos and nation
In political science, there is complete chaos when trying to identify different forms of nationality. Let us simplify this chaos in the most general sense by separating ethnicity (i.e., a cultural or ethnic nation) and the political nation. The cultural nation is always associated with a unique combination of historical memory, religion, language, customs, high culture and similar factors, but it does not necessarily seek statehood.
Such a Lithuanian nation really existed before baptism, but it was not a basis for statehood; it existed there, constantly changing, dying until the national revival of the nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, the political nation is the same cultural nation, but it is already seeking to create a state and to manage itself in it. It includes culturally different national communities that support and are loyal to the nationhood project of that nation.
In the case of the Lithuanian political nation, this is especially simple: Jews, Tatars, Poles and Russians, all who supported the decision of February 16 to create the national state of Lithuania were members of the Lithuanian political nation. Those, who did not support (including the ethnic Lithuanians, say, Vincas Kapsukas) did not belong to the political people.
This distinction, seemingly so dramatic, makes it possible to sense what is hopelessly missing in today’s Lithuania. Thinking of how peoples and nations can disappear, what we need to look for in the next century can be distinguished by some of the key challenges.
First, would be a military action or occupation, which would eliminate the state and possibly the population. Second, natural extinction, when a nation, without external violence, disappears due to emigration and negative birth-rates (from this point of view we are in the worst situation in Europe, although this is avoided, and not dramatized in Lithuania).
Thirdly, the loss of sovereignty, when the state remains formally, but with international obligations, refuses or loses so much of its independent political decisions that it is insignificantly narrow for the self-governing area to be governed by the nature of the nation, and the people, albeit physically alive and having a state, do not actually own themselves.
Finally, the fourth, we call this dismemberment – the decoupling of the abovementioned essential link between the state, the nation that initiates it and the language of that identity.
The first and even the second threat is sufficiently clear in Lithuania, but the last two are perceived very vaguely.
It is by the fact that they are not observed that they are dangerous. The third threat is external, and the fourth is the internal one, originating from the nation itself. Recently, the text “Is freedom compatible with Lithuanians?” rippled through the media, signed under the pseudonym Tomas Daugirdas.
In it, the author decries in horror the idea that the Lithuanians themselves can be considered a threat to Lithuanians. In his opinion, Lithuanian citizens must be absolutely free to construct as much as they want an identity and relationship with the state. However, it is precisely this absolute freedom that provides for the fourth threat: the dismemberment of the connection between state-nation-language. The, at first glance, decent desire to have any relationship with the state and Lithuanian identity becomes more problematic considering it s is the dream of every collaborator.
Antanas Sniečkus, communes, Stalin’s carriers of sunshine had a vision of their Lithuania and state – socialist, not national, fraternal international and Marxist atheism. Their vision, simply “different”, had one problem – it was incompatible with the survival of the existing national state of Lithuania, to which they had to be faithful.
Were they free to opt for adultery? Are we today free to create state and Lithuanian projects, which mean the “transcendence” of the existing modern national state of Lithuania, and thus annihilation? Tomas Daugirdas says yes.
This does not seem to be a coincidence. It is precisely in the academic community and among politicians that the idea of a state being decoupled from the people who founded it (the right of self-determination) is the most believed and considered.
Among politicians, it is usually formulated as the idea that only a socio-economically good life in Lithuania is important, while who its inhabitants are in terms of ethnicity is not so much. It is a postmodern and post-nationalist approach favouring globalization processes and players in the global market, but not for the nation-state itself.
In the academic community, the decoupling of the nation and state takes place in a somewhat more subtle way – by opposition. Emphasizing that during the Soviet period ethnic nationalism was tolerated, as far as it was decoupled from the aspiration of national sovereignty, it is demagogically stated that the only anti-Soviet choice is the opposite decoupling: statehood without nationality.
Such a structure is not based on any definite national culture, but only on the free commitment of citizens, commonly referred to as a civilian nation. It is common practice to look at cases in France or the United States, forgetting that these countries, in contrast to this story, have always been pursuing assimilation policies, not recognizing any rights of minorities or schools, and especially strictly speaking about the state language.
Those, who want to divorce the state from the nation and limit ourselves to citizenship, forget that the political nation grows on top of the self-aware cultural/ethnic nation, rather than appearing from nowhere or replacing it.
A political people choose to have a state because only in it can they live in their own way, in accordance with their cultural and moral norms, dictated by the national character which can and must change and develop, but to do it on its own, and not by means of external coercion (sovietization) or upbringing (europeanization).
In theory, we can decouple everything from anything, and thus the nation from the people who create it. However, in this case, there are at least two almost unanswerable questions. First, how can democracy work if citizens do not have cultural unity and similar standards of conduct?
In the EU context, there is often a lack of demos – there is not a single community that would feel as an “EU nation”.
Democracy studies concluded long ago (Linz, 1996, C. Mouffe, 2005, etc.) that a democratic decision can act only under cultural (national) identity, because in democracy decisions made by majority will be binding on those who disagreed.
The minority who has to live by most decisions does even not begin to think that they are the best decisions, but takes them as the decisions of their own community. How is that feeling secure in relation to a complete alien?
The second question is what is the meaning of a state and independence in general if we reject the logic that a state is created by the nation to govern itself according to its national character (Lithuanian)? If this is not necessary, is it perhaps better to allow another, perhaps richer and more successful, just non-coercive regime to take over?
This question is definitely asked with horror rather than enthusiasm, that as a nation we have “matured” for it.
Why does a Lithuanian need a state?
In 2010, Tomas Venclova published a truly horrendous text of Lithuanian cosmopolitanism, “I’m suffocating,” in which, among other things, he wrote, “The people, as such, at least after the Stalin epoch, were not at high risk – it is undeniably proven by the fact that the nation and language have not disappeared, even not diminished over more than fifty years”.
These lines, most likely, reveal the ignoring of the distinction between the ethnic and political people. The nation as a population, as a living people and physical bodies, Lithuanians certainly did not disappear, even multiplied, after Stalin’s terror.
In this sense, the regime may not have been disastrous. However, what T. Venclova does not see or does not want to see – the Soviet times destroyed the Lithuanians as a political nation, as a community that wants to have a state and manage its own self.
It cannot be considered solely as a legacy of the Soviet period and to lay blame there solely on it, but at the same time it is undoubtedly the greatest damage that we have brought over from that Soviet era. Unwillingness to rule ourselves, to be a political nation, is reflected in our lives. Not only is the widespread mentality of a dependent well known, the desire for the authorities (as something separate) to solve problems is as well.
Migration itself, as an exceptionally widespread phenomenon in Lithuania, is simply screams of our apolitical relation to our own state.
The logic of a political action requires changing unacceptable rules by all possible means. Bad laws passed, the government itself is bad? Protest, demand, write, disobey, create a situation that would in effect force the power to obey the will of the people.
In the West, it’s long been understood that no election can bring a government which brings happiness and satisfies the people, and therefore there is always a duty to keep control of the authorities after the election. This is called counter-democracy (read Pierre Rosanvallion’s “Counter-Democracy”). Meanwhile, another logic of market action exists in Lithuania. On the market, the buyer cannot change the rules, he accepts the terms offered to him or goes to another market participant if the conditions are not appropriate for him. Lithuanians with poorly managed Lithuania for 30 years behave as a market – because what we get is not suitable, we go (fly) to another where the conditions are more suitable for us.
This is by no means a condemnation of emigrants. A great deal of those remaining think in line with this same principle. Such behaviour and thinking is possible only without feeling the state’s sense of ownership. You cannot leave your home if it runs out of order. During the year of Sąjūdis, and even now, in memory of them, many and beautifully talk about the desire for freedom, liberation.
However, freedom is always twofold: the freedom of an individual to make free choices and the freedom of a citizen to control himself with other compatriots and fellow citizens. It is becoming increasingly clear that while over 90% Lithuanian plebiscite voted for independence, most of them worried about jeans, travel, freedom of everyday decisions and full shelves in stores.
Meanwhile, the political (positive or republican) freedom to own and manage the community itself was not very relevant. Lithuanians are extremely passive in the elections, and in view of the tragic lack of confidence in the Seimas and parties, they are particularly passive and in search of their control measures. Already today we are de facto refusing to govern ourselves.
When public opinion polls say 98% of respondents disagree with the adoption of the new Labour Code and the government not only is not afraid to pass it, but also faces no consequences, you understand that the national ideal “sovereignty belongs to the people” in Lithuania is only a sham.
The nation has long been devoid of sovereignty and is governed as if from the side, rather than trying to best reflect its will and character. The sovereignty of the nation was not taken by force, it gave it away itself because the consciousness of the post-Soviet Lithuanians did not really have much need for sovereignty. Therefore, today questions of “how should democracy work” and “who then needs the state”, as mentioned above, are likely to sound like distant and not shocking. Because democracy is no longer working and the state is not necessary for many in its primary purpose.
This was perfectly illustrated by the public space posters for the Government-led centenary commemorative program, which feature famous people of today’s Lithuania. Mockery was caused on the internet from the fact that one of them was probably the businesswoman A. Jagelavičiūtė, famous for scandals, rather than high culture.
I agree with Mrs. Garbačiuskaitė-Budriene in that this is no problem, just for another reason. Being in those posters is no massive honour regardless of how much the people in the posters have achieved. In all, except for Liudas Mažylis, the poster addresses everyday choices of personal life, the freedom to create music (professional activity), freedom of speech (civil rights), freedom to contact the world (open borders).
Theoretically, these people would have sufficed with a democratic Russia or any other entity, not necessarily of Lithuania, what matters is that it guaranteed freedom for everyday choices of personal life. None of them needed the freedom to control the state of Lithuania and decide its fate, whatever words were said.
And there is market logic here. Naturally, the creators of the posters seek to present messages that would find a response to public opinion. Therefore, I cannot in any way resent the “apolitical” status of posters, because such – pre-political or historically more accurately post-political – society or at least most of it.
These posters are understandable to people, after all the poster “I enjoy the freedom, because I can deal with the state’s destiny,” would have many shrugging their shoulders. After all, in everyday life we see that we cannot judge it or decide it. And we do not try to change it, although we are not yet living in a police state and we have all the civil rights to demand our sovereignty.
The text in no way calls for reconciliation with such a bleak diagnosis. First of all, I want to believe that it is false and maybe that is the case, but it’s better to talk about problems and make mistakes, rather than pretend that they are not at all. Second, such a situation is not and cannot be a norm.
Whether we recognised this or not, but we rebuilt the state to govern ourselves, because that is what a modern state is intended for. The signatories of February 16 and the wizards of national revival, who brought us to the date, had given the Lithuanian people a second chance to work fully in world history and to contribute to it.
The pre-war Republic of Lithuania cherished this gift and used it even after it failed to preserve a democratic system. Today, commemorating the century of the restored Lithuania, as if unanimously thanking the signatories of February 16, we are glad about the discovery of the founding Act, but we do not think much about whether we betray the ideals of this Act and its authors.
In the words of another signatory, A. Endriukaitis, “Using our history, we are glossing over today’s choices”. We must find strength and wonder if we really understand why the state of Lithuania exists and why we need it and if we do not understand it, we will repeat it until we remember: in order to decide our own destiny and rule ourselves.