Lithuanians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Lithuania was pagan, worshiping forces of nature, until 1387, and was the last country in Europe to accept Christianity. Today ethnic Lithuanians in Lithuania are 94 percent Catholic. Most of the other 6 percent are Lutheran descendants of Germans and Austrians who immigrated after the Great Plague (1710); Lutheran worship also reflects residence in areas under German control. Catholic clergy regulated the educational system when Lithuania was under Russian control in the nineteenth century, and the Catholic political parties held considerable power during the period of Lithuanian independence between the two world wars. Clergy frequently supported anti-Soviet warfare. In more recent times, popular opinion opposed Soviet harassment of Catholic clergy. Radio Vatican is received in Lithuania and was opposed by the Soviet regime. Catholicism is an inseparable and vital part of Lithuanian culture.

Arts. Lithuanian arts, both folk and fine, have been strongly influenced by Western art traditions. Traditional folk arts include ceramic work, woodcuts, embroidery, and amber work. Characteristic Lithuanian decorations include geometric and floral motifs, and the use of natural colors is preferred. Lithuanians are famous for their melodious folksongs ( dainos ), a genre shared with the Latvians. The Lithuanians hold dancing and singing festivals throughout the country each summer, and every five years there are national singing competitions that draw up to 40,000 contestants. Each generation hands down to the next a large number of traditional folktales, proverbs, and aphorisms.

Lithuanian fine arts traditions have been and continue to be influenced by the Vilnius school of drawing, established at the university in 1866. Lithuania's most famous artist is Mykolas Čiurlionis (1875-1911), a forerunner of the abstractionist and surrealist schools. There were many abstract artists in Lithuania during its domination by the Soviets, but they rarely had the opportunity to show their work publicly. Lithuanian architecture has its own character, which may be seen not only in newer buildings but also in the older Gothic and neoclassical structures. Lithuania has eleven professional theaters—including drama, ballet, and opera theaters—as well as thirty-three museums. The Lithuanian Film Studio has produced feature films since 1952.

Lithuanian literary figures include several renowned novelists, short-story writers, and poets. Its literature is considered to have begun with the works of Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780); his The Seasons is a story of peasant life. Many consider Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) Lithuania's greatest poet, despite the fact that he wrote in Polish. In the first half of the nineteenth century a movement to invent a new Lithuanian literary language and to write about the early history of Lithuania arose, a movement that was influenced by Western countries after the French Revolution. Many writers during the second half of the nineteenth century pushed the development of a nationalist, anti-Russian trend; some of these were members of the Catholic clergy, including the important writers Antanas Baranauskas (1835-1902) and Maironis (1862—1932). Following liberation in 1918, many Lithuanian authors were concerned with promoting a national culture. Most Lithuanian literature has not been critically acclaimed because of Soviet influence and domination that began in the 1940s. Notable exceptions to this generalization are the following: the 1962 poetry collection Žmogus (Man) by Eduardus Mieželaitis, the 1957 novel Parduotos vasaros (Bartered Summers) by Juozas Baltušis, and the 1960 poem "Kraujas ir pelenai" (Blood and Ashes) by Justinas Marcinkevičius.

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