THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Nellie Vin, New York
I am one who left Lithuania in 1996 after we got independence in 1990. In few years the country’s economists, with Landsbergis as the head on top, crushed all too fast (with privatization) without providing and helping with starting of small business and lowering taxes for new business people. Finally imported, cheap products from Poland killed local farmers’ business. It’s become not profitable to grow own organic healthy products and sell for Lithuanian people. Many people left to look for opportunities in other countries. Still young and older people are leaving. No one wants to wait. We need today! Not to wait on promises for a better tomorrow.
Nellie Vin (photography, Lithuania 2010)
Peter Heydon (text)
How the old eke out a living. Not for them the luxury of comfortable retirement with generous pensions and a sedate stroll to the cemetery. Instead they face the harsh prospect of toiling until their demise, foraging and fighting for survival. What recompense for a life lived, to face the ignominy of bent backs and faces engraved with hardship and still feel the whip of necessity cutting sharply across their backs? Tumbled down old barns and broken tools patched together suffice, while over in the West combine harvesters and farms like factories generate the riches of Croesus. Here the corrugated sheds and corrugated old women in their shawls no longer have the time or muscle to smile. They conserve their energy if they can and expend it if they must. Not exactly the American Gothic of Grant Wood but folklore of another kind, the desultory and haphazard artwork of pitchfork and firewood, the scratch and scrape of making ends meet while others pile their plates with fresh meat and fill their glasses with fine wine. Once they were young and fresh as paint. Now they are old and peeling like paint. Yet they have each other. They have their integrity. They have more than most.
Upon the wall there hangs the Madonna and child, mother of perpetual help, an eternal symbol of love and protection. It is a representation of the maternal instinct which threads like an umbilical cord through all species. It is the subatomic principle that links every particle of the universe to each other in fine balance so that everything coexists. It is the way nature and the cosmos cares for itself. The painting looks down upon the humble circumstances and can identify with it. Just as a simple manger once sufficed as a bed so too a modest couch serves as somewhere to sleep. A crumpled duvet and a fat pillow lie in unkempt testimony to a homecoming. The room will soon beat with human hearts again and though it might lack affluence and opulence and may be bereft of ornamentation it remains a home. The simplicity reflects the sanctity. The clean white sheets are like a shroud, a resurrection of hope and a faith that goodness will win and will protect with its universal truth. The simple souls of this room have nothing to lose. They are victorious in their humility and so much richer for it.
The three dimensional world appears to be condensed into a particularly two dimensional image. Any impression of perspective is strangely lost and in its place the building seems to hang oppressively above the silhouetted figure. Like a victim awaiting sentence to be carried out she stands in quiet resignation. There is a conspicuous stillness in her pose that is evident even in a photograph. It is as though she has prepared her soul to fly from her body, unable to suffer the pain any longer, and all that is left is the dark shape of what was once a young girl with a heart full of fire and hope, a future. The vista before her is dishevelled and bedraggled. The bulldozers of politics and change are ploughing through her country and wreaking their devastation, but she stands in their path, adamant and defiant. Nothing can crush the human spirit. It can be beaten and starved and yet it has a tenacity and strength that can overcome any adversity. After the heaviest of rains the rose still breathes its perfume across the raindrops.
A cow is a cow in any corner of a field and any corner of the earth. But this is no fatted calf. This is a beast with little in its belly and less on its bones. The hide hangs across its frame like a careless rug across a chair. Its head is hung low, not only grazing but also in a symbolic reflection of the land it lives in. Perhaps the rest of the herd is just out of view but it matters little. This is a solitary animal foraging in some corner of a foreign field, udders half full. Where are all the breasts full of the milk of human kindness? They have dried up and can feed no-one now. Worst still they suckle nothing but poison and contempt. We drink the economic miracle of far-flung places that grow rich on our poverty and turn a blind eye to our plight – blind eyes in Gucci sunglasses with the sharp vision of laser surgery and the icy stare of apathy. One day this land will be lush again. The soil is rich and that is all that one needs to grow again when the time is right.
How small we all are, especially in the distance. The solitary path travels from here to there, regardless of whether dusty feet should choose to walk along it. With baggage in hand, a determination in her straight back, and a resolve in the step the broken road is her sole domain. No other vestige of life to spoil her view, no cars or carts or children kicking up the stones and playing games. No dogs or donkeys or dumped prams in ditches. The straight line to the horizon is uncluttered by any semblance of other life. Just one life parades in solitude, purpose unknown, frozen at a far point with a vast swathe of worn highway behind her and an uncertain future before her. Turbulent clouds threaten the skyline but possibly they are dispersing rather than gathering. Who knows? The landscape converges upon her, the singularity of her presence and every blade of grass and every leaf on every tree presses for her destination. She remains mute, head turned away, turned towards tomorrow. Their question remains unanswered. Only time will tell.
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