Reflections on Events Surrounding a “Stimulating” Evening: A Viewing of the film “Lietuvių Charta”

Reflections on Events Surrounding a “Stimulating” Evening: A Viewing of the film

“Lietuvių Charta”

By: Audra Adomenas

On Friday, March 13, 2015, Audra Adomenas and Prof. Antanas J. VanReenan showed the film “Lietuvių Charta” (Lithuanian Charter) to a packed audience in the audiovisual room of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture[i] In his opening remarks, Mr. Stanley Balzekas, Jr., President of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture welcomed the audience members to this film showing, and especially greeted individual prime movers in Chicago’s Lithuanian-American community by name. Among those present, representing various Lithuanian diaspora organizations, were Mr. Marius Kasniūnas, Chairman of the Board of the Lithuanian Foundation, based in Lemont, Illinois; Mr. Andrius Jasmantas and Mrs. Daiva Jasmanta of the Lithuanian Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Robertas Vitas, Chairman of the Board of the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center; Dr. Linas Sidrys, a renowned Ateitis Federation activist  and Chicago-area ophthalmologist and his wife, Mrs. Rima Sidrys; Mr. Jonas Kuprys, well-known photographer for Draugas Newspaper and the Lithuanian Chicago community, artist Magdalena Stankūniene among many others.

Produced in 2000 with a grant from Lietuvių Fondas (Lithuanian Foundation), or LF, this Lithuanian language film evolved as a joint project between Pasaulio Lietuviu Bendruomene (Lithuanian World Community), or PLB, and Lithuanian Radio and Television (Lietuvos Radio ir Televizija), or LRT, under the coordination of Vytautas Kamantas of PLB. The museum audience expressed shock and disbelief that the film – the heart and soul of the roots of PLB and the entire Lithuanian diaspora[ii] had not been seen by the assembled audience, mostly Lithuanian-Americans, even though the film had been in an audiovisual format for the past fifteen years. When asked for a raise of hands who in the audience had ever seen the film, it was discovered that only one person out of forty in attendance had seen it previously. Nearly one hour long, the film documents the formation of a Lithuanian diaspora after WWII. Using original film footage, “Lietuvių Charta” begins with Lithuanians fleeing the city of Kaunas as Soviet troops shell it in the summer of 1944. The film fast forwards to  1949 and the DP camps in Hanau, located in Western Germany after WWII, recording the formation of a Lithuanian diaspora and Pasaulio Lietuvių Bendruomenė (World Lithuanian Community), or PLB. Once formed as a solid community, the focus of PLB became the development of the Lithuanian Charter  which guided displaced Lithuanians as refugees and as émigrés by becoming the basis for PLB’s existence in the diaspora.

The viewing of the film affected numerous individuals on emotional and psychological levels. In a discussion period following the film, the director turned the floor over to Prof. Antanas Van Reenan. A number of individuals were given a chance to share their personal experiences as these related to the film. During the course of the evening, a very important question was raised by Ms. Lina Shlikas of Woodridge, Illinois, who identified herself as a Lithuanian-American who had gone through the Lithuanian Saturday school system in Chicago – from Kindergarten onward – and neither she, nor any classmates or friends had seen this powerful film footage. She formulated her question: “Why has this video not been seen since its production in 2000?” Van Reenan responded that “Ms. Shlikas’ question touches the core of the problem . . . [and] only with the help of past president Regina Narušiene was he able to track down a copy last year in the hands of Algis Rugienius, in Michigan.” He went on to answer Ms. Shlikas in detail, saying that he made arrangements to view “Lietuvių Charta” together with  current PLB President Danguolė Navickienė, whom he met in Chicago a year ago. According to Van Reenan, PLB President Navickienė knew nothing about the existence of the film “Lietuvių Charta” – noting that she also felt strong emotions while viewing the DVD which traces the origins of PLB and the all-important “Lietuvių Charta.”

Strong emotional responses were also registered by many who followed Ms. Shlikas. For example, Mrs. Rima Sidrys said that the “Lietuvių Charta” film filled in missing gaps that touched her personally. Lithuanian Foundation chairman Kasniūnas’ question tied the past, present and future together, as he asked “Where is the original 13-point Lithuanian Charter which was drawn up in Hanau, in 1949?” Van Reenan, at that point, directed the question to another prime mover in Chicago’s Lithuanian-American community, Dr. Robertas Vitas, who described the evening as “a truly worthy program” and commented that “the resilience of the Lithuanian people is reflected in their strength and determination, and those of us born in exile should be eternally grateful for their sacrifices.” Dr. Vitas vowed to personally lead the search for the Lithuanian Charter in the Hanau DP Camp files, stored in the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, located at the Lithuanian Youth Center, in Chicago.

The following is an English-language translation of the World Lithuanian Charter:

The World Lithuanian Charter[iii]

  1. National culture is the inborn community of the people. No one can be forced to withdraw his ties from the national [tribal] community. Lithuanians dispersed throughout the world form the World Lithuanian Community.
  2. A person has an inborn right to freely recognize and nurture his national culture. A Lithuanian stays a Lithuanian everywhere and forever. A Lithuanian passes on the essence of national culture, kept alive by his ancestors, to future generations in order to preserve Lithuanianism.
  3. Language is the strongest bond within a national community. To Lithuanians, the Lithuanian language and national pride are synonymous.
  4. The family is the life of national culture. A Lithuanian builds – creates a Lithuanian family.
  5. National culture is the road which leads to international recognition and cooperation. A nation, by proclaiming its genius, universally contributes to the human race.
  6. A nation’s independence and its future existence is dependent on the nurturing of national culture. Through work, education, resources and sacrifice, the Lithuanian fights to defend and maintain an independent Lithuanian state.
  7. The school is the spiritual heart of national culture. The most honorable duty of every Lithuanian is to support the Lithuanian schools.
  8. A society or organization is national culture’s greatest booster. The Lithuanian creates and supports religious, cultural, youth, charitable, professional and other Lithuanian organizations and clubs.
  9. Our forefathers’ struggle and sacrifice for Lithuanian language and books are testimonies of their commitment to all future generations of Lithuanians. A Lithuanian always organizes and supports the printed Lithuanian word.
  10. The history of a nation is its best teacher. The Lithuanian treasures his national past and his national customs. The Lithuanian strives to be worthy of his ancestors because he wishes to be held in high esteem by future generations.
  11. National solidarity is the highest national virtue. The Lithuanian therefore nurtures national solidarity. All Lithuanians are equal children of the same nation [tribe], brothers among themselves. As an indication of national consciousness and Lithuanian unity, a Lithuanian continually contributes to a national solidarity fund.
  12. A Lithuanian’s national colors yellow, green, red [the flag]. A Lithuanian’s national holiday: February 16 [Independence]. A Lithuanian’s motto: Lithuanians we are born, Lithuanians we must remain.
  13. A Lithuanian is loyal to the country he lives in. A Lithuanian’s relationship to non-Lithuanians consists of love and respect for every man’s freedom, honor, life, health and wealth.

Van Reenan mesmerized his audience by noting that the 13-point Lithuanian Charter, irrespective of its having been drawn up in 1949, should not be considered outdated, nor should any of the 13 points be seen as no longer relevant. He explained the importance of the Lithuanian Charter and its relationship to “ideals” as a life force. His reasoning follows thus: ideals have a life-force of their own. Though they may never be attained, standing ideals imbue life into what is being strived for. Van Reenan pointed out that the ideals which created the United States of America have often been betrayed throughout time; however, it is more important to note that the ideals which created the American idea of a Republic have never been abandoned. This is why the United States has an energy/life-force not duplicated in any of the other myriad of places that have tried to set up republics or constitutions.

He further explains that the idealist paradigm which animates the United States of America (a country without a proper name) is a mix of two “-isms,” (belief systems), Republicanism and Puritanism. The two, one secular and the other religious, have matured into what researchers identify as civic religion or civil religion in our time. A point not to be overlooked is that both are idealist concepts not touched by French empiricism (touch, taste, smell). In contrast, continental Europe (apart from Switzerland) does not operate with living ideas. Attempts such as Communism (also idealist in part) have withered on the vine since there was no mature civic religion (civil religion) in the course of nation building in continental Europe. Liberty, enlightenment and prosperity cannot translate into the real world without living ideals. Thus, if the Republic of Lithuania is ever to translate into a real “respublika” (a nation of the people), the Lithuanian paradigm would need to base itself in idealism (practical idealism) as is the American mix of Republicanism (tracing back to pagan Roman republic) and Puritanism (tracing back to Protestantism) and coming together in the 18th century to fire the American Revolution which first occurred in “the mind” and which fostered the formation of the United States. In the case of Lithuanians, in Lithuania and in the Lithuanian Diaspora, it is only the Ateitininkai with their idealist paradigm who have much to offer in the area of the evolution of a “Lithuanian psyche,” in its march toward a living civil or civic religion and a living constitution for the republic and its citizenry. Such ideals (irrespective of whether they exist in reality or not) are essential for all charters – whether they be the U.S. Constitution or Lietuvių Charta. Van Reenan, again, illustrated this concept of the power of ideals by calling the audience’s attention to Dr. Linas Sidrys. “Dr. Sidrys builds his life around the Ateitininkai (Futurist) ideal of “Renew all in Christ.” In so doing, he is able to achieve more in both his personal and professional life. A further historical analogy used was that of the Puritans – Oliver Cromwell, in England, and his close friend, John Winthrop, in 17th century Massachusetts – who drew their life force and energy from ideals, specifically the clarion call of “Renew all in Christ.” Van Reenan, a specialist in comparative intellectual history, noted that ideals are a powerful and influential force in spite of not being able to touch, taste or smell them. He engaged the audience in such a way that the discussion period went beyond the original time-frame of fifteen minutes.

[i] A Historical perspective on the origins of the “Lietuviu Charta” (Lithuanian Charter) appears in the English-language on pages 141-146 in the book Lithuanian Diaspora: Konigsberg to Chicago by Antanas J. Van Reenan, published by the University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, 1990.

[ii] Lithuanian Diaspora: Konigsberg to Chicago. This book was originally presented as a doctoral dissertation in 1986 to the University of Chicago Department of History. Since the author’s specialty field was comparative intellectual history, both the dissertation and book attempt to trace the origins of the “-ism” (the belief system/spirit) of Lithuanianism across space and time from its origins in 17th century Kőnigsberg to 20th century Chicago. Through his studies at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Van Reenan includes in his specialties the origins and elements of the American psyche. Thus, the book is also designed as an inquiry into the foundations of nationality. See Deutsch, Karl W. Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality, New York: The Technology Press of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

[iii] This is an English-language translation which appears on pages 142-144 in Lithuanian Diaspora. From: Balys Raugas, ed. JAV LB Trys desimtmeciai (Brooklyn, New York: Franciscan Press, 1982), pp. 13-14.