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This book is about the Lithuania that I feel in my heart. I am truly proud to be Lithuanian, and I love this country very much. Edita Mildažytė

“Where are you from?” This is a question Lithuanians often can’t answer by simply saying “I’m from Lithuania”, because it just prompts another question: “What’s Lithuania?” This book can help with that. We hope Lithuania on a First Date will show you that we are a small but creative nation, one which has contributed something important to the world. We hope that this book, written by prominent Lithuanian journalist Edita Mildažytė, will encourage you to get to know and take an interest in Lithuania’s past and the present. For many readers this may be a first date with our country. We hope it leads to the start of a strong bond – perhaps even love. Lithuania on a First Date includes a compact disc, compiled by musicologist Viktoras Gerulaitis, which aims to introduce you to the music of Lithuania. Let’s listen to what Lithuania sounds like. ISBN 978-9986-16-893-5

9 789986 168935


UDK 908(474.5)(084)                       Mi-192

Translated by Diana Bartkutė Barnard, Joseph Everatt, Andrius Užkalnis, and Ada Mykolė Valaitis Editor: Rita Dapkus-Sproston Project manager: Lolita Varanavičienė Coordinators: Aušra Karsokienė, Dovilė Kėdikaitė

Grateful acknowledgement is made to our consultants: Alfredas Bumblauskas (history), Mangirdas Bumblauskas (history), Zita Genienė (Klaipėda), Birutė Imbrasienė (culinary heritage), Giedrė Jankevičiūtė (art), Gražina Kadžytė (ethnology), Izolda Keidošiūtė (cinema), Nerijus Korbutas (aviation), Neringa Latvytė-Gustaitienė (history of Lithuanian Jews), Kazimieras Mizgiris (amber), Vytaras Radzevičius (sports), Antanas Smetona (Lithuanian language), Nijolė Strakauskaitė (Curonian Spit, Palanga, Šventoji), Virginija Stumbrienė (Lithuanian language), Eugenijus Stumbrys (science), Daiva Šabasevičienė (theatre), Manvydas Vitkūnas (Kernavė, military, resistance), and the Secretariat of the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO Grateful acknowledgement is made to the Bernelių užeiga restaurant chain for preparing Christmas Eve dishes for the photo shoot. On the cover: Giedrė Kontrimė and Darius Kontrimas Cover photograph by Tadas Černiauskas Original Lithuanian edition, Pasimatymas su Lietuva by Edita Mildažytė, published in Vilnius by Tyto alba in 2011.

Copyright © 2011 by Edita Mildažytė, Asta Puikienė (design), Giedrė Jankevičiūtė, Antanas Smetona, Daiva Šabasevičienė, and Viktoras Gerulaitis Copyright © 2012 by Diana Bartkutė Barnard, Rita Dapkus-Sproston, Joseph Everatt, Andrius Užkalnis, Ada Mykolė Valaitis, and Tyto alba ISBN 978-9986-16-893-5




Contents 7 / Foreword 15 / All of the Seasons 41 / Leaping through History 47 / Spoken Monument 57 / Five Fatherlands in One 81 / Brotherhood of Steam 86 / Lithuanian Cuisine 99 / Sky on Earth 105 / Europe’s Last Pagans 113 / One-Night Blossom 119 / The Troy of Lithuania 125 / Maternal Ancestors of European Royalty 131 / History upon Water 139 / Jewish Centuries in Lithuania 151 / Theatre without Borders by Daiva Šabasevičienė 163 / Crosses Older than Christianity 172 / The Art Scene by Giedrė Jankevičiūtė 179 / A City in Dreams 205 / Royal Love 213 / The Easternmost Baroque 220 / Artisans’ Mecca 231 / Classical Vilnius 239 / Alma Mater Vilnensis

46 / Triumphs of the Lithuanian Mind 2 257 / The Song and Dance Olympics 265 / Golden Reels of Lithuanian Film 273 / All Alone 285 / Temporary Capital 299 / Eyes to the Sky 309 / Sign of the Sword 320 / The Gate that Never Closes 333 / Sahara of the North 345 / Gold without Carats 353 / Our Own Shore 357 / Land of the Virgin Mary 361 / Lights in the November Darkness 366 / All of Lithuania at the Table 379 / Carnival of Spring vs. Winter 385 / Worthy of a Coat of Arms 393 / Therapeutic Mud 397 / Sports in the Basketball Country 412 / Lithuanian Icons 418 / Some Statistics on Lithuania 419 / Lithuania and UNESCO 420 / Bibliography 422 / Illustration Sources


Spoken Monument “If you wish to hear how our Indo-European ancestors spoke, go to a Lithuanian village and hear a Lithuanian peasant speak.” Antoine Meillet, French linguist of the early 20th century

Lithuanians speak the Lithuanian language. There are about 4 million people worldwide who use Lithuanian as their main language: most residents of Lithuania, as well as ethnic minorities in Poland, Latvia and Belarus. There are large émigré communities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Spain, and some Latin American countries. Lithuanian is the most archaic of the living Indo-European languages and is close to Sanskrit, the old language of India. English Man Mother God Smoke

Lithuanian Vyras Motė Dievas Dūmas

Sanskrit Vīras Mātar Devas Dhūmas

Anyone who knows a classical European language (Latin or Ancient Greek) can learn Lithuanian grammar without much difficulty. The Lithuanian language belongs to the Baltic group of Indo-European languages. There are only two living Baltic languages today – Lithuanian and Latvian. Old Baltic names of rivers and lakes indicate that the Balts used to live in a large area of Eastern and Central Europe. According to present-day maps, we can find Baltic names for bodies of water from Warsaw to Kiev, Kursk, Moscow, Tver, Pskov and the LatvianEstonian border. Balts only live in two of the three Baltic countries – Lithuania and Latvia – while the Estonians, linguistically speaking, are not Balts at all. They are not even Indo-Europeans.

Model: Baltic fashions collection by Ieva Ševiakovaitė and Jolanta Rimkutė



The Troy of Lithuania The romantic hill forts of Kernavė evoke the wealth and splendour of the medieval town. Thanks to the work of archaeologists in Kernavė during the past few decades, the old Lithuanian capital has revealed many secrets. All of Lithuanian prehistory is reflected here, from the hunting and fishing villages of the ninth millennium BC to the thriving town of the Middle Ages. People made this beautiful and convenient location their home nearly 12 thousand years ago and have lived here ever since. The network of five hill forts is a striking sight. Ancient settlements, remnants of a medieval town and graves of our ancestors can all be found close by.

In 2004, the archaeological site at Kernavė was added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. Even though today it is a small provincial town less than 35 kilometres from Vilnius, historian Alfredas Bumblauskas claims that in the past it was a symbol of the pagan epoch. Aleksiejus Luchtanas (nicknamed Lithuania’s Schliemann after the famous archaeologist) has studied the Kernavė settlement for many years and says there are at least ten historical layers here, one on top of the other: from ancient times to the days of the first capital, which was quite elaborate for the period and had a developed infrastructure. Fortunately for archaeologists, the entire town had burned down after an attack by Crusaders in the 14th century and was not rebuilt. Its inhabitants moved to nearby locations, while ash and rubble preserved the layers of the past for many centuries.

Kernavė is first mentioned in written sources in 1279 as the domain of Grand Duke Traidenis.




On Shrove Tuesday it’s common to ride a sleigh, shouting out loud to wake up the earth. In Samogitia, carnival festivities close with burning a straw figure of Morė or Kotrė (thought to have been pagan deities) so the ashes from the fire would release all the obstacles and annoyances that have built up over the winter. Aukštaičiai drive Gavėnas, a stuffed figure of an old man, around on a sled. You can also watch a fight between winter’s representative Lašininis (Lard Man) and Kanapinis (Hemp Man) – the herald of spring and Lent (hemp seeds are a typical ingredient during the fasting period). Hemp Man always wins, of course.




Worthy of a Coat of Arms Lithuanians’ love and admiration of horses is evident in many folk songs, ancient traditions, and even the national symbol: our coat of arms displays the Vytis – a mounted warrior. The extraordinary relationship between Lithuanians and their horses dates back to prehistoric times. Tribes living on Lithuanian lands in the fifth to twelfth centuries buried their horses in special cemeteries. Sometimes the horses were sacrificed, i.e. buried alive, and assigned mythical roles. A warrior, military commander or nobleman would be cremated and buried along with his weapons and ornately bridled horse – oftentimes more than one. The horse motif is frequently found in domestic surroundings. Criss-crossed

horses’ heads facing opposite directions decorate fascia boards and rooftop weathervanes. They are also encountered on woven sashes, on krikštai (ancient wooden grave markers) in the Curonian Spit, and in many folksongs and folktales. Rocking horses and hobby horses were made as toys for children. Since long ago December 6th, the Feast of St. Nicholas, has also been called Horses’ Day, and you can see a horse with a mounted knight at the Shrove Tuesday carnival after Christmas. Night herding was an interesting chapter in the life of a Lithuanian male.

From early spring until late fall, when the fields were dry, the horses of an entire village were herded at night in a joint effort of the villagers, usually by the young men of the village. The night herders lit bonfires, told stories and riddles, played games and pranks. It is believed that a horseshoe fastened to a door brings good luck and protects the household. There is a well-known Horse Museum in Niūronys, Anykščiai Region.

Singer Mantas Jankavičius boldly galloped onto the silver screen in his debut role in the historical adventure Tadas Blinda. The Beginning. (2011, directed by Donatas Ulvydas) – a record-breaking success at Lithuanian cinemas. Tadas Blinda is the Lithuanian Robin Hood – defender of the common man, justice, and freedom. A 15th-century spur, legacy of the era of the Battle of Grunwald, found in a warrior’s grave at Jurgioniai Cemetery (Trakai Region).



Brotherhood of Steam Finnish and Russian saunas – they both originate from Baltic lands.

No Lithuanian can imagine rest and relaxation without a sauna. Bathing in steam and getting lashed (birched) with a wet broom is both a ritual of cleanliness and a pleasant pastime. To more advanced bathers, it’s a religion. Lithuanians immediately prepare a sauna for particularly valued guests. The favourite is a Lithuanian style sauna with wet steam, generated by pouring water on hot rocks. Bathers lash each other with a vanta, a broom of tree boughs which is soaked in cold water then scalded in boiling water. Brooms are made from birch, oak, linden, sorbus, alder, etc., each with its own curative properties. Some even use juniper or stinging nettle. Lashing relaxes the muscles, cleanses the skin, helps abrasions heal, and more. They are to be made before St. John’s Eve (June 23) when the boughs are young and don’t easily drop their leaves. Olden smoke saunas consist of an antechamber where people undress, and

a birching chamber with a fireplace for heating rocks that are dropped into a large drum of water next to it. The warm water is then ladled into a smaller drum for washing and pouring over the body. The sauna room is usually heated to between 60 and 80 degrees centigrade. After an initial round of heat, everyone relaxes with some herbal tea in the antechamber. One or two sessions of lashing follow. The vanta is used to swish hot air around a person lying on a bench to circulate warm air and heat the body. The birching proceeds from toe to head, with the broom barely touching the skin. The real fun comes afterwards – cold water. In wintertime, some even jump into hole in the ice of a frozen lake, or roll naked in the snow. This, of course, is for true fans. Women often use a sauna as a salon, rubbing themselves with salt and ground coffee beans to remove dead



Jewish Centuries in Lithuania Litvaks and their descendants include five Nobel Prize laureates, one of which was Israeli President Shimon Peres. Actually, a total of three Israeli Presidents and four Prime Ministers (Ehud Barak among them) were Litvaks. Menahem Begin, one of the founders of the Mossad, Israel’s powerful intelligence agency, was born in BrestLitovsk (now Brest, Belarus); famous Parisian expressionist painter Chaim Soutine considered himself a Lithuanian; well-known sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, born in Druskininkai, can be seen in a Lipchitz family portrait painted by Amedeo Modigliani; the works of painter Arbit Blatas (born in Kaunas, died in New York) adorn the walls of the Lithuanian National Gallery of Art, according to his widow’s wishes. Romain Gary described the Pohulyanka of Vilnius (present-day Basanavičiaus Street, where he spent his childhood

There is no country in the world that has not heard of the Litvaks – Jews whose roots originate in the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Litvaks make up a large portion of the world’s elite, and one of the most prominent Jewish personalities of all time, the Vilna Gaon, is among them. years) so impressively that the people of Vilnius fell in love with his work and erected a monument in his honour. Romain Gary grew up in Vilnius and was born under the name Roman Kacew. He was a world-renowned author, French diplomat, and a pilot in the French Air Force during World War II. Gary is the only author to have ever been awarded the Prix Goncourt, one of the highest achievements in literature, twice. As a rule it is presented only once, but after he first became a Prix Goncourt laureate, Gary published another book under his pseudonym, Emile Ajar, and

was “mistakenly” awarded the French literary prize a second time. Other famous Litvaks include violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz and cellist-conductor David Gering. Al Jolson, dubbed

Cartouche with the Ten Commandments. Mid-18th century. One of three authentic pieces to have survived from the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. Adomas Jacovskis. A King’s Profile. Fragment. 1988.


The Hill of Crosses The Hill of Crosses, located about 12 kilometres north of the city of Šiauliai, is a marvel of faith. The hundreds of thousands of crosses placed on the site, formerly known as the Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort, are a testament of love and faithfulness to God and homeland. The first crosses appeared on the hill fort in the 19th century, where a medieval wooden fortress once stood. They


were erected in memory of the rebels cruelly executed by tsarist officials during the November (1831) and January (1863) Uprisings, and as pleas to God for good health. After the rebellions were suppressed, the tsarist government outlawed the crosses that had been erected in homesteads and on roadsides. The authorities would regularly tear down the sacred symbols and punish the citizens,

but the people continued to build them anyway – only in more remote locations. Thus, the Hill of Crosses was born. The cross, this time the Latin version, became a symbol of resistance against foreign oppression. In about 1900,������������������������ the ����������������������� Hill of Crosses became a holy place. People went there to pray, to hear Mass, and to celebrate religious feast days. But in the spirit of the tradition begun by the tsarist re-

gime, the Soviets mowed the crosses down with a bulldozer – five times! And each time, the Hill of Crosses would mysteriously reappear during the night. Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses in 1993. His prompting resulted in the construction of the nearby Franciscan monastery.


What you will hear on The Sound of Lithuania CD: 1. “Raliavimas” (Shepherd Song). Performed by Antanas Smolskus on the birbynė (Lithuanian aerophone). The birbynė is Lithuania’s most important woodwind instrument. Having even been made from a bird’s feather in the past, it took on a uniquely soft timbre after becoming modified in the mid twentieth century. Raliavimas is a form of song used by shepherds. 2. “Aš verpiu plonu” (I Spin the Wheel). Sung by the Trys keturiose ensemble. This is a sutartinė, an early form of multiple voice polyphony that fuses poetry, music, choreography and mime. It is unique in its discordant polyphony, polyrhythm and dissonant harmony. 3. Balys Dvarionas, “Medinis žirgelis” (Wooden Horse). Performed by Saulius Prusevičius on skrabalai (wooden bells) with an aerophone (birbynė) quintet. Skrabalai - the most light-hearted of Lithuanian folk instruments, originating from the clackers and troughs once used by shepherds. There are even 27 of them at present. This percussion instrument is played by striking the troughs with two sticks and a drum with the foot. 4. “Čiulba ulba karvelėlis” (The Coo of a Dove). Sung by Veronika Povilionienė. This is a lyrical folk song for a single voice that has a characteristic melody and is typical of Southern Lithuania. Veronika Povilionienė is presently Lithuania’s most unique and universal folk song artist. 5. Juozas Naujalis, “Lietuva brangi” (My Dear Lithuania). Sung by a joint choir. This hymn was an artistic symbol of rebellion during the Soviet occupation. Continuous singing of this piece allowed the liberation of Lithuania to be called the Singing Revolution. 6. Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, “Miške” (In the Forest). National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Juozas Domarkas. Composed by Lithuanian music and art genius Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis in 1901, this symphonic poem is Lithuania’s first professional piece of symphonic work. Professor Juozas Domarkas (b. 1936 ) is one of the most famous Lithuanian conductors of all time. He is the founder of the National Symphony Orchestra, its artistic director, and its senior conductor. 7. “Ūdrio daina” (Ūdrys’ Song) from Vytautas Klova’s opera Pilėnai. Sung by Vytautas Juozapaitis with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gintaras Rinkevičius. “Ūdrio daina”, written in 1955, remains the most popular Lithuanian operatic aria to this day. Vytautas Juozapaitis (b. 1963) is one of the most famous contemporary baritones in Lithuania. 8. Bronius Kutavičius, “Paskutinės pagonių apeigos” (Last Pagan Rites). Sung by the M. K. Čiurlionis Art School Choir conducted by Romas Gražinis. “Paskutinės pagonių apeigos” (1978) is a work of hidden symbolic meaning. The “pagans” referred to are former citizens of independent







Lithuania, which is about to be occupied by the Soviets. For the moment, however, they are still able to speak as freely as a dove. Bronius Kutavičius (b. 1932) is one of the most unique Lithuanian composers of the late twentieth century. Cavaradossi’s aria “E lucevan le stelle” (When the Stars Were Brightly Shining) from Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca. Sung by Virgilijus Noreika with the Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra conducted by Boris Chaikin. Virgilijus Noreika (b. 1935) is a world renowned artist and the most famous Lithuanian tenor of all time likened to Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo by the American media (the last tenor of the Pavarotti generation...) Giacomo Puccini, Tosca’s aria “Vissi d’arte“ (I Lived for Art) from the opera Tosca. Sung by Violeta Urmana with the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre Symphony Orchestra conducted by Liutauras Balčiūnas. Violeta Urmana (Violeta Urmanavičiūtė, b. 1961) is the most wellknown and famous Lithuanian singer of all time. Europe’s and America’s most prominent theatres and conductors compete to work with her and she has been described by the renowned Riccardo Muti as “perhaps the most beautiful mezzo-soprano in the world today”. Pál Ábrahám, ”Toujours l’amour“ (I’ll Fly with You). Sung by Antanas Šabaniauskas with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Antanas Šabaniauskas (1903-1987) was one of the leaders of pre-war Lithuanian lounge music, a true example of bel canto. He was the only Lithuanian whose hits were recorded by Columbia and its famous orchestra (1933-1938). Egidijus Buožis, Petras Vyšniauskas, Spontanica no. 9. Pianistas Egidijus Buožis (b. 1965) is one of Lithuania’s most creative jazz musicians. Petras Vyšniauskas (b. 1957) is a world renowned saxophonist with his own unique style. Banned by the Soviets after the war, Lithuanian jazz made a comeback in 1957. Today, Lithuania’s jazz musicians are known throughout the world. Linas Rimša, ”Strazdas“ (Thrush). Sung by Aistė Smilgevičiūtė. Aistė Smilgevičiūtė (b. 1977) is a talented and unique folk, contemporary folk and pop singer. In 1999 she represented Lithuania in the Eurovision song contest by singing ”Strazdas“ in the Samogitian dialect. Algirdas Kaušpėdas, ”Krantas“ (Shore). Sung by Algirdas Kaušpėdas with the group Antis. Algirdas Kaušpėdas (b. 1953) is an architect and leader of the rock band Antis. He founded the group in 1985, wrote the lyrics for most of its songs, and composed the music for several. The band performed from 1985 to 1990 and regrouped in 2007. The often grotesque and sharply satirical Antis songs stimulated and liberated the nation, encouraging a movement toward freedom and independence.

The Sound of Lithuania compact disc is a collection of several characteristic symbols of Lithuanian music culture in a nutshell. Foremost – instrumental and vocal folklore. It also contains that which we can take pride in globally: the voices of the queen of sopranos Violeta Urmana and the great tenor Virgilijus Noreika, the works of our composers (just a glimpse), and our own unique style of pop music... Of course, this CD presents merely a few highlights of Lithuanian music. Musicologist V i k t o r a s G e r u l a i t i s


This book is about the Lithuania that I feel in my heart. I am truly proud to be Lithuanian, and I love this country very much. Edita Mildažytė

“Where are you from?” This is a question Lithuanians often can’t answer by simply saying “I’m from Lithuania”, because it just prompts another question: “What’s Lithuania?” This book can help with that. We hope Lithuania on a First Date will show you that we are a small but creative nation, one which has contributed something important to the world. We hope that this book, written by prominent Lithuanian journalist Edita Mildažytė, will encourage you to get to know and take an interest in Lithuania’s past and the present. For many readers this may be a first date with our country. We hope it leads to the start of a strong bond – perhaps even love. Lithuania on a First Date includes a compact disc, compiled by musicologist Viktoras Gerulaitis, which aims to introduce you to the music of Lithuania. Let’s listen to what Lithuania sounds like. ISBN 978-9986-16-893-5

9 789986 168935


Lithuania on a First Date  
Lithuania on a First Date  

Knygos Lithuania on a First Date ištrauka