The bridge on which we meet
The OLF take one (1990-2008) for me was primarily associated with books.
I remember myself discovering the joy of reading: not the obligatory graded assignments, but the real pleasure when a book you pick up seems to pluck you out of the present and sink you into the story. This experience came to me quite late, most likely in the eleventh grade. History became a sort of a detective story to me: not a collection of facts, a gallery of dead rulers, or a criminal chronicle of most evil villains, but rather the material of which the time in which I lived was molded. Then it began: most of my savings I spent on books, in addition bargaining with my parents to be rewarded for successful studies with some book I desired.
Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy and Norman Davies’ Europe were just a couple of my hits then. Recently I handled those books while moving, and within them I found this inscription: published, supported by the OOLF). Some of the OLF’s books I missed out on, as the runs had long been sold out. This led me sometimes to joke that I had regrettably been born a little too late. Yet it can still be said that I matured with books published by the Fund. In my university years, I was greatly impressed by the rich OLF library, gifted to the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University, my alma mater.
Sometimes I would stare at the list of books, wishing I could read them all. Even as a child I did not long so much for the best toys from “Children’s World” (back then, a famous toy store in Vilnius). At the same time this was an excellent, and I dare say necessary, medicine for hubris: you may read some, but not all. Some questions will be answered, but the answers will lead to more questions, more searching. You will remain forever a traveler, ever on the journey for knowledge, with an increasingly vast luggage of questions – but only as long as you keep reading and do not stop.
The OLF’s book series was my journey to the world.
Now, as I consider the mission of the OLF, take two, I believe that this needs to continue, albeit in a new form – opening the world up to Lithuania and Lithuania to the world.
The Soviet mentality, against which we are still struggling, is based on the image of a fortress under enemy siege: everywhere around are enemies threatening to ravage us physically and mentally, so opening the walls equals letting cosmopolitanism storm in.
The Soviet mentality, against which we are still struggling, is based on the image of a fortress under enemy siege: everywhere around are enemies threatening to ravage us physically and mentally, so opening the walls equals letting cosmopolitanism storm in. The same mental scheme can work within the environment of radical nationalism. The Polish dissident and editor Adam Michnik stated, probably correctly, that nationalism is the final stage of communism: the final one because it works according to the same image of a besieged fortress.
Opening the walls is ostensibly bad because it threatens our identity; European integration is bad because the EU steals our sovereignty; enforcing multinational and multicultural memory is bad because it dilutes and spoils our purely Lithuanian values. In other words, we would rather be all alone, peering suspiciously at the world around us: from Moscow to Berlin, from Beijing to Washington.
To speak idiomatically, we often balance between two extremes, two caricatures: the besieged fortress and the roadside stop where you wait for a bus. Patriotism as love for the Homeland in which there is enough room for every citizen, is reduced to the caricature of searching for the Lithuanian blood type. So, too, is the idea of an open society reduced to the caricature stereotype of rootless cosmopolitans.
I do not agree with any of these clichés.
I believe that an open society cannot exist without people deeply rooted in their environment – people who are open to the world and who open their community to it without feeling either superior or inferior.
Through cultural dialogue we take what is best abroad and gift what is best at home. We interpret Shakespeare, Dante, Chekhov and Kundera, and actualize them to our own needs. In the same way, we present Nekrošius, Koršunovas, Gavelis, Škėma and others, thereby showcasing our own current events, joys and worries. Culture lives only within the context of exchange, transition – the desire to reassess and expand our heritage, enriching it with new layers.
The same goes for politics: we hear others, but have something to say too. We see different views from different perspectives. Lithuania, most likely, looks different from Kupiškis than it does from Vilnius, and Europe looks different from Vilnius than it does from Madrid. Personal interest is, naturally, always the first motivator, but we must not forget that inability to hear a different approach or understand a different worldview always ends up leading to estrangement and the rise of new barriers. To use the words of Andrius Jakučiūnas in #Utopijos, this way we would eventually arrive at the embodiment of Louis the XVIth’s vision of “I am the State”: each to oneself like a disconnected, closed monad. Although according to Jakučiūnas, another possibility is constitutional schizophrenia, when one no longer gets along not just with others, but with oneself too.
A core problem of modern globalization is the loss of locality. We can easily reach the furthest corners of the planet via the internet, but something is wrong with our local communities. Krzysztof Czyżewski, leader of the Borderland Foundation in Sejny, Poland, refers to this as the withering of connective tissues. Therefore, the creation of an open society begins, first and foremost, wherever we are: in the specific environment where we nurture that connective tissue, becoming a community responsible for the creation of a joint home. That home can be our block, our city, region, state, and Europe. Everything begins with small steps.
I am no naive utopian and do not believe that walls should disappear, that in the future we will live in a world without enemies, that the funds allotted to defense could be redistributed to social benefits. The walls will not disappear. However, we are responsible for whether they become a symbol of separation or cooperation. Our differences – linguistic, cultural, world-view – are going nowhere. However, we are responsible for leaving room for the other and managing to hear them, and not just speaking ourselves.
A dialogue always requires more than one person; it is impossible to clap with one hand.
We cannot demand of others before we ourselves make an effort to hear; we cannot just give without the hope of being equal partners. An open society is a constant search for balance among all of the extremes of our time, which offer cheap, simple, yet often highly dangerous solutions.
Creating an open society is like walking a tightrope, but the only alternative is falling down.
Donatas Puslys is a chief editor at Bernardinai.lt.