Man patinka Lietuva

I like Lithuania – a visitor's point of view


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Ukraine to remove evidence of soviet past

CNV00035In May President Poroshenko of Ukraine signed a law that effectively banned all reminders of his country’s past with the USSR.

This was clearly in response to the annexation of Crimea by Russia and its support for the the separatist war in Eastern Ukraine.

The law was hailed as a giant step forward for Ukraine and officials are rushing to implement it before  Independence Day on the 24th August.

Every statue of Lenin, every soviet street name and every red star in every underground station will be removed. Under the same law about two dozen towns and cities which were named after Soviet heroes are being renamed.

Unlike Lithuania Ukraine left most of its communist symbols untouched after the collapse of the soviet union in 1991. Work had already started after the Maidan revolution when dozens of statues of Lenin were toppled and dismantled. The Ukrainians even invented a new word for it – Leninopod, or Leninfall.

The ban on soviet symbols is part of a package that includes opening KGB archives to the public. As in Germany with the holocaust denying law it is now an offence to publicly deny “the criminal nature of the communist regime“.

There are some critics who say it all smacks of communist-style censorship including historians in Canada and the USA  who urged the President to veto the new law. Others say that Ukraine has too much on its hands with a faltering economy and the war on its Eastern frontier to bother about symbols and historic issues.

P1000342In Lithuania there are very few symbols of its communist past left. (See: Where’s the evidence?“)

The statues on the Green Bridge in Vilnius are probably the most famous. Many of the old statues of Stalin and Lenin ended up in Grutas Park as a tourist attraction.

P1000482Lithuania even chiselled out the cyrillic alphabet version of Vilnius on the large boulder in the cathedral square.

It will be interesting to see what Ukraine does about the famous Motherland statue in the centre of Kyiv.  Part of the Museum of the history of Ukraine in WWII (renamed by law to remove reference to the “Great Patriotic War“).

CNV00014This giant stainless steel statue, designed by Yevgeny Vuchetich,  and revealed in 1981, stands 62 m tall with an overall height of 102m.

There is a sword in the statue’s right hand which is 16m long and weighs 9 tons and which was shortened so that the overall height of the statue was not higher than the cross on the Orthodox Church’s dome at Pechensk Lavra in the city (even the soviets conceded an advantage to the worship of god).

I was told that there was a plan to sell the statue to China after independence but the costs of dismantling it were prohibitive so there it still stands for now.

CNV00034_1I have visited the statue and the museum as it is not far from an open air concert arena which is used on Independence Day. I was taken by some Ukrainian friends there one evening to see the concert.

CNV00021We went in by a circuitous route bribing the soldiers guarding the statue with some beer and photographs of them with the ladies in our party. It was all very  good humoured although later when I fell over (a vodka assisted stumble I confess)  I was almost arrested by some plain clothes police until my Ukrainian friend rescued me explaining I was a foreigner!

Whether the Motherland statue ends up in a tourist park remains to be seen.


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Where’s the evidence?

Lithuania underwent a transformation after independence in 1991 and wanted to shake off its former soviet image.

They removed much evidence of the former soviet times but some they kept.

P1000342The statues on the green bridge in Vilnius, fine examples of socialist realism, were kept but other statuary was removed and many pieces ended up in the Grutas Park.

P1000793 P1000801The original three crosses on the hill were pulled down by the soviets and buried but new ones were made and the old ones uncovered and left there with the chains to show the world what had happened.

At the parliament building they have kept part of the barricade they set up to stop tanks entering the parliament building. There are also smaller replicas set out around the building to show the extent of the original barricade.

And not far from the statue of Grand Duke Gediminas in a corner of  the cathedral square is a stone monument celebrating 650 years of Vilnius’s role as capital of Lithuania. If you look closely you can see an oblong recess where they removed the  cyrillic script.

P1000885And while you are in the area look for the the Stebuklas or miracle tile which marks the end of the human wall that stretched from Tallinn to Vilnius in 1989. If you find it stand on it, turn clockwise three times and make a wish!P1000501


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Fond memories of the Lithuanian language Summer school in Kaunas

This is a blast from the past.  I’ve just had an e-mail from Greg, a fellow student at the VDU Summer School with me in 2008 (there were just fourof us who had English as our native language). Greg is an American who later married a lovely Lithuaniuan lady and now lives in Kaunas (their story deserves a blog post in itself).

Anyway he’d dug out a video onYouTube that was made during our Summer School featuring trips to Druskininkai and Grutas Park and our wonderful International Party where we enjoyed food from all the countries represented on the course and some traditional Lithuanian dancing (I’m in there somewhere with my own video camera).