LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 20, No.3 - Fall 1976
Editors of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1976 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE PROBLEM OF CREATIVE ARTISTIC EXPRESSION IN CONTEMPORARY LITHUANIA
AUŠRA - MARIJA JURAŠIENĖ*
One should really speak about pleasant things, and most probably poetry would fit best for that purpose. "Spring up, o well; sing ye unto it: The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it," it says in the book of Numbers. But my heart is entwined in pain, the suffering of the Lithuanian soil, and my brain is racked by insoluble problems.
It is difficult for me to express myself because I am in a borderline position. On the one hand, I am now here with you, in the West, but, on the other hand, I am still back in Lithuania, with all my soul, with all my feelings. I am still back there with the Lithuanian people, inside the country, inside that literature, which I am to discuss here today. It is not easy for me to express myself to this audience because we have been separated for nigh 30 years. Although I am here, together with you: I see your kind faces, your friendly eyes, but, indeed, a time span of some 30 years separates us, and this time span has, one way or another, influenced our views of various events. One sees events one way from far away, one sees them in another way if one is in the middle of them. In many instances, you may be able to be more objective than we who still feel the fresh yet unhealed wounds. However, I hope, that some of these painful questions may be of interest to you, too.
Throughout these thirty years, your fate has been the fate of exile, both the drama and the freedom of exile: the freedom to decide, to ponder, to evaluate; that has been your suffering and your right. Therefore, you are fully entitled to judge my words.
I have been asked to speak either about today's young Lithuanian writers, or about Lithuanian literature in general, but I would like to permit myself more leeway. My lecture will be improvised, more or less. I will try to discuss one of the most painful problems which anguishes many a person in contemporary Lithuania and which, as far as I have been able to find out so far, poses problems for our people living in the West. The inquiries addressed to me from various American Lithuanian newspapers most frequently concern this: is real creative literature possible in the so-called Soviet literature, under the dictates of the party?
Thus, I will try to talk about this problem, one of the most basic ones, one of the most difficult ones. I would like to sound a note of warning right at the beginning that I will not be able to solve this problem because, indeed, there is hardly anyone who could solve this problem.
Superficially, it would not be difficult to write off this long period and calmly state that there was nothing worthwhile after WW II and that nothing worthwhile could have been achieved. Or, on the other hand, one could be so tolerant that one could accept every word as the pure truth. However, between these two extremes, there are many painful experiences and a huge mass of problems.
This question, which often arises in the minds of people living in the West, is not only the focus of Western mentality. It is a question that tortures people living in Lithuania and in every captive country even more. I will, therefore, try to take a glance at this knotty problem, to which I do not have an answer, but which I myself, possibly, have solved on the personal level by leaving Lithuania. This problem haunts me even now. My generation of writers has discussed this problem many a time putting it this way: under the existing circumstances, would it be better to write, or to keep silent, conscientiously, proudly refusing to write and as the saying goes to cooperate with the regime and with the alien will. It is quite probable that many a talent chose the latter course and, thus, never surfaced. Many a writer selected the former course, and was deformed by the circumstances. It is possible to assume that only future generations will find out that there lived the witnesses of that era who were writing, but we who lived right next door to them, never even suspected that.
Here I would like to quote Solzhenitsyn, who also had to suffer the severe pressure of this very same problem. For many years Solzhenitsyn wrote, we can say, in the underground in banishment, in the camps; he kept writing after his return from the banishment and, for a long time, he was an unknown author. And he kept writing with great devotion, thinking that there are many such writers as himself who, in complete secrecy and wrapped in silence, bear testimony to their time and their truth. I would like to quote now his description of this. He wrote the following before a single book of his had appeared: "The literature of those years that existed and blared publicly, those dozens of thick journals, two literary newspapers devoted to literature, those endless collections and individual novels, and collected works, including literary pieces used for radio productions all these, once and for all, I recognized as false, and I no longer wasted any time and did not get upset by reading them. I knew in advance that they cannot contain anything valuable, anything worthwhile. Not because real talents could not be born. Most certainly, real talents were there, but they perished there, too, because it was a barren soil where they had to sow. I knew that nothing could be grown in this soil. As soon as they started producing literary works both the social novelists and the pathetic dramatists, as well as popular poets and especially the journalists and critics all of them agreed and complied in every area and particularly in one requirement not to say the basic truth, that truth which was totally obvious to the people even without any literature. This oath to keep, oneself from telling the truth is called socialist realism... But years passed, and everything turned out differently, and I had to admit that I had been wrong. The literary production turned out not to have been so barren. No matter how they tried to burn out everything that sustains and waters life, life was sustained and continued to grow nevertheless."
Solzhenitsyn wrote also that he had been mistaken in another question: he had originally thought that there were dozens such as himself. Once having emerged into the public view, he realized that possibly there were only a few scattered lierary items and, furthermore, he was perhaps the only one.
Solzhenitsyn is a representative of a large nation, of an important literature which does not face one problem we face in addition to everything else. We are representatives of a small nation and, comparatively speaking, of a small literature, and our nation is enslaved under the constant danger of Sovietization, Russification, with the constant possibility of disappearing in the endless tracts of the huge empire. This makes the problem for us so much the harder and, to a certain extent, this modifies the aims of Lithuanian literature. The written word in itself and by itself bears testimony, at least in its linguistic nature, that this is Lithuanian literature, and that very fact itself, at least partially, tends to stop the process of de-Lithuanizing our nation, a process that has been introduced from the outside. And the more truthful is this written word, the more reflexes it contains of the living language and the deeper expression of our soul, the more it will guarantee the extension, the nourishment and the creativeness of our culture.
War, occupation and the so-called socialist regime cleft our literature with a painful lash. We, the ones remaining in Lithuania, we were then only children, and we were separated from a part of our literary tradition, from such talents as Aistis, Brazdžionis, Bradūnas, later Nyka - Niliūnas, Nagys, Škėma, Mackus. Even those writers who had almost become classics before the war, they returned only very slowly to their literature. Very slowly, and only with great efforts, such writers as Sruoga, Mykolaitis - Putinas, then, gradually, Krėvė, Vaižgantas returned. Only recently Baltrušaitis was also rehabilitated. Mačernis had returned seven or eight years ago, but even then, in the book of his poems, he was called a fascist. Miškinis and other important writers returned from the camps.
Although it is customary for the Russians themselves to say in reference to their own government, "oni liubili tol'ko miortvyx" ('they loved only the dead'), they did not even like our dead writers. Even though our classical writers returned to our literature, but it has always remained a difficult problem to analyze them, to study their works. One had to evaluate them properly and to keep them in their allocated place. And that evaluation and placing were not left up to our own reason and intellect. There were always rules, too, which had to be observed whenever one wrote master's theses, dissertations, articles, etc. In spite of all that, our classics did return, some earlier, some later. The future generations which do not remember them as living, which did not know what they have given us, those luminous and great personalities by their very presence in the vivid memory these future generations will not have that, but they will have their printed word.
Of course, their return, in many a case, was not a simple affair: in some cases the contemporary writers had to undergo all kinds of pressures. To express things bluntly, it might have been better, if some of them had not returned to our literature, but had remained as they were earlier. Take, for example, Antanas Miškinis. His real creative writing stopped with the war. On the other hand, I myself was destined to edit his two-volume collection, in which his earlier pre-war poetry was republished and thus returned and revived. For this, possibly, it was worthwhile for him to write things which did not do him any honor.
Let us now assume that real creative writing is impossible. (We were talking here about the inherited literature which has already appeared in the years of independence.) Let us say that after WW II not a single word could be published without having gone through the censorship. It follows then that a talented and conscientious writer had to stop writing or, at least, had to stop publishing. But then we would not have had Mykolaitis - Putinas' sonnets, or his Būties valanda ('The Hour of Existence') or his Langas ('Window'), or Simonaitytė's trilogy, or the dramas and short stories of Grušas. Possibly the most significant example in this connection would be Grušas, whose most important works were created in his older days. This example also contradicts the supposed law that the writer's greatest potential is in his youth. After having been silent for fifteen years, Grušas, who had not been able to force himself to write according to the prescripts of the Soviet government and of the party, could no longer hold out. As soon as he perceived the slightest possibility of saying what had been tormenting his mind and his heart. I remember his "physical" return into our literature around 1962. One hot day Grušas showed up at the publishing house dressed in an extremely long black overcoat, with galoshes and a shawl, all as though frozen, tired and much older looking than his real age. He sat like the accused one on a velvet-covered dark blue sofa in the office of the editor-in-chief and he listened to these younger people, not writers themselves, instruct him how to edit and correct his old works, how to adapt them to the new spirit of the present time. But several years went by and Grušas was rejuvenated. And, just before we had to depart from Lithuania, and especially before 1972, I could heartily admire the youthfulness of his mind. He was very young at heart, in his interests and full of creative energy. His dramas, at that time, were some of the most significant events of our dramaturgy. I edited his Apsakymai ("Narratives') in which he was trying to express his internal truth. This means that his suffering was somehow justified. But if I were only to say that, it would then appear that this depends on one's self-decision on whether to return to writing and publishing, or not. And, having paid in suffering, having offered, as it were, a certain tribute, one does return. Here we see another problem which, perhaps, we should discuss separately. This problem is the dependence of the writer on the situation and the time. This is a very difficult problem for those who live in Lithuania. Things which were permitted in 1966 could never have been done in 1956. In the same vein, what was permissible and possible in 1967, 1968 or 1970, would no longer be allowed now. One has really to choose the right moment to get through that small and narrow crack, one has to know when one can say his own word, even though with half-opened lips. If one succeeds in affirming his or her position initially, one may be allowed to publish one's second and third book as well. If one did not manage to hit the exact crack at the very beginning, or if one was not in time to do it, then a long and difficult period of waiting awaits one, that of remaining almost eternally "the young writer". Or one can write for his desk drawers.
What does it mean, this "writing for one's desk drawers"? This means that one writes for himself and shows his writings to no one. Solzhenitsyn tells us that he had written things and hid them in empty champagne bottles, in marmalade jars, in secret hiding places. It is possible that Solzhenitsyn was under more intense observation, after spending so many years in the camps. But that also goes for all the other people who have to write sharing this with nobody: this should not reach those ears which are not supposed to hear of this. Otherwise these writings would be as though addressed directly to the security police who will then read and dig around in your soul. Then they will condemn and punish you, accusing you of all kinds of crimes. You cannot let even your closest friends know about your writing, if you don't want others to find out. For a writer who has been officially recognized, it is a little easier, but the beginner has no other way.
Not a single beginning writer is sure of his calling for the simple reason that he was taught how to write in primary, secondary school, even at the university. The university supplies you with some doses of culture, some knowledge; you are graduated, and you can say, "Why can't I write, too?" And, as we know, it is natural for a Lithuanian to write. If he does not write, he sings. This nation of lyricists, like a nightingale, cannot keep silent. And even now, when we read the Lithuanian Catholic Church Chronicle we see that many of those tried in Soviet courts express their last appeal in verses. Nobody knew that they had been writing before, that they had intended to become poets.
How does one find out if one is, indeed, a writer, that one can really write something valuable? Those who keep writing for their desk drawers, will start suffocating, will eventually become angry, will get certain complexes. This is a difficult road. Solzhenitsyn did hold out on this road for a long time, but he could not continue on it any longer. And so, Solzhenitsyn finally realized that he was talking to himself, as it were, and finally submitted the manuscript of his One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to the Novyj mir.
Even if all writers could unanimously agree not to publish, there would be others who would. Nature does not tolerate a vacuum. And then literature would be flooded by would-be writers, and by those writing hacks who do not value the conscientious and truthful word, who do not care about the importance of creative literary work; literature would be produced by those who are simply bent on hacking out a literary career and become writers without the talent and calling. This was proven by the various ups and downs in the repression cum the slight thaw in recent years. As soon as the screws were tightened, all at once the newspapers and journals were flooded by pseudopoets, pseudojournalists and pseudowriters.
But, perhaps, such solidarity would be a certain expression of protest? Perhaps it would result in something interesting, something unpredictable? Imagine: all of a sudden nothing at all is published in Lithuanian literature! Such an illusion seems to be effective, but what would it produce? What would be its results? Nobody can predict this.
We shall now leave this problem: to write or not to write, to publish or not to publish. This is really in the realm of personal decision. Let us now turn to these writers who do get published, who continue writing and who, at the present time, are the "cream of the crop", if one may express oneself thus.
I would not be able to even briefly survey them all because the Writers' Society now has over two hundred members, probably approaching three hundred. There are groups of young writers in every city. There are many of those young writers. How many of them are "real" writers? Only time will decide that, but not more than approximately 20-30% will remain writers. But the ones which are now called Soviet writers will remain. Whether we like it or not, we will not be able to eradicate from Lithuanian literature such writers as Baltušis, Mieželaitis, Marcinkevičius, Lankauskas, Glinskis, Vaičiūnaitė, Geda, Aputis. Time will play its role, quite possibly, in reversing the scale of value judgment. Those who are now at the top, the so-called laureates, as it were, those who are now being called outstanding and deserving cultural leaders, they may go down to the bottom of the measuring scale. One, possibly, will then hear such pronouncements and/or statements that, in the time of such and such a writer not too well-known at the moment there was also such a writer, as, let us say, Mieželaitis. Nevertheless, one has to consider the very fact that these writers did publish their works, and some of these books will remain. Thus, since there are stringent controls in other arts and since, for instance, film-making appears to be a very dangerous art, then literature, too, is dangerous in its own way. According to a Lithuanian saying, "What is written cannot be hewn out even by an ax". Other arts are dangerous in their implicit instantaneous effect right at the time of their presentation, but written literature remains through time. Literature may not have its real fermenting effect at the moment of its birth, but it can have a delayed effect and ever present latent power. And that can last through several generations. After twenty years someone may open a book and notice something in it that had escaped the attention of those who were contemporary with the publication of the book.
But, then, how did these writers manage to write their books and have them published? In other words, is their work really socialist realism? What sage could answer that question! For the simple reason that one does not know how to define this socialist realism. There have been conferences, congresses, symposia in which the nature of socialist realism was discussed, but there still is no precise definition. In reality, socialist realism is a very slippery and very highly expandable and contractible frame. It may contract itself to the size of an eye of a needle and then, whenever needed it may be expanded to allow someone to get through who should really be considered standing far away from any kind of realism.
When the political situation becomes more difficult, the screws are tightened up again, the party deems it necessary to proclaim certain sacrosanct and necessary criteria. They are called partyism and populism.
An additional feature of socialist realism is the faith in the victory of communism, its bright future, and, emanating from that, an incessant optimism, just bursting at the seams. This latter is the affirmation that the communist regime is the most progressive regime in the world, that this new and young country is marching forward with seven-league boots. The world is astounded by its great communistic projects, its feats in space, peace, etc. When one juxtaposes these clichés with reality, they sound like parody. Even if one were to disregard completely the fact of the occupation, enslavement, even then one may ask oneself very naturally: why does a writer have to write only in an optimistic vein, when he, by the very act of creative writing, has to solve the problem of existence, existential problems and the like. And, even in the latter situation, when he sees tragic situations developing, nevertheless, he must remain an optimist! On the other hand what is the marvelous significance of the gigantic communist projects, various huge engineering feats which were built by the hands of political prisoners, sacrificing their health and their lives? What does peace mean, when the Soviet Union is arming herself more and more every day? When the red armies like with an iron ring encircle not only the Soviet Union, but all the people's democracies as well? What do the achievements in space mean when they serve more for propaganda than for scientific research?
But, if one is really determined to write creatively, may be it would be better to write about these things which are not equitable as far as a free person is concerned, maybe it would be better not to discuss how democracy becomes here demagogy, truth becomes lies and clichés, maybe it is better just to try to expand a little these frames of socialist realism and, through its cracks, to express even a little part of one's creative potential, even a little piece of one's pining soul, even a little ray of the inimitable light that is the particular and individual talent given to one particular writer. Let it be a shade of truth, a stroke of verity. After all, most probably, if these socialist realism frames were adopted in all their rigor, two thirds of the regime-approved writers would find it impossible to stick to them completely faithfully.
One has, indeed, to learn this difficult art: one has to have a certain feeling as to the requirements of any given political - cultural situation, and one has to know what is permissible at any given moment. If one comes out with a daring, hasty literary gesture, one may shatter all the barricades that were built throughout a long period of time. When these go down, you will have to keep silent. The dependence of the writer upon the political -cultural situation can be suitably illustrated from the so-called Khrushchev times, that period of thaw. In the immediate post-war years, when blood was still being shed (in the Lithuanian partisan war against the USSR) literature was very optimistic: they blared the trumpets of joy, and the drums of optimism were booming. At that time, there was no simple human and humane voice that would speak about simple, human events. Around 1960 when the Stalin cult was being dismantled, everybody was lost waiting to see what would happen next. What is now permitted and what is prohibited? Gradually, however, the process of thaw set in, and at this time, many a talented and gifted writer managed to squeeze in and publish. Some of these writers are still being called the young writers, but their positions are already firm in our literature.
In 1960 -1962 there appeared the first, very thin books by the poetess Vaičiūnaitė (a tiny selection of lyrical poetry "Pavasario akvarelės",) 'The Water Colors of Spring'), Aputis narratives "Bičių duona" ('The Bread of the Bees'), Šimkus a selection of poetry "Gražiausia sekundė" ('During the Most Beautiful Second'), Martinaitis, Juškaitis. Somewhat later there appeared Glinskis with his tremendously influential fresh and innovative language. Around 1966, Geda burst into print, lighting up the literary sky like lightning, then Šaltenis and Jacinevičius. I mention here not all, but only a few. Nevertheless, a new generation appeared, bringing with it many new and creative features. I cite this generation as an example, without intending to analyze it further since it appeared without any special manifestoes, without announcing any special innovations. It had simply turned more toward the spiritual side of life, trying to seek maximally possible verity and truth. The new generation all consider creative writing to be a sacred duty. This generation considered that compromising is not the right way, but a difficult and unnatural way. It would not be fair not to mention that, by this time, some other writers had already made certain literary achievements: the poets Mieželaitis, later Marcinkevičius, Maldonis, Degutytė; prose writers Baltušis, Sluckis, Lankauskas and others.
As we see, some fresh air was possible. Those beginners who did not manage to have their first, and then their second books published, those who were not accepted into the Writers' Society, these got into a complicated situation. Take, for example, Tomas Venclova. He published only one single selection in the late sixties and then he expressed himself more as a literary historian, researcher, translator. It is quite possible that many remained unpublished and unheard of.
Even though we mentioned only a few names, it is clear that Lithuanian literature today is not a fruitless soil. Although the rules of the game are the same, as I already mentioned, although every writer has to stick to the same requirements, there are no common, general rules of self-adaptation to these rules and these requirements. The path of each individual writer, of each talent is different. This depends upon his personality, upon the particular conditions in which he started to write and upon the direction which he took.
Schematically, one could distinguish several paths of self-adaptation. But merely very schematically. Let us start with a complete submission, when one's conscience and heart keep silent, and when one is led only by the party card and the powerful ambition to make a career. Once in a while this may be not submission, but real true blue belief. Although today it is not easy to find people who would still believe in the self-compromising communist ideals, there are people who do not seriously question any slogans, and who see only one way that regime in which they live. We will, I think, not even bother to talk about such writers.
The second path in this self-adaptation, or submission, is partial adaptation: "Render unto God what is God's, and unto Caesar what is Caesar's", or "I will do what is required of me, but I will write the way I want to write". The majority of Lithuanian writers in Lithuania had chosen the latter path until into the seventies, and, indeed, their achievements are considerable. Take Marcinkevičius, or even Mieželaitis. Mieželaitis' collection of poems "Mano lakštingala" ('My Nightingale') was very nice poetry with beautiful timbre, before the author was caught up in the gigantic competition of winning the official prize. But he does have his God-given talent, and he has helped many writers, even by the very fact that he has risen to such "heights" that he is a respected guest in Moscow. He does represent Lithuanian literature at many and various occasions, he is, after all, the Lenin prize laureate. This fact alone was also of some help to Lithuania and to Lithuanian literature. This, at least partially, made it possible for the young poets, as though through a crack, to express a little more freely their world-view, their search, their experiments with new and fresh voices.
The case of Marcinkevičius is a very complicated one. He is a writer, a poet of considerable talent who keenly feels his duty as a responsible writer as well as his calling to write. He considers this to be the mission of his life. Even as a mission for the Lithuanian spirit. Whenever he touches in his poetry the Lithuanian soil, whenever he talks of Lithuania itself, his verses flow harmoniously, full of love for his homeland. These verses affect everybody, they are beautiful and clean. In other genres he has not been so successful, as one can see at least in part with his dramas, and especially in his prose. Not all of his poetry is of equal importance and value, but the more heartfelt, the more sincere poems easily find their way into the hearts of the readers. Let us take the Marcinkevičius poem in which he describes his native village. With what love, longing, and with what exquisite pain:
My native village, the varicolored butterfly!
This thy green meadow my memory,
where you darted about trilling, light and gay,
like festive kerchief in the rye.
My native village: the fence post half-slanting,
the broken spoon, the pocket knife without the handle,
the walking path, running off into the orchards of childhood,
in which the halo of my Mother's face appears.
My native village: my Father's wooden shoe, cracked,
a cup of warm milk late at night,
my Sister's prayer book, her primer,
and the apple lying in the thistles.
My native village: a crumb of bread, hard and dry,
the coughing of an invalid at night,
the torn shackle, warm mouth of our cow,
Holy Communion, stuck to the palate.
My native village: smoke-covered globe of olden lamp,
my socks with holes, the rye in sheaves,
the spinning wheel, a pitcher of maple sap,
and fire-smoke, twirling into the sky.
My native village, the cuckoo clamoring in the birches!
Under your deep-rooted heart
like under the enchanted stone has hidden
my childhood that timorous eel.
My native village, my beautiful butterfly!
Under your age ancient threshold
until now there lie miraculous words,
which, perhaps, nobody will ever need.
The poet can write thus only if he really loves his native soil, and this childhood of his goes to pre-war Lithuania, and brings present-day Lithuania to that of the pre-war years. On the other hand, permission to write like that belongs only to a writer of the prominence and achievements of Marcinkevičius.
Thus, the poet has to progress along a certain road, affirm a certain position, be assured of the approval of the higher ups in order to be permitted to say more than is permitted for an ordinary writer. Is it worthwhile taking such a road, to make all the compromises involved, all this expression of un-truth, in order to be able to express a larger proportion of truth in the end? The fact is that such a poem will remain for posterity. To be sure, next to such a poem, one will have to contend with one of Marcinkevičius' poems dedicated to Lenin. His dramas will also persevere in the Lithuanian literary world. These dramas which have several meanings running concurrently are interesting not only as works of literature per se, not only as a result of the problems that they raise, but also as a result of those doubts, those conflicts of conscience expressed in them.
By the way, symptomatic in this sense is the poem of Marcinkevičius "Mediniai tiltai" ('Wooden Bridges') in which he delineates his mission as it were:
The gates of the century close,
Whatever we managed, we did,
We did not deliberate: is it worth, or not,
"It is necessary", said we...
And sometimes, in the springtime,
with the horizon sinking on the shore,
History will remunerate us,
She will take us along with her.
Most probably, history will repay those who have done everything they were able to accomplish...
But let us now return to the painful main problem. There is yet a third way of self-adaptation, characteristic for the younger generation which I have mentioned earlier. That is the effort to achieve the maximum of truth. If something that you wrote can be published, fine; if it is not permitted, they'll simply write it off. But this road, too, is impossible without compromises, although smaller ones. For example, one's collection of poems will be published minus twenty, sometimes as many as fifty poems; or your historical narrative will be published and shorter narratives will be denied publication. This is a slow and unproductive way, keeping the author in the position of uncertainty all the time, producing a complex of guilt, a shadow, the danger of being placed on the black list.
This double play of the artist inside the intestines of the powerful totalitarian system, has, as the proverbial stick, two ends. After all, they say that the pen is a touchy instrument, and, if you begin to play false notes with it, you will never regain its penetrating sharp power, its clean and pure sound.
If one stands on the sidelines and watches Art and Literature, written in caps, all these self-adaptations, all this crawling, all these compromises would seem rather repulsive. But the more powerful the talent which is given to an artist, the more he can see, the deeper he can grasp, and then this third way gives him excruciating suffering. That is not easy. On the one hand, he dedicates himself to this suffering, in trying, even though partially, to express his true self. On the other hand, this difficult effort, as we have seen, also has a patriotic Lithuanian mission. From the one side, there is the pressure from the suppression, from the other side there are the natural resilient forces of the Lithuanian nation, a nation which wants to survive at any cost. I repeat: at any cost. This is a terrible pronouncement, but that's how it is.
I do not think that a solitary individual would have created all that has been done in Lithuanian literature, even with all the large compromises, if an entire ant-hill of unseen, conscientious people had not been contributing to these efforts, each with his or her own bit. This is that invisible crowd of people working in the cultural areas. They are not heroes, they never intended to be heroes, they are full of fear. But who will dare to throw a stone at a person who lives in the land of terror, in the atmosphere of pathological fear? And so, through these huge combined efforts, there appeared literary works and this made us happy. And all the Lithuanians in Lithuania have been able to appreciate these literary works very much, perhaps much more than here in the West, because spiritual, patriotic and moral values are greatly appreciated in present-day Lithuania, because only such values keep up the spirit and give value to all these efforts and risks.
If creative writing did not have such close ties with one's heart and with one's conscience, if creative writing were not a spiritual action, expressing itself via metaphors, as Juozas Grušas has stated, if one could control this spiritual action in a manner that would not deform it, and if one could direct it at will, the problem would be much easier to solve. We could then say: "Brethren, carry this cross of yours, your sins will be forgiven, and your efforts will be rewarded, even though after death." This is like the line from Marcinkevičius' poem we cited earlier: "Maybe history will take us along". But the secret of creative talent is unexplainable. Some person may be able to write creatively under duress and pressure, he can find his theme that will go unchallenged by the censors, and which will lead him harmlessly through the tough underbrush of suppressed life. And another one will get hung on the first thorny bush.
I keep thinking that, as far as Lithuanian literature is concerned, literature that really achieved a great deal in the last decades, much more than literatures of other small nations, or of even larger but captive nations living in the orbit of the USSR, I keep thinking that this Lithuanian literature was aided by the fact that Lithuanians are lyricists by nature. Even the Lithuanian prose is mainly lyrical in character, and the lyrical poetry is more or less the voice of art, expressed in the language of metaphors, and one may understand it as one pleases.
Creative writing, creative work makes it possible for the writer/artist to escape the aimlessness of everyday humdrum existence, the creative work gives him/her a great feeling of compensation, this creative work has a national mission, but, at the same time, it exposes all the twists of conscience. Creative writing is both full of pitfalls and vengeful. One can, for example, ask a hypothetical question: how would the very same poets and writers have written in freedom? What could have Marcinkevičius, Mieželaitis created? How suddenly, perhaps, we would have seen the talent of Juozas Glinskis rise to great heights! What kind of wider horizons would have been achieved by the great and talented lyrical poetess Vaičiūnaitė? But these are all merely hypothetical questions. And one more thing. The totalitarian system has so tightly closed the door on truth and information, that some of the writers, although fighting the adverse affects touching their writings trying to balance everything on the edges of possibilities, are not reached by the voice of truth, the complaints of the suppressed and suffering ones. Sometimes, a door opens into the past, more likely into the 18th or 19th centuries. There appears one drama, then another, poems about Strazdas, about Barbora Radvilaitė appear. Then, all of a sudden, those doors are slammed tightly shut, because it has turned out that history may awaken disapproved, undesirable associations, and, through that, one may say and express more through historical belles lettres than is permissible.
Do the writers know much about how many political prisoners there are in the camps, how many thousands are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, how many are wasting away their lives in the dungeons of the security police? Many of the writers do not even want to know of this, they do not want to perceive how blood smells in the air. But may be it is better not to know, because knowledge burdens conscience, it changes the colors and forces one to choose. And I wonder whether one has the right to condemn them for this. Because what does the democratic society of the world know about the fate of enslaved peoples, about prisoners of conscience being submitted to various tortures in prisons and in forced labor camps? Even such a voice of truth as that of Solzhenitsyn did it find a proper response? How can we accuse those who are under suppression and under fear, when even free people do not have the moral impulse to react to the suffering of those who are right here?
Living in Lithuania now, the artist/writer is under triple bondage. He is under the highest top layer in Moscow which dictates conditions to all areas of cultural life; he is in bondage to the wishes and whims of the government; he depends also on himself because he has grown up under this regime, he is used to having to adapt himself and, in some cases, he has already lost the understanding as to how to draw a line between resistance and safety. And even the type of creative writing which exists in Lithuania today, even such lyrical poetry which gets published is a certain type of resistance sui generis against the annihilation of the Lithuanian nation, against Russification and, therefore, it deserves respect. Only the losses are great. Every deformation of a personality, every mouth sealed by the alien hand, all the expurgated works which lose their own character and their own fragrance when they finally appear in print.
Who is going today to count the losses sustained by Lithuanian literature: all the talents lost, all the variety, the lost impulses of soul and heart? There were also things published which did not deserve to be published at all. Maybe it would have been better if Mykolaitis had not published his collection Sveikinu žemę ('I Salute the Earth'), may be it would have been better if Sruoga had not made a speech at the Congress of Soviet writers; or if Miškinis had stopped writing altogether. But what would have happened to all these people then? Do we have the right to judge this? It would seem that it is better to appreciate and honor the efforts of those people who did their utmost to express their creative spirit in words maybe we should open our minds and hearts wider, maybe we should learn to read, to understand and to appreciate that suffering and those screams and sighs out of which this literature is born.
The problem of the degree of creativity in writing in the frames of socialist realism, one might as well say, is insoluble. This remains a matter of individual decision. And, furthermore, it depends upon the situation in which one finds oneself, at which point of time one enters upon the literary arena. It also depends on what one writes about in his creative works. One's everyday life is to be considered also. One has to stick to the rules of the game and not forget oneself even when one meets people in the course of everyday events of daily life.
Thus, in respecting all those efforts and our own literature, we still must raise one further question for ourselves: who is going to bear witness to the basic truth of our own times, about which Solzhenitsyn speaks? Are we going to have such a writer who will successfully pass Scylla and Charybdis? Are we going to have our own Solzhenitsyn? Who is going to tell the truth about this epoch which Lithuania is now suffering? The question remains unanswered.
* Aušra-Marija Jurašienė (Jurašas (nee Sluckaitė) is the wife of Jonas Jurašas. She is an essayist and literary critic. For a number of years, she had worked in the State Publishing enterprises in Lithuania. In recent years, she has been blacklisted by communist authorities and nothing written by her was allowed to appear in print. In 1974, together with her husband and son, she succeeded in reaching the West. Since January, 1976, she has been living in New York, N. Y. This article is a translation of her lecture given at the Lithuanian Cultural Symposium held in Italy in the summer of 1975.