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1945–1954: Lithuanian Literature in the Stalinist Years
Rimantas Kmita
Fear. This word perhaps best describes this decade in Lithuanian literature – from the start of Stalin's rule in Lithuania in 1945 up to his death in 1953, and several years thereafter. Writers who did not wish to risk their lives withdrew to the West. Those that did not, and who were considered suspicious, were deported to the East. Those that believed in communism became the creators of "Soviet Lithuanian literature", even if no gesture of loyalty, no amount of praise showered upon the new order, or any effort to praise the genius of Stalin, the leader of nations, could guarantee them peace and protect them from prison, exile or destruction. There could be no talk of any kind of resistance or creation of anti-Soviet works.
Creative silence was also no protection. Silent authors who stopped writing were accused of hostility to the Soviet government and were punished. Writers had to become, in Stalin's words, "engineers of the soul", educating readers and creating the new Soviet man. If you were brave and you wanted to fight, you had only one option: retreat to the forests and become a partisan fighter, knowing full well that this was a death sentence. Unique parisan literature was created by people who, under different circumstances, would most likely have lived out their lives without writing any literature. Another part of Lithuanian literature was created in Siberian prisons and refugee camps in Western Europe.
In Lithuania, meanwhile, people were learning how to survive. And surviving without encountering newly established institutions was impossible. Writers had to belong to the Writers' Union, otherwise they could be accused of and punished for "freeloading." It was safer still to join the Communist Party. Unavoidable dependency upon institutions meant an unavoidable obedience. Everywhere – in new publishing houses, magazines, newspapers and the offices of the KGB – writers were being educated, trained and taught to write. If this failed to work, there was always Glavlit, the main institution of censorship.
The government not only issued extensive instructions for writing, it monitored how they were followed and it itself took on the role of author. One editor added text to Antanas Vienuolis' Puodžiūnkiemis, while Salomėja Nėris, upon receiving a revised and renamed collection entitled Lakštingala negali nečiulbėti (The Nightingale Cannot not Sing), pushed away the publication as she lay in her hospital bed.
Writers were educated and accused of incorrect world views and ideological errors, and were taught how to write at various conferences, during which they were entitled to admit their guilt and promise to correct themselves. One of the most important of these gatherings was the general writer's conference of October 1-2, 1946, during which — in the spirit of a decision by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party "Regarding the magazines 'Zvezda' and 'Leningrad'" — the "manifestations of literary apoliticism and modernism" were angrily attacked, and the "dawdling of undecided writers" was condemned. One of the most important teaching tools of the day was the public acknowledgement of "mistakes" and self-castigation by writers. Writers had only one choice: to become "a solder on the ideological front", and to be "healthy, industrious, and determined to walk in step with all of the Soviet people and the Party," in the words of Kazys Preikšas. Rašytojas pokario metais: Dokumentų rinkinys, sudarė Laima Arnatkevičiūtė [ir kt.], Vilnius: Vaga, 1991, p. 66.
A new canon of "Soviet literature", based on the "method" of socialist realism, was to be created, with Salomėja Nėris and her conjunctural poetry works identified as the founder of such literature (Poema apie StalinąA Poem About Stalin), alongside the works of other authors who had travelled to Moscow in 1940 to "bring back the sun": Petras Cvirka, Liudas Gira, Antanas Venclova. Included in this canon was Julius Janonis, who committed suicide in 1917, and who wrote poems about worker solidarity, and some of the satirical works of Teofilis Tilvytis, who ridiculed the state of affairs in independent Lithuania under then President Smetona (Artojėliai Farmers, and Dičius), but who had more difficulty joking around under the Soviets (Usnynė The Thistle Patch).
Inconvenient writers were eliminated. Kazys Boruta was imprisoned (and his work Baltaragio malūnas (Whitehorn's Windmill) condemned) from 1946 to 1949, Antanas Miškinis was deported to Russia in 1948, followed by Jonas Graičiūnas in 1949 and Kazys Inčiūra in 1951 – a total of 91 writers were punished. Returning home from imprisonment in the Nazi Stutthof concentration camp, Balys Sruoga was unable to publish his work Dievų miškas (The Forest of the Gods) with its distinctively different tone. Salomėja Neris died in 1945, however, followed soon after by Liudas Gira in 1947 and Cvirka and Sruoga in 1947, leaving almost no one to create socialist realist literature. Eduardas Mieželaitis was criticized for romanticism, apoliticism and, later, modernism. Various activists were turned into writers, as in the example of Aleksandras Gudaitis-Gudzevičius, an NKVD general whose "works" were received with skepticism by even his own colleagues.
Talented writers (Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas, Ieva Simonaitytė) worried more about surviving than about creating aesthetic values. After writing a poem critical of the totalitarian system in 1945 entitled Vivos plango, mortuos voco (I Lament the Living, I Call the Dead), and a search for the author by the KGB (a student confessed to writing the piece and was punished for it), Mykolaitis-Putinas later wrote hymns loyal to the regime (Sveikinu žemęI Greet the Earth; and other works).
Other writers also faced a limited number of choices. As noted in a official historical overview of Soviet literature, "Eugenijus Matuzevičius, Vytautas Sirijos Gira and Albinas Žukauskas, influenced in their earlier works by modernism, resolutely turned away from it after the general writers' conference in 1946." Lietuvių literatūros istorija, II dalis: Tarybinė lietuvių literatūra, Vilnius: Vaga, 1982, p. 19. The texts of those that turned away from modernism and of those who, "without any significant internal crisis", began writing Soviet literature, amounted to hopeless propaganda. Soviet literary critics were forced to recognize this fact, placing all the blame on "the theory of an absence of conflict": communism had triumphed, the conflicts of and between different classes had disappeared, and while some evils might still exist, good fortune was inevitable for everyone. Poetry of the day consisted of hymns to the party and rhyming party slogans, while works of prose were mostly industrial novels portraying the construction of the Soviet Union, the creation of a brighter future, the joys of collective farming, and the logical progression of historical processes, where ideological schemes replaced individual characters.
In seeking to understand the situation of artists of that time, we must keep in mind that three brutal attacks had swept through Lithuania: the Soviet occupation that began in 1940 and the subsequent deportations to Siberia of the cultural elite; the Nazi occupation and Jewish genocide from 1941 to 1944; and reoccupation by the Soviets in 1945. A large part of cultural society had been lost, people were turned against each other, neighbor betrayed neighbor, and a partisan war was being fought in the forests. These shocks not only destroyed the prior social order, but also the previous ideals. People were confronted with powerful forces of brutality, futility, and the absurd. There was no time to heal from the traumas. The returning Soviets demanded the singing of praises and the glorification of a suddenly arrived tomorrow. Among these shattered values and with a war continuing in the background, literature could only manage to create a facsimile of a bright present and an even brighter future:
Every day a brighter sun rises from the East,
And with each beat Lithuanian hearts are stronger,
From there the most beautiful rivers come,
Watering and washing the hard, black earth
Your Brightness has conquered the darkness of words, –
Earth has joined into one new joy,
The earth's bounty is three times that of yesterday, –
Could we have liberated this land without You?
Teofilis Tilvytis, Glory to the Great Stalin
Rather than truly reflecting reality, socialist realism in fact cynically ridiculed it: instead of constitutionally guaranteed human rights, there was exile and prison; instead of optimism flooding lines of poetry, there was fear; and instead of world peace, there was a partisan war and an arms race. Authentic works that appeared rarely, as if by miracle (Boruta's Baltaragio malūnasWhitehorn's Windmill, Sruoga's Dievų miškasThe Forest of the Gods) were too complex and did not suit the concept of Soviet man. The only things one was permitted to do was to glorify of Stalin, work longer than the average person could bear, make no complaints, hate capitalism and anything "other", and feel love for the party alone, but certainly not for those closest to you.


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Sources and links

Lietuvių literatūros istorija, II dalis: Tarybinė lietuvių literatūra
Vilnius: Vaga, 1982
Rašytojas pokario metais
Dokumentų rinkinys, sudarė Laima Arnatkevičiūtė [ir kt.], Vilnius: Vaga, 1991
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