by Arkadijus Vinokuras
The epic of the presentation of the play Mūsiškiai [Our People] by the Juozas Miltinis Theater in Panevėžys, Lithuania, just demonstrates once again that the cowardly and obsequious appear to travel through time: they stay exactly the same under all systems of government.
The possession of these character traits turns their owner into the worst kind of tool in the hands of any kind of government. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Nazi, Communist or democratic regime. In all of them, the coward becomes an ultra-patriot ready to carry out any order by the government or mob, for example, by banning a play someone doesn’t like without even viewing it beforehand.
Who will take responsibility for the persecution of theater art director Andrius Jevsejevas? Who will take responsibility for the critique of Polish playwright Michal Walczak by someone who either did read the play or did not, but in any case didn’t understand it? Who will apologize to the highly talented young actors who performed their roles flawlessly? Who at the theater will take responsibility for the idiotic requirement in the contract with the playwright that his work must have no connection with Rūta Vanagaitė’s book Mūsiškiai?
The wild spirit of the Soviet Party political enforcers roams the perfomance spaces. It would appear that, out of fear of the street or out of fear of some sorts of bureaucrats, acting theater director A. Venckus didn’t even welcome the creators of the play during the premiere. Well, cowards shouldn’t become theater directors, because theater is for the courageous. Although it takes real civic courage to express one’s opinion in a dictatorship, this is the basic norm in the frame of democratic government.
Unfortunately, wherever you look in Lithuania you’ll stumble across cowards. Especially in the bureaucratic sphere, municipalities, regional administrations and state institutions. Karolina Masiulytė-Paliulis, an honorary citizen of Panevėžys, keeps whimpering throughout the media about how afraid she allegedly is, so afraid… Of what? Of a provocation, she says,. Does an actress who was born in France really need to be reminded that provocation is the essence of theater? An unprovocative theater is a dead one.
I find it hard to imagine that Karolina Masiulytė-Paliulis would get in contact with the French theater and have even more difficulty imagining her contacting a French member of parliament in order to have a play banned. In the best case scenario, she should get a twist of the finger in a circle about the temple to point out the lunacy involved. In the worst, she should get the middle finger. By the way, I do sincerely apologize to the honorary citizen of Panevėžys for confusing her parents with a minister of the same name from the Smetona era in an earlier article of mine. Mea culpa. It will be interesting to see if she apologizes for causing this entire tempest for no good reason (other than to virtue-signal her patriotism). The best apology would be to actually view Mūsiškiai.
I give the same proposal–to watch the play–to politician and historian Arvydas Anušauskas. On his facebook page he didn’t criticize the performance, which he hasn’t seen, but the way the play was adapted for the stage. He wrote that he had read it and hadn’t understand a thing. A question for this politician: does an influential politician really have the right to affect public opinion negatively even before the work has been performed? If you watch the play, then sure, you can draw conclusions. Anušauskas the professional historian would never behave in such a manner in writing an academic work. That is, he wouldn’t offer his opinion with no foundation in fact.
In our case, although the text of the play is important, its expression can run contrary to the intention of the playwright in the hands of directors. Admit it, it’s one thing to be a professional historian and quite another to really know theater production. And it’s totally unacceptable for an influential politician from a major party to cave in to those who hate democracy.
From the same party (Union of Homeland Union/Lithuanian Conservatives and Lithuanian Christian Democrats) and from the same “opera” comes the opinion of Vilnius city council member Kamilė Šeraitė. She ejaculates on her facebook page: “Yet another ‘gift’ on Lithuanian Military Day: the premiere of the play Mūsiškiai.”
Using a quote allegedly by Vanagaitė about Lithuania being a failed state, Kamilė Šeraitė demonizes the entire work, which she hasn’t seen. This and similar cases recall those Soviet stool pigeons consumed by that holy, patriotic passion of the Communist Youth. They ran around visiting theaters and attending art exhibitions. After their visits courageous directors, playwrights and artists were thrown out of theaters and banned from exhibitions. Under Stalin they simply shot artists.
At the same time, there is no reaction to the fact national and local government institutions in Lithuania are full of nepotism and corruption, costing all of us millions, or the fact that people are afraid in real time of their slave masters, oops, I mean employers in the public and private sectors. Such trifles don’t bother the ultra-patriots. Corrupt officials, it seems, are not servants of the Kremlin and pose no threat to the state. This is how an atmosphere of fear is created in the country, in this cowardly and obsequious manner, which is exploited by marginal political operators, since pretend-patriotism is the last refuge of demagogues.
I view the play through the prisms of public service and cultural politics. After talking with the playwright Michal Walczak I was assured the topic of the Holocaust was sufficiently well known to him. The consequences of the extermination of the Jews were similar in Poland and Lithuania. Hatred of Jews in certain circles is also similar. As is the refusal to recognize the bloody, immoral past and the inability to accept it.
This dramatist wholeheartedly criticizes the state’s attempt to seize for itself the policy of judging history and presenting young people with a whitewashed past, in which the murderers become the victims and/or heroes. He sees tragic absurdity and dehumanization in the case of the Seventh Fort in Kaunas becoming a recreational center. Its visitors–students, young married couples and others–walk, dance and amuse themselves on the bones of thousands of their fellow citizens. Literally.
But it wouldn’t occur to anyone to dance, sing and celebrate Christmas on the graves of the dead in a cemetery. So why are they behaving that way at this mass murder site? The answer is horrifying: because the people who were murdered there were Jews.
The mature point of view of director Artūras Areima and his profound understanding of the problem incorporated in the play are a value in and of themselves, not often found in Lithuania. The play stands out for its courage in reflecting current events and its invocation of topics which are uncomfortable and even dangerous. My respect to the playwright, to the director, to the art director and the whole troupe.
In this context their joint work performs a true public service. Young people created the play Mūsiškiai, refusing to become puppets in the hands of the ultra-patriots. An honest view of one’s history, a refusal to countenance its falsification, with all the propaganda shouted at them and everyone attempting to teach them, while not only is the truth is being suppressed intentionally, but profits are being made on the bones of the victims.
Bringing together young and talented actors, the language of farce, humor, tragedy and tragicomedy is thrown at the viewer. Veils of lies are waved before the eyes, there is evasion, interpretation, rejection and self-justification. This is how the grown-ups are acting. This method is the most effective in trying to turn children into images of their parents, into cowards and brown-nosers.
It’s a dangerous thing when these sorts of grown-ups occupy high government posts and are in charge of important institutions. The impression is that all Lithuanians agree with them. Thank God that isn’t true. Not yet. Without a doubt this play should be performed for all Lithuanian high school students. Until the modern Party political agents ban it.
The cultural policy context. If Vanagaitė didn’t exist, the ultra-patriots would have to invent another enemy. This is the direction pursued by the 24/7 program on Lithuania’s Lietuvos Rytas TV channel. Influential politicians, a guest from America and two people who personally hate Vanagaitė speak critically of the play Mūsiškiai. There is no opposing view. Not even a hint of journalistic objectivity. None of the five have seen the play, so all of them relentlessly criticize Vanagaitė instead! Even though the play was written by a noted Polish playwright and directed by a talented Lithuanian director.
Is this the “new” Lithuanian cultural policy, to ban the staging of an unbanned work? It seems the people formulating this sort of policy are cowards, ass-kissers and kowtowers. Justifying themselves by saying the Kremlin is exploiting art and artists for disinformation. In this context statements by Lithuanian MP Povilas Urbšys seem especially chilling. He equates the play with Kremlin disinformation. Mr. Parliamentarian, a just man would never even have had the thought occur, and a moral state would never have allowed the Seventh Fort in Kaunas to become a recreational site.
The members of parliament who support these sorts of antihuman decisions in comradery with the ultra-patriots are delivering by their own hand gifts to the Kremlin which cost Lithuania dearly. After all these vague “explanations,” any artist who wants to talk about topics which are painful to the Lithuanian public will now, before the fact, be called a town crier for the Kremlin. Is it now possible to even hope that, at least in the next century, these cowards and brown-nosers along with nostalgia for authoritarianism will finally die out in Lithuania?
Full text in Lithuanian here.