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Inna Rogatchi
War & Humanity Special Project

A man in his place: Arunas Gelunas in the world of culture

Arunas Gelunas rejoices at the safe arrival of the masterpieces from the Boris Voznytsky National Gallery in Lviv. Next to Arunas one can see George de la Tour Payment of Taxes painting dating back to the early 1600s. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite. Credit: (C) LNMA, with kind permission.
General Director of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art Dr Aunas Gelunas.

PORTRAIT OF A PHILOSOPHER IN THE LANDSCAPE OF ARTS

Once in Avignon : In the Search of Substantial Culture

Recently, my friend, a top culture critic, shared her impression after yet another famous Avignon Festival marathon last summer, which has attracted a huge crowd of people, both visitors and professionals, for a non-stop viewing of supposed to be the best of the theatrical productions world-wide. ‘But where were great works from Central Europe? And the Baltic? Why is it ignored, so stubbornly, year after year, to the degree that it has become a fact of absence, so to say? I do not get it. This is wrong’, – she said, being sad and disappointed. 

I cannot agree more with my friend. And I have been speaking and writing about this absolutely wrong tendency in the world of culture for many years. This tendency of ignoring great achievements, shrewd understanding, and really high level of Central European and Baltic culture and its visionaries has been a sad reality for many decades, if not centuries. 

Anyone in the profession and with a solid educational background would tell you that Czech and Lithuanian masters of art photography are one of the strongest in the world, actually. How many people from a wide public know about it? A few. The same goes with cinematography. Polish, Czech, Lithuanian vision, the mastercraft of cinematography in particular and cinema in general are well-known to the professionals, and fairly comparable and competitive with French, German and British cinema. Their audience is wider than the art photography world, but still, they are not recognised and known as they should. 

The sad reality with regard to Central European and Baltics masters of culture is that in order to become known, they might need to adopt the more widely spread cultural sphere, to show their talent properly. This was the case with famous, but only after he moved to Italy Czech composer Myslivycek yet at the time of Mozart, in XVIII century, and ironically is the same with the Czech movie director Petr Vaclav who has made a meticulously researched, fantastically filmed biopic of Myslivecek recently, moving from Prague to Paris, to work with more possibilities and higher recognition. It was also the case with both Milan Kundera who moved from Prague to Paris and started to write in French, and great Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova who resides in the US but still writes in his native language. 

Andrzej Wajda would be justly recognised at the same  level as Fellini if only he would live and work not in his native Poland, doubly so during the dark-grey and heavy years of the Warsaw Pact existence. And Oskar Kokoschka would be left in unjust oblivion if he would not move to Germany first and to the UK and Switzerland later on. The list is long 

Something went utterly wrong in the process of perception and recognition of the most educated, sharp, witty, intelligent, talented people from the Central Europe and Baltics, with their depth and professionalism simply not being known enough and recognised by a wider public as it should. There is something to do with languages, of course, but not only. 

Perhaps, this public deficiency in knowledge and perception of a high-class Central European and Baltic culture, especially Polish, Czech and Lithuanian ones, has to do, paradoxically,  also with an admirable stand of those cultures’ proponents, in a traditional perspective. Those people are very well educated, fantastically read on , knowledgeable, professional, and thus – self-sufficient. They know history, and they have moderation, self-discipline and dignity which all switch them into the self-dignified mode which make them sufficient with what and how they do, not what they achieve and how many Oscars they have, metaphorically speaking. 

I know, respect and admire my friends and colleagues from these countries. I just want that more people in the world would know what they did, are doing and are capable of – because their contribution in our common culture is often exquisite.  And long-lasting, importantly. 

Lithuania and its Culture

When one prepares to go to Lithuania and checks what’s going on there, with regards to concerts, exhibitions and cultural events in general, one gets stunned. This cultural diversity and richness has become a trademark of Vilnius and Lithuania some while ago, and they are keeping both the pace and the level. Any tourist visiting Lithuania and its capital, those of them who are interested in culture, would be rewarded with a number of exhibitions, concerts, film releases, you name it. 

Such intensity of cultural life demands quite hard daily work, naturally. But it also provides the Lithuanian capital and the other cities of the country with that special trade-marked by now atmosphere which makes one’s presence there meaningful, interesting, rich – and also quite calm and relaxed. Such is the attitude of both people who are actually making culture in Lithuania live and breathing, and also its public who is eager, interested and engaged at any time and moment. 

Visiting some of the recent cultural events in Vilnius recently, I was positively surprised by two things: number of people attending, not just professionals, but what one calls a wide public: lawyers, engineers, scientists, financiers, businessmen,  and  number of young people attending exhibitions, concerts and conferences which one would not expect them to attend in many places of the world any longer, sadly so. 

Culture professionals in Lithuania are known to be well prepared, very able and highly communicative. And one of them is the man who works 24/7 and still, being happy and cheerful, always engaged and always being on the spot.  I just do not get how he manages to do everything that he does, really. 

Sincere Minister

I remember our first meeting as it was just yesterday although it happened over a decade ago.  I remember my impression of getting to know that man and hearing what he was saying. It was a cocktail of joy and surprise in an equal proportion. The thing is that with rare exceptions, such as Andre Malraux was, as a rule, there are no or hardly ministers of culture who are administrating that intense sector being themselves a part of it. 

Director General of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art Arunas Gelunas. 

Arunas Gelunas in his office, in front of the many publications on Art the Lithuanian National Museum of Art has published. Photo: Gintarė Grigėnaitė. Credit  © LNMA. With kind permission. 

Director of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art Arunas Gelunas in his office, in front of many publications of the Museum. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite. With a kind permission by the LNMA.

We met with Arunas Gelunas in Vilnius at the end of 2011 at a very special event. For the first time after WWII, there was the opening of the Jewish Public Library in Lithuania, in its capital. A new public state-supported Jewish institution, after all the horrors of the Shoah in Lithuania, followed by a 50-years of the harsh oblivion of the incredibly rich Jewish heritage during the Soviet rule.

When we, both personally and our Foundation, were invited to join the rare and important project, we came to Vilnius specifically to meet with the people who decided to carry it on and to see everything with our own eyes at the place. We were not disappointed. Quite to the contrary. 

The people in post-Soviet Lithuania who were behind the project of restoring the Vilnius Jewish Public Library, both public and cultural figures, politicians and intellectuals, are our dear friends. We trusted our friends and were also deeply grateful to them for their intentions and their deeds in restoring the wounded Jewish heritage of Lithuania, which is the home of both our families. Since the very beginning, the Library was envisaged as a new cultural centre for various events, including exhibitions, concerts, books and films presentations, various meetings and public talks. What could be better? And more necessary?

Naturally, we did support the establishment of the Vilnius Jewish Public Library whole-heartedly. We donated the Power of Light collection of my 15 pieces of my artworks on modern Judaica and its symbolism to adorn the walls of the new Library, and Michael’s great Yiddishe Son oil painting dedicated to Elie Wiesel,  the only oil work on the wall of the Library, according to the concept of the Library’s leadership. We also donated a large library of our own, and engaged many of our friends who would be interested to support the Library in various ways, world-wide. 

We worked for this project for about a year, with a palpable pleasure. There was a great purpose in it, and fantastic people were involved. Those people are creme a la creme of the present-day Lithuania, intelligent, genuine, with their hearts and minds being in a perfect accord. MEP Petras Austrevicius who was supporting the Library, among many meaningful projects in his country, and well-known intellectual Zilvinas Beliauskas who has become the director of the Library until this day, introduced us to then minister of culture of the country Arunas Gelunas who has contributed the essential financial support for the library.  

That minister was highly unusual. The man in front of us was so very happy during every second of the ceremony of the opening of the Library. He was interested in every bit of everything in that place which he knew well, anyway. He was beaming with happiness that it was happening. Never in my life before have I seen and spoken with such a minister of culture in any country, and by then I visited very many countries and knew many top officials world-wide, including high cultural functioners. Arunas meant it. Moreover, he was sincere. Yet more, he was happy over the opening of a Jewish institution. I felt that I was almost flying when looking into the eye and speaking with this unusual minister. 

Of course, the post-Soviet and post-Warsaw Pact time has brought many unusual people into politics in many countries. It was a naturally unnatural phenomenon, so to say. Interesting, unexpected, sometimes highly productive, and sometimes hilariously funny. We all lived through our energetic march via terra incognita with a conscious decision, and a good pitch of euphoria,  to declare it terra experimentum on the spot. 

Now, from a distance of thirty years back, I came to the conclusion that it was the best time in my life, and many of our friends are thinking the same. We were in the best years of our lives, full of energy, and suddenly free. I would never know how the people who were privileged to be born in freedom appreciate this pattern of life. But I know about those who were not that privileged, and who really values it as the primary condition of life.   

That essential treasure for us to be able not only be free inside but also act freely in society and being accepted like that has provided my generation of post-Soviet people with a great opportunity: to be sincere in what you do. Or you don’t. 

My friend Arunas Gelunas, a well-known European culture figure,  lives, acts  and works like that, and this sincerity of his choices and accomplishments provides its authenticity, its strength and its vitality. From which benefits his important, well-educated and highly cultured country, all those countries in Europe and far beyond,  with which Lithuania cooperates in a culture sphere, and an endless amount of people who are able to discover the pearls of world culture both inside and outside Lithuania. 

Engaged Ambassador

Before turning into politics, diplomacy and government positions, Arunas had over a decade of intense professional work in an art academia of Lithuania, as a lecturer of arts and philosophy, and later on as a dean, professor and vice-rector of the Vilnius Academy of Arts, the one of the top art academies in Europe. 

In the beginning of 2010s, his way through the landscape of arts and culture has become quite international, as he was appointed as Lithuania’s Ambassador at the UNESCO. 

These years in Paris, at the UNESCO headquarters, were quite formative for me from the point of view of real understanding of many cultures and people whom I knew theoretically about before that” – reflects Arunas Gelunas today. – “Without actual meetings, conversations, and first-hand engagements, I would never really understand the original cultures of the Caribbean, Africa, Afghanistan, some other places which I had no chance to know and to be there in person. But by working closely with my colleagues from all those countries at the UNESCO, I have learned so much. And naturally, learning leads to real understanding and authentic feelings. It was a great and highly important experience for me, additionally to have an honour to represent Lithuania at the international cultural stage’, – said Arunas in our recent conversation. 

His thorough academic approach in every of his roles and missions seems to me to be the key which makes his work at many of his notable positions in the international culture management not only noticeable and successful, but also qualified. Arunas does produce the ideas many of which are unbeatable. 

I saw it at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in the mid 2010s, when Lithuania together with Poland produced the first ever conference on the post-Holocaust Jewish heritage of both countries which has hugely influenced and benefited the world. It was unforgettable, stellar experience, largely of its authenticity and fantastic level of representation, including the family of great artist Rafael Chwoles who was born in Lithuania, survived the Shoah by a miracle in Siberia, moved to Poland and then to France and who gifted us all with warm, talented, deep and real art. There also was one and only Marian Turski, a dear friend who brought to the conference new ideas and concepts to explore concerning the psychological circumstances in which the doctors inside the Warsaw Ghetto worked and how that factor has influenced not only themselves, but thousands of people around. 

As the direct result of that very important and rich-content conference organised by Arunas Gelunas in partnership with his Polish colleagues at the UNESCO, I created my project with a new concept, Horizon Beyond Horizon: Homage to Jewish Talent.  Representing people of different professions, writers, composers, actors, musicians from various countries world-wide, from Italy to US and from Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine to Israel, that collection of artworks quite closely reflects the concept of UNESCO, its functions and its purpose. It has been shown world-wide, and still functions  as a core material for fruitful  international cultural educational conferences and symposiums.  

A musical video-essay representing my Horizon Beyond Horizon collection starts by Leonard Cohen’s, quite-essential Litvak, poetry: 

‘ Now I sail from sky to sky 

And all the blackness sings

Against the boat that I have made

Of mutilated wings’.

Leonard, whom I had a great luck and privilege to know, did like everything about that Horizons project: its idea, the concept, the attitude, the works, including, gracefully, the work dedicated to him and which has become instantly popular among the over a million-members of the Leonard Cohen’s official world fan club.  

The video-essay ends with a line from another Litvak on his mother’s side, Joseph Brodsky: 

As for the stars, they are always on

To put it simply, it was all what my Horizon Beyond Horizon was about. Plus the destinies. 

Following Arunas’s work on his demanding position as Lithuania’s Ambassador at the UNESCO in the mid-2010s, I have noticed two important things: his dynamic engagement and the wideness of his outreach. I doubt that any other country was bringing to the international stage within UNESCO’s framework more events presenting its national culture than Lithuania did during those four years between 2012 and 2016  of Arunas Gelunas’ tenure in his position as the Ambassador. No wonder that Arunas, and in his face, his country, have had a very many good friends at the UNESCO and also in France, at all possible levels,  cultural, educational, diplomatic  and public ones, which has resulted in a very successful  further development when Arunas worked at his next positions, first as senior Lithuanian MP and later on as director of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art. 

I was also happily impressed by Arunas’s effort to make it possible for education to thrive on the most multilingual ground possible. From the position of  his academic background and long practice, he realises that ‘the more languages a person masters, the wider his horizon gets. This is both an inevitable and fruitful way toward adequately educated and truly cultural society which, in turn,  forms civilised, capable, harmonious and morally developed personality”.  This his view Arunas implements into various practices for the last two decades. 

Not Vain Senior MP  

After four super-busy years representing his country at the UNESCO, in 2016 Arunas returned home to Vilnius, and continued there as a senior MP  from the Liberals party in the new term of the Seimas, the Lithuanian Parliament. He was elected the deputy chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee and the deputy Chair of the European Affairs Committee, and tried his best at that important and visible position. I remember our talks and walks from time to time while I was visiting Vilnius. 

In the Seimas, I was trying hard. Wrote a few proposals of new laws which in my view were quite necessary to have for our country. But to push for a new law when you are in the opposition is not fruitful, expectedly so. These efforts were in vain, sadly. And then, I saw in practice that despite all our and my efforts, this dead-lock-like position of an opposition party with regard to new laws, or with regard to the forming of various policies was rather decorative, not constructive. And when it is not constructive, it does not make much sense to me. It is subjective and personal, of course, but such is the way with regard to my work and vision’, – Arunas shared his reflections with me recently. 

So Arunas decided to act, and was very happy when  in the spring of 2019 he won the contest for the position of the director of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art. Extremely demanding position, with its 11 museums under the umbrella of the national art museum of Lithuania. But this choice and possibility to return to his own sphere of arts and culture has made Arunas very happy, indeed. He swiftly left the Seimas after two and a half years as a MP, without any regret, admirably so. 

Every morning, I am awakened as a happy man knowing that I will get into all the talks, plans, meetings, deeds, negotiations with my colleagues both at the museum and elsewhere, in the government, abroad, you name it. It is a 24/7 job, but for me it is the best one possible. It is engaging, it is dynamic, it is resultive, it is creative, despite all administrative tasks, and it is truly rewarding, because I feel at home”, – said the happy man who leads the national art museum of Lithuania, the country which is glorified by its superb culture in generations. 

Happy Museum Director  

One has to love culture and art to the degree Arunas does, not to complain about the volume of his work as the director of the largest Lithuanian cultural institution. In many countries, National Art Museums are conglomerates of several quite independent institutions, there is logic in such structuring. Normally it is from two to three museums and galleries which institute a leading national art museum. But eleven? 

Justyna Augustute, director of the Radvila Palace Museum of Art, general director of LNMA Arunas Gelunas, and Skaitis Mukulionis, curator, special envoy for cooperation with Ukraine, examining the XVI century Western Ukrainian prints from the collection of the Khanenko Museum ( Kyiv) that has just arrived from Ukraine. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite. Credit: (C) LNMA. With kind permission.

Under the roof of its National Museum of Art,  Lithuania embraces distinguished museums in Vilnius and three more cities, Klaipeda, Palanga and Neringa, each quite autonomous content-wise: Vilnius Picture Gallery presenting historic art of Vilnius, Museum of Applied Art and Design, huge complex of the Radvila Palace Museum of Art which will grow further on in the result of its ongoing reconstruction, Vytautas Kasiuli Museum of Art representing the art of diaspora which in the case of Lithuania is both widely spread and very productive, noticeable, famous and influential, National Gallery presenting rich  Lithuanian art of the XX and XXI centuries, famous Palanga Amber Museum which attracts a lot of visitors steadily, Museum of Clocks and Watches,  Pranas Domsaitis Museum in Klaipeda which hosts rich donated collection of German and other art, Pamario (Seaside) gallery, Digitalisation Center, and the Centre for Restoration and Conservation of Art.  

This big and versified cultural, art and educational complex employees as many as 465 people, who made it possible for over 400 000 visitors to come to enjoy its permanent and temporary exhibitions which are of the top international level, and not just one visiting block-buster annually or bi-annually, as it happens often in a museum realities, but all of them, being the product of Arunas and his team’s policy and vision, represents the best in the current museum and exhibition life, with quantity of these high-level exhibitions is simply dizzying. 

Arunas Gelunas and Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingrida Symonyte visiting the newly-installed display of the Western European Art at the Radvila Palace Museum of Art. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite. Credit (C) LNMA, with kind permission.

At the same, or close, period of time of this year only  visitors of the various parts of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art were treated with unprecedented exhibition of Litvaks in Paris – which is still open until the end of September this year and is highly recommended, very rich and not too often shown collection of Goya’s original prints from his Los Caprichos series which is opens until the mid of September, these works were saved by Arunas Gelunas and his team from the collection of the Ukrainian Khanenko Museum in Kyiv, fantastic exhibition “Beyond the Frame: A Century of South Korean Photography’, delicious Florentem Kunstkamera, very fine  Chinese traditional paintings and Islamic miniatures treasury at the Museum of Applied Art and Design, and one of a kind exhibition of the Old Masters from the Ukrainian Museums’ collections, also evacuated by Arunas from several museums there due to the merciless war against Ukraine. 

In this way, the Lithuanian National Museum of Art celebrates the 700th anniversary of the capital of Lithuania.  But I suspect, knowing Arunas and his colleagues, that even without a very special jubilee year, we all will be treated with unique exhibitions ever after. Such is his and his team’s attitude towards the work which they all love. 

Arunas is a fair boss. “I am very much indebted to my wonderful team, – he underlines. – Without them, their devotion, their understanding, their interest and their professionalism I would not go far on my own. Nobody ever does. I am very grateful to each of them and all of them as a team”. 

I know and cooperate with some of these people and can say, with a pleasure, that among this team, there is a rare for an inner life of a culture organisation  spirit of collegiality and mutual understanding and respect. Moreover, those people are thinking the same way, and this is a great blessing. It was not like that always. Previous director of this large and important institution worked in his position for 40 years, from the end of the 1970s.

Arunas Gelunas rejoices at the safe arrival of the masterpieces from the Boris Voznytsky National Gallery in Lviv. Next to Arunas one can see George de la Tour Payment of Taxes painting dating back to the early 1600s. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite. Credit: (C) LNMA, with kind permission.

That’s why Arunas emphasised his main objective when he started as the new director of the complex of the museums four and half years ago: “The first and main thing  was  to get rid of everything Soviet there, from door handles to the way of thinking. Or the other way around. It was my principal position when starting at the Museum”.  Being a seasoned philosopher himself and an expert on philosophy and art, Arunas realises all too well the essentiality of an attitude and an approach in everything in a complex world of a museum. A good museum, of course. 

Active Curator of a Pioneering Exhibition 

Vilnius  and its leading complex of art museums are  promising its visitors fantastic exhibitions in the near future, as well. From the beginning of 2024, there will be a large exhibition of Japanese art in its unusual interpretation, Pop Culture in Japan from the Edo period to our days. Arunas , who is a well-known specialist on Japanese culture and art, curates that special and  notable show of the year 2024 himself. 

There will be several more exhibition gems in Vilnius, including an exhibition of famous Litvak photographer from South Africa David Goldblatt, exhibitions of Polish contemporary art, an exhibition of the works of the famous Ukrainian artist Maria Primachenko from Lviv where they are saved currently due to the war, an absolutely incredible exhibition of the ceramic works of Marc Chagall together with the tapestries woven in Paris after the paintings of Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso, and possibly more. 

How on earth such a busy person, who also has to travel a lot due to his duties, can also curate a demanding exhibition with a new concept which requires a lot of time, effort and concentration?  – I’ve asked Arunas. – ‘ Actually, I am very happy that I am doing it, – he smiles back. – It cheers me up very much and it is a very healthy and welcoming diversion from my 24/7 administrative duties, which gets much nicer and easier to do having such a balance. And it is thrilling  to curate an exhibition which is meaningful, has a totally new concept and is promising to be interesting ones”, – explains Arunas. 

As we are sharing our love for Japanese culture, I can only congratulate my friend and colleague with such a special task of a large exhibition on which he works at the moment as its curator. 

Flying Biennale Pavilion Commissioner  

Naturally, to lead a national art institution also means international cooperation. Arunas’s work as his country’s Ambassador at the UNESCO definitely helped the task.

In celebration of the 700th anniversary of Vilnius, Lithuanian National Museum of Art has organised three important exhibitions abroad, in Berlin, Cracow and Tallinn. In Berlin, the team of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art participated, with a specially prepared exhibition as a part of the Retropa Retrotopia: Design for Socialist Spaces project in Kunstgewerbe museum. It was a large-scale international event. For Cracow, a very good exhibition Wilno-Vilnius-Vilna was prepared together with Polish partners and exported. That thorough and inventive exhibition has caused a lot of interest and a lot of visitors in Poland. Yet another exhibition on three Baltic female painters’ creative work is going to be demonstrated in Tallinn, also within the framework of this exceptional year of celebration of the 700th anniversary of Vilnius. 

As it is known to those who are following the Venice Biennale, Lithuania started to shine there recently, winning the Golden Lion for their Marina installation in 2019.  For the next Venice Biennale, Arunas Gelunas has been appointed as a Commissioner of the Lithuanian National Pavilion that will present a world-wide famous Lithuanian contemporary art duo Pakui Hardware in 2024. When speaking about the forthcoming Biennale and works with this regard, Arunas beams. He is full of enthusiasm, and his enthusiasm is contagious in the best meaning of the word.  

Anyone who works in art knows that the process is not less important than the result. This system is mutually dependent and means the whole. And to be able to make the process joyful is to guarantee not only the best possible outcome, but to guarantee an added value to that. The value of a clear stream of life, referring to Japanese philosophical  tradition. 

When working on my observation and analyses of the grandiose Litvak artists in Paris exhibition , which is now still on display  at the Kasiulius Museum in Vilnius, in our conversations with the exhibition’s curator Vilma Gradinskaite, almost the first thing which I’ve heard was: ‘And then Arunas said: “We are going to do it”. Which followed with a year of extremely demanding work with such outstanding institutions as Marc Chagall Committee and Chagall Collection supervised by his granddaughter Meret Meyer,  and Musée d’Art et d’histoire du Judaism in Paris. 

From let to right: Litvak Artists in Paris exhibition Dr Vilma Gradiskaite, Marc Chagall’s granddaughter, vice chairperson of the Comite Marc Chagall Meret Meyer, and director of the Lithuanian National Museum of Art Dr Arunas Gelunas at the exhibition’s opening in Vilnius. May 2023. Photo: Gintare Grigenaite. (C) Lithuanian National Museum of Art. With kind permission.

That vitally important cooperation turned to be very fruitful, positive and potential – and this does not mean just some nice exchanges and communications. In fact, this cooperation means development of more projects presenting the works of Marc Chagall and other great Litvaks from the Ecole de Paris at the new forthcoming exhibitions (for example, the above-mentioned exhibition of the ceramic works of Marc Chagall together with the tapestries woven in Paris after the paintings of Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso), in new aspects, for new and wider audiences. This means a life of culture which always engages more people and new generations. To play this in an accord between all the parties is absolutely important. And I am very glad that Arunas  and his team do it so well and so successfully, for all of us.  

Mission Possible: Ukraine

And then, there is a war. The war against Ukraine, which we, those who care, are living through for a year and a half by now. Arunas not only cares. He acts. He saves the art from the Ukrainian museums, he carries on humanitarian relief for Ukrainian people, he helps his Ukrainian colleagues non-stop, as he breathes.  You can not teach this kind of activity. Either one does it, or not. 

If one cares, he would know what to do. I remember very vividly how terrified, angry, and nervous we were when museums, art and culture all over Ukraine became the victims of the Russian aggressors, additionally to so many people and innumerous devastating destructions .  The bombing of culture, its vandalising and straightforward looting started to happen soon after  the beginning of the war, and it only escalated in the course of these nightmarish 18 months.

The comparison with many tragedies caused to the world’s culture during the Second World War in the case of stupid barbarity of today is obvious. I mentioned it to Arunas during our recent conversation. “ Have we learned from the disaster of WWII , culture-wise?‘– I asked. – ‘ What has happened with art and culture during the Second World War, was an utter disaster. And it is insuperable, to the large extent, as we know.  And yes, I thought and am thinking about it all the time while working to help our Ukrainian colleagues, our brothers and sisters , to save all that extremely rich heritage which they have in the museums all over Ukraine”, – says Arunas. 

He is helping Ukrainian museums in a large way. This work alone is a full-time occupancy. “You need to know what you need and what you can to save at once, you need to visit places, to see the works and to speak with your Ukrainian colleagues. You need to plan everything here at home, to prepare places, to come up with the ideas of best possibilities, and to implement them of course. You have to  organise the shipping and insurance, you have to supervise it all. You need to designate people to work on this task full-time. You have also to organise the display of the preserved works for several purposes, including drawing the attention not only to the saved priceless, unique, world-class important art, but also to the screaming situation with the outrageous, bandit war in general, and how we all could help Ukraine in all and every way”, – Arunas is telling about this part of his daily businesses. 

He did a lot. Additionally to the saved original Goya’s prints from the famous Khanenko Museum in Kyiv, a special wing and the Museum of Western Art has been opened at the Radvila Palace, which is the part of the Lithuanian National  Museum of Art. It is a breathtaking place, reminiscent of the Louvre and Prado. And it is full with important and very important art from the Ukrainian collections which Lithuania is saving and preserving for them now in the gesture of outstanding solidarity, in which Arunas Gelunas has a central role. 

With all these good reasons, recently Arunas was awarded with an important Ukrainian national medal, All Ukrainian Homeland Order of Unity and Will.  

Taras Voznyak, director of Boris Voznytzky National Gallery in Lviv, decorated Arunas Gelunas with All Ukrainian Homeland Unity and Will Order. Photo: Edmundas Jakilaitis. Credit: (C) LNMA, with kind permission.

But his thoughts are somewhere else. “You know, when we were filming in Lviv recently, to tell the story about our effort to save and preserve the art from Ukrainian museums during the war, we were bombed. We spent a few hours in a bomb shelter in Lviv, and then and there, for the first time in my life I realised, I felt, I’ve got it under my skin what it is like when you are bombed’, – Arunas told me. We both are silent for a while. I am trying to feel what Arunas felt in that shelter. 

This man really shares the pain with his brothers and sisters in Ukraine, literally so, without any fuss, but in a true way. And he helps, in every way he can.   As a result of it, saved by Arunas, his team and the Lithuanian government, the wealth of the great art collections which were highly endangered in Ukraine due to the barbarian war, is seen by so many people in stunning places and at the fantastic expositions. 

This is what active humanity is about.  And this is how culture gets to that, as its the nucleus, its active and organic part. 

Vilnius, 

August-September  2023.

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is author of War & Humanity special project originated in the aftermath of the October 7th, 2023 massacre in Israel. Inna is internationally acclaimed public figure, writer, scholar, artist, art curator and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal: The Lessons of Survival and other important documentaries on modern history. She is an expert on public diplomacy and was a long-term international affairs adviser for the Members of the European Parliament. She lectures on the topics of international politics and public diplomacy widely. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, arts, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is also the author of Culture for Humanity concept of The Rogatchi Foundation global initiative that aims to provide psychological comfort to wide audiences by the means of high-class arts and culture in challenging times. Inna is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Her family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Together with her husband, Inna is a founding member of Music, Art and Memory international cultural educational and commemorative initiative with a multiply projects in several countries. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, arts and culture, history, Holocaust and post-Holocaust. She is author of several projects on artistic and intellectual studies on various aspect of the Torah and Jewish spiritual heritage. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi was the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association and is member of the International Advisory Board of The Rumbula Memorial Project ( USA). Her art can be seen at Silver Strings: Inna Rogatchi Art site - www.innarogatchiart.com
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