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1973–1980: The Gray Years
Rimantas Kmita
The Gray Years
With the suppression of the breakthrough in modern literature in 1972, literary life entered a gray period.  An oppressive, stifling atmosphere shackled both private and public life.
But it was also a time when the government began changing its tactics to deal with inconvenient persons. Many artists and cultural figures were sent to psychiatric hospitals for "treatment", while others died under strange circumstances (linguist Jonas Kazlauskas, Raimundas Samulevičius, Mindaugas Tomonis), and many others committed suicide (Bronius Radzevičius) or tried to emigrate, which was nearly impossible at the time. Yet a few succeeded: political scientist and philosopher Aleksandras Štromas emigrated in 1973, prose writer Icchokas Meras in 1974, theater director Jonas Jurašas and literary translator Aušra Marija Sluckaitė in 1974, artist Vladislovas Žilius in 1976, poet and literary translator Tomas Venclova in 1977, artist Algimantas Švėgžda in 1976, followed by the poet Edita Nazaraitė in 1984 and prose writer Saulius Tomas Kondrotas in 1986.
Public life became dominated by conformism, government harassment and a hunt for all types of scarce "deficit" goods – from apartments to automobiles to shoes, clothes...  Marcelijus Martinaitis wrote in his journal at the time about the destruction of human dignity, the deprivation of liberty and the transformation of man into a type of social function.
When has human life been so stunted and the human soul so numbed? Thousands, full of vodka up to their eyes, become animals. Who cares about generosity, honor or the matters of the spirit? Even art is deprived of this most timeless of rights. Artists are turned into the same wallowing rubbish, their conscious suppressed, persecuted by anonymous, well-groomed punks.  Who sees and understands this filth?  Who feels the decline of humanity? Who will answer for it, and from where?  The new sergeants of culture promote only those who are blind to all this or who pretend not to see it. Everything else is persecuted according to the principle embraced by tyrants and conquerors: gouge out the eyes of any witnesses who see any of this. Marcelijus Martinaitis, Tylintys tekstai: Užrašai iš raudonojo sąsiuvinio, 1971-2001, Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2006, p. 34.
Authors of modern literature are excluded and silenced (Sigtas Geda even loses his position on the editorial board of Mūsų gamta (Our Nature)). The dissertation defense of Vytautas Kubilius, one of the most talented literary critics and a defender of an author's individual talents and subjectivity, is suspended. Fears are expressed among literary critics about stabilization, a new discussion arises about finding a balance between experimental works and the classics, while, behind closed doors, they complain about a lack of interesting manuscripts. During planning of their 1976 schedule, the entire editorial board at the "Vaga" publishing house deplores the complete absence of original Lithuanian literary works, especially novels and short stories. Authors become reticent to submit manuscripts.
Cultural life shifts, in part, to the underground press. The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church first appears in 1972, followed by other, mostly religious, underground publications that sometimes provided a venue for the publication of literature.
Yet literary officialdom speaks in relieved tones about a newly achieved balance between innovation and tradition. Generally, they began speaking a lot and everywhere: in gatherings, meetings, conferences.  Resolutions repeating empty phrases and anonymous speeches – nothing more than vacuous fronts of an entrenched bureaucracy – abound.
From a recording of Martinaitis made in 1979:
Imperial agony? In every field we see stagnation, sluggishness, laziness, bureaucratic imbecility and senile wasting, all accompanied by the feverish activity of repressive government structures, and the terrible uncertainty and suspicion they provoke. We can feel some sort of hidden force, a threat on the verge of eruption. And who knows which will win out: the dark, brutal and blind Russian slavish instinct pining for a more traditional patriarchal force, or renewal and spiritual purification?
Cynicism is now out in the open.  It no longer hides behind morality, or Marxism, or the idea of a brighter future. All of that is finished. One may not be exactly afraid to live – there is no direct threat of physical destruction or open terror. But, even so, to live is becoming a dirty thing. Marcelijus Martinaitis, Tylintys tekstai: Užrašai iš raudonojo sąsiuvinio, 1971-2001, Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2006, p. 111.
Martinaitis wrote during the same years when the humorous Tarp girnų (Between the Grindstones) cabaret group was formed, when Juozas Erlickas published his first short book Kodėl? (Why?), and when Ričardas Gavelis began writing his first cynical novel Vilniaus Pokeris (Vilnius Poker). Stasys Jonauskas departs to the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow and returns with the most ironic collage of his October poems. Plačiau: Rimantas Kmita, „Utopijos apvertimas: ironiškoji lietuvių poezija sovietmečiu“, Darbai ir dienos, 2008, t. 50, p. 229–259. On the other hand, it was also a chance for poets who had waited for their moment to debut their work, including Algis Čigriejus, who had finally reached a time when ideological poems were no longer a required component in a published book.
Artists reacted differently to the situation described by Martinaitis in his diary. Bureaucratic cynicism provides material equally for Erlickas' theater of the absurd, cabaret parodies (similar to prior works by the poet Vladas Šimkus), as well as for Jonauskas' empty ideological rhetorical "poeticisms."  Gavelis, meanwhile, responded to cynicism with an equal does of the same, deconstructing not only Soviet, but also Lithuanian national myths.  All of them danced around the dead but still reigning dragon.  This did not necessarily bring them any comfort. Some of the artists dramatically, but still jesting through their tears, mocked a society that had become a puppet show. Literary critic Vytautas Kubilius wrote about that period with an unequivocal idealistic longing: "How we lack 'essential thinking'!"
Vytautas Kubilius, January 10, 1979:
Where is that essence? It lies, probably, not in literature itself, but in the foundations of our existence, in social and ethical values, in human relationships. But we're afraid to look deeply enough, we run from clear and direct solutions. When essential matters are expelled from the consciousness, then our writing no longer has any authenticity, passion. Literature is created from a convoluted delusion of oneself, from a forced speech that is no longer a stylistic approach, but a means of literary thinking and a precondition for existence. Vytautas Kubilius, Dienoraščiai 1978-2004, Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2007, p. 10-11.
In the words of photographer Vilius Naujikas:
The "mature socialist era" was a time when one could live, but not without disgust. There were two options worth considering: joining the Lithuanian Communist Party and 'pissing on everyone from above', or getting up and, in the words of the poet, telling everyone to 'piss off without me', and leaving (to unemployment, alcohol, foreign lands, aminasine...)  That said it all, and with a bit of judgement in the tone. Vilius Naujikas, „Apie jaunystę hiphopo ritmu“,, 2010 12 24.
Lithuanian novellas continued to develop a non-epic, lyrical model, focusing on situations and experiences. This allowed writers to speak in a language of indirect references, but it did not permit the development of the "muscles" needed for prose narratives. Literary researcher Dalia Satkauskytė calls the lyrical prose model the easiest form of resistance:
The lyrical prose trend and the predominating 'natural' type of lyricism that had dominated our prose for so long begs the banal question: can (or could) it possibly be any other way in an agrarian country where, since antiquity, the life of the peasant has been tied to nature and where the practice of speaking about what is happening on a man's 'inside' is only very recent?  It also raises another question: could literature, particularly in the Soviet years, having preserved the lyrical prose model as a means of resisting the official epical standards, have formed a different prose structure, resistant to the official one?
At first glance, the latter question appears naive and rhetorical, because what can be more pointless than to debate what could have been, if only it had been different... Yet the prose of Juozas Grušas, Saulius Tomas Kondrotas, Ričardas Gavelis and Icchokas Meras could be considered to be a different model of resistance. The fate of this non-lyrical prose and that of the prose writers themselves in the Soviet years clearly shows that the lyricism of prose was, most likely, the safest form of resistance, as paradoxically as that may sound. Foreign readers put it more radically: a form of running from reality, escapism. Dalia Satkauskytė, Subjektyvumo profiliai lietuvių literatūroje, Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2008, p. 166.
Prose was most impacted by magical realism (the works of Romualdas Granauskas, Juozas Aputis, S.T. Kondrotas) and existentialism (the novellas of Aputis and Bronius Radzevičius).  S.T. Kondrotas constructed a limitless world that refused to surrender to rational understanding.
A New Generation
This was a time when a new generation debuted on the scene, a generation that no longer needed to perform public rituals to affirm their loyalty to the regime, and whose books appeared without the requisite protective lightening rods, and having nothing in common with socialist realism.  This period was initiated by the works of Sigitas Geda, Judita Vaičiūnaitė and Tomas Venclova.  S.T. Kondrotas and Ričardas Gavelis, enamored of the magical realism of Latin American authors, created unbounded worlds in their prose.
Gražina Cieškaitė and Onė Baliukonytė created worlds of higher matter, Donaldas Kajokas painted Eastern landscapes, and Antanas A. Jonynas performed jazz with his lines of poetry. Even one of the most rebellious poets of the day, Gintaras Patackas, was considered to be one of the "quiet demolitionists."
Social groups formed, sometimes considered part of the sub-culture, whose purpose was not opposition to the regime but, rather, the creation of a life parallel to it. The folklore movement, hippies, young people enamored with modern Western and esoteric Eastern cultures, the Catholic underground – all of these groups attempted to live according to the rules they themselves had created and voluntarily accepted. The Druskininkai group included Vytautas Petras Bložė, Nijolė Miliauskaitė, Sigitas Geda and Kornelijus Platelis.
Environmental groups challenged Soviet modernization efforts and demanded an end to the rape of nature. Many who felt a literary calling chose non-humanitarian fields of study (physics, mathematics) to avoid working an ideological job and to create their own autonomous lives alongside their work.  Meanwhile, hippies, young people interested in Western culture and Catholics publishing the religious press, among others, attempted to form another world where they could live as if the system did not actually exist.  One symbol and example of this way of life was the poet Rimas Burokas.
Consequently, two almost parallel worlds existed in the stagnation years. The government machine continued to repeat old ideological mantras and fuel ideological vigilance and militancy, but there remained very few actual believers in communism.


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Sources and links

Rimantas Kmita
„Utopijos apvertimas: ironiškoji lietuvių poezija sovietmečiu“
Darbai ir dienos, 2008, t. 50, p. 229–259
Vytautas Kubilius
Dienoraščiai 1978–2004
Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2007
Marcelijus Martinaitis
Tylintys tekstai: užrašai iš raudonojo sąsiuvinio, 1971–2001
Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla, 2006
Vilius Naujikas
„Apie jaunystę hiphopo ritmu“, 2010 12 24
Dalia Satkauskytė
Subjektyvumo profiliai lietuvių literatūroje
Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2008
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