The play Mūsiškiai (Our People) performed at a theater in Panevėžys (Ponevezh), Lithuania, in late November of 2019 November completely criticizes the Lithuanian state’s attempt to seize for itself the policy of judging history and presenting to young people a whitewashed past, in which the murderers become the victims and/or heroes. Director of the play Arturas Areima sees tragic absurdity and dehumanization in the case of the Seventh Fort in Kaunas (Kovna) becoming a recreational center. There visitors–students, young married couples and others–walk, dance and amuse themselves on the bones of thousands of their fellow citizens, literally. In 1941 during the first days of Nazi invasion the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered 5,000 Jews there.
It wouldn’t occur to anyone to dance, sing and celebrate Christmas on the graves of the dead in a cemetery. So why are they behaving that way at this mass murder site? The answer is horrifying: because the people who were murdered there were Jews.
The mature point of view of director Artūras Areima and his profound understanding of the problem incorporated in the play are a virtue in and of themselves, not often found in Lithuania. The play stands out for its courage in reflecting current events and its invocation of topics which are uncomfortable and even dangerous. My respect to the playwright, to the director, to the art director and the whole troupe.
In this context their joint work performs a true public service. Young people created the play Mūsiškiai, refusing to become puppets in the hands of the ultra-patriots. An honest view of one’s history, a refusal to countenance its falsification, with all the propaganda shouted at them and everyone attempting to teach them, while not only is the truth is being suppressed intentionally, but profits are being made on the bones of the victims.
Bringing together young and talented actors, the language of farce, humor, tragedy and tragicomedy is thrown at the viewer. Veils of lies are waved before the eyes, there is evasion, interpretation, rejection and self-justification. This is how the grown-ups are acting. This method is the most effective in trying to turn children into images of their parents, into cowards and brown-nosers. It’s a dangerous thing when these sorts of grown-ups occupy high government posts and are in charge of important institutions. The impression is that all Lithuanians agree with them. Thank God that isn’t true. Not yet. Without a doubt this play should be performed for all Lithuanian high school students. Until the modern Soviet-style Party political agents ban it.
I view the play through the prisms of public service and cultural politics. After talking with him, I was assured the topic of the Holocaust was sufficiently well known to the playwright, Michał Walczak. The consequences of the extermination of the Jews were similar in Poland and Lithuania. Hatred of Jews in certain circles is also similar. As is the refusal to recognize the bloody, immoral past and the inability to accept it.
The epic drama of the actual presentation of the play Mūsiškiai by the Juozas Miltinis Theater in Panevėžys, Lithuania, just demonstrates once again that the cowardly and obsequious appear to travel through time: they stay exactly the same under all systems of government. The possession of these character traits turns their owner into the worst kind of tool in the hands of any kind of government. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Nazi, Communist or democratic regime. In all of them, the coward becomes an ultra-patriot ready to carry out any order by the government or mob, for example, by banning a play someone doesn’t like without even viewing it beforehand. So, well, cowards shouldn’t become theater directors, actors or viewers because theater is for the courageous.
Unfortunately, the ultra -patriots attacking the play show no reaction to the fact that national and local government institutions in Lithuania are full of nepotism and corruption, costing all of us millions, or the fact that people are afraid in real time of their slave masters, oops, I mean employers in the public and private sectors. Such trifles don’t bother the ultra-patriots. Corrupt officials, it seems, are not servants of the Kremlin and pose no threat to the state. This is how an atmosphere of fear is created in the country, in this cowardly and obsequious manner, which is exploited by marginal political operators, since pretend-patriotism is the last refuge of demagogues.
In this context statements by Lithuanian MP Povilas Urbšys seem especially chilling. He equates the play with Kremlin disinformation. Mr. Parliamentarian, a just man would never even have had the thought occur, and a moral state would never have allowed the Seventh Fort in Kaunas to become a recreational site. The members of parliament who support these sorts of antihuman decisions in comradery with the ultra-patriots are delivering by their own hand gifts to the Kremlin and the world which cost Lithuania dearly. After all these vague “explanations,” any artist who wants to talk about topics which are painful to the Lithuanian public will now, before the fact, be called a town crier for the Kremlin. Is it now possible to even hope that, at least in the next century, these cowards and brown-nosers along with nostalgia for authoritarianism will finally die out in Lithuania?