Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Lithuania’s spiritual resistance

The ten commandments of serving culture from Vytautas Kubilius
27 February, 2018 - 10:36
Vytautas Kubilius

As Lithuania celebrates an anniversary of its statehood, we have to reflect, with good-hearted envy, on the spiritual Resistance of Lithuanians in the 20th century.

I began to take interest in Lithuania’s spiritual successes not after Ukraine had suffered a setback in integration but back in the years of studentship, when the course on Soviet republics’ literature spotlighted the outstanding works of Juozas Baltusis, Jonas Avyzius, and Justinas Marcinkevicius.

Our common history in the same imperial barracks has already slipped twice in order to prevent Ukrainians from forming a European world-view and attaining the ideals of European humanism.

My interest in the tragic year 1986 prompted me to do target-oriented postgraduate research at the Institute of the Lithuanian Language and Literature in Vilnius. Having chosen Ukrainian-Lithuanian cultural and literary relations, I had to look for confirmations of the phenomenal spirituality of Lithuanians who were in the same conditions with Ukrainians. I found them in the texts of Lubomyr Husar about the consolidation spirit of Lithuanians in camps for interned persons in postwar Europe and in the reminiscences of the Mukacheve aristocrat of spirit Georgina Muranyi who confessed that Lithuanian girls taught Ukrainian women in Soviet prison camps to preserve human dignity and femininity.

Honestly, I was not a trailblazer in this topic, but it attracted me because it let me touch upon the innermost in the culture of the people whom I envied kindheartedly. As I see it today, Academician Kostas Korsakas, director of the Institute of the Lithuanian Language and Literature, titled his 1954 article as “Literary Links of Lithuanians and Ukrainians” on the occasion of a tragic anniversary.

Having such solid groundwork for research, I seized an opportunity to “add my 5 to get 10.”

In this boundless topic, it was also a good idea to assess the quality of the translations of Shevchenko’s poems which were considered until now as original works of Lithuanian poets at the stage of the formation of Lithuanian poetry – before and after the ban on the Lithuanian printed word by tsarist satraps. But my essay is not about discoveries in my dissertation. It is just an introduction into my favorite theme. The success of research depends on the scholarly supervisor. I chose my theme by myself, but the supervisor was appointed – it was Professor Vytautas Kubilius (1926-2004), of blessed memory, a leading researcher of literary interrelations, the author of the monograph “Lithuanian Literature and the Word Literary Process” (Vilnius, 1983), a crucial work in comparative literary studies of the day.

The cultural and spiritual life of Lithuania in the 16th-19th centuries was particular in that Lithuanian writers-enlighteners carried the radiance of Christian values by way of the literary word – they not only translated prayers and psalms, but also cared about fiction themes for and about the people. Among them were Antanas Bara­nauskas, Kristijonas Do­nelaitis, and Jonas Maironis, Rector of the Kaunas Theological Seminary and poet.

Unfortunately, in 19th-centuty Ukraine, our unsuccessful seminarians turned the vector of Ukrainian literature towards nihilism and atheism because of neglected everyday routine in the empire’s seminaries and monasteries, for the parent country did not care about the colony’s culture after 1654.

Balys Sruoga and Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas, classics of Lithuanian literature, scholars, Kaunas University professors, were inspirers of Lithuania’s spiritual Resistance. They received education at the universities of Munich and Fribourg (between the two world wars, Kaunas, a university city, was the capital of Lithuania and the cradle of the national idea). My supervisor had studied in Kaunas, but he had to graduate in Vilnius because the university was transferred to the new, “proletarian,” capital. Incidentally, when Balys Sruoga was detained in the Stutthof concentration camp in wartime for failure to mobilize Lithuanian students to the front, he never wore a regulation cap in order not to take it off to camp guards. He described his camp experience in the novel The Forest of the Gods (1957).

Inspired by the personal example of Kaunas University professors, my supervisor became their spiritual successor. For this purpose, Kubilius became a professor, a doctor habilitatus, an internationally-acclaimed academic.

In the 20th century, Lithuanian writers worked out their own “philosophy of rank” – they acted “under and for any circumstances.” Naturally, they worked in the field of Lithuanistics, thus asserting themselves as a nation of European way of thinking and existence.

Writers formed Lithuanian statehood in a literary way – in other words, they formed the very aspiration for statehood which is impossible without cultural groundwork. In the ethical dimension, this groundwork was laid by their predecessors – priests and classic writers, who, caring about their people, continued to work on literary texts, forming enlightening masterpieces on a cultural foundation, combining Christian commandments with the poetics of folk melos from Kristijonas Donelaitis, Martynas Mazvydas, and Antanas Baranauskas, to Jonas Maironis, Antanas Vienazindys, and Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas.

It is Vytautas Kubilius’ works that laid this cultural groundwork in the 20th century – first of all, 20 monographs, hundreds of articles in periodicals, and the posthumously published two-volume diary. This diary allowed me to grasp the complexity of the 20th-century literary process and see the attempts to withdraw Lithuanian literature from the sphere of influence of the narrow castrated socialist realism. In my view, Professor Kubilius’ works should be interpreted on the principles of European “Voltaireanism.” Although the scholar never quoted Voltaire’s works, he had known them since his university days. Incidentally, he developed a negative attitude to mandatory quoting when he was still a student at Kaunas University’s Institute of the Humanities. Demonstrative quoting without adhering to principles of the quoted is a sign of bad form and is not applicable to his European psychotype.

After reading my supervisor’s two-volume diary, I discovered the phenomenon of a European scholar who cherishes the realized, not just declared, main principles of European philosophy, which have something in common with the legacy of Voltaire.

The scholar put into practice the great French encyclopedist’s guidelines two centuries later. These guidelines became his ten commandments of serving Lithuanian culture. The content of his actions on the cultural field of Lithuania is to be read on the matrix of Voltaireanism, which only confirms his European psychotype and background.

• One. Still in his young years, he chose the credo: “Work protects us from tree evils: boredom, depravity, poverty.”

• Two. This Voltairean principle reflected on the choice of literary critique as an occupation, for “he shines in the second rank, who is eclipsed in the first.” It can be said without an exaggeration that what really mattered in Lithuania’s literary process in the 1960s-1970s was not what writers wrote but what critic Vytautas Kubilius said about their works.

• Three. “The Earth is a huge theater, where the same tragedy is played under different names.” As for the diary author, the tragedy of his life is called “Loneliness.” He was really one of the most avowed recluse writers, such as Franz Kafka or Volodymyr Vynnychenko. They sought company in diaries, in speaking with themselves, the most reliable, trusted, and interesting interlocutors, for “all the grandeur in the world is not to be compared to a good friend.”

• Four. As an exalted person, the scholar “never spoke about himself in general.” I came to know about his doctoral dissertation ordeal from his diary.

The scholar’s doctoral dissertation has a three-year history – from presentation to the Higher Attestation Commission (March 1972) to the conclusion by the Maxim Gorky Institute of Literature in Moscow. Even such a detective fiction luminary as Agatha Christie could not have unraveled this tangle. The text of the dissertation physically disappeared and reappeared several times – at first in a Vilnius library and then in various academic institutions of Moscow. For three years in a row, the director of the Institute of Literature strongly recommended the scholar to go to Moscow and speed up the process or withdraw the dissertation. Besides, it was common knowledge that a 200-page negative peer review (in fact a denunciation) came from Lithuania to Moscow, but Moscow people did not even read it – they only laughed at its size. At last the Gorky Institute of Literature sent a positive review, and the book abstract was discussed in June 1975. The diary says about this: “Discussing the abstract of my work ‘The Links of 20th-Century Lithuanian Literature.’ Galinis [head of the Lithuanian literature history department. – Author] demands a single comprehensive system, Lankutis [head of the contemporary literature sector. – Author] says there must be separate chapters on the influence of Russian literature and on the literatures of Baltic countries; Stepsis [left-wing critic. – Author]: ‘Where is methodology, where is the struggle of two cultures, where is the formation of a single Soviet nation?’ In a word, it’s a ruin of my hopes and illusions. I wrote this work to show that Lithuanian literature belongs to the West, but it ended up the other way round.

“Clearly, it’s all about pure politics, not research, here. The goal is clear: to show the influence and mission of Russian culture.

“Lankutis speaks, as always, softly to humiliate our literature, but his interest is clear – to have this theme in his sector as a cover but to be able himself to write about Mykolaitis and Grusas. In a word, you are doomed to lifelong slavery, to building a pyramid for pharaohs. Only now it is clear what noose I’m getting into. It’s my eternal naivety. It is silly to expect others to do you good. There’s a game here, with everybody caring for oneself only. Regrettably, I got accustomed to the problem of links and find it difficult to get rid of them. It’s difficult to begin to think in a different direction, although it is clear that this is an ungrateful job in the present conditions. Korsakas’ book is still here, not without reason, and people feel intuitively that it is the destruction of national pride.” [about collected articles on the theory of influences, vol. 1, p. 454. – Author.]

• Five. The scholar promoted Lithuanian statehood in literary terms for half a century because he cherished the idea that “it is lack of talents, not of money, that makes a state weak.”

• Six. To overcome such a “colonial” state of affairs, he devoted half a century of his lifetime to spiritual confrontation. The totalitarian system reacted to this decision in line with the feudal rules of the era, for “an honest man can be persecuted but not dishonored.”

• Seven. “Man was created to act, and there are no great deeds without great difficulties.” His monograph “Lithuanian Literature and the World Literary Process” became this kind of deed.

It was published in Vilnius as late as 1983. The scholar at last implemented his longtime project: he found a place for Lithuanian literature in the context of works by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Charles Baudelaire, Walt Whitman, Guy de Maupassant, Walter Scott, and Oscar Milosz. This monograph brought the author fame in academic circles, not in the office rooms of a decaying empire, in 1983.

• Eight. The scholar loved the truth most of all and, at the same time, condescended to the mistakes of others.

• Nine. He made a name for himself with his own deeds, which is a heavy burden to carry.

• Ten. “He who limits his desires is always sufficiently rich.”

His wealth is a spiritually rich Lithuania. This premise is consonant with that of the German philosopher Arthur Scho­penhauer: “It is important what is inside a man, not what a man has.” This idea was not alien to the professor.

His son Andrius bore witness to father’s spiritual aspirations. This family atmosphere formed his statism, and he eventually became a prime minister in independent Lithuania. Now he is the author of the Marshall Plan for Ukraine.

The professor’s wife Janina Zekaite (1926-2006), a literature expert and a Ph.D., compiled a two-volume diary after his death – she typed the text of the 50-year history of the professor’s Soul on the basis of the notes he had put down on sheets of paper. She also compiled a volume of the scholar’s 416 letters – “Waiting for Answer” (Vilnius, 2006). I learned from the foreword to this publication that the professor had refused to lead Sajudis and the foreign ministry in independent Lithuania, for he thought he had no administrative talent. He planned to pursue literary studies at a venerable age.

Much to our regret, Ukrainian 20th-century humanitarians bore not a single statist son – they usually bore daughters, as if to prove that sons-in-law are the ancestral curse of Ukraine.

Like a poor widow, our non-structured Ukrainian culture has been standing on the crossroads and waiting for years whether or not the diaries of the talented Transcarpathian prose writer Ivan Chendei will be published.

This proves that we have learned only too well a rule from foreign classics: “And what will Princess Maria Alekseyevna say?!”

Our situation is critical because there is nobody to say the archetypical “I gave you life…”

Tetiana Shcherbyna is a Kniazhychi-based Candidate of Sciences (Philology)