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An uncommon sight on the street in Antakalnis

An uncommon sight on the street in Antakalnis

If weather.com says the “feels like” temperature is at least in the upper 20s Fahrenheit, it’s not snowing and either I get home from the archives to go before dark or it’s a weekend day, I go for a run.  Needless to say, I haven’t been running much lately.  But when I do, it is apparently a sight to behold.

I’ve discovered a bike trail on the other side of the river from my apartment.  It’s a great route along the river.  However, to get there, I run through the main intersection of my neighborhood and across a bridge.  People on the sidewalks and even in their cars have no qualms about staring at me.  I feel like I am wearing a sign that says “yes, I am a foreigner.”  Of course, they could just be staring because they have never seen someone run so slowly!

I have to say that I am the only person I’ve ever seen running on the main street in my neighborhood.  I am sure that there must be Lithuanians who run. Maybe they are just smart enough to run indoors in the winter.  I find running on a treadmill excruciatingly boring so I am willing to take on the elements.

I do encounter other runners on the bike trail — all men, interestingly enough.  I sometimes want to call out “are you a foreigner too?”

Lithuania, along with Latvia and Estonia, became full members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on May 29, 2004.  NATO membership was a key goal for these countries after they achieved independence with the demise of the Soviet Union.  NATO’s Article 5 states that an attack on any member shall be considered to be an attack on all.  After succumbing to Soviet occupation in 1940, an annexation recognized de facto if not de jure by the Allies at the Yalta Conference after World War II, the Baltic countries wanted a guarantee that they wouldn’t face a similar threat from Russia in the future.  NATO membership, with its commitment to military defense, was viewed as that guarantee.  Needless to say, the anniversary of NATO membership is cause for annual celebration.

NATO membership includes the Baltic air policing mission in which other NATO countries provide military patrol of the air space of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from an air base in Šiauliai, Lithuania.  Interestingly, it only takes four fighter aircraft to patrol the air space of all three countries.  In 2005, Lithuania hosted a conference of NATO foreign ministers in Vilnius.  Lithuania also contributed troops to NATO-led missions  in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the Baltic Battalion.  Most recently, Lithuania advocated that NATO take a tougher stance with Russia.  NATO broke formal ties with Russia to protest its invasion of Georgia last August.  When NATO began discussing re-establishing relations this winter, Lithuania argued against it.  Despite Lithuania’s objections, NATO resumed its official relationship with Russia in March.

Ceremony in front of the parliament building on Sunday (AFP photo)

Ceremony in front of the parliament building on Sunday (AFP photo)

Releasing my inner disco diva!

Releasing my inner disco diva!

On Saturday night, I attended a fundraiser sponsored by the International Women’s Association of Vilnius to support breast cancer awareness and detection in Lithuania.  Proceeds from the event support Nedelsk! (Don’t Delay!), a mobile breast cancer screening/mammogram clinic that travels to rural areas around the country, and the Pink Ribbon Society, which promotes breast cancer awareness.  The theme for the fundraiser — 70s Disco Night.  We had a delicious dinner then hit the dance floor to shake our groove things.

There was a bit of decade-confusion — some people came dressed as 1960s hippies and the DJ kept playing 80s music.  But it all just added to the fun.  The “best costume” award went to two American couples who came dressed as The Village People.  Several news organizations sent photographers to cover the event and, after seeing everyone dressed up, one commented “These foreigners are crazy!”

There was an interesting geographic distinction in music — some songs definitely brought all the Americans on to the dance floor, while the Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Poles got excited about songs I’d never heard of.  But the music that brought us all together? You guessed it, ABBA!

Most importantly, we all had a blast and raised money for an important cause.

Enjoying dinner.  Yes, I am wearing blue eyeshadow!

Enjoying dinner. Yes, I am wearing blue eyeshadow!

Soup is the standard first course for lunch and dinner in Lithuania.  According to my neighbor, Lithuanians believe that eating soup is important because it keeps your stomach and intestines healthy.  I don’t know about the medical accuracy of this belief, but I love eating Lithuanian soups because they are so tasty.   Some of my favorites are šaltibarščiai (pronounced shal-tee-bar-shchai, aka cold beet soup), rukstinies (sorrel soup) and mushroom soup.  Cabbage soup and potato soup are also popular here.  (Click on the soup names for a link to recipes.  Disclaimer: I haven’t tested these.)

My neighbor was very surprised that I don’t make my own soups.  I had to admit that I am a typical American and eat soup from cans.  Lately I’ve been trying my hand at making soup at home, although I do use bouillon cubes.  I haven’t worked my way up to making my own stock yet!  My soups aren’t as tasty as those I get in restaurants or at friends’ homes, but they are pretty good.  On a cold winter day, it’s really nice to have a bowl of hot soup.  Šaltibarščiai is perfect for a hot day in the summer.

It's pink but it's yummy!

Šaltibarščiai -- it's pink but it's yummy!

The archivist in the reading room believes that I should know more about Lithuania than just KGB files.  In order to contribution to my education, she arranged for a friend who works at Vilnius University’s visitor services to give me a tour this week.  She waited until we were having a beautiful sunny day to send me over to the university for an afternoon tour.

Vilnius University was founded in 1579.  It was originally a Jesuit university and was taken over by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1773.  The university was closed by Tsar Nicholas I in 1832 after a Polish-Lithuanian uprising against Russian imperial rule.  The university re-opened in 1919 when Vilnius was part of Poland.  Since 1940, it has been the highest educational institution in Lithuania.

The original campus is located in Old Town.  It consists of 13 buildings and 13 courtyards.  The university buildings include Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicist styles.  Here are a few photos from my tour.

The Observatory Courtyard

The Observatory Courtyard

The Grand Courtyard

The Grand Courtyard

Entrance to Art Gallery

Entrance to Art Gallery

A faded fresco on one of the buildings

A faded fresco on one of the buildings

On Wednesday, the archivist who works in the reading room insisted on taking a second photo of me.  She thinks it is funny that I wear fingerless gloves.  So here I am bundled up and showing off the gloves.  Last week the heat wasn’t working properly; it was so cold that I had to wear my coat while I was working.   Fortunately, this week the reading room is once again just chilly rather than frigid.

I am diligently working my way through the files on my inventory list.  Right now I am focusing on a group of students who posted signs throughout Vilnius on May 14, 1974 calling on Lithuanian youth to remember Kalanta and to fight for Lithuania’s separation from the Soviet Union.  Which means more KGB interrogation statements to read…

Keeping warm!

Keeping warm!

In Seattle, I listen to NPR each morning for my daily news.  Here in Vilnius, I listen to the BBC World Service morning news report.  The great thing about the BBC World Service is that it broadcasts on local radio stations in countries all over the world, making it very easy to access.  Getting my daily news from the Brits has gives me a whole different perspective on the world.  As you might expect, I much better informed about Great Britain and the European Union.  Interestingly, I am also learning a lot about Africa.  The BBC’s coverage of Africa is more extensive than that of U.S. news sources, perhaps because much of Africa was part of the British empire.  I do get a fair amount of coverage of U.S. news, especially the financial crisis.  The BBC even covers American sports, such as the NFL.  Of course, soccer — known to the rest of the world as football — gets extensive coverage.  I never thought I’d be so well-informed about David Beckham’s career or to follow closely the drama of whether Brazilian superstar Kaka would take the big money offered by Manchester United or stay in Milan (amazingly enough he turned down the money).  Cricket, however, remains a complete mystery to me.  Recently, the BBC reported that an English team won a three-day test match 301 to 3.  How is this even possible?

The windows in the archives reading room have a view of Lukiškės Park across the street.  During the Soviet years, a giant Lenin statue stood in the center of the park.  That statue is, of course, gone (and no, it’s the one now standing in Fremont!).  The city has decided that the time has come to re-do the park and to put up yet another monument to independent Lithuania.  The daily paper Respublika recently featured proposals for the park submitted by various architects.  Unfortunately most of them include a lot of concrete.  Personally I think it would be a shame to lose the grass and benches in this park.  A paved square with a giant obelisk just seems unfriendly to me. As it is now, with trees and grass, it’s a welcoming open space in the center of the city.

Lukiškės Park across from the archives

Lukiškės Park across from the archives

One of the nice proposals for the park

One of the better proposals for the park

at-work

Here I am at work at “my” table in the archives reading room with the tools of my trade — laptop, digital camera, dictionaries and files.  I like this table because it is next to the window and to a radiator.  The reading room is often chilly but I decided not to wear my big scarf and fingerless gloves for the photo.

terleckas

Antanas Terleckas

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Kaunas to attend a symposium at Vytautas Magnus University.  At the reception following the symposium, the professor who invited me arranged for me to ride back to Vilnius on a charter bus full of special guests.  So there I was, an American graduate student on the bus with 15 people who were either founders of the Sajudis independence movement or signers of the 1990 Declaration of Independence.  The bus dropped us off behind a building in downtown Vilnius.  I had no idea where we were, but the group asked where I lived and one man offered to go with me by trolleybus since we lived in the same neighborhood.  We talked about how I came to be in Lithuania and about my research.  He then invited me to come visit him one day to talk about Lithuania under the Soviets.  He wrote down his name and telephone number and handed it to me.  I was surprised to discover that I was riding the trolleybus with Antanas Terleckas, a famous dissident who spent many years in Soviet labor camps for human rights and nationalist activism!

On Saturday afternoon, I spend over four hours with Mr. Terleckas and his wife, drinking tea and listening to stories about his dissident activities, the Lithuanian Freedom League which he founded in 1978, and his experiences in a Soviet labor camp.  He actually had quite a few funny stories to tell about the labor camp.  He and his wife were obviously able to keep a sense of humor despite the seriousness of their work for human rights and the persecution they experienced under the Soviet system.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them as well as being interested in the history that they lived.

As an undergraduate at Florida State University in 1987, I wrote my senior thesis on Catholic and nationalist dissent in Soviet Lithuania — including Antanas Terleckas and the Lithuanian Freedom League.  I never imagined that 22 years later, I would be in independent Lithuania, sitting in Mr. Terleckas’ living room, having tea and discussing life under the Soviets.