By acceding the
European Union, Lithuania continues its old, yet at intervals interrupted,
cultural dialogue with Europe. This cultural dialogue happens through
interaction of cultural codes existing in each country. One example
of such exchange is the evolution of the image of Lithuania as a land
of woods. The image emerged in the Middle Ages, when woods were perceived
as a realm of evil spirits (the heathen religion was also considered
the devils sphere). The attempts to defy such an image are reflected
on the first map of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy (1611), where the factual
forested area was obviously reduced.
The national revival movement, however, and the work of the writer Simonas
Daukantas reversed the meaning of the image, turning it into the symbol
of the national pride and identity.
What will be the effect of European integration on the feelings of the
national identity? One observation at this point is important. Social
surveys of the past decade in Lithuania show that the national and patriotic
sentiment has deteriorated, the sense of national identity is being
replaced by the identity of a place. Since Lithuanian identity is no
longer challenged, so we become bored with it.
That means we need a challenge, and Europe may offer one. It strikes
as a paradox, as the architects of the EU expect the opposite; numerous
efforts have been put to educate public awareness and ethnic tolerance
in the candidate countries. Yet, upon arriving in Europe, we will be
asked what Lithuania is. We will have to rethink our symbols and create
new myths, firstly because of our economic interest. To be successful,
tourism industry needs myths, but they cannot be offered just for tourists,
they have to be part of our identity.
In the EU we will be part of a melting pot, but nobody will impose another
identity on us, as we experienced it in the Soviet Union. Therefore
a feeling of national pride will remain. We will be able to compare
ourselves and compete with other nations, it will be simply interesting.
A parallel may be drawn between Lithuanias accession of the EU
with the national revival movement in the end of the 19th century. Once
more, we are facing the task to redefine our identity. Yet it will be
more difficult in Europe, as we will not have to defend ourselves. It
is always easier to be on the defensive than build something new. We
want new myths and symbols. There are some examples of this process
to be observed. Such are the ideas of historian Gintaras Beresnevičius,
whose concept of Lithuanian history runs counter the mainstream interpretation
of Lithuanian history as continuous efforts (though constantly interrupted)
to absorb European values. He restores the pride in the myths of the
mighty ancient Lithuania, in the heathen religion, and the barbaric
nature of Lithuanians. In contrast to EU skeptics, he presents these
images to support the value of accession. According to him, Europe,
feeble, exhausted, and content with itself, offers a much wide arena
for Lithuanians to act.