CULTURE, EDUCATION, HEALTH
Lithuanian culture was not isolated. As early as in the XIV century Lithuania has widely opened the doors to European masters of fine crafts. Since the Middle Ages many monument sites have survived such as Vilnius old town which was determined as UNESCO World Heritage alongside with Trakai Castle, Gediminas Castle, the old towns of Kaunas and Klaipeda.
Lithuania is known for the large number and variety of the castle hills, which hosted wooden defensive castles. Castle hills have become an integral part of the Lithuanian landscape.
The tradition of making crosses
Along with the language of ancestors, arts and crafts have reached us from ancient times. Manufacturing crosses is rooted in especially deep tradition. This unique form of Lithuanian folk art is included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. While in Lithuania, the eye catches a great number of wooden and wrought iron crosses, wooden pillars, chapels. They are erected at crossroads, forest edges, in estates to remind of the events important for Lithuania or for the person who installed them. They protect from evil eye, make the traveler’s eyes rise to heaven and his heart turn to prayer. Almost in every Lithuanian village one can find a master of this art form.
The largest museum of crosses is near the city of Siauliai. Today, it is declared by UNESCO a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In our time, this tradition is passed over to craftsmen who create wooden crosses and chapels . Decorated with geometric and floral ornaments (with a symbolic meaning), such traditional crosses serve a specific purpose when set in cemeteries near roads or intersections and homes.
Lithuanian culture was influenced by various factors and traditions . It is an interesting mixture of elements of pagan mythology and Christianity. During the Renaissance period and later , professional Lithuanian art was greatly influenced by traditions of Western Europe. Indigenous variety of Lithuanian culture is rooted in the multicultural heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (XIV-XVIII c.) . Lithuanian cultural borders go beyond the ethnic borders of Lithuania which enclose different famous people who live in present-day Poland, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
For more than a hundred years, Lithuania has cherished its national tradition of the song and dance holiday. This is one of the biggest cultural events in Lithuania held every four years. Song and dance festival is known as the most universal expression of the Lithuanian national, cultural, artistic , social and political identity in the modern state. It is a living link connecting ancient folklore heritage, contemporary national culture and professional art.
Tradition and symbolism of song and dance holidays
Tradition and symbolism of song and dance festival in Lithuania 2003 was declared a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The history of modern professional Lithuanian art and music began with the artist and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911). The works of this talented artist combined symbolism and romanticism . The early years of Lithuanian Independence were marked by flourishing of literature, art, theater and music.
Dramatic events of the XX century were the reason that a number of Lithuanian writers , artists, scientists chose to emigrate to the West. The works of those writers and artists who emigrated to Western Europe and the U.S. nowadays have become part of the cultural heritage of Lithuania.
The latest cultural phenomena
The latest cultural phenomena in Lithuania have thrived on the fertile soil of ethnic culture and traditions of the European context . Lithuanian theater repeatedly enjoyed high appreciation from the audience and from critics of Lithuania and foreign countries. Directors Eimuntas Nekrošius, Donatas Banionis, Oskaras Korshunovas , Rimas Tuminas Jonas Vaitkus and Gintaras Varnas occupy deserved places in the hall of the national cultural fame. The country boasts of many well-known professional symphony and chamber orchestras , choirs and opera soloists , ballet performers. Throughout the year, one can witness numerous cultural events that include excellent annual international festivals of classical music, theater, film and poetry, which are attended by the famous Lithuanian and foreign artists.
Jazz in Lithuania
Lithuania is also well known as a country of jazz. Annually, artists and lovers of jazz hold several international festivals in Kaunas, Birštonas and Vilnius. Having returned its independence in the XX century , Lithuania opened itself again to the world culture. Commonality of unique symbols , mentality of the people comprising the core of culture became available to every interested citizen of the world. Lithuanian culture has withstood many tests. Extremely strong potential of its creators is entering the next stage of development , greatly contributing to the world culture.
LITHUANIAN, THE MOST CONSERVATIVE OF ALL INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES, IS RIDDLED WITH REFERENCES TO BEES
By Will Mawhood
20 March 2018
Pagan sanctuary on Jamaica
In mid-January, the snow made the little coastal town of Šventoji in north-west Lithuania feel like a film set. Restaurants, shops and wooden holiday cabins all sat silently with their lights off, waiting for the arrival of spring.
I found what I was looking for on the edge of the town, not far from the banks of the iced-over Šventoji river and within earshot of the Baltic Sea: Žemaitiu alka, a shrine constructed by the Lithuanian neo-pagan organisation Romuva. Atop a small hillock stood 12 tall, thin, slightly tapering wooden figures. The decorations are austere but illustrative: two finish in little curving horns; affixed to the top of another is an orb emitting metal rays. One is adorned with nothing but a simple octagon. I looked down to the words carved vertically into the base and read ‘Austėja’. Below it was the English word: ‘bees’.
Lithuania and bees
This was not the first time I’d encountered references to bees in Lithuania. During previous visits, my Lithuanian friends had told me about the significance of bees to their culture.
Lithuanians don’t speak about bees grouping together in a colony like English-speakers do. Instead, the word for a human family (šeimas) is used. In the Lithuanian language, there are separate words for death depending on whether you’re talking about people or animals, but for bees – and only for bees – the former is used. And if you want to show a new-found Lithuanian pal what a good friend they are, you might please them by calling them bičiulis, a word roughly equivalent to ‘mate’, which has its root in bitė – bee. In Lithuania, it seems, a bee is like a good friend and a good friend is like a bee.
Seeing the shrine in Šventoji made me wonder: could all these references be explained by ancient Lithuanians worshipping bees as part of their pagan practices?
Paganism in Lithuania
Lithuania has an extensive history of paganism. In fact, Lithuania was the last pagan state in Europe. Almost 1,000 years after the official conversion of the Roman Empire facilitated the gradual spread of Christianity, the Lithuanians continued to perform their ancient animist rituals and worship their gods in sacred groves. By the 13th Century, modern-day Estonia and Latvia were overrun and forcibly converted by crusaders, but the Lithuanians successfully resisted their attacks. Eventually, the state gave up paganism of its own accord: Grand Duke Jogaila converted to Catholicism in 1386 in order to marry the Queen of Poland.
This rich pagan history is understandably a source of fascination for modern Lithuanians – and many others besides. The problem is that few primary sources exist to tell us what Lithuanians believed before the arrival of Christianity. We can be sure that the god of thunder Perkūnas was of great importance as he is extensively documented in folklore and song, but most of the pantheon is based on guesswork. However, the Lithuanian language may provide – not proof, exactly, but clues, tantalising hints, about those gaps in the country’s past.
In Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, I spoke to Dalia Senvaitytė, a professor of cultural anthropology at Vytautas Magnus University. She was sceptical about my bee-worshipping theory, telling me that there may have been a bee goddess by the name of Austėja, but she’s attested in just one source: a 16th-Century book on traditional Lithuanian beliefs written by a Polish historian.
It’s more likely, she said, that these bee-related terms reflect the significance of bees in medieval Lithuania. Beekeeping, she explained “was regulated by community rules, as well as in special formal regulations”. Honey and beeswax were abundant and among the main exports, I learned, which is why its production was strictly controlled.
But the fact that these references to bees have been preserved over hundreds of years demonstrates something rather interesting about the Lithuanian language: according to the Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, it's the most conservative of all living Indo-European languages. While its grammar, vocabulary and characteristic sounds have changed over time, they’ve done so only very slowly. For this reason, the Lithuanian language is of enormous use to researchers trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European, the single language, spoken around four to five millennia ago, that was the progenitor of tongues as diverse as English, Armenian, Italian and Bengali.
Connection of the Lithuanian language with other languages
All these languages are related, but profound sound shifts that have gradually taken place have made them distinct from one another. You’d need to be a language expert to see the connection between English ‘five’ and French cinq – let alone the word that Proto-Indo-Europeans are thought to have used, pénkʷe. However, that connection is slightly easier to make out from the Latvian word pieci, and no trouble at all with Lithuanian penki. This is why famous French linguist Antoine Meillet once declared that “anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant”.
Lines can be drawn to other ancient languages too, even those that are quite geographically distant. For example, the Lithuanian word for castle or fortress – pilis – is completely different from those used by its non-Baltic neighbours, but is recognisably similar to the Ancient Greek word for town, polis. Surprisingly, Lithuanian is also thought to be the closest surviving European relative to Sanskrit, the oldest written Indo-European language, which is still used in Hindu ceremonies.
This last detail has led to claims of similarities between Indian and ancient Baltic cultures. A Lithuanian friend, Dovilas Bukauskas, told me about an event organised by local pagans that he attended. It began with the blessing of a figure of a grass snake – a sacred animal in Baltic tradition – and ended with a Hindu chant.
The role of language in preserving traditions
I asked Senvaitytė about the word gyvatė. This means ‘snake’, but it shares the same root with gyvybė, which means ‘life’. The grass snake has long been a sacred animal in Lithuania, reverenced as a symbol of fertility and luck, partially for its ability to shed its skin. A coincidence? Perhaps, but Senvaitytė thinks in this case probably not.
The language may also have played a role in preserving traditions in a different way. After Grand Duke Jogaila took the Polish throne in 1386, Lithuania’s gentry increasingly adopted not only Catholicism, but also the Polish language. Meanwhile, rural Lithuanians were much slower to adopt Christianity, not least because it was almost always preached in Polish or Latin. Even once Christianity had taken hold, Lithuanians were reluctant to give up their animist traditions. Hundreds of years after the country had officially adopted Christianity, travellers through the Lithuanian countryside reported seeing people leave bowls of milk out for grass snakes, in the hope that the animals would befriend the community and bring good luck.
Influence of other languages on Lithuania
Similarly, bees and bee products seem to have retained importance, especially in folk medicine, for their perceived healing powers. Venom from a bee was used to treat viper bites, and one treatment for epilepsy apparently recommended drinking water with boiled dead bees. But only, of course, if the bees had died from natural causes.
But Lithuanian is no longer exclusively a rural language. The last century was a tumultuous one, bringing war, industrialisation and political change, and all of the country’s major cities now have majorities of Lithuanian-speakers. Following its accession to the EU in 2004, the country is now also increasingly integrated with Europe and the global market, which has led to the increasing presence of English-derived words, such as alternatyvus (alternative) and prioritetas (priority).
Given Lithuania’s troubled history, it’s in many ways amazing the language has survived to the present day. At its peak in the 14th Century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stretched as far as the Black Sea, but in the centuries since, the country has several times disappeared from the map entirely.
It’s too simplistic to say that Lithuanian allows us to piece together the more mysterious stretches in its history, such as the early, pagan years in which I’m so interested. But the language acts a little like the amber that people on the eastern shores of the Baltic have traded since ancient times, preserving, almost intact, meanings and structures that time has long since worn away everywhere else.
And whether or not Austėja was really worshipped, she has certainly remained a prominent presence. Austėja remains consistently in the top 10 most popular girls names in Lithuania. It seems that, despite Lithuania’s inevitable cultural and linguistic evolution, the bee will always be held in high esteem.
The formal educational system in Lithuania was established at the end of the XVI century. Educational Commission of Lithuanian-Polish state – the first Ministry of Education (to use a modern term) in Europe was established in 1773. It laid the foundation of the country education system. In the years of Independence (1918 – 1940), it was mandatory to go to a four-year primary school. During the USSR period (1940 – 1990), the educational system in Lithuania was severely centralized under the control of Moscow authorities. Russian language in schools was obligatory, but the secondary and higher education can also be obtained in the Lithuanian language. Dominant communist ideology established close relations of cooperation between secondary schools and created conditions for free secondary education.
Modern educational system in Lithuania is based on European cultural values . Since 1992, education reform is based on democratic education experience of Lithuania and Europe. Children start schooling at the age of 6-7 years. Primary education lasts for four years, the basic compulsory education takes up six years and secondary education – two years. Children must go to school till 16 years of age. Schools are operating on a ten-point grading system.
There are about 1,900 secondary schools in Lithuania with nearly 565,000 thousand students. After completing secondary school, entrants have the opportunity to continue their studies at 48 institutions of higher education, among them 37 state (15 universities and 16 colleges) and 17 private educational institutions (six universities and 11 colleges)
Lithuania uses its natural wealth, which present historically, enough wisely. Thanks to the long-term traditions, which Lithuanians profess, there is a big number of famous rehabilitation centers, resorts and sanatoriums, arranged on the riverbanks and forest expanses of Lithuanian Republic. Depending on the age and the kind of disease everybody could take the course of rehabilitation in one of more than 10 of such institutions for children as well as for the adults. The combination of high quality medical service and low price of treatment, comparatively to other EU states, turns Lithuania into the priority country for foreign patients.
Interesting fact that in the contrast with Ukraine, Lithuania pays attention to development of such branch of medical service as the rehabilitation. The rehabilitation specialists get their professional training mostly in the Lithuanian higher institutions. The rehabilitation helps to restore body after operation, provides recovery to operated joints or ligaments, prevents the formation of blood clots and gives the chance to avoid a lot of after operation complications and side effects. The program of rehabilitation is gathered up for each patient individually. Not just rehabilitologists assist the patient, but the physiotherapists, psychologists and some other specialists too. The optimal term for rehabilitation is recommended during 2-3 weeks, and the best time to begin it is no later than one month after medical operations.
The most popular sanatoriums are considered such establishments as the sanatorium for adults “Egle” and “Draugistes sanatoria” and “Saulute“ for children in Drukininkai where the patients can take medical care during the whole year. Druskininkai which is called the Lithuanian “Baden-Baden” is considered as the one of the first East European centers of climate, mud, balneological and eco-tourism. Over the years the huge experience has been accumulated in such spheres as cardiovascular therapy system, the digestive tract, the peripheral nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory, the gynecological diseases and the disbolism. The sodium-calcium mineral waters, the bathtubs with the mineralization in 10,20or 40 grams per liter, the Galvanic, the pearl, iodobromine, carbonaceous and turpentine baths with the herbs, the therapeutic exercises in the swimming pools and gyms and the psychotherapy etc. are used with the purpose of below treatments. One of the resort wonder is the source of beauty “Grogys” which contains more than 50 grams of different mineral salt thanks to which the skin becomes young and clean.
Since 1985 the sanatoriums “Palangos linas ” for adults and “Palangos gintaras” for children in Palanga provide spa services as well as rehabilitation treatments. In addition to Druskininkai services there is a wide range of the recovery procedures after the operations and the injuries.
The practice of the rehabilitation center “Abromishkes”, which is near town Trakai, is adapted for little patients as well as for adults. The specialized assistance in prophylaxis, therapy of the cardiovascular system, the treatment ofthe nervous system’s deceases as well as the joints and the injuries are also provided there. The children’s department
isprovides special treatment of the respiratory, the neurological, eyes diseases and the diseases of the locomotor apparatus.