A new book “West Midlands Ho!” is a compelling work of local history, focused on a particular corner of England but set against a background of tumultuous international events. In the book, Lithuanian author Aldona Grupas reveals the personal tales of Lithuanian migrants who moved to Britain in the wake of WWII. Unable to return to their homeland due to the Soviet occupation, from 1947 onwards, several thousand refugees swapped the refugee camps of Allied-occupied Germany for basic accommodation in Britain, along with jobs in manufacturing and agriculture. In the following decades, they put down roots in Britain, all the while keeping their Lithuanian identity alive. In a series of interviews, Grupas teases out the personal experiences of five members of this migrant community in the West Midlands of England.
The book begins with an overview of Lithuanian history, taking in WWII and the post-war Soviet period. Drawing on existing literature, Grupas explains why so many Lithuanians were stuck in Germany in the post-war period and were subsequently offered new lives in Britain under resettlement programs like Balt Cygnet and Westward Ho!
At the end of WWII, the Baltic States found themselves in the Soviet grip, isolated from the free world. The people who remained in the country lost the opportunity to travel freely. Soviet oppression and restrictions on freedom of movement prompted many Lithuanians to flee Lithuania. The book “Breaking Through the Iron Curtain” prepared by Dr. Darius Juodis examines the flight of the Lithuanian population from the Soviet Union.
The book presents several periods: the first escapes (1940-1941); the period after WWII; the partisan escapes; the flight of the Lithuanian population to the West from 1950s to 1990s and the subsequent escapes.
Two components stand out in the structure of the book: research and the analysis of situation and a biographical description of each flight. The latter part lists the persons who successfully fled abroad. Dr. Juodis’ book presents various stories of escapees, photos of persons who fled and border crossings and KGB documents from the Lithuanian Special Archives, other memory institutions and personal archives.
The exhibition illustrates the wide variety of media that has existed in the diaspora since 1990. Presented in seven sections, it invites visitors to learn about both print media and electronic publications in Europe, USA, South America, Canada and Australia. A separate section is dedicated to publications that were repatriated to Lithuania, and another to radio and television programming that was important to the diaspora. Finally, the section “Communication on the Internet” is an overview of virtual forms of contact and information.
The exhibition includes only a small number of Lithuanian publications that existed in the diaspora. According to the National Library of Lithuania data, there were more than 50 publications in English alone after 1990. Thirty years ago Lithuanian communities outside of Lithuania were flourishing, and are still dynamic, as shown by the profusion of available media, from traditional newspapers to today’s websites, social networks, forums and blogs.
The exhibition was curated by the staff of the Adolfas Damušis Centre for Democratic Studies and the Lithuanian Studies Section of the Department of Heritage Documentation Research of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library. The English translation was provided by Ramūnė Sakalaitė Jonaitis.
This year Lithuania celebrates a world-renowned American-Lithuanian archaeologist, anthropologist, a pioneer of archaeomithology, Marija Birutė Alseikaitė-Gimbutienė (Marija Gimbutas).
Marija Birutė Alseikaitė-Gimbutienė was born on January 23, 1921 in Vilnius. She began to study at Vilnius Vytautas Magnus Gymnasium. In 1931, the family moved to the provisional capital of Lithuania, Kaunas. There, Gimbutienė studied at Aušra Gymnasium, which she finished in 1938. In the same year she started studying linguistics at the Faculty of Humanities of Vytautas Magnus University. In 1936, she participated in archeological research in Lithuania, in 1938-1939, she took part in the excavation works of prehistoric burial grounds in Kaunas. After Lithuania regained Vilnius, Gimbutienė went to study archeology at Vilnius University. In 1942, she defended her MA thesis “Modes of Burials in Lithuania in the Iron Age.” In 1944, when the Soviets were approaching Lithuania, the Gimbutas family left the country.
In recent years, an increasing number of foreigners has been interested in the Lithuanian language and Lithuania. People want to learn the language for different reasons. If in the past a lot of foreigners wanted to study the Lithuanian language because it was the mother tongue of their significant other, today a large number of students search for their Lithuanian roots and identity.
On January, Vytautas Magnus University Academy of Education, in cooperation with the National Library of Lithuania, organized a virtual forum, “Teaching the Language in the 21st Century: Current Experiences and Future Trends,” in which researchers talked about multilingualism, language learning, the survival of a native language in the 21st century, Lithuanian education in the world, and the importance of creativity and innovations teaching the language.
This year, the researchers of the National Library of Lithuania have been giving lectures to students of the Lithuanian Saturday schools abroad on the topics of Lithuanian cultural history, language and literature.
The archive of Justė Kostikovaitė, the cultural attaché of the Republic of Lithuania in the United Kingdom, covering the period from 2016 to 2020, has arrived at the National Library of Lithuania. Kostikovaitė noted that during the four years of her term as a cultural attaché, the need for contemporary cultural content had arisen. The events focused on the virtual content distribution have become very important, particularly during the on-going pandemic.
While in the office, Kostikovaitė was able to introduce new communication tools now used by almost the entire network of Lithuanian cultural attachés. One of them is an e-newsletter, which helps to inform the audience about Lithuania. There is also a huge array of archival and communication material in social media, such as a Facebook “Lithuanian Art and Culture in the UK,” Twitter—“@LtCultureUK,” and Instagram—“lithuanian_art_in_the_uk,” created and administered by Kostikovaitė.
Kostikovaitė also noted that in recent years there has been a great need to form a digital archive of cultural and other special attachés, which currently contains a large number of material on dissemination and documentation of the events.