THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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The Chronicle you wrote is excellent. You have done a great job and should be proud of it.
Brigadier General, former Commander of Lithuania’s Armed Forces
Your ‘Chronicle of Lithuania’ is interesting as it details events that sometimes are lost and are shown with different point of view.
We, Lithuanians in diaspora or in Lithuania itself, should be very grateful and obliged to Great Friends of Lithuania like you!
Valdas Samonis, PhD, CPC (Canadian – Lithuanian)
The Web Professor of Global Management(SM)
I am Isolde Ira Pozelaite – Davis AM, a grandmother of three beautiful grandchildren.
A lady who lives in the Lithuanian retirement Village where I live as well, has given me to read a photocopied pamphlet LITHUANIA IN A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE.
I would like to buy, If this is possible, 3 copies of this excellent publication. My grandchildren are 7, 12, 14 years old. I would read with them your well illustrated publication and encourage them to ask questions.
This would lead to a discussion and explanations. Have been a High School teacher for 38 years teaching French and German and 20 years Lithuanian in Australia. As you see old habits are difficult to forget. Will be 87 years in May, 2010.
Isolde Ira Poželaitė – Davis AM
Plans to do business in Lithuania? It's like navigating
a boat in shallow water full of reefs.
"What you, who are born in the West, see when you come to Lithuania, are people who look like you, talk like you (those who speak Western languages) and are quite much alike you in many other aspects. But the reality is that we who have grown up in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe have a totally different mentality than you. Even those Lithuanians who fled to the West during the war do not understand what the Soviet era has done with the mindset of us who were forced to grow up under the yoke of communism."
A Lithuanian friend told me this a few days ago. The talk began after he had expressed some surprise at how naive and gullible we from the West are when we come to Lithuania.
"You think that a word is a word, that a deal is a deal. You think that things here are going straight as in the West. You believe that what you hear is what is said, and you trust that people you meet really want and mean to do what is good, honest and correct.”
“Therefore, it doesn’t take much before you open up your cards and often reveal business secrets and other things that you should never have disclosed without first having secured your situation with contracts and local supporters, i.e. lawyers. We Lithuanians are experts in taking advantage of such situations, and we never cease to wonder how gullible people from the West often are. Even within international companies and organisations I am sometimes surprised to see how unaware western professionals are about what goes on behind their backs when they come here," said my friend.
I asked him if this mentality also means that people here do not care much about their own country, doing good for the society in addition to earning a living for themselves. "Only to a small degree," replied my friend. "It is such a difficult situation for most here that there is no additional capacity or desire to also care about the nation. Even our leading politicians do not. Most of them are much more concerned with their own interests than of the nation, and they are normally bad role models for the rest of us. So why should we do more than them?"
"I was born in this country. I fought for this country. I gave everything I
could, both while I lived here and after I was forced to flee to the United
States. I moved back here when Lithuania was again free, and have since
continued to do my best for this country, including through my years as
President. Yet I must admit that I feel like an outsider in my own country."
The sadness in the voice of former President Valdas Adamkus was
unmistakable as he stood and looked towards the Vilnius city through
the windows of his Presidential Palace.
I cannot fully agree with my friend. Yes, there are differences, but also so many similarities and common grounds to build on. But his statements made me think about a conversation I had with the former Lithuanian President, Valdas Adamkus, a few years ago. He was then well into his second and last presidential term, and we had a long and good conversation at his office in the Presidential Palace in Vilnius. When the conversation was over we went together out into the corridor outside his office, where the windows are facing the Cathedral and the central area of Vilnius.
My last question to the President, in that corridor, was about how close he felt he had come to the Lithuanian people after he returned from the United States in the early 1990s. This is what he answered:
"You know, Aage, I was born in this country. I fought for this country. I gave everything I could, both while I lived here and after I was forced to flee to the United States at the end of World War II. I moved back here when Lithuania again was free, and I have since continued to do my best for this nation, including through my years as President. Yet I must admit that I feel like an outsider in my own country."
The sadness in the voice of former President Valdas Adamkus was unmistakable as he stood and looked towards the Vilnius city centre through the windows of his Presidential Palace.
Aage Myhre, Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Stan Backaitis
Several months ago I had arranged a visit between the minister of energy and a CEO of an important nuclear reactor manufacturer. The meeting was supposed to be for the benefit of the minister on information of what is forthcoming in the future, particularly in small reactors and the possibility of establishing a European affiliate of the company in Lithuania.
The minister graciously extended an invitation to the CEO, but the minister's secretariat refused to extend even the slightest courtesy to this visit, such as picking up the visitor from the airport and transporting him to the meeting, setting up a meeting agenda, or even providing to the visitor's office the address of the ministry. They claimed that this was just another sales visit, and the visitor should take care of everything on his own. As a result the CEO canceled the meeting and eventually went to London. The European affiliate was established in the UK. Thus through such arrogance another opportunity was lost.
There is a lot truth in the German proverb "Dummheit und Stolz wachsen auf einem Holz".
Ambassador Algirdas Žemaitis
You have lived long enough in Lithuania and must realize that many of the problems of the present day Lithuania are due to their reluctance to learn from the Western countries or accept advice from Lithuanians who lived and studied in the West. The relative success of Lithuania after World War I was largely due to the replacement of Russian educated officials by those who got their degrees in the West. My own father was the first Lithuanian with a degree in forestry from a Western university and introduced major reforms in the forest management, which survived even during the Communist occupation.
Alas, after 20 years of restoration of independence to paraphrase Kipling "The East is East, the West is West and the twain shall never (so far) meet". I spoke to a number of Lithuanians with degrees from top Western universities, who don't want to return to Lithuania - according to them, the "natives" know everything better.
I might add that for me it was easier to obtain an audience with the Pope, than with a Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania.
Ambassador Algirdas Zemaitis
Vilnius – Rome
Lithuania’s unemployment dipped to 15.6% in the Q2, compared to 17.2% last quarter (according to labour force survey). In Estonia unemployment rate dropped from 14.4 to 13.3%, in Latvia – from 16.6 to 16.2%. Lithuania’s figure was just above DnB NORD estimate (15.5%) and is in line with the annual forecast.
In Lithuania, job growth accelerated in agriculture, construction and retail trade. Graduation in June usually brings an upswing in youth unemployment, however this summer rising economic activity and preparation for the European Basketball Championship are expected to absorb most of it. Emigration has also eased down – during the first seven months 33.1 thousand people left the country, i.e. 29% less compared to the same period last year (46.7 thou).
Assessment: Employment will improve further on the back of solid growth of economic activity. We expect unemployment to reach 13% in Lithuania, 14% in Latvia and 10% in Estonia by the year-end. Admittedly, gradually improving employment figures are expected to increase pressure on labour costs – bottlenecks emerge in the sectors with most visual recovery.
DnB NORD Bank
VilNews will this summer from time to time publish poetry that we receive from our readers. Please send us yours!
by KR Slade
I finished at school then home I came.
And fourteen days past Christmas next
my father went in sleep to his grave.
When I had forgotten so long before
the stories at bedtime that he had told.
I’d always to sleep and miss some part
but waked again to hear some more;
so all the story I’d often heard but never
remembered from start to end, the all.
Wasn’t it just of our to-make-believe ?
Didn’t we laugh because it wasn’t true ?
But now I know that jest was only just
to make it less scary for then and now.
The legend that would for me come true.
by KR Slade
I finished at school then home I came.
And fourteen days past Christmas next
my father went in sleep to his grave.
When I had forgotten so long before
the stories at bedtime that he had told.
I’d always to sleep and miss some part
but waked again to hear some more;
so all the story I’d often heard but never
remembered from start to end, the all.
Wasn’t it just of our to-make-believe ?
Didn’t we laugh because it wasn’t true ?
But now I know that jest was only just
to make it less scary for then and now.
The legend that would for me come true.
What little child dreams not of knights ?
Big they; strong; protect from dark nights.
The horse must of white, so too the armoured knight.
With touches of gold on spurs and swords,
handles, hilt, and harness: to herald.
Shield, with that more-ancient cross of ours,
held high on arm to cover heart to thwart,
while the hand holding reins aims stead.
Above all: sword drawn, held high, the ready.
Always red: all-behind Sir Knight and horse
on fields of battles: that is a crest of blood.
That mighty, charging, mounted knight be Vytis.
We, who know, are of his people, tribe, and nation.
He knows us, each and every one of us that be,
and may again demand any/all of us to his army;
and each and every one of us, we’d have no choice,
have to go, to answer the call, mustered we’d must.
But not to worry, you my cousins; just this, a story.
Legends have their ways with little boys and girls.
And scary times remember many bedroom nights.
Makes sleep so preferable to wakened fright.
An anniversary later of Dad’s death came Vytis.
For others he comes at times significant to them.
Riding calmly to my bedside that unexpected night;
Warm moist breath again from horse’s hairy nostrils
tickled my belly, made me giggle, awakened me gently.
We needed not introductions, the Sir Knight and I.
We had been known to each, the other, long-time now.
He spoke to me in a language that I did not know;
no matter language; I knew his message instinctively.
His message: he was going to be coming back for me.
Further anniversaries passed; nothing new much noticed.
Then, un-foretold was to be what was the penultimate:
Vytis and stead arrived on the hour’s time, with news
that anniversary next, that I was to be ready-waiting;
When I was going with them, and never coming back.
To a far-off land, I’d never known: but there, home.
No, I would not need to take any thing, all awaited me.
There was no thing more to do, to come more ready.
That night, I would be ready, as had I always been.
It would just be then, that was my-own time to go.
When the time was coming, I was so much excited.
Many nights I could not sleep, for not knowing when.
The days I busied in preparing, yet not-knowing what,
until consumed by unknown, but certain fate, I slept.
To be awakened once again by horsy, hairy breath,
Soft, nudging nose caressing, tickling me to wake.
But it was only noble horse, and me; no knight.
No knight; at least not yet, until I dressed myself
in that white shining armour, so heavily laden-on,
from on horse’s back to mine, together to horseback.
I was quite surprised to know how it all fit together.
Seemed to come quite natural, one piece, then the next.
I mounted, rode some, then we went from trot to gallop.
To more time in air than to touching ground we went.
Until I was feeling as comfortable as ever I had known,
and there afterwards as fearless as I have never known.
My left side shielding sword sheath near to my dagger.
Reins effortlessly I holding to my horse’s bridled head,
that so-gallant beast, my friend, who knew my mind.
My right arm drew and brought up that mighty sword.
Above my helmet, to sail and rudder through the wind.
When in time a voice in passing yelled to me, “Vytis !”
I turned to look, in autonomic acknowledgment.
When then, I remembered all, that of the legend old.
How Vytis is reborn/renewed, from time-to-time.
For an unknown time since, I live in a forest deep.
And there when I do sleep, my horse be by me;
I am-become the warrior, not ever unescorted.
He standing by my trident boughs of mighty oak;
still, always warming me: his body and breath.
I safe at home in my sacred three-forked tree fort.
He still always holding all my armour, at the ready.
With close nearby other faithful sons and daughters,
in our quiet armies ready, as we must always be.
And hover-over all of us does stand guard our God,
Perkunas, his thunder ready; never does He sleep;
old-looking, ancient man, white haired and bearded:
God of all thunder, lightening too; chief of all the gods.
So sleep you well too, now, all my young cousins,
you of our nation now republic’d, finally, once again.
You: safe, secure, with good tomorrows coming.
Remember: be ready, always, to take your turn as Vytis.
And now rest well, to know and remember: legends live.
All Rights Reserved: 2004
Text: Vincas Karnila, Associate editor
OK folks, the shoes will be 120
So that will be 80 Canadian Dollars and 80 Pound Sterling
How would you like to hear that from the cashier at you local shoe store the next time you are buying a pair of shoes? Could be a little confusing could it not? Believe it or not the people of Lithuania were hearing something similar to that in stores in the early 90s during the early days of their regained independence.
An interesting question pops up once a country gains, or in the case of Lithuania regains, its independence – What do you use for money???
With Soviet Russia’s forced annexation of Lithuania into the control of the Soviet Union, the currency of the country of course was then changed to the Soviet Ruble. Then On 11 March 1990 the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence was proclaimed and after fifty years of occupation, Lithuania was once again a free and independent republic. Obviously to be once again a free nation is a good thing but there was one factor that needed to be addressed – There was no “Lithuanian” currency!
Now of course it would be rather difficult to create a currency in one day so this could turn into a big problem in a short amount of time. So what did Lithuania do 12 March 1990? They continued to use the Soviet Ruble as there day to day currency. Now in some instances, for a country that just regained their independence to continue to use the country’s currency they just proclaimed their independence from would possibly work out OK and not present too many problems. This would be the case if the regaining of independence had taken place in a rather friendly way and as a part of a mutual agreement.
This was not the case between Lithuania and Moscow. Moscow was ticked off big time about this so every day that went by that Lithuania continued to use Moscow’s Ruble for its day to day buying and selling of things put Lithuania in a position of potential extreme financial disaster.
While the Soviet Ruble continued to be used, in early August 1991, as a response to public complaints about inflation, the Lithuanian government introduced the Talonas (Talon in English). It should be noted that the word “Talonas” is in the singular and is best translated to “coupon”. In the plural form it is “Talonai”. Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius spearheaded this action hoping it would work as a quick repair until a formal currency could be established.
Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius
At first, it worked very similar to ration coupons. Every person received 20% of their salary in Talonai, up to a maximum of 200 Talonai. In order to buy goods other than food, a person must have paid the same price in rubles and in Talonai. For example, if a pair of shoes cost 50 rubles, a person must pay 50 Rubles and 50 Talonai to buy them. Sound a little confusing? It was. Please keep in mind that people’s wages were still being paid in Soviet Rubles at this time and you were still paying for things in stores with Soviet Rubles.
This system was widely criticized. First of all, in no way it addressed the reasons why there were shortages of goods in that it did nothing to increase the supply. What it also did was make it more difficult to buy many items. As an example, the purchase of expensive goods such as home appliances dropped sharply because people needed a lot of time to accumulate the necessary amount of Talonai to buy them.
Remember you were paid 20% of your salary, up to a maximum of 200 Talonai but when you bought something, 50% had to be paid in Rubles and 50% in Talonai.
This caused bottlenecks in the supply chain and further damaged already troubled production. In addition, this scheme could not prevent the hyperinflation of the Ruble because the Talonai was not an independent currency - It was a supplementary currency with a fixed exchange rate to the Ruble. The system tried to encourage Lithuanians to save 80% of their salaries. But people accumulated their Rubles and had nowhere to spend them. It led to the inflation of goods that did not require the Talonas like food or goods on the black market.
I am told that this also created a Talonas/Ruble Black Market. Let’s say that you had a stack of Rubles sitting on the table that you could not use to buy a TV or washing machine because you didn’t have enough Talonai. So what you would do is find a person that would exchange your Rubles for Talonai. Now the exchange rate was absolutely absurd but the Rubles were doing you no good what so ever and were effectively worthless for what you wanted to use them for so the exchange rate was not a point of consideration. You were very happy to dump the effectively worthless Rubles for the amount of Talonai you needed to buy your TV, washing machine or refrigerator. Apparently the Black Market agents had a way to dispose of the Rubles outside of Lithuania in exchange for things of value.
From all this you can kind of get the idea that the “First Talonas Reform” wasn’t working out as some people had hoped it would – Please notice that I’m being very kind in my choice of words. So what would you say if I told you that even though an official Lithuanian currency was now in position to be introduced that would cure all this, the decision was made instead to enact a “Second Talonas Reform”. That’s right folks it just keeps getting better.
In the summer of 1992, everybody was waiting for the Talonas to be soon replaced by a permanent currency, the Litas. Due to Russia tightening its monetary policy, Lithuania was desperately lacking cash. In fact it was getting so bad that some workers were paid in goods rather than in cash. Even though the Litas coins and banknotes were already produced and had been shipped to Lithuania from abroad, on May 1, 1992 it was decided to reintroduce the Talonas as an independent, temporary currency to circulate alongside the ruble in hopes to deal with inflation. Yes folks this was the “Second Talonas Reform” creating again a dual currency system. On October 1, 1992 the ruble was completely abandoned and replaced by the Talonas. Lithuania was the last of the Baltic states to abandon the ruble. The self-imposed deadlines to introduce the Litas were continuously postponed without clear explanations ever being provided to the people of Lithuania.
The Talonas had some interesting names attached to it, "Vagnorkės" or "Vagnoriukai" named after Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius or "zoo tickets" after various animals native to Lithuania featured on the notes. The Talonas did not gain much public trust or respect. The banknotes were small and printed on low quality paper. People were reluctant to use them. Nevertheless, the Talonas served its purpose since inflation at the time was greater in Russia than in Lithuania. Inflation in 1992 rose steadily due to an energy price spike after Russia increased oil and gasoline prices to world levels and demanded to be paid in hard currency.
Now some would ask why since the “First Talonas Reform” really didn’t work out as well as hoped for – Again please take note of my kind choice of words - and why since the Litas bank notes and coins of the new official currency of Lithuania were sitting in Lithuania, would the powers to be decide to enact the “Second Talonas Reform”. Actually there were some reasons. One reason was that the banknotes were of extremely poor quality and could be easily counterfeited with a color photo-copying machine. Another reason was rather serious. For Lithuania to introduce its own currency that would be recognized internationally they needed to have a reserve equal to 200 million U.S. Dollars. This reserve could be made up of precious metal such as gold and silver and/or the currency of another country. At this point in time they could only assemble a total reserve of 120 million so they need more time to work this out.
But as the expression goes – All “good” things must come to an end. There was no “Third Talonas Reform” and on 25 June 1993, the Litas was introduced as the official currency of the Republic of Lithuania. With the Litas now in place as the official currency of the Republic of Lithuania, the people could now exchange their Talonai for Litai. The exchange rate was 100 Talonai = 1 Litas.
With this exchange of Rubles to Talonai and then Talonai to Litai two interesting things came up. First, what happened to all the now worthless Talonai that were exchanged for Litai? They were gathered all up from all the corners of Lithuania and brought to the city of Grigiškės which is near Vilnius on the A1 Highway to Kaunas. There at the Grigiškės Paper Factory they were recycled into toilet paper. I will not further comment on this but I will just allow your imagination to go to work to get an idea of all the jokes that came about as a result of how the Talonas met its final demise.
The other situation that came about was from the exchange Rubles to Talonai and it was quite unfortunate for some people. About a year ago I was visiting with some people and the topic of the Talonas came up. It was really a light hearted conversation with much laughter about all the odd things that were going on at the time as a result of the Talonas. The man of the house, who is in his 70s got up from the table and then returned a few moments later with a stack of banknotes that was about 9 inches / 20 cm. tall. I must admit that my jaw dropped when I saw this stack of banknotes sitting on the table. Then he looked at me and with an anguished smile said “worthless, all worthless”. He further added that during “Soviet Times” this would have been enough to buy six cars but now he can’t buy a potato with it. The stack of banknotes was all Soviet Rubles.
This situation was not that uncommon. What happened was that even though the people were extremely happy to have their independence and freedom from Soviet Russia some of them thought that it was just too good to be true. They felt that the possibility of a tiny country like Lithuania being able to just walk away from a world super power like the Soviet Union without any repercussions was quite unlikely. They felt that once Russia took care of their matters back home they would be back in force and once again invade and occupy Lithuania. So what some did was hold on to as much Rubles they could justify thinking that when Russia returned the Lithuanian currency would then be worthless but still they would have stashed away Rubles that they could use. In the mean time, the exchange period of Ruble to Talonai expired and they were left with a stack of worthless paper.
So the next time you think about inflation, growing petrol prices, food prices going through the roof, education costs increasing and the ongoing climb in taxes just be thankful that you can pay for it all with the same currency. Not like what the people of Lithuania had to do in the early 90s and figure out based on what day of the week it was which percent of what to use to pay for this and what percent of what to use to pay for that and how much longer can I use this to pay for that until I need to exchange these to that to pay for those.
Arvydas Sabonis with ex Portland Trailblazers team
mate Bill Walton during the induction ceremonies
For a country that proclaims their second Religion to be Basketball, you can imagine the excitement that is growing as EuroBasket 2011 draws near. The tournament that crowns the Basketball Champions of Europe always creates great emotion in the hearts of Lithuanians but this year there is even more fuel to add to the passionate fire because the championship tournament is being held in Lithuania.
Everyone is counting the days, hours and minutes to 31 August at 9 PM EET when Lithuania plays their first game. Everywhere you look people are wearing Lithuanian Basketball T-shirts, cars are decorated in the National colors and banners and posters are everywhere.
Now what could take place that would add even more to the basketball fever that has infected everyone?
You induct into the NBA’s Hall of Fame the greatest basketball ever to come from Lithuania. Yes folks, Friday 12 August Arvydas Sabonis was inducted into the National Basketball Association’s Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Said by most to be the greatest “big man” to ever play the game, he is also considered to be one of the greatest centers to play the game and some even say that he was the greatest center in the world.
Watch his induction speech here:
This video is from the induction show. Some great insight to Sabonis’ tremendous abilities and also some great action videos that displays Arvydas’ mindboggling skills. Fellow team mate and NBA Hall of Fame member Bill Walton refers to Arvydas Sabonis as a 7 foot 3 inch Larry Bird – This is quite a compliment.
Lithuania, once Europe’s largest nation, has an amazing 700-year history as an international melting pot. This became especially evident after 1323, the year Grand Duke Gediminas founded Vilnius as Lithuania’s capital city and immediately decided to invite merchants, craftsmen, bankers, farmers, and soldiers from all Europe to come to the new capital; guaranteeing all freedom of beliefs and good working conditions. Vilnius became international, though with less of German or Scandinavian influence, as one could expect, rather influenced by Italy and Mediterranean ideas – greatly different from the other two Baltic capitals where Hanseatic influence became dominant.
VilNews will in some upcoming issues publish articles about impacts of foreign nations and cultures here. We also welcome you, dear readers, to share with us information you may have about ‘foreign footprints in Lithuania’.
Amazing Italian influence
on Lithuania since 1323
The Royal Palace in Vilnius is now being rebuilt, more or less as one expects it to have looked like in the 1500s during the rule of Grand Duke Sigismund the Old (1467-1548), his wife, Italian Bona Sforza (1494-1557) and their son, Grand Duke Sigismund Augustus (1520-1572).
Text: Aage Myhre
While working with the restoration of Vilnius Old Town in the 1990s – as an architect – I often got to hear that this and that building was originally designed by Italian architects. I tried to find out more, but the information I got was very fragmented, so in the early 2000s I started collecting the pieces myself, putting together my own historical survey of the Italian – Lithuanian relationship since 1323. I found that Vilnius by some was known as ‘The world’s most Italian city outside Italy’ and ‘Europe’s most Baroque city north of the Alps’. I also found the fascinating stories of how Vilnius was regarded one of the world’s leading Renaissance cities, competing with Milan and Florence. I even went to Italy myself to find traces, and was truly amazed, not least while learning about the princess of Milan and Bari who became Lithuania’s Grand Duchess. The exceptional relationship between Italy and Lithuania, which was especially evident for the period of 1300 – 1800, will never come back, but will always remain as a remarkable memory, and leave its unique hallmarks in and on Lithuania forever.
1300 – 1400:
Grand Duke Gediminas founds Vilnius and writes to the Pope
It is a myth that Rome and Vilnius both were founded by wolves, but...
It is a myth that Rome and Vilnius both were founded by wolves. But it is no myth that the Italians have put an
indelible mark on Lithuania. When Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, in 1323 decided to put down roots in what is now Vilnius city, a Franciscan monastery was already in place – at the foot of Castle Hill where the Cathedral today is located. Since then, for hundreds of years, the spirit of Rome and Italy played a main role in the development of Vilnius and to a certain degree also of Lithuania.
No wonder that Vilnius sometimes is referred to as “the world’s most Italian city outside Italy”.
* Italy was involved in and with Vilnius already from its very first days as a capital city. Even the name Vilnius was used for the first time when Grand Duke Gediminas in 1323 – the same year he founded the city – wrote to Pope John XXII asking for support in Christianizing the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, by then one of Europe’s leading nations.
Grand Duke Gediminas and Pope John XXII.
* Gediminas invited merchants, craftsmen, bankers, farmers, and soldiers to come to the new capital, guaranteeing all freedom of beliefs and good working conditions. Vilnius became thereafter truly international, though not with much of German or Scandinavian influence, as one could expect, rather influenced by Rome – greatly different from the other two Baltic capitals.
* Early examples of Italian influence within architecture, with at least some fragments of heavy, massive walls and other elements, typical for the early Gothic period, still do exist in some Vilnius churches, among them the Cathedral, the Church of Assumption (Traku 9) and the Church of Resurrection (Didzioji 17).
* And, there is one church you really should visit if you would like to smell the 700 years of Italian influence on Lithuanian history. That is the St. Nicholas Church (Sv. Mikalojaus 4). This tiny little church was originally erected around 1320, and remains the oldest Gothic building in town, though with several changes over the centuries. But a true beauty!
St. Nicholas Church, Vilnius.
1400 – 1500:
Gothic Style, symbolized by the world famous St. Anne Church
* Young Prince Casimir (1458 – 1484) was supposed to be a Grand Duke, and also to ascend the throne of Hungary, but chose a spiritual life instead. He died of tuberculosis at an age of 25, and his remains (today resting in the Vilnius Cathedral) quickly won fame for miracles. Already in 1521, Casimir was elevated to sainthood, and canonized by Pope Leo X. He is considered the patron saint of Lithuania and Poland, and the cult of St. Casimir has left a deep mark in the history and art of Lithuania. And, of course, one of Casimir’s main teachers was Italian, the humanist Callimachus Buonacorsi, who described Casimir as a “holy youth”, and also wrote; “He should either never have been born or should have abided with us forever”.
* This was also the century when, according to the Polish historian Jan Dlugos, the legends about Lithuanian’s similarities with the ancient Romans arose – also stating that the name Lithuania derived from “l’Italia.”
* By the end of the 14th Century, the fusion of Italian and Northern European art had lead to the development of an International Gothic Style (the first Gothic style originated already around 1150, at the fall of the Roman Empire). Leading architects and artists travelled all over Europe, and also Lithuania got its part of this new Gothic wave by the end of the 15th Century, today first of all symbolized by the probably most famous structure in Vilnius, the Church of St. Anne (below) – a masterpiece nearly unsurpassed in the world - and the connected Church of St. Francis and St. Bernadine – built by Bernadine monks who arrived in Vilnius by the middle of the century.
St. Anne Church, Vilnius.
1500 – 1600:
Vilnius becomes a Renaissance capital, competing with Milan and Florence
* Throughout the Renaissance, when Italy was a trading centre and a melting pot for the world’s greatest civilisations, Vilnius also became a Renaissance centre, competing with Florence and Milan. The two great nations merged when Grand Duke Sigismund the Old (1467-1548) married the Princess of the Italian cities Bari and Milan, Bona Sforza (1494-1557), and returned to reign in and from Vilnius as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. They created an Italian community within the court and, under the influence of the Grand Duchess, Italian culture became the preoccupation of the city’s elite; macheroni, skryliai, and even the confection marcipanus became staples among the cogniscenti; and life at court became a series of cultural events, with rich noblemen competing for extravagance.
* During the rule of Sigismund the Old The Royal Palace in Vilnius was greatly expanded, to meet the new needs of the Grand Duke – a new wing was added, as well as a third floor; the gardens were also extended. The palace reconstruction plan was probably prepared by Italian architect Bartolomeo Berrecci d Pontassieve, who also designed several projects in the Kingdom of Poland.
It was in his Vilnius palace that Sigismund the Old welcomed an emissary from the Holy Roman Empire, who came to introduce Sigismund to Bona Sforza, his second wife, in 1517.
* The education of the royal couple’s son, the later Grand Duke Sigismund August (1520-1572), was the responsibility of a Sicilian, Jonas Silvijus Amatas, between 1529 and 1537. Sigismund Augustus further developed Lithuania’s first library that his mother brought from Italy, and sent scholars and traders across Europe to assemble volumes of practical and historical value. Sigismund Augustus later took an Italian lover, Diana di Kordona. Dates are not available, but it is recorded that even at the age of 40, she had maintained her beauty and charm.
* In 1532, the Vilnius Cathedral Orchestra was performing with the Grand Duchess, Bona Sforza, singing alto!
* Sigismund II Augustus was crowned Grand Duke of Lithuania in the Royal Palace. He carried on with palace development and lived there with his first wife Elisabeth of Austria, daughter of the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. She was buried in Vilnius Cathedral. Sigismund Augustus’ second wife, Barbara Radvilaite, also lived in the palace. According to contemporary accounts of the Holy See emissary, the Royal Palace at that time contained more treasures than the Vatican. Sigismund Augustus also assembled one of the largest collection of books in Europe. This collection became an important part of the library that opened in Vilnius in 1570, since 1579 known as Vilnius University Library.
The Royal Palace, Vilnius.
* Sigismund Augustus rebuilt the Lower Castle and furnished it in a very luxurious, Renaissance style. It was in fact turned into a centre of Renaissance culture, boasting an excellent library, a theatre, a choir, a picture gallery, and a collection of tapestries. The castle, as well as other venues of the city, was open for masquerades and competitions, scholarly disputes and feasts. In Vilnius, the ruler kept horse-stables with two thousand horses and even something like a zoo – five bears, a lion and ten camels. The plan was prepared by several Italian architects, including Giovanni Cini da Siena, Bernardino de Gianotis Zanobi, and others. The palace was once visited by Ippolito Aldobrandini, who later became Pope Clement VIII.
* In 1562, Georges Blandrata, a physician from the University of Bologna, was installed as antitrinitoriu teoretiku (roughly, master of theoretical information) at the royal court in Vilnius.
* In 1562, Lithuania got an extremely important, firm transport link to Western Europe and Italy, when the post-route Vilnius-Krakow-Vienna-Venice opened.
* In 1569, the bishop established Vilnius College and School Theatre. A year later, its first performance was a comedy, “Hercule”, by Italian S. Tucci.
* Also in 1569, the first four Jesuits arrived, and in 1570 they founded the Jesuit College of Vilnius. It became Vilnius University in 1579, by decrees of Pope Gregory XIII and Grand Duke Stephen Bathory.
* In 1571, an Italian goldsmith, Petra Petina, was accepted as a designer of coins and medals by the Lithuanian Royal Mint, and his coins and medals produced during the reign of Stephen Bathory are considered the most significant of ancient Lithuanian coins.
* In 1584, Simonas Simonijus, a physician from Padua, conducted the first autopsy and two years later, in 1586, he published the first medical text in Lithuania.
* On the 29th of October 1579, Pope Gregory XII issued a bull acknowledging the Vilnius University, which soon became the major intellectual centre of Lithuania and North-East Europe. It is regarded as one of the oldest and most respectable universities in Eastern and Central Europe, including its extensive collection of Latin literature. The University includes twelve courtyards, whereof the Great Courtyard is the most valuable in the historical and artistic respect. It reminds an Italian Renaissance square, though it combines elements of three styles – Renaissance Mannerism, Baroque and Classicism (see below picture).
Vilnius University and the Church of Sts. Johns’
(the church’s freestanding bell tower to the right)
1600 – 1700:
Vilnius silhouette turns Baroque
* During the 17th Century, Vilnius turned more and more Baroque, in fact becoming the largest Baroque city north of the Alps, as well as the one farthest to the east.
* During this period, excellent monuments of Baroque were built, such as the Church of St. Casimir (1604-1618) – designed along the line of the famous Il Gesu Church in Rome, and St. Theresa Church (1633-50) – where the façade was designed by the Italian architect Constantino Tencalla in accordance with the models of Roman architecture. Other outstanding monuments of the Baroque period are the churches of St. Ignatius and All Saints.
The Church of St. Casimir in the centre of Vilnius.
* And do not forget to visit the Chapel of St. Casimir in the Vilnius Cathedral - one of the most artistic Baroque Mausoleums in all of Europe!
* The most exquisite Baroque monument in Vilnius, however, is the unique Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (1668-1704). Its interior décor, consisting of 2000 stucco statues, is unique in Europe. The Italian sculptors Pietro Perti, Giovanni Maria Gallia and others did the decoration works during a period of 33 years. The church was renovated in 1801-04 by Giovanni Beretti and Nicolas Piano, both from Milan.
* Around 1600, Giovanni Battista became conductor of a castle orchestra and author of many masses and motets still played.
* Along the way, scholars were going south for education, and fashions, fabrics, and music from Italy were shaping the culture of Lithuania.
* It is also really worthwhile going to Kaunas to see one of the most prominent examples of Baroque architecture in Lithuania. Go to the peninsula of the Kauno Marios Water Reservoir. The Pazaislis Church and Monastery (picture below) was started built in 1667, by Italian Camalduli monks, who were invited to Kaunas by the Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kristupas Pacas. The most striking part of the ensemble is a hexagonal dome, and two protruding towers, looking like helmets. Several generations of Lithuanian and Italian masters worked at this impressive complex until it was completed by the middle of the 18th century, but the first, and main master, was the Italian architect Lodovico Fredo.
1700 – 1800:
The Italian sculptures on the Vilnius Cathedral
* Classicism was introduced to Lithuania from Rome, where some of the most famous Lithuanian artists, architects and other performers of the fine arts were studying during this century. The famous painter Pranciskus Smuglevicius studied for example at the St. Lucas Academy for a number of years, and the architect Laurynas Gucevicius was in Rome for studies during the period of 1776-1777.
* The first appearance of Neo-Classicism came also from Rome, when the architect Carlo Spampani in 1773 came here to design the portal in the White Hall of the Vilnius University’s Observatory of Astronomy.
* In 1784, the bishop of Vilnius, I. Masalski, invited the famous Italian sculptor, Tommaso Righi, to come here for the creation of sculptures on the Vilnius Cathedral. His creations can today be seen on the western façade, in six niches where he gave life to the four evangelists, with Moses and Abraham on each of the sides.
* The Vilnius Cathedral Treasury does also contain several objects with Italian origin, worth a separate study. The treasures were so carefully hidden behind brickwork in one of the Cathedral’s niches just before the World War II, that they were discovered again only in 1985.
* Attention should also be paid to the gorgeously carved High Altar of the St. Francis and Error! Hyperlink reference not valid., created by the Italian Master Danielo Giotto by the end of the 18th century.
* Also gardens and parks were made according to Italian style. The most famous was probably the Gostauto Garden, which today mostly is covered by the Presidency Park. The original garden was made following the example of Northern Italian parks, and was said to have been one of the most beautiful, being laid out geometrically with straight radial paths, round square and regularly shaped lawns characteristic of the baroque age.
* Try also to find time for a weekend trip to southern Latvia to visit the Rundale Palace (1735-1768) near the town Bauska, 200 km north of Vilnius, supposed to be the most beautiful Baroque palace in the Baltic States, created by the author of the St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace, the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli.
The Rundale Palace
* In 1795, Lithuania lost its sovereignty, and became a province of the Russian Empire. With this, also the extraordinary and long-lasting contact with Italy vanished. The 500 year golden period had come to an end.
1800 – 1900:
St. Peter and St. Paul Church gets its final Italian touch
* The direct Italian influence on and in Lithuania disappeared more or less in the 19th Century. But also the Russian Empire had its influence from neo-styles inherited from Italy, and some examples of these styles can be found in Lithuania.
* One example of direct influence from Italian masters, also in this century, is the renovation works on the St. Peter and St. Paul Church during the years 1801 - 1804 (see also above description for the period 1600 - 1700).
St. Peter and St. Paul Church interior.
* And, do by no means miss the chance to visit Traku Voké to see the magnificent Estate of Count Tiskevicius, built in 1876 - 80 by the Italian architect L. Marconi.
The Traku Voké estate of Count Tiskevicius.
1900 – 2011:
Italian pizza, technology and fashion invades Lithuania
* More than 200 years have passed since the golden period of the Italian-Lithuanian relationship ended. Today, the relationship is being re-built, and Italy is once again well represented in Vilnius, with Embassy, Cultural Centre, a Chamber of Commerce and many different companies.
* And, as in the rest of the modern world, the streets of the Lithuanian cities and villages have in the latest years been “invaded” by Italian pizzerias, fashion boutiques and furniture stores.
* The latest 20 years has also brought a good number of Alfa Romeos, Fiats, Lancias, and even a few Ferraris, Maseratis and Lamborghinis to Lithuania.
* The Italian influence on the Lithuanian architecture is no longer very important. But there has been one exception from that; the new Italian embassy building in the district of Zverynas in Vilnius. The former Italian Ambassador to Lithuania, Giulio Prigioni, did a fantastic job during the years 2004 – 2006 in leading the renovation of a 100 year old Palladian villa into a modern building that today is Italy’s very representative headquarter in Lithuania. The renovation project was done by the Italian architect Nunzio Rimmaudo.
Former Italian Ambassador Giulio Prigioni did a tremendous job to remake
this 100-year old Paladian villa into what today is the representative
Italian Embassy complex in Lithuania.
* Lithuania’s Armed Forces spent in 2006 - 2008 €75 million to buy three units of the Italian transport aircraft C-27J. The selection was made within a bid for the renewal of the old fleet of Soviet-made twin-engine An-26s in service with the Lithuanian Air Force. The Italian-Lithuanian relationship is again flying high…
LEFT: The Italian transport aircraft C-27J, now used by the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
RIGHT: A Maserati Quattroporte recently spotted in Vilnius.
Forget Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Forget the Louvre Museum in Paris. If you're among the millions who have read Dan Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code', you have probably also made some reflections on how the Holy Grail disappeared, virtually without a trace, after Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519. In that case I will now give you some hints and clues that you can begin to investigate.
Let me first put on the table some facts Dan Brown missed in his book. Brown, and many with him, thinks of Florence, Rome and Paris as the cities da Vinci was linked to. Most people forget that he lived and worked in Milan for many years, and that it was precisely here he painted ‘The Last Supper’ that Dan Brown so strongly emphasizes in his evidence collection.
Brown also does not mention that da Vinci for many years lived in the house of the Sforza family that ruled Milan at that time. But it is in this house the solution to the riddle lies. For it was here 42 year old Leonardo had the pleasure to live when a beautiful baby girl was born in 1494. Bona was the name she was given, and she and 'uncle Leonardo' had a lot of fun together while she grew up. But not just fun. Leonardo had great pleasure in sharing many of his thoughts and ideas with the wise little girl, so when she was a grown young lady of 20 she was quite well informed about many of ‘uncle Leonardo’s’ undertakings, not only in the public sphere but also in the secret. The future Grand Duchess of Lithuanian did, indeed, get a top education...
Deepest of all the secrets Leonardo shared with young Bona, was the story of the Holy Grail and the knowledge of Jesus' marriage to Mary Magdalene. When Leonardo reached his 60s and his health began to fail, he became increasingly concerned over what he should do with the Grail, which by then had been in his possession through two decades. The Milan area had for years been occupied by France, and the North Italian daily life was still strongly marked by war and strife, so Leonardo's concern was not without reason. He had got increasingly concerned that the Grail could come in wrong hands after his death.
It was then that the great idea arose. Leonardo was well aware that Europe's largest and leading nation at the time, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was a country built on intelligence and peaceful coexistence between people of many nationalities and cultures, so in 1515, when he found out that the Lithuanian grand duke’s wife was deceased, he was not slow to contact his friends at the Holy Roman Empire to suggest that his young friend, Bona Sforza, should be married to the wise ruler of Lithuania and Poland, Grand Duke Sigismund. His idea was, if the plan succeeded, that he would use this connection for his own special purpose and secretly send the Holy Grail for safe custody in the Grand Duchy under the control of the new Italian-Lithuanian royal family.
Leonardo's plan succeeded beyond all expectation, and already in 1517 Sigismund appeared in Milan to discuss a potential marriage with Bona Sforza. It soon became clear that the arranged marriage was acceptable to all parties, and Leonardo was thereafter not slow to share his idea and concerns with the prospective marriage couple. The idea was that the Grail should be 'camouflaged' as part of a book collection that would be transported to the Grand-Duke's Palace in Vilnius after da Vinci’s death. Sigismund and Bona were married in 1518, and Leonardo died only a year later, in 1519.
Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza.
The scheme to move the Holy Grail to Vilnius went according to the plan, and the Grail was not long after incorporated as the secret key point in the library that was created in the Royal Palace. The library was based on a large amount of very valid books collected by Leonardo and Bona Sforza, all from the intellectual centres of those days in Italy and other European countries.
The royal couple then ruled successfully for many years over Lithuania and Poland from the palace in Vilnius, proudly aware that they were in possession of Christianity's top secret. When Sigismund died in 1548, widow Bona decided to share the secret with their son, Sigismund Augustus, who had succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland. After the death of her husband, Bona herself moved to Masovia in east Poland. She stayed there for eight years and then moved to the city of Bari in southern Italy, where since her birth had carried the title ‘Duchess of Bari’
In 1558, a year after settling in Bari, Bona Sforza was poisoned by her trusted officer, Gian Lorenzo Pappacoda. He was acting on behalf of King Philip II of Spain, who wished to avoid repaying his sizable debts to the Grand Duchess. Bona Sforza was buried in a sarcophagus in the Cathedral of Bari. Her sarcophagus stands there, still today, as a sad but strong symbol of the close ties of that time between Italy and Lithuania.
The founder of the Jesuit Order, Ignatius Loyola, sent
his leading theologians to Vilnius immediately after
having been contacted by Sigismund Augustus.
Eleven years after Bona's death, representatives of the Jesuit Religious Brothers came to Lithuania to establish their Order. The Brothers’ first and main task was to plan and build an educational institution of the highest level, and to move the library where the Holy Grail was hidden, from the Royal Palace to a safer place within the new institution, controlled by the Jesuits, Christianity’s leading brotherhood.
The background for this move by the Jesuits, was that Grand Duke Sigismund Augustus after the message of his mother's death reached him, had got into deep worries similar to those of Leonardo da Vinci 50 years earlier: How to best hide and protect the Holy Grail for the future? An important element in his worries was that he was childless, and he had now to face the fact that he could be the last ruler of the world famous Jogailo Dynasty. No wonder he worried that the Grail could get into wrong hands when his reign and life came to its end.
In 1565 he had reached his conclusion; to share his big secret with the Jesuit Brotherhood that had grown to be one of the Roman Catholic Church’s leading movements during the mid 1500s. An open-minded, tolerant monarch and a loyal Roman Catholic, Sigismund had during his reign peacefully sought to counteract Martin Luther’s Reformation in Eastern Europe, and he concluded now that the Jesuits, who successfully preached the Counter Reformation, would be the perfect protectors of the Holy Grail after his death. The Jesuits organised their order along military lines and strongly represented the autocratic zeal of the period, characterised by careful selection, rigorous training, and iron discipline, so Sigismund was convinced they would be the right ones to protect the Grail against the Protestants or any military intruders.
It was with great force that the Brothers came to Vilnius by the end of the 1560s. They had access to large resources both from Vilnius and Rome, and had ahead of their arrival agreed with Sigismund to build an outstanding intellectual and spiritual teaching institution around the Holy Grail. The Grail was thus the beginning of the wonderful Vilnius University, which opened as a Jesuit College in 1570 and as a University in 1579.
Sigismund Augustas was only 50 years old in 1570, but it was already obvious that he didn’t have many years left to live. It was therefore essential to have the Holy Grail moved from the Royal Palace to a safe place where Lithuania's future rulers would not have access. With this in mind, in 1570, Sigismund gave the chapel next to the new college as a gift to the Jesuit Brothers. The Brothers then built, in record time, a bell tower that still today is the highest in Vilnius (at today’s Sts Johns’ Church). The tower was completed already in 1571, and the Holy Grail was immediately moved there from the Royal Palace.
The rush proved to have been by virtue of necessity, for Sigismund died in the summer of 1572. The Grand Duke passed away knowing that the Grail was in safe hands, though he never got to see the University completed. Sigismund Augustus died childless and thus became the last ruler of the grand Jogailo Dynasty as well as of the Italian-Lithuanian dynasty that Leonardo da Vinci and the Holy Roman Empire had planned with so much energy earlier in the century.
The death of Grand Duke Sigismund Augustus in July 1572.
The story of the Holy Grail continued unabated after Sigismund’s death, with frequent communication between the Pope and the head of the Jesuit Brothers in Vilnius. And it was in a direct decree from the Pope that the chapel next to the new bell tower now was expanded to a glorious house of God and given the name Sts. Johns' Church. The name shows that the Catholic Church wanted the highest protection of the new church, the bell tower and, first of all, the Holy Grail. They therefore named and dedicated the new church, not to just one of the St. Johns, but to both John the Baptist and the Apostle John. It was the second time in Christianity’s history that something like this had happened. First time was when the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano), the first among the four major basilicas of Rome was built by Constantine the Great in the 4th century. This church is also the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, the Pope, and is thus known as Omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput: "Cathedral of Rome and of the World." The Holy Grail gave the Sts. Johns’ Church in Vilnius a similar glorious world value, thus the name.
In 1579, after just nine years of construction, the new university buildings were completed. And it was with great reverence the leading Jesuit Brothers that same year installed the library and within it hiding the Grail that Bona Sforza secretly had brought with her from Milan more than 50 years earlier.
And it is there, under the floor boards of the Vilnius University Library, that the Holy Grail has been safely hidden for 430 years now. The Jesuits have been extremely clever and careful not to share this tremendous secret with anybody. But now, dear readers of VilNews, also you know the truth.
Millions of people visited Louvre and the Rosslyn Chapel after Dan Brown's book was published seven years ago, and I wonder how many are going to visit Vilnius University this year, now that the truth about the Holy Grail is finally made public?
Here, under the floor boards of the Vilnius University Library, is where the Holy Grail was safely hidden
when the university opened in 1579. The Grail is located exactly beneath the centre (the top point) of
the library’s CROSS ARCH, which is typical and characteristic for the Jesuit Order’s Brotherhood.
PS: Please observe that the above article is pure fiction – though based on real historical facts.
Now I have another reason to visit Lithuania
A most interesting article! Now I have another reason to visit Lithuania as I have in the past. Would love to at least see Vilnius University as we were unable to enter it on our last trip there. Thank you for the information and will pass it on to other lovers of Lithuanian history.
Irene A. Petkaitis
Well written! Tell us more about the painting.
Bob & Peggy Moroney
* * *
Dear Bob & Peggy,
The painting ‘Death of Grand Duke Sigismund Augustus’ (1522-1572) – is a handmade oil painting reproduction by Jan Matejko (1838–1893).
Read more about the painter here:
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