THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
VilNews has its own Google archive! Type a word in the above search box to find any article.
By Kestutis Eidukonis
In my travels and musings about Lithuania and Lithuanians it has become quite clear to me that there is no such entity as a single Lithuania anymore. Any serious writing or treatment of the subject matter has to recognize this reality.
The singular Lithuania my parents knew and described to me no longer exists. Lithuania has been transformed into at least three different and distinct entities. Each with its own good and bad characteristics. When I discuss Lithuania with friends and relatives it is like the blind men describing the elephant. Depending on who you talk to. Lithuania is either beautiful, hopeful or beyond redemption.
Last week I my wife Siga, and a mutual friend from Japan, Sakae Wade were privileged to get a tour of the Palace of the Dukes of Lithuania (Valdovū Rūmai). Over the years we have watched as this palace was reconstructed amid controversies and supposed scandal. A lot of Lithuanian media was very critical of the expense, delay and fraud and corruption associated with the Palace. One could not turn on the TV without hearing negative comments about this undertaking. I am ashamed to admit, even I, was taken in by some of this "agitprop". The Palace will open to the public in a few days and I believe visitors will be pleasantly surprised by the beauty and history that will confront them. After taking the tour I was no longer surprised by the amount spent on the Palace.
Had it been a simple question of re-creating the Palace a la Disneyland, I don't think it would have cost the amount of money it did. Fortunately for the posterity of Lithuania, the past as much as possible, was preserved along with the re-creation. The Palace rests on the original foundations and mirrors them as much as possible. The preservation of the original must have cost a fortune. The basement chambers are all climate controlled to preserve the original foundations and other fragile findings. I strongly advise every tourist to Lithuania to deeply explore this marvel. The work done to preserve the original archeology has been praised by experts from all over the world. Yes a lot of things could have been done cheaper - but I think the results were worth it. I and Siga were very much touched by the passionate words of the Deputy Director of the Palace, Dr. Jolanta Karpavičienė, who challenged anyone who wanted to spit on this work and on Lithuanian history to come and take the tour and then if they still wanted to do so to go ahead! I was very impressed by the passion of all the people associated with not only the Palace, but the entire staff who worked in State Cultural Reserve of Vilnius Castles. A lot of very dedicated people fighting very hard to preserve Lithuanians heritage with limited funds and lots of political strings.
The Palace to me symbolizes Vilnius. Vilnius is one of the Lithuanias, it is a charming city seething with prosperity, renovation, construction, pride and liberal doses of corruption and politics. The amount of money being lavished on this city is phenomenal. Tourists in the thousands flock to the Old Town every day! It is truly one of the most architecturally beautiful and unique cities of the world. Vilnius truly is an international city. As one meanders through its winding cobblestone streets one hears a cacophony of languages. Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Polish, Yiddish, English and many others being spoken. I feel very good and comfortable when I come back to this city. All of Vilnius is not this nice. There are indeed many Soviet style apartments and areas that indeed are a little bit depressing. I have been told that Kaunas is just as nice and more Lithuanian than international, but that is another story. I think Kaunas is more like Vilnius than the rest of Lithuania.
The rest of Lithuania is symbolized by the area where my mother-in-law lives. She lives in a beautiful area of Lithuania that happens to contain the highest point in Lithuania. There farmers are eking out a living. The area is reachable only by turning off of the highway and following first a rock paved road, then a dirt road. First to the town of Stakliškės where Midus is made, than to the farming village of Užuguostis, and finally turning of the rock road onto a dirt road passable by only one car. The wooden carved sign at this point says Gedanonių Kalva, 4.2 km. Arriving at Gedenonių Kalva one is struck by the difficulty of reaching the place, the isolation, the greatness,, and the natural beauty, the wild flowers, the plowed fields and the overgrown fields surrounding the place. One is also struck by how abandoned and overgrown this recently constructed land mark has become. Over a hundred thousand Euros were spent on this "Landmark". The already bad road was further ruined by the construction and a very bad winter, along with improperly done maintenance. I have only seen tourists there once. They did not have much good to say about this monument. The rumor among most of the inhabitants is that this was simply a money-laundering proposition to obtain money from the EU.
The area is administered by a district administrator who has her hands full. The population is declining. From about 3000 inhabitants during Soviet times to about 500, nowadays. She still has to plow the roads, keep culverts clean handle local disputes and other headaches. Half of the population works hard, the other half hardly works. They get by on 350 LT a month unemployment. When one lives in the countryside, getting food and firewood is not a problem. Most people grow their own or a relative grows something and shares it for helping out in the fields. Some people still live in dirt floor homes, others are a bit more prosperous, The only bill some people have to pay is for electricity. This leaves quite a bit left for moonshine and contraband cigarettes. People do odd jobs for some of the more prosperous people in the area, but for the most part it is very difficult to find help or to get people to work. The feeling most of the people have here is that they are not a part of Lithuania. The politicians only look after Vilnius and each other. The EU is looked upon as a waster of money, and a creator of lazy people, who figure out to milk the system. The feeling one gets when one visits this area is that the abandonment will only accelerate. There are already quite a few abandoned farmhouses, where people don't come or only visit occasionally. The contrasts could not be more stunning - beautiful nature - abandoned farms. This area is such a contrast to Vilnius. Some people might prefer this to living in Vilnius. I hope they do make the move. I am sure there are a lot of opportunities for people who want to tame the countryside.
I know for a fact that there are a lot of Lithuanias like this out there. But here in some of these villages I sometimes find the Lithuania of my parents - the people who take care of each other. While some of these people long for the bygone Soviet era - most are patriotic Lithuanians who happen to be totally disenchanted by their government and their representatives and the promises that were made to them. Gedanonių Kalva symbolizes the Lithuanian Government to these people.
The third Lithuania is the diaspora - what a story that is. If the diaspora ever decides to return then Lithuania will be an unbeatable and unstoppable country. I know all the arguments for why they should have stayed in Lithuania. I also know the reasons most of them left. It is truly a desperate step to voluntarily exile oneself from the land of your birth, the land of your friends and relatives. What kind of person does this. Well, let me tell you that most of the people of the Lithuanian diaspora I have met truly only did it as a last resort. I do not think leaving Lithuania was a first choice for any of them. The thing that amazes me the most is that most of these third wavers still love Lithuania, even after all the agonizing things Lithuania has put them through, they still talk and dream of someday returning to a different Lithuania one that doesn't say to them you left - don't come back. You are no longer one of us. I remember a conversation with a Lowlander (Żemaitis) who told me, "Kestuti, you don't understand - they (the people in government) do not want dual citizenship - they do not want you and other Lithuanians who grew up elsewhere. They are afraid that a lot of you will vote. They are afraid that a lot of you will run for office. They are afraid of losing their power base. After all over a third of Lithuania is the diaspora, just think of what this diaspora could do if they all retained or got their citizenship. What if they all voted? It would change the political dynamic of this country. That is why the politicians will never let it happen!"
I believe my friend had a point. If I were sitting in Russia, I could not have devised a better strategy to insure Three Lithuanias! Divided between rural, city and diaspora. A Lithuania I can easily dominate with my oil money! Where my agents will be leaders. Where corruption of the legal system is allowed to flourish. Where people do not trust their government. Where crooks and embezzler's rights are more important than the ordinary Lithuanian's desire to maintain his citizenship and his links to Lithuania. Where is the Leadership of Lithuania? Where is the person or persons who can unite the country? Ah but that is why we have three Lithuanias, a dozen parties - more emigration, more loss of economic freedom. Divide and conquer! E Unum Pluribus!
PICTURES FROM THE ROYAL PALACE:
Arriving at Gedenonių Kalva one is struck by the difficulty of reaching the place, the isolation, the greatness,, and the natural beauty, the wild flowers, the plowed fields and the overgrown fields surrounding the place. One is also struck by how abandoned and overgrown this recently constructed land mark has become. Over a hundred thousand Euros were spent on this "Landmark". The already bad road was further ruined by the construction and a very bad winter, along with improperly done maintenance. I have only seen tourists there once. They did not have much good to say about this monument. The rumor among most of the inhabitants is that this was simply a money-laundering proposition to obtain money from the EU.
Faces of the Lithuanian diaspora.
Photo; Justinas Bartkevicius.
Faces of the Lithuanian diaspora.
Photo; Justinas Bartkevicius.
VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the editors: editor@VilNews.com.
Code of Ethics: See Section 2 – about VilNews. VilNews is not responsible for content on external links/web pages.
HOW TO ADVERTISE IN VILNEWS.
All content is copyrighted © 2011. UAB ‘VilNews’.