The text of the Dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy at Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University was dedicated to the international conference in Vilnius "Totalitarianism and Tolerance: Challenges to Freedom".
We can rephrase this statement into: only tolerant countries and their citizens are rich and happy. In social sciences since the 1960s and 1970s intolerance has become a synonym of disaster, poverty, and suffering. Intolerant social norms in the society usually limit people’s choices, also reducing the degree of their satisfaction of the quality of life. Personal happiness is largely dependent on equal opportunities for women and men and tolerance of people of a different sexual orientation, confession, race or culture.
Analyses of European quality of life reveal that Lithuanians are less pleased with their lives than the average European.
We may notice that we rank better than our Latvian neighbors and worse than Estonian.
Quite importantly, life in a tolerant environment affects the feeling of happiness of all fellow citizens, without exceptions. It isn’t difficult to see the relation between wealth and tolerance. In wealthier societies people are happier – they have more choices in life. Obviously, historical, cultural and institutional reasons limiting those choices affect the tolerance situation, the range of choices, and, therefore, the subjective feeling of happiness. On the other hand, it is obvious that the growth of intolerance in a country contributes to disappointment and the wave of emigration from the country in question. In Lithuania it isn’t enough to have companies with state-of-the-art technologies; we should change our self-perception. The distinction between the insider and outsider is very deeply rooted in Lithuania. It clearly divides the ethnic community and state. If we want a happy society and modern Lithuania, we should cross this divide. Western countries, for example, Holland and Scandinavian countries that we try to align ourselves with, have a different approach. Which features of the contemporary Lithuanian identity contribute to intolerance the most? In the anti-democratic years of Smetona’s rule, nationalism was declared an unquestionable virtue. It meant more than ethnicity, which ideologists of the Lithuanian National Union had problems defining. Nationalism meant loyalty to domination of a mono-social ethno-linguistic community, understood as an extended family. It also meant loyalty to the political one-party regime. In the new Lithuania, after the restoration of its Independence, the identity policy not only is reminiscent of the interwar times, but also has borrowed many myths and stereotypes of the Soviet period. During the Soviet times, a nation was defined as a linguistic-ethnic community, based on folk culture. There wasn’t room for the culture of the city or mansion; there wasn’t room for the nation-state, as it purportedly flourished in times that preceded written history. We were glorious without history. It goes without saying that this has nothing to do with the science of history. It’s a product of imagination, pseudo-historical reconstructions and communal complexes. Some xenophobic poorly educated politicizers still passionately proclaim this tribal version of the past (without written sources).
This concept has always been in opposition to the nation-state. Not accidentally, Irena Vaišvilaitė, when reacting to the events in commemoration of the country’s Millennium, made a comment about the self-perception and projections of identity of the men and women of the state who organized the events: “all the days of the festival’s program are dedicated to an overview of Lithuania – starting from ancient times – as far as I remember one event basically began with the creation of the world continuing to today. And how does this image of Lithuania look? Its paganism is amplified and, if I may say, mystified. [...] And where paganism ends, the Lithuanian village begins – a downright village jamboree. There is no society, no Vytautas Magnus, apparently no Lithuanian nobility, whatever clothes they wore or dances they danced – nothing. [....] If we, as a state, have an official culture, then that culture is in its essence anti-nation-state – there is no state in it.” (Naujasis Židinys Aidai, 2009, Nr.10-11, p.37).
This actualized and retrospective concept breeds the perception of the divide between who belongs to one’s own kin and who is a stranger. A baptized Roman Catholic Lithuanian from the village is considered the epitome of an insider. Consequently the open-air museum in Rumšiškės and the “times of darkness” are recognized as insiders, too. The outsiders – a mansion in the village and the city with all its residents; and the Lithuanian literature written in Polish. Only a few know that over 50 Lithuanian poets and writers were included in the anthology comprising the 16th to 20th centuries, published by the Open Society Fund in 1996. Secondary school pupils don’t learn about even one tenth of them; for them the Lithuanian literature begins with Žemaitė’s didactic writings concerned with the necessity to live a sober life and not to beat one’s wife. The rest remains foreign and unfamiliar.
From the first nationalist movements in Europe at the end of the 18th to thebeginning of the 19th century, many forms of nationalism appeared. The early forms of nationalism of the end of the 19th century have evolved either into democratic nationalism, or tribal-racial. For the former, a nation is an expression of history, formed in the course of time. A nation develops regaining the former pragmatic elements of its identity or integrating new ones.
Unfortunately, in Lithuania, nationalism is still perceived as tribal, racial, and anti-pluralistic, stuck in the interwar concept and categories. In most Lithuanians’ self-awareness, ethnicity has become “objective“, rather than constructed or chosen. Tribal-racial identity has always been anti-democratic, separate from democratic institutions and the state. In Lithuania, followers of totalitarianism, who profess the interwar version of the nationalist ideology, have problems accepting the idea that a person is free as an individual. This ethno-nationalism has nothing to do with patriotism. Patriotism existed prior to the age of nationalism that began with the French Revolution. In pre-modern Europe, patriotism meant loyalty to the state, its freedoms and autonomy, the Judeo-Christian civilization. Patriotism is apparently older than the variety of nationalism promoted in Lithuania by local reactionaries. We should remember the patriotism of the multilingual nobility of the 17th century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, when preserving and defending their liberties against a despotic Russia or Turkey. Without a doubt, the chauvinism, promotion of authoritarianism, and propaganda of ethno-linguistic or racist exclusivity that accompanied the skinhead march on March 11 was not a symbol of patriotism, but that of the society’s Balkanization, confusion, intolerance and hate. Meanwhile, the society still lacks the nationalism and patriotism that would foster democracy and pluralism.
Modernity and freedom have brought to Lithuania a feeling of insecurity in the rapidly changing world. Part of the society have felt more as victims of the changes rather participants. So it is not surprising that certain people who seemed rather advanced at the dawn of Independence, can now be very successful in bringing “the times of darkness” back to our contemporary time. They are subconsciously aware of their civilizational incompetence in a broader context, and seek to give meaning to existence in an isolated, conservative and intolerant country, surrounded by a “Chinese wall”. Unsurprisingly, Lithuania, full of anti-modernist phobias, remains the only EU country without a real government, as well as the most centralized country, and so on. And one of the poorest. We ask why. Is it not because it is intolerant, and its society is full of people who think in categories that have long discredited themselves in Europe?