LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 34, No. 4 - Winter 1989
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1989 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
SIGITAS GEDA'S ADDRESS TO LITHUANIA
SPOKEN JULY 9, 1988 IN VINGIS PARK, VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
Translated by Tadas Klimas
Note: Sigitas Geda is a Lithuanian poet who has had fifteen books published, some of which have been translated into various European languages. The speech was given on the occasion of a mass public reception of the Lithuanian delegates to the 19th Congress of the Soviet Union's Communist Party. This mass reception occurred before a crowd of 700,000 people, many of whom carried the then illegal tricolor flag of independent Lithuania, which is also the flag of the Lithuanian Restructuring Movement, the organizer of the event. The Lithuanian Restructuring Movement has as its goal a national renewal for Lithuania, including autonomy from Moscow in economics and culture. The July 9, 1988 demonstration was a signal event, incontrovertibly proving the strength of the Lithuanian identity and consciousness in the face of decades of Russification and oppression.
Dear Lithuanians and all whom the earth of Lithuania upholds with welcome! We need mighty manifestations with which to shake Lithuania's bureaucracy with every step. Perhaps it will, when it starts to think of other things, return to its senses. Then things will be different. But now let us start from this, that each of us has or has not a larger or smaller apartment, a house, a roof above our heads, a corner or a yard, to which we will have to return this evening or tomorrow, to our parents, brother's, and sisters, children, and to others whom we hold dear. What will we say to them, what will we say even to ourselves, when we are alone with ourselves; what will we say to those, who have returned to eternal peace today, yesterday or the day before, who lie in the holy earth of Lithuania and even further — in all the places of the earth: In Yakutsk and Udmurdia, not far from the Arctic Circle, and right here unjustly shot to death in the dark and dreadful courtyards of Vilnius or its half-cellars.1 We will say to them we are one of the oldest nations, that we had a giant country and did not have the strength to preserve it, that we survived an endless number of national desecrations, occupations, revolts, exiles, and reawakenings.
Is this the way to speak with the living and the dead?
All of this would be beautiful and sad poetry. But it is more important now to say to them, even this final patch of ground does not lie sure beneath our feet, but we will strive to brace ourselves more firmly upon it, so we could, honestly and nobly and simply, live — and die, should it come to that, in the same way as would the whole world and as every nation, an honorable nation among honorable nations, as the last swimmers from a sinking Noah's ark who do not give way to panic.
We have many opportunities to swim our way out. We only have to gather that which belonged to our fathers and grandfathers: our things and our toys, our flags, our books, our churches and all of our reliquaries. And let no one interfere. Because in the final analysis we are all equally miserable wretches. But it is most important for all of us to remember we have each a singular, immortal and unique soul. I am not saying that each of us, raised as atheists or agnostics, cynics, pragmatics, or nihilists, from tomorrow onward should begin to believe in God; however, one of the paramount reasons why today Lithuanians are so timid, skeptical, lost and apathetic is because we have all grown up under the shadow of Satan. Only through a higher — let us not be afraid to say it — a cosmic purpose for man have the wide world's cultures, nations, and civilizations been able to bear any fruit. Immortal works of art have been created, churches erected, homes, manors, and the cottages of our fathers have been built, all in this belief: that man has a higher, spiritual nature. In this belief, men have not feared to die in the name of their country. To make offerings and sacrifices.
We must decry a higher and purer origin for the life around us in order to be able to defend it. Is this foreign to modern civilization, to twentieth century technocracy, and to the forthcoming future of computers and superconductors? Absolutely not. Our misfortune is that which has been and which is being created in Lithuania is a tasteless and unclean monster. Our glorified cosmopolitan architecture is a monster; our much-lauded collective farms are monsters; monsters, too, are our acclaimed factories and power plants; monsters as well are our own clanking, always under repair and irrepairable, automobiles. A grotesque conglomeration of the relics of socialism and capitalism threatens us, as it does many wrongly oriented central and eastern European countries.
In each step, in each of our words and deeds, we must seek that our activity and function would turn to plastic, and plastic to the spiritual — a unit of beauty and goodness. Such a perspective civilization I saw in Japan, which in its deep coordination of the ancient, middle, and modern ages reminded me of Lithuania. Something similar could have developed in Lithuania's neighbor, Finland, if its fathers' legacy, traditions, characters, and predilections would not have been made foul by a tasteless Americanism.
Much that is foreign and dangerous to Lithuania could be repeated here from defiled socialist Poland. Greatly esteeming that country, with which we are connected not only by many injuries, but also with many fine perceptions, I cannot quietly witness her drama, her convulsive bewilderment in the present.
We must search for our own road, remaining faithful to our customs and traditions, our cultural legacy. We must return once again to the strongest of strong castles and citadels — to Lithuanian minds, that we would not survive as a third-rate nation, but as a unique nation among nations, a sovereign nation among sovereign nations.
Often I have spoken and written that I do not like the status of an aborigine, that I do not want to live in Lithuania like in some kind of Zulu reservation.
Let us be wary of those who always stress we are a nation of tillers of the soil, of those who wish to remind us we have no need of a high human identity, nor of our own political and military public figures, our own industrial, academic, and union leaders, our own pilots and helmsmen, our own nuclear energy specialists and our own astronauts. Hundreds of years before Ciolkovski, Lithuanians had Simanavičius, and in 1933 — Darius and Girënas, who proved we are capable not only of accepting from the world, but also of bestowing upon it, examples of intelligence, nobility, strength, and honor.2
Drive forth from the vocabularies of our serious and frivolous, learned and unschooled men and women the deluded reassurance: "We are a small nation." (The crowd chants "Lie-tu-va!" — The Lithuanian name for Lithuania.)
Even before the war, Balys Sruoga3 said, if a nation is large, then it has within it many fools. But if a nation is small . . . what if it is that way, regardless? In this aspect of the world, it would be gainful to remember an Indian tale about a mouse and an elephant — this is not mind, but the wisdom of one of my friends, living and dead: "The mouse will never conquer the elephant, but at the fateful moment it can run up inside the elephant's trunk and tickle it, so that this terribly swelled up gerbil would begin to sneeze like crazy." Or a Japanese insight: "Can a skinny fellow, let us say Lithuania, overwhelm a giant?" Yes, absolutely yes. One just has to seize that moment, when the giant is balanced upon the toe.
And also in Lithuania, even before the war, one of our most eminent historians, Ignas Jonynas, deduced the reason why Lithuania needs Vilnius.4 Is it only that "We will never quit without Vilnius!" No, with Vilnius we inherit the cultural tradition of the ancient Lithuania state, but with only Kaunas we would be reduced to such a status as Estonia and Latvia. This is why Vilnius, in the words of Oscar Milosz5, is the Athens of the North; why our friend and contemporary the Hungarian A. Boitaras can quietly sigh, "Only through the history of Lithuania is it possible to fully discover and explain much of the history of Central and Eastern Europe, because it is the fullest and most independent historical model." Vilnius to Lithuania is necessary with each of its churches and monasteries, orthodox churches, Madrese, Kinese. And certainly with its synagogue or synagogues, because Vilnius is a holy city for that other nation floundering in a diaspora, the Jews. Vilnius is of European cities, one of the six most beautiful, before and after Amsterdam. Vilnius is for us and for the world. And all of this Geda heaps upon our poor socialist shoulders? All of these Utopias in our run down, silicon, collective-farmed Lithuania, where there is so much fear, so much darkness, so many unsettled accounts. Where an atheist can have no dialogue with a believer, a Communist with a non-party person, a Lithuanian with a Russian, a Russian with a Pole and a Tatar? Yes, here, because here is the only place we have to live and die, to redeem true and non-extant transgressions, to rot with bones irradiated by Chernobyl and Ignalina.6
But before that we need new learned men and women, new diplomats, new jurists and economists. We need doors open to the whole world — to the universities of Cracow, Berlin, Munich, Freiburg and Friburg, Grenoble, Rome and Paris. Russians, Latvians, and Ukrainians need these, too. This is a matter which the great nation must attend to at once.
We need a new type of priest in the line of Vaiţgantas and Putinas7, who would replace their fellows who have become merely compromised psychiatrists. We need a belief in truth, heart, and love — but paramountly a new, deep, and fundamental belief in the higher calling of man on earth.
In this light I would like to see those, who stand here young and beautiful, who will live on after us, and we will be able to withdraw with peaceful hearts.
As my last word, I have the honor of giving voice to the suggestion that we should honor those who lie in peace in the wastes of Siberia and Yakutsk.
(Translated from the August 10, 1988 issue of DRAUGAS, a Lithuanian language daily newspaper published in Chicago, Illinois, which reprinted the speech from the official publication of the Lithuanian Restructuring Movement, MOVEMENT NEWS.)
1 Refers to 250,000 Lithuanians who were deported to Siberia in an effort to subdue resistance to Soviet rule, most of whom died there. Also refers to Lithuanians executed by Soviet security forces.
2 Simanavičius wrote (in Latin) an early book on rockets, artillery. Darius and Girënas were two Lithuanian Americans who daringly flew a single engine plane across the Atlantic, but who died in a crash before reaching their goal of Lithuania.
3 Balys Sruoga (1896-1947), Lithuanian poet, dramatist and scholar.
4 Vilnius, although undeniably part of Lithuania and indeed its ancient capital city, was treacherously invaded by Poland in 1919. Vilnius remained occupied by Poland until World War Two.
5 Oscar Milosz (1877-1939), Lithuanian poet who wrote in French.
6 Ignalina, in Northeast Lithuania, is the largest nuclear reactor complex in the world. One of its reactors is a duplicate of the infamous reactor of Chernobyl. On September 16-17, 1988, Ignalina was the scene of a 16,000-person demonstration which dramatized the Lithuanian nation's concern about the safety of this reactor complex.
7 Vaiţgantas (Juozas Tumas- Vaiţgantas) (1869-1939), Lithuanian priest, writer, journalist, scholar, activist. Putinas (Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas) (1893-1967), Lithuanian poet, playwright, novelist, literary historian and critic.