THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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The true story of Daiva Venckus, a young American’s journey to her ancestral homeland during the collapse of the Soviet Empire.
Making Bullets is the inspirational story of a California-born woman who travels to her family’s homeland to learn about her heritage and becomes a part of Lithuania’s “Singing Revolution” against Soviet occupation.
On January 13th, 1991 fourteen peaceful protestors were killed and hundreds of others were injured by Soviet troops as the unarmed citizens stood, arm in arm, singing—protecting Lithuania’s Parliament building and the nation’s main communications tower. The lines held against the tanks that day. The Soviets didn’t succeed in their coup attempt but they didn’t end Lithuania’s drive for independence. Two days after the massacre 25 year old Daiva Venckus arrived in Lithuania, offering her services to help her beloved ancestral home. Eventually she began work as a press spokesperson for the Lithuanian Parliament. On August 19th, the Soviet army attempted another coup. While Gorbachev was held hostage, tanks surrounded the Lithuanian Parliament building where Daiva and others were barricaded for a final last stand.
Thankfully Daiva has written a book about her experiences during this period
The book is the true story of her life as the American-born daughter of Lithuanian immigrants who believed it was her sacred duty to preserve their language and culture until the day Lithuania could be free of Soviet rule.
Her fondest childhood memories were making ‘bullets’ (a nickname for traditional Lithuanian meat dumplings “koldunai”) with her great grandmother, “Sena Baba”. She often told her, “Tradition is our weapon.” Her days were filled with family stories about the homeland. Their lives centered on Lithuanian activities: folk dancing and singing, Lithuanian Saturday School, Lithuanian scouts and endless commemorative gatherings where everyone cried about the loss of the homeland. She didn’t know she was an American until her first day of nursery school when she realized that she didn’t speak English—it her first introduction to American society.
Eventually she grew tired of conjugating verbs fifty-two different ways, reciting 100 year-old poems and being forced to perform in nineteenth-century embroidered peasant clothes at the annual Potato Pancake Ball. What was the point to it all? She wanted to go to the mall. She wanted to go surfing. She wanted to hang out with her American friends. Eventually she rebelled and drifted away from the Lithuanian community.
As perestroika emerged in the USSR, the cause of freedom for Lithuania unexpectedly became her passion. She had connected to something bigger than herself - She had meaning in her life. The fact it was a cause her family had tried to force on her for all those years didn’t matter, because it had become her cause by choice.
She traveled to Lithuania on a student archeology visa in July of 1989. The land she only knew from Saturday School books and family stories finally came alive. But she also saw how her beloved Lithuania was damaged through decades of “Sovietization.” Revolution was in the air and she wanted to be a part of it.
In January of 1991, in the midst of the revolution, she bought a one-way plane ticket to Vilnius. She was determined to help even though she had no idea how. She was surprised the Soviets at the border allowed her to enter the country. She just showed up and asked, “Where can I help?” This question meant translating documents, a brief stint as an English-speaking TV newscaster, a music radio show host, an MC for a benefit concert, and eventually volunteering for the revolutionary freedom movement, Sajudis.
She wasn’t prepared for the food shortages, looking for toilet paper on the black market and the escalating Soviet military violence on the streets. As months went by, she dealt with the stress and uncertainty by taking her Czech motorcycle with a sidecar out for long rides in the countryside, much to the amusement of Lithuanians who had never seen a woman on a motorcycle before.
It was chance that caused her to be working inside the barricades of the Lithuanian Parliament as a press spokesperson. Her skill was being able to speak and write both English and Lithuanian fluently. The days she spent conjugating all those verbs in Lithuanian Saturday school back in LA was finally paying off. For several months it was a race against escalating Soviet military aggression to get information out to the West before the Iron Curtain shut down on Lithuania once and for all.
On August 19th, the Soviet military went in for the final deathblow to Lithuanian Independence. When Gorbachev had been taken hostage, kicking off the Moscow coup, she was 300 miles from Vilnius in a resort town on the Baltic Sea for a break from all the stress. The only way out was by ferry to the mainland. As I watched people pile up in buses and taxis, she knew she had to escape before she was trapped, so she jumped into the street in front of a taxi and offered the driver all her money to drive her to Vilnius. For five hours they negotiated Soviet checkpoints through torrential rain, searching for gas to complete the journey and listening to the radio about the Coup updates from Moscow. Lithuanian radio broadcasts were disappearing as the Soviets once again stormed local transmission towers.
She arrived at the Parliament building late in the afternoon and picked her way through a minefield as Soviet tanks approached the city. When the tanks arrived at Parliament close to midnight, everyone waited for the soldiers to fire the first shot before Lithuanians would fire back—using their outdated hunting rifles and Molotov Cocktails. No one was going to leave the building alive before Lithuania was free.
For three days and nights the standoff continued. Sleep deprived, her co-workers and her fielded calls from citizens reporting troop movements and fears, and she kept foreign journalists updated. Finally the hard-line Soviets relented and Gorbachev returned to Moscow. But that didn’t mean the fight was over. Although troops retreated from buildings, those that had been occupied in January, such as the TV tower where the massacre occurred, were still occupied. Only after Lithuania delivered an ultimatum to Moscow did those troops begin their retreat.
She arrived at the TV tower as the Red Army tanks began to withdraw. Thousands of Lithuanian citizens had gathered to witness the event. In a final act of defiance, Lithuanians turned their backs and stood silent as the tanks retreated. She was one of the first to enter the TV tower as she guided a BBC crew in to film the historic occasion.
After 50 years of Soviet occupation –Lithuania was finally, truly, free. Afternoons of “making bullets” with her great-grandmother flooded her memories, and the words of her family through the years filled her heart, “We preserve our heritage because we do not give up hope. Someday, with our own eyes, we’ll see Lithuania free once again.”
Not only did she get to witness history, she was a part of it.
You can check out her web site to get more insight to this remarkable and courageous lady
On the home page be sure to click “Making Bullets – The Book”
and in the drop down menu click “Making Bullets – Chapter One”
You will be rewarded by being able to read the entire first chapter of her book
I must say that I was quite impressed. Daiva’s writing style not only flows seamlessly but she also has the uncanny ability to make you feel a part of everything going on. I know that this may sound a bit cliché when some one says that a writer has the ability to make you feel like you are there but I can tell you that I DID FEEL LIKE I WAS THERE standing next to Daiva as all the events unfolded and in addition many times I felt like I was Daiva in that she has a way of expressing her emotions and reactions so that you can distinctly feel what she was feeling.
After reading the first chapter I am sure that your next thought will be the same as mine
Where can I get this book???
Well, this is the bad news – You can’t get it
I’m not in the publishing business so I have absolutely no idea as to the logic these people use but I’ll try to put it in a nut shell and then let you figure it out. Daiva has shown her book to a number of publishers in the USA. Their reaction was – THEY LIKED IT!!!
So why don’t they publish it???
Their logic is this, they don’t want to publish a book that will basically be a one shot deal. They want to publish a book that will be followed by other books based on the same theme/topic.
What is even more puzzling and even exasperating is that she offered the book to a number of publishing companies here in Lithuania and they were completely unresponsive. For a Lithuanian company to be unresponsive is unfortunately not uncommon but for the life of me I don’t understand why a Lithuanian publisher would not be interested in a book that can be published in Lithuanian for the home market and in English for the world wide market. There are very few books published here in Lithuania that have the potential be popular in the world wide market and when one is presented to a Lithuanian publisher there is no response – You figure it out???
Dears readers, if any of you are in the publishing industry or if any of you can understand this logic of not publishing a book you think is good because you want to have more books on the same topic to follow it please explain this all to me because this logic totally escapes me??????
Those of you that are familiar with many of the articles I have written for VilNews know that I am adamant in my endeavors to do my (very small) part in telling the world what Soviet Russia did to our country and to our people. It is virtually impossible to find a Lithuanian family that did not lose a loved one as a result of Soviet Russia’s oppression. This is the main aim of Daiva writing this book, she wants more people in the world to be aware of what happened here and it is not just about Lithuania. By making more people in the world aware of the atrocities committed hear it is the hope of people like Daiva and I that this awareness could possibly help to prevent tragic events like this happening again in Lithuania and in other parts of the world. This is why I am so very disappointed and I must say upset over the logic of these publishing houses.
I would really like to read the book. There have been many articles and stories written about the events that took place during this time but to my knowledge there have been no English language books written about these events. The fact that this book is written by a person that can share her first hand experiences with us makes it even more impressive.
By the way, when I said “first hand experiences” I mean first hand experiences. Daiva has been awarded the “Commemorative Medal of January 13” by the Lithuanian Government for her efforts in the struggle for Lithuanian Independence. This medal was awarded to her by the Presidential Decree of President Valdas Adamkus. A book doesn’t get more “first hand” than this.
Lithuanian Presidential Commemorative Medal of Jan 13
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