To talk about the Lithuanian language, first I would like to compare it with the Latvian language. My curiosity about the Lithuanian language leads to the Latvian language, too. During this term I’m also taking a Latvian course in a Medborgarskola. Through the history Latvian was influenced by German and quite a lot of German words are taken into Latvian. Lithuanians and Latvians can communicate with each other to some extent in each language, but the languages are not so close for them to understand everything. The Latvian teacher said that the distance between the two languages is like Swedish and Danish.
This is a story of my linguistic experiment. When I was staying in Lithuania I traveled to Latvia a few times. I encountered several occasions when I had no common languages to communicate with the local people. Once I visited a town whose name was Kuldiga, 3 hours by bus to the west from Riga, where there was the widest waterfall in Europe. I had no idea how to get there from the bus terminal then I hired a taxi. The driver was a middle-aged man. The problem was that we had no common language. He spoke only Latvian and Russian and I could understand none of them. So I tried to communicate with him in Lithuanian. He asked me where I was from in Latvian then I answered in Lithuanian like “I’m from Japan but now I live in Lithuania”. He was interested in me as a Japanese who spoke Lithuanian. We could make easy conversation like this in Latvian and Lithuanian. He was a kind man and for half a day he guided me in the town not only to the waterfall. The waterfall, the key of this travel, was very wide according to a guidebook. Actually it was very wide but its height was only 30cm. I was expecting it like Niagara Falls so it was a kind of disappointing. The guidebook with a picture focused only on the falling water and didn’t show the fall itself was good enough to fool readers that it was like Niagara. Anyway the guidebook said “the widest” so it didn’t tell a lie.
Lithuanian has 7 cases, numerous tenses and 2 genders. But there are no articles. The spelling and the pronunciation are straightforward. Ordinary Lithuanians don’t like to hear that people misunderstand Lithuanian is from the same branch as Russian. Lithuanians always shoot Russian down that they can master the Russian language in 3 days, and vice versa. On the other hand some Lithuanians say that Russian is too difficult by implying Lithuanian is completely dissimilar to Russian. No matter what they say I think that the languages are similar more or less. Because the Russian students in the same Lithuanian class learned the language much faster than anybody else.
Lithuanian is the principal language of Lithuania. Other languages used in Lithuanian include Russian, Belarusian, and Polish. Until the Second World War Yiddish was also a culturally and socially important language.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union Russian was the most important language and people who were students during the era can speak Russian as a matter of course. Other languages as English, French and German were treated as the same. English was not prioritized at that time. My Lithuanian friends around 30 year-old or older learned Russian at school. My best Lithuanian friend Edita can use Russian as a native speaker but didn’t learn English at all. Instead she learned French. I found that some Lithuanians are fluent in German. Children who were born after the regaining of the independence started to learn English instead of Russian. Nowadays Russian is not compulsory at school and even if they can choose Russian many of them don’t show an interest in the language any more. Some of my young Lithuanian friends around 10 to 20 years old can speak Russian since they learned verbally while playing with Russian neighbor kids but they can’t write or read. They are exceptions and most of the current Lithuanian children don’t understand Russian at all. This shows the reality that Lithuania is no longer a part of the Soviet Union and is trying to go outward to the West.
2005年 03月 16日
2005年 03月 10日
Ninth Fort stands in the suburb of Kaunas, the second largest city of Lithuania. The city lies only 100km to the west from Vilnius. The fort was built ninth in a series of forts constructed by Russians to defend the western border of the empire in the late 19th century. The fort fell into the hands of Germans during the Second World War and it turned into a death concentration camp where more than 30,000 Jews from Lithuania and other European countries were killed.
I visited Ninth Fort once with my Lithuanian friends in 1998. We had to hire a guide to enter the building. It was all gray concrete and chilly inside. We followed the guide listening to her explanations like “At this spot there was a crash with arms between prisoners and guards” and “In the fort’s history the only one escape was made from this window”, etc. I could easily imagine the scenes with the help of the oppressive atmosphere there. From outside we can see the wall of the fort where prisoners were forced to stand with their backs against it and got shot to death. Behind Ninth Fort we can see a residential area a few hundred meters away and it was expanding toward the fort. To my eyes the view of the gray building with dark history behind and the peaceful residential block seen in one canvas was a kind of mismatch.
On July 7, 1944 the Red Army returned. Lithuania was reincorporated to into the USSR and that resulted in the deportation of 250,000 Lithuanians to the Siberian gulags. During my stay in Vilnius I was sharing an apartment with an Australian woman whose name was Kristina. Her parents were Lithuanian who fled to Australia to avoid the deportation. At that time many Lithuanians abandoned their homeland like her parents. Her parents never returned to Lithuania again, but she came back to see her origin. I saw many Lithuanian second generation people from USA and France coming back to Lithuania like Kristina. It was interesting to see the phenomenon that parents abandoned the country but their children returned.
Despite over 4 decades of forced Soviet assimilation Lithuania never lost its identity. On May 14, 1972 19-year-old Romas Kalanta set fire to himself and committed suicide in the public gardens in Kaunas. This incident sparked the first protests against the Soviet rule. On March 11, 1990 the Supreme Council declared the restoration of Lithuanian independence, and on 17 of the following month Moscow imposed an economic blockade. On January 13, 1991 Soviet troops made inroads into Vilnius. The civilians tried to guard their parliament and TV tower, and that resulted in the loss of 14 unarmed civilians’ lives. The center of Vilnius was inundated with the Soviet combat vehicles and soldiers. My Lithuanian acquaintance recalled the day was like chaos.
On February 12 Iceland became the first country to recognize the independence of Lithuania. In August the Soviet troops left the buildings they had been occupying since January, and Lenin’s statue was removed from the city center. On August 31, 1993 the last Russian soldier left the country. Like this Lithuania’s democratization proceeded, and on May 1, 2004 Lithuania became a member of the European Union.
2005年 03月 02日
Traku Street meets at right angles with Vokeciu Street and the street was the border of two Jewish ghettos. Vokeciu means German and the name is derived from German merchants who had settled on the street. In the period of Nazi occupation there existed two ghettos, one small and one big, facing each other on each side of Vokeciu Street. In the small ghetto around 11,000 Jews were packed in and they were intelligentsia, workers and handicapped people. In the big ghetto there were around 30,000 people and they were mostly craftsmen. The massacre started in the autumn of 1941 and the small ghetto was totally perished on October 21. Nazi authorities left the people alive in the big ghetto for a while, since they were beginning to lose against the Red Army and they needed more workforces to support their economy. In September 1943 the big ghetto was finally liquidated and many of the Jews were killed and others were imprisoned in concentration camps. The one who conducted was Nazi SS but they were not the only ones. Lithuanian police and sometimes even local people helped them, too. A few years ago I read an article about Lithuanians who were accused of helping the Nazi to exterminate Jews. Since the holocaust a long time has passed but the past is still waiting to be liquidated in this present time.
My residence was just outside of the big ghetto. It’s hard to believe that only 6 decades ago Jews were forced to live in the area only a few blocks away from my apartment, and they couldn’t get out where I could get in and out freely now. There are a lot of old buildings which remain from the period but most of them have been renovated and it is hard to find out there were Jewish ghettos in the area. Unfortunately almost no Jewish cultural sites or homes of renowned Jewish personalities are remembered. One synagogue in Vilnius out of 105 synagogues in the whole of Lithuania remains now. Only the signs on the wall of buildings tell there used to be Jewish ghettos. If you walk in the area you might step into Zydu(Jewish) Street or feel strange to see the sign of Ligonines(Hospital) Street where there is no hospital. They are small traces of Jewish Vilnius.
While I was a student of Lithuanian Studies I heard that there were Jewish Studies held by Vilnius Yiddish Institute during the summer. When I visited the synagogue an old man who looked after it told me that a lot of students from all over the world come to Vilnius to learn Jewish culture and history. As he said Jewish Vilnius still mesmerizes people even though the culture has been totally destroyed now, or that’s why people become interested to seek the traces of the lost heritage.
At that time the summer course of Jewish Studies cost only US$500 and I wondered if I would take it or not. Then I didn’t. Instead I chose to spend the same amount of money to travel to other Baltic States. Now I found that the cost of the tuition fee skyrocketed to1339 Euro. I really regret that I didn’t take the course while it was still cheap.