Academic journal article Kritika

The Lithuanian Cultural Elite and the End of the Soviet Union

Academic journal article Kritika

The Lithuanian Cultural Elite and the End of the Soviet Union

Article excerpt

Violeta Davoliute, The Making and Breaking of Soviet Lithuania: Memory and Modernity in the Wake of War. 211 pp. New York: Routledge, 2013. ISBN-13 978-0415714495. $155.00.

To date, we know a good deal about the "making" (Sovietization) and the "breaking" (Singing Revolution) of the Baltic Soviet socialist republics (SSRs), but the socialist 1960s and 1970s are far less studied. (1) It was in those decades that the population of the pacified Baltic republics began to adapt to the conditions of the new regime, and it is perhaps for this very reason that Baltic scholars so far have focused almost exclusively on topics like anti-Soviet resistance and the reestablishment of independence. (2) Rein Taagepera and Romuald Misiunas have called the years from 1954 to 1968 a period of the "re-emergence of national cultures," albeit with "some ideological genuflections." (3) More generally, it was also a time of economic stabilization, growing consumption, and more or less peaceful negotiations between citizens and the Party on socialist values. (4) But this period also saw the coming of age of a new generational cohort whose members had been raised in the authoritarian interwar republics, with their strong emphasis on patriotism. This is precisely the group of people that Davoliute's book investigates.

Despite the tide, then, Davoliute's study focuses primarily on the time when the Lithuanian SSR (LSSR) was "in process" in the 1960s and 1970s. Her main objects of inquiry are die culturally active Lithuanians who responded to the call of Soviet modernity, absorbed the patterns of the Thaw, and blended them successfully with the renaissance of interwar national traditions (88). Her book focuses on inner Lidiuanian processes and in this way alone breaks new ground in the history of the Soviet Baltic republics, hitherto told most often as a narrative of "us" vs. "them." In contrast to earlier works on the Soviet period, her book does not focus on suffering and resistance. Her focal point is instead the "rustic turn," a powerful undercurrent in the cultural mainstream of the LSSR that began in the late 1960s and undermined the Soviet discourse of progress and modernity, eventually leading to the "rustic revolution" of the late 1980s. Most notably, she presents "the story of the Soviet Lithuanian cultural mainstream" (xvi) as a way to challenge the popular reference to collective suffering under foreign (Soviet) rule. For this purpose, the author conducted in-depdi interviews with many leading intellectuals of the time (their biographies are collected in the appendix).

In many ways, Soviet Lithuania was different from its northern neighbors in the Baltic region. Lithuanian postwar armed resistance against Sovietization can be compared in scale only to western Ukraine. (5) Lidiuania was distinct from Estonia and Latvia also in terms of its political leadership. The career of Antanas Snieckus (1903-1974) was exceptionally long and robust: he became a member of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party in 1927 and first secretary in 1936. With the exception of his arrest in 1939-40, he held this position until his death in 1974. In contrast, leading Estonian and Latvian comrades sooner or later faced dramatic purges. (6) Moreover, whereas Estonia and Latvia experienced a mass influx of migrants from other Soviet republics that eventually threatened the demographic majority of the titular nationality, Lithuania left the Soviet Union in 1991 with a Slavic minority of only 20 percent, including 8 percent Poles, the republic's traditional national minority.

At the same time, all three Baltic Soviet republics represented a "Soviet West" for many Soviet citizens (105), based on the particular "European" outlook of Baltic cities, the better standard of life on the coast of the Baltic Sea, and for some even a somewhat more relaxed ideological atmosphere. (7) In this respect, Davoliute supports Elena Zubkova's view that the Baltic republics were used by the Kremlin "as showcases for the achievements of Soviet science, culture, and industry" (108) for a non-Soviet audience, but she refers also to the phenomenal success of a number of Lithuanian actors in Soviet cinema (108) who contributed to die positive image of their republic in the rest of the USSR. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.