Volume 12 Number 2
Dancing Outside Parliament
01 April 1999

Elvyra Kucinskaite is Chief Editor of the Lithuanian Catholic monthly magazine, 'Sandora'

It was one of those nights in January 1991 which were to decide Lithuania's destiny. A group of us had gathered beside one of the huge fires which had been lit outside the Parliament Buildings night after night. We were singing, dancing and praying.
Our hearts were filled with joy at our unity and at the outburst of love towards our motherland--but also watchful. We asked ourselves, 'Are you ready to die?' But no one said anything about death aloud.

Suddenly we heard shouts from the fire nearest to the road: 'Tanks!' Unbelievably, instead of running away, people immediately began to move towards the approaching roar of the tanks. Those who were closer to the entrance of the Parliament seemed to be rooted to the ground--they stood firm, praying aloud and in one voice, without any hysteria.

A flood of thoughts went through my head. My mother and my four-year-old daughter were waiting for me at home. I could not make up my mind which was more important--to die for my motherland, or to bring up the daughter who would be able to dance and cry outside Parliament should it be needed in the future. I decided to stay. 'God let your will be fulfilled in my life....'

This was just a rehearsal for the night of 13 January, when we experienced real terror and brutality. But it was our first lesson--and the beginning of our freedom. What has survived of the magic we experienced in those days?


Of course, Lithuania--like other Eastern European countries--has had to go through the 'little deaths' that occur in the process of learning democracy. An observer might think that idealism and youthful self- confidence have already become a thing of the past. Many people became disillusioned when instead of their romantic vision of freedom they got market forces, pragmatism, corruption and political interests.

What draws us to this spirit of resignation? I think it is fostered by the paradoxes that have now become the order of the day in Lithuania. Here are some of them.

With the help of the free market, commercial interests and the goodwill of our neighbours, our economy is somehow developing. The informal elite under Soviet rule, which consisted of free-spirited artists, has been replaced by a more formal one, made up of businessmen and officials. We have just had our first Viennese Ball.

At the same time we have a growing class of criminals, social outcasts and homeless children, who are being raised by the law of the street.

The 'middle generation', who grew up under Communism, have already learnt the ABC of commercial laws. They enjoy the personal fruits of material wellbeing, but they do not see the need for altruism. Charitable work is becoming more popular, but it lacks that contagious generosity which would earn it the name of unselfish love. More and more old people are housed in homes for the elderly which are cold, uncomfortable and lag far behind Western standards.

Social surveys show that the Church still has authority. But it is not fashionable to apply the principles of Christianity to one's social or political life. Perhaps this is not surprising. For 50 years Christianity was lived behind closed doors. Often people were afraid to share their views even with their closest relatives. In those circumstances, it was unthinkable that Christian truths would ever go out into the street or workplace.

And how do we deal with ethnic minorities? From the outside it seems that this area is as calm as the Lake of Geneva on an early morning. There is no rattling of guns, and the smell of blood does not wake us up at night. We do not steal Polish, Russian or Jewish children from their parents and shut them up in kindergartens or schools where they have to speak our language and follow our traditions.

But in any of the cosy caf├ęs in Vilnius you may suddenly catch the words, 'You know, I can't believe he is such a nice person and he is Polish (or Russian or Jewish...).' Perhaps the words are inspired by an experience of injustice. Or maybe we are just used to speaking like that. Much of our spiritual body is still suffering from the infection of an intolerant soul.

Then there is public life. More and more independent organizations are being established, with noble aims and much-needed activities. For example, the Christian youth organization Ateitis has just held its annual academy. It was like a miracle in the sea of pragmatism. The young people raised issues which would have been unheard of for the middle generation.

As everywhere we have a small number of people in Lithuania with nobility of spirit. Others are trying on the clothes of the nobility for the Viennese Ball--and think that all they need to reach their aspirations is the will, the clothes, certain physical standards and a few ballroom dancing steps. But they are unlikely to hit the mark.

Most great initiatives so far have been based on the good will of individuals. We will need to work hard if we want to change the national mentality and develop a deep and mature national conscience.

And what of political life? Like everywhere else, we need pure motives. Maybe this is why people get desperate: 'Is this the country for which I was prepared to die?'

Hope is fighting with scepticism, optimism with weariness, enthusiasm with irritation. This is a beautiful, hard time of reality. Infantile and empty dreams are dying; we are shocked by our own imperfections. And that is good. Perhaps we will be able to recognize that we are weak. And perhaps God, who was forgotten in all the excitement of freedom, will find more place in our journey.

Maybe my daughter will not have to dance and cry outside Parliament. But please God, let your will be fulfilled in our lives.
Elvyra Kucinskaite

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