LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2010 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 56, No.4 - Winter 2010
Editor of this issue: M. G. Slavėnas
Recent Trends in Lithuanian Historiography
VIRGIL KRAPAUSKAS, Ph.D., has been teaching European and World History at Chowan University, Indiana University Northwest and Columbia College Chicago. In the Spring of 2006 he was a visiting professor at Vilnius Pedagogical University. He is the author of Nationalism and Historiography: Nineteenth-Century Lithuanian Historicism (East European Monographs, 2000) and numerous articles.
The litmus test of Lithuanian historiography is the extent of remnants of the Russian Communist mentality imposed during the Soviet occupation. The most innovative and most criticized are the postmodernists who, influenced by the Annales, have freed themselves from Soviet or post-Soviet issues and have introduced new avenues for research. Often using interdisciplinary approaches, they treat Lithuania as part of Europe and a wider world.
Lithuanian historians are as excellent, innovative and erudite as are found anywhere, but they have to accept that Lithuania is a small country whose language is inaccessible to most people. Its powerful neighbors have more historians, more resources, and more interest in Lithuania than do westerners, who prefer historical interpretations of large nations. Today’s historians have to learn that money talks, that the reading public wants something new, that inflating history does not usually lead to good scholarship, and that questioning accepted truths, diversity, and new approaches open up new vistas and lead to new insights.
Lithuanian historians do not want to be labeled or categorized, nor do they view themselves as having coalesced into schools of historians. Nevertheless, they can be grouped according to similar methodologies and views on different historical eras. They can also be grouped into categories such as romantic, critical, postmodern, revisionist, postrevisionists, Marxist, and New Left, keeping in mind that labels are eschewed by the Lithuanian historians themselves, and may have different meanings to different groups.
The real litmus test of Lithuanian historiography is the extent of the remnants of the Russian Communist mentality imposed on historians during the Soviet occupation. Virtually every work had to include a citation from Marx and Lenin. To be sure, no historiographical dissent was possible during the Soviet occupation.1 Reflecting on the necessities of the times, Lithuanian historians themselves label much of the pseudohistory they were engaged in as conjunctural. Nevertheless, Edvardas Gudavičius, who is the unquestioned dean of Lithuanian historians, maintains that there was a historical underground, even if it was not much more than an attempt to retain some level of professionalism in the face of party dictates.2 Although their work was overseen by Moscow functionaries, conscientious historians used Aesopian terms and tried to include a national element in their works by writing about cultural history or the history of Lithuanian peasants or workers. Sometimes high-ranking Communist functionaries acted as protectors.3 Whatever the case, historians who wanted to work in their profession had to keep a low profile or dissemble. Soviet Lithuanian historians produced many fine and original monographs during the Soviet period, but overall more works pandered to Moscow than attempted to preserve Lithuania’s cultural past.
Another test in Lithuanian historiography is the extent to which today’s historians have progressed beyond the so-called Adolfas Šapoka School and his groundbreaking Lithuanian history, Lietuvos istorija, which he edited and published in 1936. The Šapoka School emphasized the continuity of the Lithuanian nation, fostered an unblemished history led by political and cultural heroes, and set the stage for a patriotic school of historiography whose influence is still felt by historians and society in general. Any contemporary grand narrative synthesizing Lithuanian history must be judged against the Šapoka version.
Without question, the best-known among contemporary historians in Lithuania is Alfredas Bumblauskas, former Dean of the College of History and now Head of the Department of Theory and Cultural History at Vilnius University. He is widely known as the host of two popular television programs, “Būtovės slėpiniai” (Secrets of existence) and “Amžių šešėliuose” (In the shadows of time), and has made appearances as a celebrity presenter on the Lithuanian version of the Oscars. He produced his own television show, “Secrets of existence,” featuring a naive student directing seemingly simple questions to a thoughtful, ever-wise mentor, Edvardas Gudavičius. With his charismatic personality, Bumblauskas lords it over his television audience, his students, and his colleagues. Provocative questions, categorical statements, and outlandish assertions have branded him as a cheap popularizer, a profound philosopher, a serious scholar, and the ultimate showman. Beloved by many, Bumblauskas has also garnered professional jealousies as well as accusations of being a poor scholar. He is a theoretician who has crossed over from the world of academic researcher into that of a postmodern thinker, and freely admits that archival work can be tedious. While his list of original scholarship is quite impressive, he will no doubt go down in Lithuanian historiography for his magnum opus Senosios Lietuvos istorija 1009–1795 (A history of old Lithuania: 1009-1795). In this work, Bumblauskas challenges many historical traditions and contends that the romantic school of patriotic historiography that first appeared in the nineteenth century and was continued by Šapoka needs a major revision, i.e., toward the concept of an integrated history in a European context.4 In this respect, Bumblauskas pays homage to his predecessor and mentor Gudavičius, whose first volume of Lietuvos istorija appeared in 1999, sixteen years before Bumblauskas’s history. 5
Gudavičius’s place in Lithuanian historiography is assured. A self-professed Marxist, he sees social classes as the prime movers in history, but he is not a doctrinaire Leninist Soviet hack. Gudavičius has used the Marxist paradigm to explain progress in Lithuania’s past, but he has borrowed many of his concepts and methods from theorists and historians such as Max Weber, Arnold Toynbee, and the Annales School.6 Based on confidential conversations with Gudavičius, Bumblauskas maintains that Gudavičius, although the most consistent of all Marxists, no longer sees a robust class struggle, and that his concept of Marxism has lost its traditionally dogmatic characteristics. 7 Ironically, the least post-Soviet of historians, those with few if any of the foibles of the older or the newer generation of historians, may be a Marxist like Gudavičius.
Gudavičius has also viewed Lithuania’s history in comparative terms as a part of Europe. Both he and Bumblauskas have reluctantly admitted to Lithuania’s cultural backwardness in comparison to Western Europe. They also admit that a dialogue with Western historians is difficult because the Soviet era retarded Lithuania’s historiographical development: Lithuania is an impoverished borderland of Europe.8 Yet Gudavičius’s meticulous academic research and lower public profile has shielded him from some of the viler criticisms that befell Bumblauskas. Bumblauskas, as does his mentor, wants to portray society “as it really was,” blemishes and all.9 He himself has called his book, with its more than 1,200 pictures and illustrations, an illustrated synthesis and a visual encyclopedia.10 It is organized chronologically, each chapter a self-contained unit not always connected to the next chapter. In addition to this lack of a continuous political narrative, Bumblauskas’s use of tropes and epistemes in the narrative of Lithuania’s past has often been misunderstood by critics and the reading public. One example is the playful chapter entitled “Everyday Life, or How the Cat Appeared in Lithuania,” where he equates the onset of civilization with the presence of cats; cats, he claims, being rather finicky, require a certain level of comfort, i.e., civilization, and the remains of cats do not appear in Lithuania before 1380.11 Such entertaining interpretations have led to a variety of accusations, among them that he is in the service of the Communists or Poland, or both.12 Bumblauskas is trying to do the most difficult task of the historian: to describe Les structures du quotidien.13 He combines factual evidence with sociological generalizations and then compares it with other countries. People who view Lithuania as unique are irked when comparisons with Western Europe turn out less flattering than they wish them to be, but for Bumblauskas and Gudavičius, Lithuania is part of Europe and a wider world. Whereas Bumblauskas reigns in Vilnius, his chief rival for the spotlight, Egidijus Aleksandravičius, has established himself in Kaunas at the Vytautas Magnus University. A former dean and provost, Aleksandravičius is presently Director of the Center for Diaspora Studies (Išeivijos studijų centras). Primarily a nineteenth-century scholar, he has been instrumental in reintegrating the different ethnic and linguistic groups into the history of Lithuania. In Carų valdžioje: Lietuva XIX amžiuje (Under tsarist rule: nineteenth century Lithuania), which he coauthored with Antanas Kulakauskas, he restores the Poles as a part of the Lithuanian nation. In his early career, Aleksandravičius produced fine monographs on the nineteenth century, but today he seems more concerned with journalistic articles using history to comment on contemporary events and rebuffing a romanticized version of Lithuania’s past. His essays try to liberate Lithuania’s historical culture from a mindset that he perceives as still dominant among Lithuanians. He is also interested in analyzing the reasons for the perpetuation of the post-Soviet mentality. In 2000, Aleksandravičius declared that “… we still live under the restrictions of a Soviet mentality.”14 He contends that romanticizing Lithuania’s history stems from an inferiority complex inherited from the Soviet era:
... when a society finds itself in a situation that goes beyond solutions ... they find strength in a mythical past; historical heroes are resurrected from their grave and glorified. Therefore, the most fantastic histories are created in which there are no links to the academic conventions of the world ...15
Aleksandravičius may have stopped doing original research, but his essays questioning accepted truths open up new vistas for the historian.
In Lithuanian historiography, gender studies is a field difficult to classify. One of the most innovative of historians is Dalia Marcinkevičienė-Leinartaitė, Chair of the Gender Studies Center at Vilnius University, who writes on women’s issues while searching for new methodologies. Her first book Vedusiųjų visuomenė: santuoka ir skyrybos Lietuvoje XIX amžiuje – XX amžiaus pradžioje (A society of the married: marriage and divorce in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Lithuania) established her as a researcher whose choice of subject matter does not lead to a sexist ideology.16 Well-read in Western gender studies, she has written a solid social history of Lithuanian women, whose world differs from Western women. In her latest foray, biographical interviews with Lithuanian women, she ventures into oral history, collective memories, and mentalités.17 Many Lithuanian historians are skeptical of these types of history, yet she has been successful in conveying a sense of what it was like for women from different social classes in the early Soviet period. 18 She is squarely grappling with recent history, without the inferiority that often dominates Homo Sovieticus.
Even a husband-and-wife tandem like Zigmantas Kiaupa and Jūrate Kiaupienė has different approaches to history. One year before Gudavičius’s monumental work, they coauthored a survey of Lithuania’s history to 1795 along with Albinas Kuncevičius. In his English-language title The History of Lithuania, Kiaupa writes an updated but conventional political history. 19 Kiaupienė who with Rimvydas Petrauskas has coauthored Volume Four of a multivolume history of Lithuania,20 has virtually adopted the relativity of historical truth and concentrates on the historical landscape.21 One can say that Kiaupa wrote the history of the Lithuanian state almost without Lithuanians, whereas Kiaupienė did the opposite: using the state as a backdrop, she concentrates on the society of medieval Lithuania. Like Bumblauskas, Aleksandravičius and others, she seems to be searching for the structures of everyday life.
Critical and Realist Historians
The most controversial historian has to be Liudas Truska, primarily an expert on the twentieth century, whose career goes back to writing chapters in the “official” history of the Lithuanian SSR . In the 1960s or 1970s there was nothing Aesopian in his writing when he used phraseology such as the “rotten bourgeois” regime and the Lithuanian working class, “guided by the Communist Party,” fighting for “the betterment of the workers’ lot.”22 However, in 1988, during Lithuania’s drive for independence, Truska delivered a speech about the Pact at a mammoth demonstration in Vingis Park commemorating the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and publicly admitted:
... as a historian, I am ashamed that for so long we did not tell the public the entire truth, at times less than half, and that is the biggest lie. 23
His confession was received with euphoric enthusiasm.
By now, Truska has tackled just about every twentiethcentury controversy in Lithuanian history, and whatever he writes, he does so boldly. Writing about Antanas Smetona, Truska argues that Smetonas’s authoritarian regime divided Lithuanian society against itself. Culturally liberal, but politically dictatorial, the Smetona regime, he argues, created an apathetic society that, when the time came, did nothing to stop the occupation, annexation and incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union.24 As a realist historian, Truska is unafraid to contradict what Lithuanians consider established truths. He exposes Vincas Krėvė, one of the great figures in Lithuanian literature and seemingly untouched by treason, as one of the greatest collaborators with the Russians.25 He also contends that the anti-Soviet partisans of 1944-1953 waged a senseless war.26
Truska is undoubtedly the foremost authority on Lithuanian anti-Semitism:
Myths, myths, myths. ... Perhaps no other topic has been so mythologized in modern Lithuanian history as the place of the Jews in Lithuania. ... the exceptional tolerance of Lithuanians makes anti-Semitism in Lithuania a myth, the myth of Jews’ affluence in interwar Lithuania, the myth of the Jews being against the Lithuanian state, the myth of Jewish treason, especially in their role of imposing a Soviet system in Lithuania during 1940-1941, the myth that only a handful of bottom-of-the-barrel criminal elements engaged in the Holocaust.27
Truska systematically destroys these myths. He is a careful researcher, and it is difficult to find deliberate falsifications in his works. By Western standards, Truska is a revisionist, which many Lithuanian historians consider a pejorative term.
A historian with a much shorter resume is Mindaugas Pocius, but he has stirred more controversy than any other contemporary historian with just one book, Kita mėnulio pusė (The other side of the moon).28 Taking on a subject whose painful memories still hold powerful sway, he presents a thesis that more innocent Lithuanians were killed by the partisans than by Russians or their Lithuanian collaborators, and that the partisans, in fact, committed war crimes. In much of Kita mėnulio pusė, Pocius creates a taxonomy of collaborators, from those who engaged in the most savage cruelty against the partisans and their families to those who merely participated in the inevitable Sovietization of the times.29 Providing a chronology of partisan actions against their Soviet occupiers, he maintains that in the second period of resistance (1946-1948), the partisans were becoming radicalized, and that some of their actions had become terrorism. Whether driven by fear, revenge, or desperation, they engaged in massive retaliations against anyone they suspected of collaboration with the enemy, including whole families – women, children, and aged relatives who could not have aided the enemy. In a partisan’s own words, “in the forests we had no jails to place our prisoners. We had to kill them, even though there were women and children among them.”30 They had no courtrooms or time to try the accused. A guerilla war that began with the highest ideal of freedom for Lithuania thus descended into a hopeless bloodbath for survival. Pocius provides evidence that desperate people in desperate situations do desperate things. In the West, his book would hardly raise an eyebrow, but for many Lithuanians the partisans are martyrs who laid down their lives for Lithuania’s freedom. In a dialogue between Vytautas Ališauskas and Nerijus Šepetys both agreed that the ”the partisans were heroes and that anyone who says otherwise ... talks against the state”.31
Arvydas Anušauskas and Dalia Kuodytė are two historians who have made careers out of exposing the barbarity of the Soviet occupation and exalting the virtues of the anti-Soviet partisans.32 As former directors or the most important historians of the “Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras” (The Research Center for the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania - LGGRTC), they have written and sponsored too many books to list in a survey of Lithuanian historiography. No one can deny their credentials as meticulous researchers. As a member of Pocius’s dissertation committee, Anušauskas criticized Pocius, but as a historian, he could not deny the value of Pocius’s thesis.33
The LGGRTC itself is revising Lithuania’s history, but the Center does not engage in revisionism in the same sense that Truska or Pocius are. Soviet lies need to be corrected, and the LGGRTC and its historians are doing that, but so far they have not contributed to furthering Lithuanian historiography with new insights or methodologies. They are a government agency that researches, collects, and spreads information about all aspects of the genocides committed in Lithuania from 1939-1990. This includes the two occupations of Lithuania by the USSR, the first at the beginning of World War II and the second after 1944, the massive deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia, the German occupation from 1941-1944, the partisan war against the Soviets and their collaborators, and the Holocaust. The single most important book published by the LGGRTC is Lietuva 1940-1990: Okupuotos Lietuvos istorija, (Lithuania 1940-1990: the history of cccupied Lithuania).34 Aside from Anušauskas, Truska is also an editor of this volume and a major contributor. The LGGRTC is doing a much-needed revision of the history of the LSSR, but they are documenting and proving the obvious. The LGGRTC and its various predecessors have created a cottage industry of partisan memoirs, monuments, and commemorative holidays, which grows larger with each year, and to some extent, they are creating a new unassailable romanticism about their subjects. One of the former directors of the LGGRTC, Vytautas Skuodis, in an early title, Dvasinis genocidas Lietuvoje35 (Spiritual genocide in Lithuania), introduced the imposition of atheism in Lithuania as a new subject, but did not analyze the mentality of that genocide.36 The Soviets turned St. Casimir’s Basilica into the museum of atheism and Vilnius Cathedral into a picture gallery, and these wrongs have been corrected. Today Lithuania is a predominantly Catholic country, but its Catholicism seems cultural rather than flowing from true belief. No historian has so far tried to analyze to what extent the Soviet period had been successful in secularizing Lithuania. To be sure, this may be a subject better suited for psychologists or sociologists, but the Soviet Era is already part of the past.
Neither Truska nor Pocius attempt to get into the “heads” of their subjects.37 They remain empirical in their method and critical of revealed truths, and are not creating a new orthodoxy. Internet sites continue to slander them, and a group of former dissidents, in an open letter to the Public Prosecutor of Lithuania, have virtually accused them of reviving the spirit of the Soviet regime,38 practically calling for their indictment. In fairness, Pocius does not denigrate the partisans. Rather he is more of a moralist, holding the partisans to a higher standard of behavior: even in a futile struggle, they should not have succumbed to terrorism.
Two of the more respected modern historians, Česlovas Laurinavičius and Vladas Sirutavičius, are in the process of writing about a national form of Communism during the LSSR period.39 Having earlier discussed Lithuania’s push for independence,40 they contend in Volume XII of Lietuvos istorija that most Lithuanians accepted the Soviet system not out of political conviction, but for the simple reason that they did not know it and did not know what to expect.41 Furthermore, analyzing the March 11 Declaration, they see “two Lithuanian national identities”: one believes that March 11 simply restored Lithuania’s interwar sovereignty lost in 1940, the other that the specifics of Soviet oppression had created a new Lithuania that had very little in common with the old. The first type of national identity rests on nostalgia and a desire for vengeance against anything Soviet.42 The second stems from the sense that the overthrow of Gorbachev and the Soviet regime was an example of nationalistic Communism; the Soviet doctrine of juggling ethno- national elements allowed for certain national/Volk elements in the republics, and the constitution of the USSR included sovereignty of the republics and the right to secede.43 In other words, the specifics of Soviet oppression had formed a new national intelligentsia that, on March 11, created a new Lithuania that has very little in common with prewar Lithuania. Again, to Western historians this argument may sound reasonable, but many Lithuanians refuse to accept that the LSSR begat the new independent Lithuania of 1990.
The Traditionalists or Romantics
The origins of Lithuanian romanticism are found in the works of Simonas Daukantas and the dilettante historians of the nineteenth century.44 The most productive of the romantic historians furthering the traditions of the nineteenth-century patriotic amateurs, albeit in a modern scholarly fashion, is Vytautas Merkys, a specialist on the nineteenth century. 45 Having been taught by an older generation of interwar historians, he, in turn, mentored the present generation, representing a paradoxical union of the traditions of interwar and Soviet Lithuanian history.
In the late eighties, Merkys, succeeding Bronius Vaitkevičius, assumed leadership of the Institute of Lithuanian History and adapted to the realities of Soviet historiography unenthusiastically, without preconceived notions about the Institute’s direction. When the independence movement began, he did not hinder it. With Alfonsas Eidintas, the department head of Twentieth Century Lithuanian History, Merkys encouraged a public discourse of the events of 1918-1920 and 1939-1940,46 slowly beginning to reject the official Soviet version. According to Laurinavičius and Sirutavičius, the two published a series entitled Lietuvių atgimimo istorijos studijos (Studies in the history of the Lithuanian national revival) with the primary goal of fostering Lithuanian citizenship,47 avoiding looking back to the Šapoka era. Merkys does not see many hopeful signs in Lithuanian historiography. He clearly does not like postmodernism:
… postmodernism has reverberated with us, but not in its pure form, rather in an inferior provincial variation. This firstly means a cynical approach to one’s own history, the creation of artificial stereotypes, and the denouncing of patriotic myths. ... Our historians ... are even destructive in their denunciations of myths. ... their methods are reminiscent of the Soviet period when bourgeois nationalists were denounced.48
While not naming names, he thinks that Bumblauskas’s and Gudavičius’s Europeanization of Lithuania has eliminated the Lithuanian nation as a subject, making it a part of its neighbors’ history, thus paralleling Russian attempts to make Lithuania a peripheral part of Russia’s history.49 In his memoir Atminties Prošvaistės (Flashes of memories), Merkys seems to remember a mythical time when ideals mattered more than money and the collective of historians was more important than the individual, but then he contradicts himself and regrets a stifled career. He is sympathetic to some of the worst Communist functionaries. While Juozas Žiugžda, Romas Šarmaitis, and Bronius Vaitkevičius may have had their troubles with the Communist Party, today it is difficult to view them as anything but academic collaborators.
Merkys seems to believe in what Aleksandravičius calls “preventative positivism”, i.e., that it was possible for a historian to protect himself from Communist hacks by overwhelming them with precise argumentation and massive amounts of archival evidence.50 Merkys, Mečislovas Jučas, Romas Batūra, Antanas Tyla, and many others who had careers under the Soviets used similar means to outwit their unprofessional party guardians. To this day, they believe that they served the best interests of Lithuanian history. But they belong to a different time, one to which no one wants to return. No one can deny the monumental work of Vytautas Merkys or accuse him of pandering to a “vulgar” version of Marxism. He always tried to retain the highest level of professionalism.
Another historian whose memoirs are noteworthy for their insights into Lithuanian historiography is Aldona Gaigailaitė, who discusses her trials and tribulations as the secretary of Lithuania’s history at the Lithuanian Academy of Science History Institute. Among her many other duties, she also taught the history of the USSR at the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute. One would expect that, as a party member herself, she would enjoy the trust of Communist Party functionaries, yet she writes in her memoir Į save ir istoriją pažvelgus (Glancing at myself and history) that her every move was followed by such stooges as Mykolas Burokevičius.51 In 1970, Gaigalaitė published Klerikalizmas Lietuvoje, (Clericalism in Lithuania), her doctoral dissertation, which was not accepted by accrediting institutions because of “ideological inconsistencies.” She says that she never knew whom to blame for her defeat, and surmises that her male colleagues voted against her because of sexism. She then gives credit to Romas Šarmaitis, the director of the History Institute of the Lithuanian Communist Party, for defending her scholarly objectivity.52 Much of her justification for her writings before 1990 falls under the rubric of “we were only following orders.” Gaigalaitė insists that her generation achieved a great deal in research and in professionalizing history.53 As many others, she accepts blame for having participated, survived, and sometimes thrived under Soviet Communism, but not for what she wrote: 54
They blame us (...) for falsifications, (…) laugh at us for citing the most naive thoughts, but we did so ourselves.55
To be sure, Gaigailaitė had to follow the party’s dictates, but who forced her to compose such sentences as “Lithuanian fascists instituted a massive bloodthirsty terror in the first days after the fascist coup”?56 Editors did insert words, but in many cases, the choice of words was determined by the historians themselves, and their own fears and deliberations.
The days when the older generation of historians was swept out of the universities are over.57 Nevertheless, those born before 1950 justify their conformity and defend their roles with the excuse that they wanted to save what was possible. The younger generation of historians tends to view everything written before they took charge in the nineties as tainted by a Soviet mentality. Paradoxically, historians who now advocate a patriotic history of heroics and revile the Bumblauskas- Aleksandravičius generation were themselves educated and had careers during the Soviet occupation. They also reject works by historians like Vladas Sirutavičius and Rima Praspaliauskienė, who have done groundbreaking research about criminals and other types of sinners in Lithuania’s history.58 The romantics, or traditionalists, having suffered the constraints of the Soviet era, now attempt to right the wrongs of the Soviet past by inflating history and going over arcane political and cultural issues which do not add new insights or new fields of research.
Very few historians are on the left of the political spectrum, and they often present themselves as more patriotic than the traditionalists. They claim that they joined the Communist Party during the Soviet occupation not as collaborators but rather as realists who tried to save Lithuanian culture and history from within.59 Today they portray themselves as guardians of academic freedom and want to clean up the dictatorship of the oligarchs in the present Lithuanian government. They denounce the recent laws prohibiting glorification of Nazis or Communists as steps toward censorship, and the works published by the LGGRTC as a new “blood and guts” orthodoxy.60 They also assert that in the current political climate of anti-Russian and anti-Communist politics, historians are self-censoring themselves and are afraid to write anything favorable about the LSSR and its leaders.61 In fact, they allege that a dispassionate discourse about Lithuania’s history has become impossible. While these assertions may have some validity, the leftist historians seem to want to go beyond critical or even revisionist versions of Lithuania’s history and emphasize Lithuania’s faults and Russia’s virtues. The leftists are not Russian or Communist agents, but they truly believe that there was no realistic alternative to the annexation and incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union.62 They seem to ignore the fact that the current discourse about the history of the LSSR is free from legal constraints, and historians do enter the public sphere and debate their positions.
The reading public shows abiding interest in memoirs of former Communist officials and dignitaries.63 Very popular is a biography of Justas Paleckis, the first President of Soviet Lithuania, and a collection of essays and memoirs commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Antanas Sniečkus, the longest lasting Communist Party chief of Lithuania.64 According to Vytautas Tininis, a professor at the Jonas Žemaitis Lithuanian Military Academy specializing in the Soviet period, Sniečkus never stopped the Sovietization and denationalization process, but he and his style of leadership facilitated the growth of Lithuania into one of the leading republics in the Soviet Union and had a positive effect on economics, society, culture, and demographics.65 In the light of what is being published and discussed, and with the advent of the Internet, the fears of the leftist historians over censorship seem unwarranted.
Society’s knowledge of Lithuania’s history may be shaky, but its collective memory is not. It celebrates or commemorates numerous events, among them its millennium, its victory in 1410 over the Teutonic Knights, the first deportations in 1940 to the Soviet Gulag, and so forth. In 2001, the entrepreneur Viliumas Malinauskas created an initially controversial park featuring much of the statuary of the Soviet era. It has since become a tourist attraction and a favorite place to take photographs of children climbing on top a bust of Stalin or other Soviet dignitaries.
The Post-Soviet Historiography
Summing up, three overlapping trends exist in Lithuanian historiography. The most innovative and the most criticized are the postmodernists who, influenced by the Annales, have freed themselves from Soviet or post-Soviet issues without looking back to the Šapoka era. Utilizing interdisciplinary approaches, they have introduced new avenues for further research and use history to venture into the public sphere to debate contemporary political issues. Some seem more concerned with creating new theoretical models rather than research. Others think postmodernism is merely a fad imitating Western trends.66 The critical-realists are essentially revisionists, and have begun a rewriting of history by confronting the most sensitive issues of the twentieth century. They differ from the postmodernists only in their traditional empirical methodologies. The romantic-traditionalists, having suffered the most from the constraints of Soviet rule, now wish to emphasize the most positive version of Lithuanian history,67 even though this attitude does not usually lead to good scholarship. The romantic-traditionalists are not puppets of political conservatives; they are among the most respected historians. Traditionalists and realists suspect each other’s commitment to an independent Lithuania. Historians and Lithuanian society at large tend to politicize everything.
Many of the squabbles between historians of different political views seem overly heated and petty, but their disagreements are healthy and free. Historians are beginning to learn that money talks, that the reading public wants something new, that popularizing the past is not an academic sin, that debate, diversity, and new approaches to history are interesting. Institutes that deal with historical subjects proliferate. The government sponsors some important historical research. Next to professional monographs, popular biographies and textbooks multiply, and in general the historical debate is lively. Although the term post-Soviet retains many connotations, it has not enslaved Lithuanian historians.
Analyzing the post-Soviet mentality that seems to pervade all of Lithuanian culture goes beyond the scope of this study. Its characteristics are still unclear and subject to change. However, some things will not change. Lithuania will remain a small country whose language is inaccessible to most people. Its geopolitical location will stay the same. Lithuanians belong to NATO and the EU, but they live in a Russian economic and energy sphere. Historically three giants have surrounded it: Poland, Germany, and Russia. The historians of these nations have more historians, more resources, and more interest in Lithuania’s history than do Western historians. Westerners seem to accept the historical interpretations of large nations more readily. Lithuania has some of the best, most innovative and erudite historians found anywhere, but they tend to write about “small things” and too often want to portray Lithuania as unique. When they emphasize the military or political accomplishments of medieval Grand Dukes, they are often perceived by Western historians as nationalists, inflating the importance of their own history. Only the postmodernists place Lithuania in a broader context. Unfortunately, Lithuanian historians who are trying to publish in English are still too often victims of poor translators.
Aleksandravičius, Egidijus. Kas iškirto varnui akį? (Who poked out the crow’s eye?). Vilnius: Versus Aureus, 2004.
__________. Praetis, istorija ir istorikai (The past, history and historians). Vilnius: Vaga, 2000.
Anušauskas, Arvydas and others, eds. Lietuva 1940-1990: Okupuotos Lietuvos istorija (Lithuania 1940-1990: The history of occupied Lithuania). Vilnius: LGGRTC, 2005.
Astrauskas, Vytautas. Įrėminti laike: prisiminimai ir pamąstymai (Framed in time: thoughts and memories). Vilnius: Gairės, 2006.
Becher, Ursula A. J., Alfredas Bumblauskas and Jörn Rüsen, eds. Istoriografija ir atvira visuomenė (Historiography and an open society). Vilnius: Vilniaus Universitetas, 1998.
Bumblauskas, Alfredas. Senosios Lietuvos istorija 1009-1795. Vilnius: R. Paknio, 2005.
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