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I am ending my time in Lithuania by taking a trip with friends from Seattle to Austria and Hungary — plus a two day visit with an American friend who lives in Bratislava, Slovakia.  When I lived in Lithuania fifteen years ago, I spent spring break in Prague and Bratislava (visiting the same friend).  We took one day trips to both Vienna and Budapest and I have wanted to return ever since.  Needless to say, I am very excited about this trip!  I plan to take a lot of photographs, but I won’t be taking my laptop — I promise blog posts about my trip after I return.

Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia — along with the Czech Republic, Slovenia and part of Ukraine — were all part of the Habsburg (or Austro-Hungarian) empire.  After World War II, the empire was divided into Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, with Slovenia joining Yugoslavia.  After the Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist government in Czechoslovakia, the country went through a Velvet Divorce and split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Slovenia, of course, became an independent country with the collapse of Yugoslavia and Ukraine with the end of the Soviet Union.  Since I change planes in Prague, I will hit four of the six countries that comprise the former Habsburg lands.

habsburg-map

This past weekend, the Artisans Guild presented Vilnius residents with an opportunity to travel back in time to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance periods.  The Bartholomew’s Fair celebrates the granting of privileges to the first artisan guild in Lithuania — the goldsmiths — in 1495.  Town Hall Square was filled with artisans demonstrating various trades, as well as dance and music performances.  You could try your hand at the bellows or bore holes with an awl or sew a book binding.  After checking out the booths on Saturday at lunch time, I returned in the evening to listen to Remdih, a Czech group that plays European music from the Middles Ages.  They were a rollicking band and even featured a tight-rope walker.

Watching a hand-cranked "movie" about the life of St. Christopher

Watching a hand-cranked "movie" about the life of St. Christopher

I loved this kiln!

I loved this kiln!

August was my last work month here in Lithuania and I am happy to report that I accomplished all of the priority tasks for my research. I will be returning to Seattle with nearly 10,000 pages of documents.  It’s a bit overwhelming when I think about it, but I would rather have too much material than too little.  When I arrived in Lithuania eight months ago, I had no idea what I would find in the archives related to my topic.  I have to say that I am pretty darn satisfied with the fruits of my labor.

Now all I have to do is organize, analyze and write!  But I have a deadline to help keep me motivated — 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the 1972 self-immolation and demonstrations.  If I can get my dissertation finished by 2011 (a mere two years away), the timing might be just right for getting a book published.  A grad school can always dream…

When I was in college in the late 1980s, I dreamed of one day having an Alfa Romeo sports car.  That dream never came true — but on Thursday afternoon, a friend in Kaunas let me drive his restored 1977 Alpha Romeo Spider for an hour.  We took the highway out to Rumšiškes, then drove on smaller back roads through scenic villages and even went off-roading a bit in an attempt to get to the lake.  The pedals were a bit stiff and the steering column a bit loose, but it was a blast to drive.  And it was fun to see people take a long look and smile as we cruised by in a classic car with the top down.  Too much fun!

alfa-romeo

After confirming last week that the KGB archives did not have the files on the investigation of Romas Kalanta’s self-immolation, I started over.  I emailed the Kaunas Prosecutor’s office and asked again where the files were.  On Monday, I received an email with an official letter attached.  The letter stated that the files had been transferred to the Kaunas Regional Archives.  I knew that my only chance to spend a day or two working in the Kaunas archives would be Wednesday and Thursday of this week.  On Monday evening, I emailed the Kaunas archives to confirm that they did have the files and that I would be able to see them.  I didn’t receive a response on Tuesday but decided to go to Kaunas anyway.

I took an early bus on Wednesday and arrived at the archives just as the reading room opened at 9:00 am.  The archivist informed me that these files weren’t in the regional archives and that, even if they were, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to look at criminal files.  I told him that the prosecutor’s office had told me the files were there and that I’d already been able to read criminal files from 1972 at the KGB archives.  He went to ask a colleague and returned to tell me again that the Kalanta files weren’t there.  Fortunately I had printed out the letter from the prosecutor’s office, which I then produced.  He took the letter and again disappeared. He returned with a catalog opened to the page with the Kalanta investigation files listed right there in black and white.

After I filled out the request form, he asked if I wanted the files that day.  I said that I did and would use the files on Wednesday and Thursday.  He then told me that the archive would be closed on Thursday for “sanitary day.”  Now I have no idea what archives and libraries actually do on “sanitary day,” but the ones in Vilnius close on the last day of the month.  I was surprised that the Kaunas archive closes on the last Thursday of the month and glad I had decided to come on Wednesday.

Since it was only 10:00 am, I figured I would have plenty of time to photograph the documents in the files before the archive closed at 4:30 pm.  When I mentioned that, the archivist told me that I would have to get special permission to photograph files.  He then produced a blank piece of paper and told me to write a request to the director.  I dutiful wrote my request for permission to photograph the files — in Lithuanian even — and turned it in.  A short time later, the archivist returned to tell me that permission had been granted.  I went to work photographing nearly 800 pages of documents.  I had brought my laptop with me so I was able to download the photos, check them for clarity and rephotograph as necessary.  I turned in the files at 4:00 pm, put away the camera and laptop, and left the archive with 30 minutes to spare.

When I got home on Wednesday evening and checked email, I laughed out loud.  There was an email sent that morning from the Kaunas Regional Archives notifying me that they did not have the Kalanta self-immolation files!

lake-fountain

paddle-boats

lake-trees

Thanks to advice from Litlocal on an earlier post, my friend and I took a bus to Druskininkai and then rented bicycles to ride to Grutas Park.  It was a warm, sunny day — just perfect for a bike ride through the forest and around lakes.  I really liked Druskininkai.  It is a spa resort town and had a quiet and relaxed feeling to it.  Plus the countryside around it is beautiful.  I hope to be able to go for a long weekend sometime to take walks and get spa treatments.   In the meantime, I am glad that was able to spend one day there this trip.

We rode through the forest...

We rode through the forest...

through a village...

through a village...

and took a rest break by this lake...

and took a rest break by this lake...

where this swan swam up for a visit.

where this swan swam up for a visit.

Last Saturday, we had a welcome return to summer weather so a friend and I took a bike ride through Verkiai Park.  I have been on four bike rides this summer — a significant number since I think the last time I rode a bike was 20 years ago.  But they say you never forget how to ride a bike and, after a bit of a shaky start, I did just fine.

Saturday’s ride went along the Neris river and then into the forest.  The highlight — seeing a red fox running through a field.  Unfortunately I don’t have a photo for you because the fox had disappeared into the trees by the time I got off the bicycle and got out my camera.  We stopped at a beach on the river and watched the kids swim.  We stopped at another point along the river and watched some men fish.

The air temperature was warm, but the water temperature was much too cold for me to swim.

The air temperature was warm, but the water temperature was much too cold for me to swim.

Taking a break on the bank of the River Neris

Taking a break on the bank of the River Neris

This stone, which says "miracle" in Lithuanian, marks the end point of the Baltic Way in Cathedral Square

This stone, which says "miracle" in Lithuanian, marks the end point of the Baltic Way in Cathedral Square

On August 23, 1939, the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a Non-Aggression Pact that became known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  In addition to signing a public agreement to not attack each other, they signed secret protocols dividing up Poland between the two countries.  The secret protocols also assigned the independent Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the Soviet Union — and were the basis for the subsequent Soviet occupation and annexation of these countries in 1940.

On August 23, 1989, the popular fronts (soon-to-be independence movements) in the Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia called on their citizens to protest the illegal annexation of their countries fifty years earlier by forming a human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius.  Approximately 2 million people stretched out over 600 km (370 miles) in a peaceful protest.  At the time, it seemed like it would take a miracle for these countries to regain their independence.  But just six months later, Lithuania declared its independence.  Today the Baltic countries are commemorating the 20 year anniversary of an event that demonstrated that the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians were willing to peacefully stand up for their human rights and take on a superpower to regain their independence.

Baltic_Way

Here are more photographs of statues and artwork from Grutas Park…

Power to the Soviets

Power to the Soviets

Honoring Soviet partisans who found the Nazis

Honoring Soviet partisans who found the Nazis

Lenin's famous quote: "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country"

Lenin's famous quote: "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country"