THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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A film about Lithuania's
By Aage Myhre
American-Lithuanian Rima Gungor (25) will reside in Lithuania throughout this summer to conduct a series of interviews and recordings that will crystallize in a movie planned launched to a worldwide audience in March 2014. The film bears the name GameChanger, and will shed light on Lithuania's postwar fights against occupying superpowers from the start of World War II until the final independence in the early 1990s. An important point will be Lithuanians remarkable nonviolent and successful uprising against the Soviet invaders in 1990-1991.
“Yes, the idea is to chronicle and analyze the history of resistance movements in Lithuania and show how and why they developed into the final and successful non-violent resistance movement,” she tells us.
“While at North Central College in Chicago I won a Richter grant which allowed me to research and complete a paper on Lithuania’s resistance movements. I wrote my thesis on nonviolent resistance movements and how they can be successful using Lithuania’s nonviolent movement as an example. The nonviolent resistance movement in Lithuania is one of the least recognized and least talked about freedom movements, however, it was one of the most successful in several decades.”
The film will analyze Lithuania’s freedom movements starting from the armed resistance during and after World War II, the protests during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and finally the nonviolent movement in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The goal is not only to tell Lithuania’s story, in a historical, but also personal and intimate way through interviews with participants both inside and outside of Lithuania, and to apply it to a global context to inspire other movements around the world.
Here is what Rima has to say about her background and reasons for making this movie:
While at college, I wanted to write about this part of Lithuania’s history in a broad sense, however I decided to narrow down the topic to the peaceful resistance movement in the 1980’s and 1990’s and use it as a successful example of Dr. Gene Sharp’s academic approach to nonviolent resistance. I used the grant toward a three week research trip to Lithuania. It had been almost four years since my last trip to Lithuania and my first time traveling internationally on my own.
In those three weeks, I had learned more about our history than from any book I had ever read. I really wanted an in-depth look at the peaceful resistance movement and to not only read about, but also discuss its success with those directly involved. During my research trip, I was lucky enough to interview Vytautas Landsbergis, Angonita Rupsyte, Dr. Gene Sharp, and many others involved in Lithuania’s independence struggle. These personal, face to face interviews helped me gain greater insight into how the peaceful resistance movement came to be and what factors led to the decision to remain nonviolent.
When the Soviets reoccupied Lithuania in 1944, Lithuanians decided to defend their nation by using force. That partisan resistance movement was severely crushed with impunity. The last partisan resistance fighter was caught and killed in 1956.
Many of the partisans fighting during Lithuania’s long and bloody ‘guerilla war of 1944-1953 were young men returning to Lithuania from the West to fight for their beloved home country. Here are three of them, with their official and nick names: K. Sirvys - "Sakalas", J. Luksa - "Skirmantas", B. Trumpys - "Rytis". Very few ‘Western partisans’ returned to their homes in Europe or the U.S.. Almost all of them were killed by the Soviets.
After the armed resistance movement ended, Lithuania went through a period of uncertainty with respect to resistance efforts in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Underground movements started to form and the human rights protests began, publicly highlighted by the self-immolation of Romas Kalanta in 1972. The groups that formed were not connected under one banner for some time due to differences in viewpoints and logistical issues. It was not until 1988 that a unified movement of diverse groups was formed under Sajudis. One point that was understood amongst all of the members was that nonviolent resistance was the method they would use to gain Lithuania’s freedom and independence. As Vytautas Landsbergis put it to me in our interview, “violence did not work in our favor the last time so we knew we had to try peaceful resistance. It was the only logical choice.”
The protest movement took on several public forms including large gatherings, public demonstrations, singing of Lithuanian cultural folk songs in the streets, throwing Soviet paraphernalia in piles in the streets, etc. Behind the scenes the work to organize and keep the movement moving forward was difficult and dangerous, especially since independence was not the end goal but the structure of the country under democratic guidelines was. Once independence was gained it would require even more commitment and hard work to maintain it.
Then came the night of January 13th, 1991, also known as the January massacre. At this point, Soviet tanks and soldiers had entered into Lithuania as a sign of aggression against Lithuania’s peaceful resistance movement. The people took to the streets, stood in front of the tanks, protested, but never once turned violent in any fashion. Soviet soldiers continued the act of aggression and ended up killing 13 civilians. Some were run over by Soviet tanks. It was a gruesome evening that only ended once Gorbachev was persuaded by members of his staff that it was best to end it. This act of aggression by the Soviet Union was not received well by the West. It showed the USSR to the world as the evil empire it was portrayed as.
I returned from my trip and immediately got to work. My uncle had to ship the 30 odd books I bought in this enormous box because I could not carry them home! I was absorbing as much about Lithuania’s history as I could in order to do it justice in my thesis. While I was in Lithuania, I decided to record all of my interviews on camera so it would be easier for me to integrate the quotations into my paper. About eight months later, I was sitting with my grandmother eating lunch when she paused for a moment and said, “Rima, you recorded all those interviews you did, correct?” I nodded and asked her if she wanted to see them. She replied, “Well of course, but I think the rest of the world just might want to see them too. You’re sitting on a pretty high mountain of history, you know.”
What she said stuck with me for about a year before I decided that it was finally time to do something. The catalyst was actually another documentary called The Other Dream Team. While that documentary focuses on the story of basketball and Lithuania, it also touched on the difficulties of Soviet occupation, the peaceful resistance movement, and Lithuania’s relentless push toward freedom. It was around that point in which I decided that it was time to tell our story. However, I didn’t just want to tell it to our community, I wanted to apply Lithuania’s success to a more global context and show others that peaceful resistance is a viable option to gain freedom and independence. And that rather than a glamorous, idealistic effort that succeeded by using songs it was a long, difficult, dangerous road requiring hard work discipline, commitment, and the will to move forward in spite of all the obstacles that could have brought it down.; that every sacrifice was worth it; and that every struggle for independence does not end with its declaration.
I took the plunge to make this documentary on March 20th of this year when we launched our Facebook page, website and Kickstarter page. The positive feedback has been overwhelming and with each interview I do reinforces my need to tell our story. I am also very lucky to have the dedicated team that I have. They are with me every step of the way and believe in this project as much as I do. Our Kickstarter page was fully funded four days early, making a little over $10,000 in about 27 days. We were thrilled and we know our second Kickstater round will be just as successful. Currently, we are wrapping up our North American interviews. We have filmed in Toronto, Chicago, Madison, Cleveland, Lansing and Seattle. We depart on June 10th to Lithuania to film interviews, collect archive footage, and film historical sites. We expect to return September 10th and immediately move into production to have the trailer ready for November of this year. We expect the film to be ready by March or April of next year. It has been an incredible experience so far and we cannot wait to continue our next part of the journey. To find out more, visit our website and Facebook page at www.gamechangerfilm.com and www.facebook.com/GameChangerFilmLT. We will have our new Kickstarter link on both pages once it’s ready. This Kickstarter round will go for three months instead of 30 days. We would like to thank everyone for their support of our endeavor!!
Rima Gungor (25) about her relations to Lithuania
I come from an old family. My family, the Tallat-Kelpsai, suffered as a result of the occupation. Part of my family experienced incarceration in the labor camps and deportation to Siberia, and the other part fled and were in displaced persons camps for five years while waiting for some country to take them in. In those days immigrants had to have a sponsor that guaranteed that they would not be a burden on the U.S., had to pass health exams, etc. so it could take quite a few years to be able to leave the DP camps. Once here the adjustment was not easy, especially for the dispossessed immigrants. They could not communicate with close family in Lithuania so they did not know for long periods of time what happened to them, they could not go home until Lithuania became free, and they were completely unfamiliar with the nation they had emigrated to with almost nothing. Although some of my family spoke English and were university educated, their education was not accepted fully by their new homeland which made making a living harder. And within a short time of being here, although not yet a citizen, one was drafted into the US Army, so the family lost an important member while beginning to put down roots. My family which remained in Lithuania struggled as exiles, and upon returning to Lithuania. Both parts of my family survived, struggled, and continued to be good as well as successful people.
As a child, people in the U.S. did not ask me so much about Lithuania; it started more when I was a teenager and as I became older and went to university. Most of the time, I would speak about Lithuania in history or political science classes and at conferences where my paper was accepted, explaining the history, about the occupation and its relevance to and the impact on the international community. This year I will be presenting at the Baltic Studies conference in Estonia on the Lithuanian independence movements.
Americans interest varied. There was greater interest when they knew someone who was Lithuanian, were basketball fans, or had read about it or seen a film and had questions. They are interested in hearing about Lithuanian basketball and its stars, swimming, and technology especially due to the success of GetJar. I usually stress the importance of Lithuania’s history the most, but also its achievements of the past 20 years, and its art, culture, and food- both in Lithuania and the diaspora. I talk about its beauty, the preservation of its historical landmarks, and nature reserves, the ocean and its beaches, its forests, its museums and unusual spots. I discuss its flaws and its strengths. I feel deeply connected to the culture - it has been a big part of my life for many years through folk dance, academics, cooking, reading, programs like LISS and Refresh Lithuania and family and friends.
Lithuania means home wherever I may be.
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