LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 29, No.3 - Fall 1983
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1983 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
TOWARD A CHAIR
OF LITHUANIAN STUDIES
The Ohio State University
The free world has given refuge, fresh hope and a renewed sense of identity to tens of thousands of Lithuanian exiles after World War II. Many were intellectuals — artists, scholars, important figures in the cultural and political life of their native country, and others came from various walks of life, but everyone carried with them the memory and often also the documents: books or archives, testifying to the achievements of the years of independence and of the earlier indigenous and international cultural traditions rooted in the country's history.
The crowded, artificial life in Displaced Persons camps immediately after the war did not prevent the exiles from reconstructing scholarly and cultural activities modeled on their previous patterns, as these existed in Lithuania before the German and Soviet occupations. Exiled writers turned to their Muse to help them transform the memory of lost home and to confront the realities of their present condition. In doing so, they also created a continuum with the past and thus increased the value of our cultural heritage. Actors put on plays on the cramped stages of
refugee barracks; painters sought opportunities to exhibit their works and to deepen their knowledge and skills in such art schools open to them in war-shattered Europe. A network of highschools was established according to the standards of the previous Lithuanian educational system, and this gave the opportunity for many young people to finish their studies and qualify for the university. The scholars pooled their resources with the Latvian and Estonian academics in exile to institute a full-fledged Baltic University in Hamburg, Germany, which gave advanced degrees in various fields.
Education and culture may not only adorn a country but, in an important sense, create one as well; after a while it began to seem almost as if we had built a "Lithuania away from home" on an alien soil and in transitional time. Therefore, the resettlement in various countries of the Free World, basically completed around 1949, had for some the effect of a "second exile". Another, more complex, period of readjustment was necessary before cultural activities could pick up again. The largest numbers of Lithuanians went to live in the United States and Canada, advanced industrial countries which required a major reorientation in the life style and future expectations of refugees from quiet Arcadian places.
The first challenge was the necessity to make a living; this revealed that in some cases the former professional skills were inapplicable in the new linguistic and social environment. Former army officers, members of administrative occupations, judges and people with comparable backgrounds were forced to earn their wages by manual labor at the beginning, and many continued to do so until their retirement. This created for them a feeling of alienation from the new country, a desire to turn inward, to the companionship of their fellow-exiles, where they could still sustain their former status, if not their professions, and become important members of newly established ethnic organizations, some of which were political in nature and aspired to the eventual liberation of the homeland. Others pursued cultural aims, but subordinated these to the main challenge of the struggle for freedom in Lithuania, and thus
they also acquired some of the same hermetical propensities which existed in the political life of the community. This helped to sustain the prevalent attitude that we are but "guests" in the new countries and to reduce our cultural ambitions to enterprises of limited, "internal" scope. In the meantime, people in the medical and allied professions were able to reestablish their professional lives, as did many specialists in the technical fields, thus creating a prosperous segment of the community which was expected to and willingly gave its financial support to the political and cultural organizations as they existed. The younger generation envisaged their future in terms of higher education leading mostly to "practical" skills; not very many wished to continue with the old "European" attitudes that the truly important human activities and professions pertain precisely to the humanities. In any generation, significant numbers of those who succeeded best in the new surroundings also tended to identify themselves less with their inherited ethnic values, including the political attitudes. The "patriotic iceberg" of the Lithuanian exile community started melting around its edges in the warm waters of a welcoming new society, and the process is still continuing, slowly, but inexorably.
All these factors led in time to the formation of an exile community which tended to become more rigid in its traditional values as it declined in size and strength while at the same time growing more prosperous in material possessions. At this point, a number of people in the cultural organizations, together with individuals in the academic profession, began to realize anew the importance of the idea that culture may indeed create a nation. The feeling grew that, while we do have all sorts of cultural activities going on, some, like the World Lithuanian Youth Congresses and Song Festivals, quite massive in scale and others, like the Symposia in Arts and Sciences held periodically in Chicago, outstanding in intellectual quality, nevertheless, the edifice of Lithuanian culture abroad needed the keystone of a permanent academic institution. Only the Universitas, in its best traditional conception, could provide the ideas and inspiration needed to avoid the
threatening degeneration of cultural activities to the level of mere "polka clubs" and to offer the best educated members of the community the challenge and vision of Lithuania as an enduring spiritual entity, transcending its origins in exile to cast its light upon the future generations both at home and abroad.
This meant in practice that ways must be sought to establish an endowed Chair of Lithuanian studies associated with some fully accredited American university, where it would have the status and the facilities required to permit it to function as a focal point in the development of a legitimate academic discipline. This idea was first presented to the general congress of the World Lithuanian Community held in Toronto in 1978. The response was very positive and led to further steps. In 1980, representatives of the governing boards of the World and United States and Canadian Lithuanian communities as well as of the World, US and Canadian Youth Organizations met in Southfield, Michigan and approved the idea of a Chair of Lithuanian Studies, entrusting the governing board of the World Lithuanian Community to take steps toward its realization. In 1981, the Board met in Chicago and adopted a set of resolutions obligating itself to seek the establishment of the Chair at an appropriate American academic institution and also to start fund-raising activities for its endowment. The Institution chosen was the University of Illinois at Chicago. This is a relatively young and dynamic institution, located in the city where the largest numbers of Lithuanians live, and it already has undergraduate programs going in Lithuanian language and literature. After successful discussions with the University, an agreement was signed in 1981.
This agreement calls for the establishment of a Chair of Lithuanian Studies to which purpose the Lithuanian Community shall contribute $600,000 in endowment funds, and the University $150,000 to the total of $750,000 which will serve as capital for investment income to support the appropriate academic activities of the Chair. The search for a distinguished professor to head the activities of the Chair will be instituted in autumn, 1983. Given the success of the present and future fund raising campaings, the Chair should
be able to sustain intensive academic research, including special stipends for visiting scholars, buildup of library holdings and financial assistance to graduate students seeking advanced degrees in Lithuanian studies. At the beginning, the main emphasis is to be placed on Lithuanian language and literature, but as soon as the resources of the Chair should permit it, both research and teaching activities would expand to other fields within the broad general concept of "Lituanistics," including history, social sciences and so on. At this point in time, fund raising has begun and enthusiasm is mounting in the Lithuanian community for this highly significant enterprise, which might even be considered as the crowning achievement of the entire history of Lithuanian community in the Free World.
The Chair will be able to contribute to a culturally and ethnically mature resolution of the main dilemma of any exile community: the question of survival as an ethnic entity and as cultural tradition in the face of the unrelenting forces of assimilation. The hermetic view tends to call for "preservation" of values, meaning by this their defense from outside influences, be they linguistic, cultural or whatever. The assimilationists have lost all anxiety about their old ethnic identity and are now concerned with acquiring the new one of the land in which they live. An informed view, such as can be developed in serious academic studies of all the issues involved, may well establish that ethnic identity is a dynamic entity, one which can only be sustained and strengthened by a conscious and self-confident acquisition of supra-national values and achievements and their transformation inside the national ethos according to its basic internal laws of development. No national or ethnic entity can hope to survive if it does not expect to grow, and growth is only possible if there is no fear of cross-fertilization of ideas, traditions and cultures. The Chair of Lithuanian Studies, maintaining as it will a constant and intense exchange of ideas with the mainstream of humanistic thought as it flows through any serious academic institution, will certainly be able to generate concepts and values that would ensure both the survival and growth of cultural, intellectual and even emotional values
connected with the perception of one's ethnic identity. Moreover, its work will make it possible to gain sufficient cultural self-confidence to permit oneself the thought of belonging at one and the same time to one's own people, the country where one now lives, and to the world at large. Paradoxical as it may sound, ethnicity can only survive in the modern world if it can acquire an aspect of cosmopolitanism, sophisticated and mature, such as can be developed in the "market place of ideas" which is a University.
On a more practical plane, the Chair will provide an opportunity for some young persons of Lithuanian, or non-Lithuanian, origin, to study all aspects of Lithuanian culture, language and history on the University level, leading even to an advanced degree. This in turn would permit the development of more specialists in this field, who could then promote some aspects of Lithuanian studies at such academic institutions as they might join. The realities of our time force us to see that in the Soviet Union the entire complex of issues pertaining to Lithuanian history, literature and culture in general has been distorted and bent to conform to the rigid authoritarian postulates of Communism. Although much significant scholarly research is still being done in Soviet Lithuania, there are many important topics and issues which must be studied in the air of freedom in order to bring forth the fruit of truth and to counterbalance the falsehoods being promoted by a dictatorship.
The Lithuanian community in the free world is now strong enough financially to endow and maintain such a Chair of Lithuanian studies. An inspiring example of what can be done is the contribution which the Lithuanian Foundation, established precisely for the purpose of promoting cultural activities, has already made toward the accomplishment of this goal. The response form private persons in various sectors of the community has also been gratifying. We may therefore look forward to the successful completion of this undertaking. The time is right, and the need is great.