THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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By Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas,
Ph. D., Chicago
A wave of unity sweeps the international Lithuanian community on March 11th every year as Lithuanians celebrated the anniversary of the Lithuanian Parliament’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. However, the sense of national unity engendered by the celebration could be short-lived.
Human beings have a strong tendency to overgeneralize and succumb to stereotypical us-them distinctions that can shatter even the strongest bonds. We need only search the internet to find examples of divisive thinking at work:
• ”50 years of Soviet rule has ruined an entire generation of Lithuanian.”
• ”Those who fled Lithuania during World II were cowards -- and now they come back, flaunt their wealth, and tell us ‘true Lithuanians’ how to live.”
• ”Lithuanians who work abroad have abandoned their homeland and should be deprived of their Lithuanian citizenship.”
Could such stereotypical, emotionally-charged accusations be one of the main reasons why relations between Lithuania’s diaspora groups and their countrymen back home have become strained?
As psychiatrist Dr, Aaron T. Beck and others have noted, accusatory remarks are often perceived as threats by those targeted for verbal attack. Recriminations follow and escalate into verbal shooting matches that solidify hostilities between individuals and groups that previously enjoyed friendly relations.
Although debate is an inevitable and even desirable characteristic of free democratic societies, inflammatory finger-pointing can undermine a country’s national cohesion, political stability, and economic development. As individuals, what can we do to curb the spiral of anger-promoting speech that has surfaced within the world-wide Lithuanian community?
Learn and Teach Tolerance
Anger short-circuits our rational faculties, undermines problem-solving, alienates us from our fellow human beings, and puts us at increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses. By learning to adopt a tolerant attitude towards what others say or do, we not only help ourselves, but we help others. As Albert Einstein said, "Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach."
The next time you feel the impulse to respond angrily to inflammatory accusations, remember that those making them are in the throes of anger themselves. Or they are venting their rage by trying to provoke you. In either case, what they say or write does not merit being taken seriously.
We can disengage from inflammatory rhetoric by using our reason to identify the logical fallacies of their statements. To say that Soviet rule has “ruined an entire generation of Lithuanians” is a gross overgeneralization. As Vilnius-born poet Sergey Kanovich, son of the prominent novelist Grigorijus Kanovicius, has pointed out, “Life is not all black and white…Good people were sometimes brought up in Soviet Lithuania and even led Sajudis.” Similarly, to characterize all Lithuanian Americans as wealthy cowards is to stereotype a mass of individual human beings -- most of whom are hard-working and far from rich -- with a highly pejorative label.
Instead of responding to slurs, we can simply ignore them. Eleanor Roosevelt said that “nobody can make you inferior without your permission.” If you do choose to respond, it’s best to state your position objectively, focusing on facts and offering productive solutions.
Judgmental references to Lithuanians, Lithuanian-Americans, or any other group of people are virtually meaningless unless accompanied by qualifying words like some, many, often, or occasionally. In the absence of qualifiers, people tend to interpret group labels in absolute terms that fail to capture the individuality of others. By avoiding overgeneralizations and stereotypes, we can curb our human inclination towards impulsive irrational thinking and set an example for others to follow.
Strengthen Cultural Bonds
Another way we can help reduce divisiveness in the world-wide Lithuanian community is by participating in cultural events and organizations that emphasize what Lithuanians have in common. While political activities often divide people, cultural activities strengthen the bonds that tie them together.
During an interview at the March 11th Lithuanian independence celebration, Agne Vertelkaite, Cultural and Economic Affairs Officer at Consulate General of the Republic of Lithuania in Chicago, said that “Cultural events and activities provide Lithuanians abroad and at home with a particularly effective way to preserve their sense of national identity.” As an example, she cited the Lithuanian youth folk dance group Ugnele from Vilnius which performed in St. Louis on March 9th and in Chicago on March 11th, 2012 under the sponsorship of the Lithuanian government.
Cultural activities have long been one of the mainstays of preserving national identity in the Lithuanian Diaspora. The Viltis Theater troupe established under the leadership of Lithuanian actor Petras Steponavičius, who sadly passed away in 2015, includes members spanning three generations of Lithuanian emigration.
Just as the internet can spread divisiveness and hate, so it can serve as a tool for opening channels of communication and strengthening national cohesion. . E-magazines like VilNews as well as Facebook pages like “We Love Lithuania,” “Our Mom’s Lithuanian Recipes,” and “The National Lithuanian American Hall of Fame” are just a few of the of internet sites where Lithuanian cultural achievements, traditions, and customs are gaining widespread appreciation.
By taking part in Lithuanian cultural activities, we can refuse to submit to the stereotypical thinking that divides us. Instead of forming in-groups and out-groups, we can transcend negligible and temporary differences and help cultivate a sense of national unity and mutual understanding. As internationally-renowned American-Lithuanian film-maker Jonas Mekas has pointed out, a small country like Lithuania cannot allow itself to give away her children.
Beck, A. T. (1999). The cognitive basis of anger, hostility, and violence. New York: Harper Collins.
Dozier, R. W. (2002). Why we hate: Understanding, curbing, and eliminating hate in ourselves and our World. New York: McGraw-Hill.
||BORIS VYTAUTAS BAKUNAS
I’m an educational psychologist and independent consultant whose major goal is to share the learning, thinking, and emotional self-help skills that will help people of all ages achieve the things they want out of life – in school, on the job, and in daily life. I’m also a teacher with over 29 years experience at the junior high, high-school, and college levels. Currently I teach graduate professional development courses for educators at St. Xavier University/International Renewal Institute, where my students say I’m “a knowledgeable, down-to-earth instructor with a great sense of humor.” I say, “If you love what you do, a sense of humor comes naturally.” My formal educational background includes Master's degrees in English and Special Education, and a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. My research and articles have appeared in Applied Psycholinguistics, Learning, Principal, The Clearinghouse, and Education Digest. I’ve been a full member of the American Psychological Association since 1994.
THE ABOVE VilNews ARTICLE WAS FIRST TIME PUBLISHED IN 2012
Comments from 2012
Although, physically, Lithuanians may live oceans apart, pushing each other further away only hinders the progress of the Lithuanian nation. As this article points out, cultural promotion and exchange between all Lithuanians can solidify and preserve our national identity. Organizations, such as, the National Lithuanian Hall of Fame, and the newly established Lithuanian-American Theater "Viltis" seek to promote Lithuanian culture in America, and at the same time, reach out and recognize achievements of Lithuanians in Lithuania.
One only has to look at history to learn that peoples united for a purpose or cause will always achieve their goals.
In 2011, two highly-acclaimed novels about the horrors of Soviet oppression were published. "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys told the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who along with her family was exiled to Siberia. Both hard-cover and paperback editions of "Between Shades of Gray" hit the New York Times best-seller list..
Antanas Sileika's novel "Underground" depicts the armed resistance of the Lithuanian partisans against the Soviet invaders and their collaborators. "Underground's" Lukas, is based on Lithuania's most famous partisan, Juozas Luksa--Daumantas. :"Underground" was picked as on of the best novels in English published in 2011 by The Globe and Mail. I have heard that the United States edition of Sileika's novel will be published within a few weeks.
2011 also saw the publication of Ellen Cassedy's book "We Are Here," which recounts the author's personal quest to understand how the people of Lithuania -- Jews and non-Jews -- are dealing with the horrors of the Nazi and Soviet past in order to build a new and better future. Ellen was inspired to write her book when her uncle, a Holocaust survivor, gave her a slip of paper and said, "Read this."
All three books, written by children of Lithuanians who escaped execution or exile, are helping to acquaint English-speaking public with one of the most tragic and heroic periods of Lithuanian history. They will also help educate a new generation of Lithuanians about the long suppressed history of Lithuania during and after World War II.
I am very happy that The National Lithuanian Hall of Fame is playing such an active role in helping to publicize all three books. This new organization has already donated more than five thousand dollars to help Lithuanian film director Tomas Donela secure the film right to "Underground." It is also making great progress in getting "Between Shades of Gray" on the reading lists of American schools and doing all it can to promote "We Are Here."
How can there be any divisiveness among Lithuanians in regards the terrors of the Gulag and the Holocaust? I don't have an answer to that question. I only know that during my own long life I have encountered several. I've spoken to and interviewed Lithuanians who collaborated with Nazis and with Soviet Communists. I've heard expressions of anti-Semitism, and I've heard several Lithuanians express nostalgia for the "good old days" under Communism. Probably, I'll never fully understand the dark side of human nature. But I also spoke to former partisans, political prisoners, and those who endured Siberian exile. My hope is that as individuals we do all we can to overcome hatred in word and in deed and help each other when we can.
In this endeavor, perhaps we can learn from the example set by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, "“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering--remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you dont want to repeat what happened.”
Boris Vytautas Bakunas
Afriani· 187 weeks ago
I would be torn too. I'm 2nd generation Lithuanian, went to Lithuanian shocol (and hated it at the time), Lithuanian scout camp and Neringa until I was 13 and my first visit to Lietuva was at 13. I was actually in Lietuva the summer when 7 border guards were killed and visited the graves of the fallen. The whole trip was an intense experience that I don't think I would have appreciated had I been younger. I say, save up for Letuva for when your kids can really understand the importance of the trip, and go for Disney. I went there for the first time when I was about 7 or 8 and there is definately a magic about it at that age (but I think that magic is there at any age).
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