Category Archives: Miscellany

Another Year of World War II

One of the downsides of being a historian of the 20th century is that one teaches about war — a lot. In the 2009-2010 academic year, I taught courses on World War I, World War II, History and Memory of the Holocaust, and Europe in the Modern World (which, of course, included both world wars and the Holocaust).

This coming academic year will be another year of World War II.  I am scheduled to teach the Europe in World War II lecture course in the fall.  In the spring, I will teach a seminar course on Remembering and Commemorating World War II in Europe.  War is a challenging topic to teach — it is a fascinating topic that provides an opportunity to look at military, political and social aspects of history, but it is also tragic and often horrifying.

This will also be a challenging year because it will be the first time I’ve taught university-level courses as the primary instructor.  Two years ago I was a teaching assistant working under a professor.  This year, it’s all up to me.  In addition to wrapping up my research here in Lithuania, I am already preparing for the fall lecture course.  I won’t be able to write actual lectures until I am back in Seattle and I have access to my books and notes from the previous courses.  However, I’m developing the lecture schedule and finding readings for weekly assignments.

I’m also keeping an eye out for materials for the seminar next spring.  The seminar will look at various challenges and conflicts in commemorating World War II in Europe.  Some possible topics — how the war has been commemorated in Germany (how does a country explain that it started a world war?), memorializing the Holocaust (how does one turn a death camp into a museum?), confronting collaboration with the Nazis (so many possible examples), and Stalin’s role in the war (still a hot topic in Russia).  One topic that I definitely will cover is commemorating World War II in the Baltics during Soviet times.  The Soviet Union was a member of the Allies and therefore a victor in the war. May 9 — the date of victory day for the Soviet Union — was celebrated in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  However, for the Baltic countries, the war wasn’t experienced as a victory because it resulted in occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union.  Once these countries became independent again in 1991, many of the statues were removed, which resulted in a public conflict in Tallinn, Estonia over a statue known as the Bronze Soldier.

I might just show the video below, made in Vilnius in 1980.  It’s a great example of how World War II was commemorating in the Soviet Union.

Thanks to Litlocal for the link to the video!


On a PBS Station Near You

The documentary film The Singing Revolution will be shown on PBS nationally in the United States beginning July 26 through September.  You can check the listing for your station here.  The film is about the Estonian independence movement in the late 1980s, with an emphasis on the nonviolent nature of the movement. It’s a similar story to the Lithuanian independence movement.  I saw the film in Seattle a couple of years ago and I highly recommend it.

The Book Smuggler (tik lietuviškai)

After the failed 1863 uprising by Lithuanian and Polish nobles, the Russian imperial government banned use of the Latin alphabet and attempted to convert Lithuanian to the Cyrillic alphabet.  The ban stayed in place until 1904 and forbade printing, distributing or possessing Lithuanian language books and other printed materials with the Latin alphabet.  During the forty year ban, books were printed in Prussia and smuggled into Lithuania.

A new film, Knygešys [Book Smuggler] premiered at a recent film festival and is now available online.  Unfortunately, it does not have English subtitles so only my Lithuanian-speaking readers will be able to understand it.  However, it is a fairly pedantic storyline and non-Lithuanian speakers will probably be able to figure out the plot.  It’s only about 30 minutes and the cinematography is beautiful, so take a look.

You can watch it here.

My First Photo Credit!

Back in February, E Magazine “The Environmental Magazine” contacted me to ask if they could use a photo they’d found on my 2009 blog for an article about recycling in Europe.  The photo below — my very first published photo credit — is featured in an article in the current issue of the magazine.  Check it out here!

Alfred Erich Senn

On Thursday evening, I attended a reception honoring the release the Lithuanian translation of Professor Alfred Erich Senn’s book Lithuania 1940: Revolution from Above.  I can count the number of historians in the United States who write about Lithuania on one hand — and that number includes me.  Professor Senn is the senior member of that group.  Now retired from University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor Senn began his career as a historian of Imperial Russia.  However, family heritage led him to write about Lithuania.  His book Lithuania Awakening (now out of print so check your library) chronicles the birth of the Lithuanian independence movement in the late 1980s from first-hand observations.  He recently published a book based on the daily diary of American consul in Lithuania in the 1920s.  He is a witty and interesting conversationalist and has helped me tremendously in my own work.  I am pleased to recommend any of his books for those who are interested in learning more about Lithuania.

Baby Names

Last week, I spent an hour in the library at Statistics Lithuania looking for statistical data on birth rates and education levels in post-war Soviet Lithuania.  I’m not a statistics person and Soviet statistics can be a nightmare, but I was hoping to find some useful data.  In addition to information that I found in the 1959 census, the annual demographic year book had data on birthrates since 1945.  As I was looking through the table of contents for the 2009 Demographic Yearbook, I saw that it included lists of the top 10 baby names in Lithuania for that year.

I often joke that I can tell the most common Lithuanian names by looking at the names in my mobile phone contacts list.  I know a lot of women named Ieva, Giedrė, Aušra and Eglė.  And I know a lot of men named Arunas, Vytautas, Dainius and Saulius.  I was interested to see a quite different list of current popular names.

Top 10 Boys’ Names for 2009

  1. Matas
  2. Lukas
  3. Nojus
  4. Kajus
  5. Dovydas
  6. Dominykas
  7. Mantas
  8. Rokas
  9. Jokūbas
  10. Augustas

Top 10 Girls’ Names for 2009

  1. Emilija
  2. Gabija
  3. Urtė
  4. Ugnė
  5. Gabrielė
  6. Kamilė
  7. Austėja
  8. Goda
  9. Ieva
  10. Viltė

More Lithuania in the News

It is fitting that Lithuania has the opportunity to chair the OSCE.  In 1975, the Soviet Union was one of 35 countries to sign the Helsinki Accords establishing the OSCE.  In doing so, the Soviet Union agreed to abide by certain human rights provisions.  Over the next fifteen years, dissidents in Lithuania used that agreement to protest Soviet violations of human rights in the international political arena.

Lithuania takes over OSCE Chairmanship, will focus on freedom
of the media, protracted conflicts, fostering regional co-operation

VILNIUS, 1 January 2011 – Lithuania took over the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe today, with a focus on internal and external threats in the OSCE area, fostering democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, notably freedom of the media, promoting energy security in Europe and building upon synergies between regional organizations.

“We will work towards building a true security community, without dividing lines, where commitments are implemented, the use of force is unthinkable, and human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully respected,” said Audronius Ažubalis, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Lithuania, and the new Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE. “The OSCE can do more to address old and new threats and challenges in the 21st century – both internal and those stemming from outside the OSCE area.”

He mentioned cyber-security, trafficking of people and drugs as examples of transnational threats affecting all of the OSCE.

Ažubalis stressed the Lithuanian Chairmanship’s intention to actively uphold human dimension principles: “In the OSCE, human rights and fundamental freedoms are at the core of security.”

He cited the crucial importance of media freedom and the security of journalists for the proper functioning of a democratic society.

“Lithuania, as a part of the Baltic Sea region and a member of the European Union and NATO, believes that a network of regional and sub-regional organizations, complementing each other’s activities and those of the OSCE, will be more than the sum of its parts. Synergies between such organizations are vital for building a stronger security community,” Ažubalis said.

“Regional co-operation is also vital for building long-term stability in volatile regions and may be an important contribution to addressing protracted conflicts in the OSCE area,” Ažubalis said, stressing that the advancement of the solution to protracted conflicts in Transdniestria and South Caucasus, as well as the situation in Georgia, will be a priority of the Lithuanian Chairmanship’s agenda.

“The OSCE has an important role to play, in particular through the promotion of understanding and tolerance between the societies which are parties to the conflicts, and we would like to see a more active OSCE role here.”

Ažubalis also mentioned the need to jointly develop common principles in the field of energy and said that the OSCE can promote dialogue and co-operation at the regional and cross-dimensional level in this sphere.

Ažubalis took over the Chairmanship from Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister and State Secretary Kanat Saudabayev, whose country chaired the OSCE in 2010.

“I would like to express my gratitude to Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev for his dedicated work as the OSCE Chairperson-in Office towards strengthening the security in Europe as the OSCE Chairperson-in Office, and especially for holding the OSCE Summit in Astana, the first top-level meeting of the Organization in 11 years,” Ažubalis said. “I would also like to welcome Ireland and Foreign Minister Micheál Martin to the OSCE Chairmanship Troika.”

In the Astana Commemorative Declaration, participating States have tasked the Lithuanian and subsequent chairmanships of the OSCE with “organizing a follow-up process within the existing formats, taking into consideration ideas and proposals put forward by the participating States, including in the framework of the Corfu Process”.

On 13 January in Vienna the new Chairperson-in-Office will outline the Lithuanian Chairmanship’s priorities to the Permanent Council, a key OSCE decision-making body.

Winter Haiku

Glittering crystals
Shine brightly in the snow
Under street lights


I like the way snow
Squeaks underfoot when I walk
Through the wintry park


Snowing, snowing, snow
Fat white snowflakes coming down
Outside my window



Happy 2011!

I wish you all a new year filled with

love and laughter

meaningful work and relaxing play

courage to face the sad times

joy and beauty

Reverb 2010

I don’t usually make formal new year’s resolutions, but I do like to spend time at the end of the year reflecting on the outgoing year and thinking about what I want for the next year.  I recently discovered REBERB10 — a website featuring daily prompts for reflection throughout the month of December.  Here are a few of my answers — reflections on 2010 and looking forward to 2011.

December 8: Beautifully Different
I use big words and quote Polish dissident writers in everyday conversations without even thinking about it.  (My friends tell me this is one of my unique traits.) I have a great smile.

December 17: Lesson Learned and December 24: Everything’s OK
In early October, I had a horrible weekend in my Vilnius apartment.  I wanted to move out as soon as possible but I didn’t know where I could go.  That Sunday morning, a new acquaintance at the International Church asked me how I was doing and I blurted out that I needed to move out of my apartment.  She immediately invited me to come stay with her for two weeks while her husband was out of town.  I am so glad that I accepted her offer — not only did I have a home for two weeks when I needed one, it was also the beginning of a good friendship.  In that moment of asking for and accepting help, I realized that everything was going to be okay — and I learned the valuable lesson that sometimes I need to let go of my need to do everything myself and allow someone to help me.

December 22: Travel
Given that I am living in Lithuania, this may seem an obvious one, but this year featured three significant trips. 1) Krakow, Poland — this was on my list of must-see places and I loved the city. 2) Italy — Venice was amazing and the food was delicious. 3) Oxford/London – my first trip back to the UK since I lived there 20 years ago reminded me of how much I like the British.
In 2011, I am looking forward to a trip to Stockholm to attend the Baltic Studies Conference in Europe and visit a former professor.  And who knows what other weekend trips might pop up along during the year!?

December 25: Photo
This photo of me with my niece and nephew at the beach was taken by my sister when I visited them last June.  It represents two things that are important to me, but aren’t as much a part of my life as I would like.  Although I am fascinated by the history of cold countries (here I am in snowy Lithuania, after all), I love the beach and warm climates.  Even more, I love my niece and nephew.  In 2011, I’m hoping for some beach time and looking forward to staying connected with my niece and nephew, despite being so far away.