India-Lithuania Cultural Interactions: A Contemporary Perspective

By Usha, K. B. | IUP Journal of International Relations, January 2017 | Go to article overview

India-Lithuania Cultural Interactions: A Contemporary Perspective


Usha, K. B., IUP Journal of International Relations


Introduction

Lithuania established diplomatic relations with India in 1992 after regaining independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.1 The Lithuanian political leadership, while attempting to promote relations with India, endorsed that Indians and Lithuanians have similarities in culture, language, customs and ancestry. The Indian leadership in the early twentieth century viewed Lithuania as a distinct cultural entity2 with linguistic and cultural traditions similar to that of India. It has also been observed in India that the Baltic states, including Lithuania, had a strong fascination towards India, which is the oldest among the world civilizations, under the influence of Europeans, especially Germans from classical antiquity. It is interesting to know that they had a very nostalgic and emotional feeling towards Indian people, religion, spirituality, language and culture. India remains a distant mystical and exotic cultural notion in the minds of people of Lithuania. In the age of globalization today, the understanding about modern India is deficient among Lithuanians. In contemporary India-Lithuania relations, culture and past interactions are being used by both countries as an important foreign policy instrument for promoting mutual understanding among people and bilateral cooperation. Therefore, this paper tries to search for the possible interactions between Indians and Lithuanians in the past, which is almost an unfamiliar subject in India, with a contemporary perspective.

Framework of Analysis

In contemporary Lithuania and India, the cultural interaction between both countries is reflected in the cultural diplomacy practices of their foreign policy realms. Culture plays an important role in creating mutual understanding between the two nations in promoting international relations. Culture in the context of cultural diplomacy looks at a broader spectrum and is not limited to performing arts alone but it embraces all aspects in a broader context. As Anand states, "culture is defined not in the narrow sense of art, painting, poetry, etc. but in much broader sense reflecting the values, habits and accumulated mores of a society. It includes a people's past history, religion, philosophy, law, interests, language and all other capabilities acquired by [individual] as a member of the society."3 The UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity defines culture in a broad sense. It defines culture as "the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs".4

Cultural diplomacy is the instrument used by countries to enhance intercultural dialog, cooperation and mutual understanding, and to promote cultural diversity and harmonize international relations. Paramjit S Sahai argues that "the heart of cultural diplomacy is to promote understanding among people, who come from different backgrounds and hold different values, through the medium of culture."5 The role of cultural diplomacy is to build bridge between nations and peoples. Milton Cummings defines cultural diplomacy as "the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding".6 According to Karan Singh, former President of Indian Council of Cultural Relations, "Culture has become a way of life which includes history, art, sculpture, dance, music, traditional and contemporary achievements, science and technology and aspirations of our nation. Culture has no boundaries and using it as a way to interact with the masses has been the most effective way to win hearts in the era of globalization. Culture gives us a chance to interact and understand the great cultural heritage of the world".7 Culture, thus, is a medium of interaction, and communication through which diplomats represent the 'nation' and 'national identity' of a country in the international arena. …

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