Lithuanian-American Poet and Zen Practitioner AL ZOLYNAS

By David A. Bainbridge


I would like to introduce you to my favorite poet, Algirdas Zolynas. His most recent book was his just released, Near and Far, Garden Oak Press, December, 2019,141 pages. $11.69 at B&N.

Al’s poems are personal, rich in emotion, and often leavened with humor. Many capture the beauty and mystery of every day life. Some of my favorites include: Bread, In Gratitude; Near Sunskai, Lithuania; Watching a Day; the Western Felt Works, Leaving Kaunas, 1944, and Sideways Down Rapids.  

Also worth a look in earlier books: Love in the Classroom, The Zen of Housework, Nothing to do—Nowhere to go, The Way He’d Like it, Running down Summit Avenue in Saint Paul in a Heavy Snowfall, and Living with Others.

Al was born in Austria of Lithuanian parents in 1945. They had fled the Soviet advance and survived bombing raids in Berlin. His parents became part of the wave of 11 million displaced people (DP) after the war. His father had been an attorney and one of his grandfathers signed the Lithuanian Declaration of Independence in 1918. As refugees they were refused entry to the US, where you had to have a sponsor, a place to live, and a guarantee that you would not displace American workers or, better yet, a related American citizen. 

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The Screening of a Film by Dutch-Estonian Director

On 25 November, 2019 the screening of a film “Coming Home Soon: The Refugee Children of Geislingen” by Dutch-Estonian film director Helga Merits took place at the National Library of Lithuania. The director’s latest film is about Estonian children who fled Estonia in 1944 with their parents, sometimes with only one parent or relative, and spent the war in the Geislingen refugee camp in southern Germany.

Despite the testimonies about extreme poverty and especially difficult living conditions during and after the war, Merits says that her film is also about hope and inspiration. And while the documentary tells a story of Estonian refugee children living in the Geislingen refugee camp from 1945 to 1950, it is also the history of many Eastern Europeans. The film draws parallels with the current situation of the refugees in Europe as well. “Coming Home Soon” has already been screened in 11 countries and 24 European cities.

“Coming Home Soon” is the fifth documentary film by Helga Merits. All her films tell stories about people who were forced to leave their homes and establish new lives in new and unfamiliar places.  

The director was present at the screening and answered questions from the audience.

The Society for the Study of World Lithuanians

The participants of the first discussion. Photo: Vytautas Magnus University

On November 8, 2019, on the initiative of Vytautas Magnus University, the Society for the Study of World Lithuanians was established.

The president of the Society, Dr. Ilona Strumickienė, says that the name was chosen in memory of the Society for Aiding the Lithuanians Abroad which was active in Lithuania in 1932-1940. The Society provided aid to and maintained contacts with Lithuanians living abroad. It also contributed to strengthening of the Lithuanian identity among expatriates. In 1935, the Society organized the first World Lithuanian Congress in Kaunas.

By following the example of the Society for Aiding the Lithuanians Abroad, the newly established society hopes to build a network of and disseminate message about Lithuanians around the world, share discoveries and research results, and help strengthening civil society in Lithuania.

The first event organized by the Society was a discussion about how Lithuanian schools receive children who have returned from emigration which took place on December 13, 2019.

Exhibition about the History of Lithuanian-Canadian Community, Inc.

Exhibition about the history of Lithuanian-Canadian Community ran from Sep 23 to Oct 31.

From September 23 to October 31, the visitors of the National Library of Lithuania had an opportunity to see the exhibit dedicated to Lithuanian-Canadian Community, Inc. and its political, cultural, and educational activities over the past 67 years. The organizers of the exhibition are the Lithuanian Museum-Archives of Canada and the Lithuanian-Canadian Community, Inc.

The exhibition presents the history of Lithuanians in Canada: the establishment and development of the Lithuanian Community, its political, cultural, and social activities, as well as significant support to Lithuania, especially in the early 1990s. The stands showcase the photos from the first Lithuanian Days in Canada, the World Lithuanian Community Congress in New York, and the first World Lithuanian Youth Congress in Chicago. The exhibition also demonstrates the cooperation of the Lithuanian-Canadians with the Reform Movement of Lithuania and the state of Lithuania after the restoration of independence, and reminds of many other important events that took place during the 67-year-old history of the Community.

The exposition was supplemented by a video which was specially prepared by the staff of the National Library of Lithuania. In the video, various people from the field of culture, diplomacy and politics share their thoughts about Lithuanians in Canada, the development of relations between Canada and Lithuania and other important issues. The video in Lithuanian can be found on “Youtube”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFmRiZJyT0Y

Two Ph.D. Theses on Lithuanian Diaspora

On October 25, a doctorate student of Vytautas Magnus University, Egidijus Balandis, successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis “Sport in the Social Fabric of Lithuanian-Americans in the Early 20th Century.”

Using the history of sport, Balandis analyzes the activities of Lithuanian-American organizations and civic participation of Lithuanians in American life. The main goal of his thesis is to explore the role of sport in a wider social fabric of Lithuanian-Americans of the early 20th century. Balandis looks at the attempts by Lithuanian-Americans to establish contacts and accumulate social capital through sport organizations, competitions, the non-sport activities of Lithuanian-American athletics clubs and the celebrities of that time. Using archival sources, periodicals and historiography, the author analyzes the by-laws of Lithuanian-American sport clubs, features of self-governance, various forms of activities, social functions, and their involvement in building social networks and relations with a broader part of the civil society of Lithuanian diaspora. In doing so, he tries to answer the question what role did sport play in social networks of ideologically oriented Lithuanian-American movements, and what attitudes they held towards sport and sport activities. Balandis also investigates the attempts of the Lithuanian-American media and more famous athletes and fans to construct the portraits of sport heroes and their intentions to use these portraits as both an opportunity to bring Lithuanians together and as a tool of social control applied on different diaspora layers.

On October 11, Monika Šipelytė, a doctorate student of Vilnius University, defended her Ph.D. thesis on the topic of political and diplomatic activities of Lithuanians in Switzerland in 1915-1919 and their impact on the statehood of Lithuania. The dissertation analyzes in depth the early emigration of Lithuanians to Switzerland and their political aspirations, actions, and achievements during the WWI. More specific activities, such as international and national conferences, development and dissemination of state projects, publishing, and internal and external correspondence are discussed in five chronologically arranged chapters.  

International Conference “Religious Communities in the Age of Migration” in Kaunas

Dr. Ilona Strumickienė

On October 24-25, 2019 the Vytautas Magnus University Research Cluster “Church Relations with State and Society in Lithuania” invited a broad international group of researchers to the conference on the religious communities in the age of migration. The goal of the conference was to explore and discus the religious history and contemporary processes of the Catholic Church, religious communities (such as Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Lutherans and Orthodox), migration, and diasporas.

Researchers from various research fields: religion, theology, history, political science, sociology, cultural science, public communication, and art history representing different countries (Belarus, Finland, Hungary, Holland, US and Lithuania) gathered to the conference.

Two researchers from the Adolfas Damušis Democracy Studies Center of National Library of Lithuania participated in the conference. Dr. Ilona Strumickienė, director of the Center, in her presentation “Returning Migrants and Their Influence on Lithuania’s Social and Religious Life” talked about re-emigration processes and the religious influences and expressions brought back by re-emigrants. In presentation “Listening to ‘the Words of God’ on Lithuanian-American Radio,” Dr. Ina Ėmužienė analyzed various forms of religion in the American radio media and its different expressions and impact on the Lithuanian-American community.