When Lithuanians ask me if I would like to come back to Lithuania to teach once I receive my Ph.D., I say “yes.” Then I point out that I am trained to teach Russian and East European history, with a specialization in Lithuanian history — and there are plenty of Lithuanian historians around to teach those subjects.
On Wednesday, I had an opportunity to give a lecture at Vytautas Magnus University on Lithuania in the Soviet Union to a group of young people, Lithuanians from Lithuania and Lithuanians from abroad (Germany, Canada, Australia and the United States). It was a challenge to prepare the lecture. First of all, what do they already know about Lithuania during the Soviet years? Next, what do I think they should know about Lithuania during the Soviet years? Finally, what will actually be interesting to a group of 20-something year olds? And, of course, how can I cover Lithuania in the Soviet Union in only an hour and a half?
I decided that they most likely know about the initial occupation and Sovietization of Lithuania in the 1940s and early 1950s; and that they know about the independence movement in the late 1980s. They are less likely to know about the in-between time, the perhaps less dramatic and quite complicated decades of accommodation, passive resistance, dissent, striving to maintain Lithuanian culture and the filtering in of Western culture. And it just so happens that those decades — the 1960s and 1970s — are my area of specialization. I also wanted to make sure that they understood the context of those decades, that they could see how what happened in the Soviet Union affected Lithuania and how events in Eastern Europe and the West also affected Lithuania.
I am happy to report that the lecture went very well. We had a good discussion after my presentation, with quite a few thoughtful questions and comments posed by the students. Several students came up to thank me after the class and even mentioned specific pieces of information that were useful or interesting for them. I also enjoyed the opportunity to teach — something I haven’t done much of this year.