There were two official commemorations sponsored by the Kaunas municipality on May 14. I did not attend the first one at noon on Monday because I was at the secondary school. I did attend the one in the evening, which was jointly sponsored by Vytautas Magnus University. I believe that the mid-day event consisted mainly of speeches. The evening event featured a rock concert by local young Lithuanian rock bands next to the Kalanta memorial. A large screen displayed photographs of the demonstrations that followed Kalanta’s suicide as well as photos of Kalanta. I spent part of the evening hanging out with several former hippies whom I interviewed last year for my research. While the stage hands were setting up, music from the later 1960s was being played over the sound system. At one point, The Who’s “My Generation” was playing and the hippies at the table (and I) were all singing along. Suddenly, “My Generation” was interrupted by blaring metal music as the next band started performing. One of the hippies pointed at the stage and said “now this generation!” Perhaps the most interesting comment that evening was the number of former hippies who said to me that, in 1972, they could have never imagined that they would one day be sitting in the city center, listening to a rock concert in independent Lithuania. But 40 years later, there we were.
The screen by the memorial with a photograph of Romas Kalanta.
The concert next to the Kalanta memorial — May 14, 2012
With two former hippies from 1972
On Monday, May 14, I was invited to participate in a commemoration of Kalanta’s self-immolation at the Veršvų Secondary School in Kaunas. The school is located in the Viliampolė neighborhood and Kalanta attended the school (although it had a different name then). The event included two performances by students and speeches by a representative from Vytautas Magnus University, people who had participated in the demonstrations, and a couple of local of politicians. There were a lot of speeches — probably too many. By the time I gave a 10 minute talk in Lithuania about the hippie movement, it was an hour and a half into the program. I was faced with two hundred restless teenagers. The teachers were all pleased that I could speak Lithuanian; I don’t think the kids were that impressed.
Articles about and commemorations of Kalanta’s self-immolation often use “fire” language. This event was no exception — it was called “Lit a fire in the hearts of freedom.” Students performed a dance representing Kalanta burning himself, which I’m not sure what say about but I found fascinating. In the first performance, students dressed as hippies sang songs from the late 1960s. The first song is the lyrics of a famous 19th century Lithuanian poem “Trakai Castle” set to the melody of The Animals song “House of the Rising Sun.” The young men in dark coats and caps represent the Communist Youth League harrasing the hippies. Later in the performance, a larger group of young men came out and pretended to beat up the hippies, which is actually historically accurate.
On Friday, I participated in a roundtable discussion with three VDU faculty members about Romas Kalanta’s self-immolation and the street demonstrations that followed his funeral. It was an interesting and lively discussion about the events in May 1972, what they meant for Lithuania at the time and what they mean for Lithuania today. I spoke about the “myth of the hippies” — that the hippies actually played a minor role in the events of May 1972 even though they are a large part of the historical consciousness of that period. Yet it is the very “myth of the hippies” that demonstrates the importance of studying these events. The hippies exemplify the tensions between Soviet authorities and youth in post-Stalinist Soviet Union that was manifested in the street demonstrations. This tension was a result of significant changes in the Soviet system and it reveals ways in which the system was fracturing. (The discussion was filmed but I haven’t been able to find a link to the video online.)
The opening of an exhibit “Flower Children: From Pacifism to the Barricades” was held immediately after the roundtable discussion. The exhibit features photographs of young people in Kaunas in the early 1970s, collages made in the early 1970s by a Kaunas hippie, and a 1970s-era vintage room for hanging out and listening to rock music. It’s a rather nostalgic exhibit and great fun!
This month is the 40th anniversary of Romas Kalanta’s self-immolation and the two days of demonstrations that followed his funeral. I’m in Lithuania for ten days to attend commemorative events, speak at two conferences and a school, hopefully do more interviews and (of course) visit friends. I’m temporarily re-activating the “Amanda in Lithuania blog to chronicle my further adventures in dissertation research this month.
(And for those of you who who are wondering, I have a 150 draft of my dissertation. It definitely a rough draft and I still need to write two sections. But I am well on my way to my goal of defending my dissertation and receiving my Ph.D. in fall quarter.)