Category Archive 'Lithuania'
25 Jul 2020

“Born for the Saber” / “Zrodzeni do Szabli” (2019)

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Born for the Saber / Zrodzeni do Szabli from Stow. Polska Sztuka Krzyżowa on Vimeo.

Former Polish Nobility Association [ZSP] Chairman Marcin Wiszowaty forwarded this video trailer today. Great stuff.


Set in Poland during the first half of XVII century, the epic documentary-drama “Born for the saber” tells the story of young knight Blazej Wronowski. Jan Jerlicz, a veteran of the Muscovite wars who returns to his fatherland upon Maciej Wronowski’s – his brother’s in arms request to begin training his son, Blazej. “Born for the saber” is a feature story about honor, courage and war, seen through the eyes of a young noble and knight growing up in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Documentary part of the movie is a cinematic journey through history and art of the mystique of high-end crafting of the polish saber, which to date is considered to be one of the best melee weapons on the globe. Word class experts demonstrate the art of saber fighting and forging this extraordinary weapon.

I doubt that an English-subtitled version is available yet. Yet.

02 Dec 2019

2019 Vilnius Christmas Tree

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Vilnius, Lithuania’s 2019 Christmas Tree.

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, has been making a point of trying to erect the most beautiful Christmas Tree in Europe in recent years. (link)

November 30, 2019: The traditional lighting of the Christmas tree in Vilnius attracted citizens and guests alike. The capital of Lithuania has received a lot of global attention over the years for its unique and stunning Christmas trees, and this year is no exception. This year, the decorated Christmas tree resembles the 14-15th century Queen figure from the game of chess, which was found by archaeologists in 2007.

Decorations adorn the already traditional 27-meter tall metal construction, which bears some 6,000 branches. The construction is specially designed to create a completely sustainable Christmas tree. All the actual tree branches used in the construction are defiled from the trees by foresters while carrying out the general maintenance of the forest. Therefore not only trees but even branches are not cut just for the spectacle.

The particular figure which served as a model for decorations was found during the archaeological excavations around the Ducal Palace in Vilnius. Dating back to the 14th-15th century, the beautifully ornamented figure was made of spindle tree. Its middle part is carved with geometrical patterns and topped with floral ornaments. According to historians, the game of chess was played by the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the end of the 14th century.

A traditional Christmas market is set up around the Christmas tree, along with another one located at the Town Hall Square. The markets will stay open from the 30th of November to the 7th of January.


The tree’s design was inspired by this 14th-15th Chess Queen found by archaeologists in 2007.

25 Jan 2019

Jonas Mekas, 24 December 1922 — 23 January 2019.

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Guardian obituary.

Back in the late 1970s, Mekas did a showing of “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania” (1972) at Film Forum in New York.

Back in Soviet times, Americans had seen a lot more of Tibet than they ever had of any of the occupied Baltic States, so (being of Lithuanian descent and being a hard-core cinéaste) I was there with bells on.

You’d have expected the audience to be made up of the usual hip New York Experimental Film crowd, but actually that night it was full of Lithuanian Americans desperate to catch a look at their Fatherland.

The film (I’m remembering back over 40 years) was not very experimental, or arty, at all. It was really much more like a home movie. And Lithuania was startlingly poor and primitive. I remember that Mekas received accommodation at his relatives’ collective farm being given a pile of straw to sleep on.

Mekas clearly had bent over backward to avoid politics. If he had not, the Soviet authorities were holding lots of relatives of his hostage, and he would certainly never be visiting Lithuania again, if he’d expressed negative opinions of the system.

The audience, however, of hot-blooded, anti-Soviet Lithuanians was not happy with Mekas’s restraint. He got no cinematic questions, but he was deluged with demands that he openly condemn Communism and the Soviet Occupation.

The poor film-maker was nonplussed. He wanted to talk film. His audience wanted to fight Communism.

I met him, and found out that he was a Lutheran from Northern Lithuania.

23 Dec 2018

Lithuanian Christmas Carol

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Kalėdų rytų rožė inžydo
(Christmas morning a rose has bloomed)

Kalėdų rytų rožė inžydo, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Sekminių rytu dyvai pasidarė, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Dyvai pasidarė: ažerai užšalo, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Jaunas bernelis ladelį kirto, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Ladelį kirto, žirgelį girdė, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Žirgelį girdė, mergeli virgdė, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Atlakė elnias Devyniaragis, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Ant pirmo rago ugnelė degė, lylio kalėda kalėda,
An` antro rago kavoliai kalė, lylio kalėda kalėda.

Christmas morning a rose has bloomed, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Sunday morning a miracle has happened, lylio kalėda kalėda
A Miracle happened as the lake is frozen, lylio kalėda kalėda
The Young boy was smashing the ice, lylio kalėda kalėda, Was s
Smashing the ice, to give the horse a drink, lylio kalėda kalėda
Giving a horse a drink made a girl cry, lylio kalėda kalėda,
Then came the Moose with nine horns, lylio kalėda kalėda
On the first horn the Fire was burning, lylio kalėda kalėda
On the other horn blacksmiths were hammering, lylio kalėda kalėda.

27 Feb 2015

Drinking in Lithuania

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Zane Lamprey, back in the 2006-2010 era, was presenter of a drinking program called Three Sheets which ran on the Travel Channel and some other obscure cable networks.

All the clowning and low comedy is actively annoying, but persons of Lithuanian descent like me will find the survey of Lithuanian beverages and drinking customs worth a watch.

19 Nov 2014

If Lithuania Were to Intervene in Ukraine…

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Detal from Jan Matejko, Battle of Grunwald, 1878, National Museum, Warsaw: Grand Duke Witold (your typical Lithuanian) breaking through the German line.

Kat Argo thinks Lithuanian special forces injected into the Ukraine conflict would rapidly clean the Russian militias’ clocks.

There has been a lot of strong rhetoric from the Lithuanian government in reference to the Ukrainian Crisis. The small country by the Baltic Sea has been one of Kyiv’s greatest allies in the EU and NATO. Their ambassador, at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in response to the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic’s parade of captured Ukrainian Soldiers at bayonet-point, had said, “… instead of seeking the solution, Russia has been escalating the situation as flow of weapons, equipment, mercenaries and now troops continue across Russia’s borders into the territory of Ukraine. Let us be clear; weapons don’t fall in the hands of rebels out of blue skies.”

Likewise, Lithuanian officials have made their anti-Russia stance completely clear.

What little experience I have with Lithuanians is with their most elite soldiers in Afghanistan – the Aitvaras, or their Special Forces (LITHSOF) – and I know that if they were to respond to the Ukrainian Crisis, it would change.

The LITHSOF were the mechanized horsemen of the Apocalypse – where they rode, death would come after.

Instead of horses, they had four motorcycles, and wore a black and white kerchief over their nose and mouth with the outline of a skull. The Taliban feared them.

They had a blatant disregard for US regulations, such as the 10km/h speed limit around the base or the need to constantly wear helmets and reflective belts. If the rule was stupid, they didn’t follow it. Their sense of independence, and unit autonomy drove many an American commander insane.

Once, the Lithuanians were refueling a vehicle on base, and a young American sergeant approached to correct their lack of helmets and protective gear. The driver shrugged and claimed “No English!” and drove off (too fast), leaving the young sergeant standing in his dust.

With only dozens of LITHSOF in Afghanistan, they made their numbers count. They became the terror of the Taliban in Zabul Province. It was the single justification of their existence, and the basis of their legend. They were amazing fighters, vicious and joyful in the combat, living in a constant, controlled recklessness.

They criticized the American’s unwillingness to go outside the wire, and the accompanying safety regulations that degraded common sense.

“You want to play safe in war? That is how you lose…” or more directly, “We are soldiers. Not children.”

They would go out on a dime if called upon. No fear. No excuses. They bent the rules if it helped the mission.

For all that viciousness, they were gracious hosts. They opened their compound to a few of us who would spend our evenings smoking cigars in their “cave” – a place that became a sanctuary for many of us.

They made us loose-leaf chamomile tea from fresh flowers or coffee from fresh grounds with fresh honey (imported from their home). Each newcomer has to try their sauna, which they were very proud of. Through my time, I often asked for permission to steal a cup of coffee or grab some of their tea, until they became frustrated and said, “Katyte, you don’t understand,” using the nickname they had picked out for me, which was the cute form of the word cat, “Our cave is your cave. Feel free, don’t hesitate. Stop asking!”

Around the base, their commander was called Leonidas (but never to his face) which was a reference to his striking resemblance to the Spartan King, as played by Gerard Butler. The name also suited his reputation.

Leonidas once sat me down to teach me numbers, days, months in his native Lithuanian language – which, by the way, was not easy. Late at night, when I couldn’t sleep, he would sit with me in the common room and we would talk about life, about family, and he would try to impart his brotherly advice.

“We are a big family in this cave,” Leonidas said, “We spend more time with each other than even our real family. We fight, we get angry at each other, but we are family. And I think we are your family too.”

Leonidas once told me that Americans were too used to a comfortable life – in prosperity we had lost our perspective. We were a comfortable, fat, super power and losing our sight of the world.

Leonidas lamented the Russian invasion of Lithuania.

He explained to me that their society had been prosperous, comfortable and fat too. They gave up their liberties for continued comfort until the day they were invaded when they had no more of their liberty left to trade.

“The Russians were allowed to take over without firing one single shot,” he said.

It was shameful to him, and he spoke with great resolve, declaring that it would never happen again. The little country of Lithuania would never allow themselves to be taken cheaply again and, through the conviction of his dark eyes, I came to believe that Putin would have to pry Lithuania’s liberty from Leonidas’ cold, clenched fist.

Read the whole thing.

16 Mar 2014

A Fine Proposal

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Poland-Lithuania half groschen coin dated 1550 featuring the emblems of both nations.

Glenn Reynolds: What Can the U.S. Do If Russia Attacks Ukraine? Give Poland and Lithuania nukes.

Tsar Putin would not like that one little bit.

21 Sep 2013

Michal Oginski: Pożegnanie Ojczyzny (Farewell to the Fatherland)

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Michal Kleofas Oginski (1765-1833) was a Lithuanian Prince, by virtue of lineal descent from Rurik, founder of the Kievian Russian state. He commanded a regiment of riflemen during the Kościuszko Insurrection of 1794 which attempted to resist the Second Partition of Poland-Lithuania. After Russia’s suppression of the Insurrection, Oginski emigrated to France, at which time he wrote the following Polonaise, his best-known work.

30 Jun 2013

1928 Silent Film Version of Pan Tadeusz

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The process of rediscovery, generally involving painful efforts of reconstruction, of lost masterworks of the Silent Era of the cinema is still very much underway.

I am remembering with great pleasure the premiere in January of 1981 at Radio City Music Hall of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” (1927). Karen and I found ourselves by accident sitting next to Susan Sontag (with whom we were mildly acquainted) and Lillian Gish (to whom Sontag introduced us), and we all had a very enjoyable time exchanging witticisms and appreciative observations.

Another major American premiere that we were fortunate enough to present at was that of Andrzej Wajda’s “Pan Tadeusz” (1999), shown at a Polish cultural center in the basement of an old church in the heart of that city’s Polish neighborhood. Polish-language art films were shown there regularly, and that movie theater is the only one I have ever attended whose concession stand featured wine and beer and Polish sausage as well as popcorn.

Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz, published in 1834, is like Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse.

In it, a family vendetta between two families of old-fashioned Lithuanian nobles turns into a revolt against the occupying
Russians in 1812, just prior to Napoleon’s invasion. Pan Tadeusz is for Poland what Don Quixote is for Spain, simultaneously the supreme achievement of its national literature, and moreover the definitive portrait of its national character. Pan Tadeusz was described by Worcell as “a tombstone laid by the hand of genius upon our Old Poland.”

There was not a dry eye in the auditorium as the background narration solemnly intoned the poem’s famous opening line:

“Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie;
Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie,
Kto cię stracił.”

Lithuania, my fatherland!, thou
Art like good health; I never knew till now
How precious, till I lost thee.

I had always assumed that the Andrzej Wajda version was the first, and only, attempt ever made to film Pan Tadeusz, but
I recently received some correspondence from the Polish cultural news web-site,, and when I went to investigate the site, I discovered that two attempts had been made to film the novel during the silent era, one of which, directed by Ryszard Ordyński was actually completed and released in 1928.

The film was, of course, lost, all copies believed to have been destroyed. But, as the Polish government cultural web-site reports, “in the 1950s… the Polish National Film Archive came into possession of a 40-minute, destroyed fragment of the film, which had an original running time of just under 3 hours. The year 2006 turned out to be crucial – several other incomplete copies of the film surfaced in Wroclaw. After years of re-mastering efforts, the “Nitrofilm” project team … managed to reconstruct almost 120 minutes of the original picture.”

A gala premiere of the re-release of this spectacular cinematic landmark took place in Warsaw last November 9.

New Horizons review

It will gradually be shown at film festivals world-wide, and will presumably eventually be made available on DVD.

16 Feb 2013

Stefan Czarniecki

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Leon Kapliński, Hetman Stefan Czarniecki, 1863, National Museum Cracow.

Died 16 February 1665, Polish national hero Hetman [Field Marshal] Stefan Czarniecki [pronounced “Charnyetsky”] of an infected wound received in battle against the Cossacks the previous July.

One of the greatest commanders in Polish history, Czarniecki fought in 27 major engagements. He played the principal role in evicting the Swedes and the Russians from Poland in the mid-17th century period of national disaster known as “The Deluge.”

Despite his age and illness, Czarniecki persisted in traveling in the most bitter winter weather to Lwow, but his strength began to fail and he was taken to a cottage in Sokołówce. Recognizing that he was dying, the hero is said to have insisted that his white charger be brought to his bedside for a last farewell. The horse refused the water and oats offered to him, and instead beat the floor with his hoofs, saluting his master. Czarniecki sank into a coma and died after receiving the last rites.

The horse also died shortly afterward, and the peasants living near Czarnca Wloszczowa, where Czarniecki was buried, claim that on February 16th, the hoofbeats of Czarniecki’s horse can be heard on the nearby meadows as he continues to watch over his master’s grave.

Leopold Löffler, The Death of Stefan Czarnecki, 1860, National Museum Warsaw.

28 Jan 2013

Confederacy of Warsaw

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Édouard Debat-Ponsan, Un matin devant la porte du Louvre [One Morning before the gates of the Louvre], 1880, Musée d’art Roger-Quilliot, Clermont-Ferrand

The painting above depicts Catherine de’Medici and members of the French court admiring the bodies of murdered Protestants following the Massacre of St. Bartholemew’s Day, 23 August 1572.

One month earlier, King Sigismund Augustus, the last member of the Jagiellonian Dynasty of Poland-Lithuania died, “leaving no heir, but Liberty.”

The king had arranged, before his death, for a strengthening of the alliance and personal union between the two countries via the Union of Lublin which merged the separate Polish and Lithuanian Parliaments and which provided for his own succession by an electoral monarchy. Henceforward, the king of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania would be freely elected by the nobility of both nations.

On 16 May 1573, Henry Valois, third son of King Henri II of France and of Catherine de’Medici, Duke of Angoulême, Orléans, and Anjou was elected King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.

Several months prior to his election, on January 28, 1573, the Polish Parliament in Warsaw went out of parliamentary session and into the mode of a Confederacy (in order to preclude the use of the Liberum Veto.

The Confederacy of Warsaw pledged the entire nobility of Poland-Lithuania not only to refuse to enforce any measure by state or church undertaking to compel religious conformity, but to resist actively any such measure by armed force.

[W]e swear to each other, on behalf of ourselves and our descendants, in perpetuity, under oath and pledging our faith, honor, and consciences, that we who differ in matters of religion will keep the peace among ourselves, and neither shed blood on account of differences of Faith, nor punish one another by confiscation of goods, deprivation of honor, imprisonment, or exile.

During the debate, Crown Chancellor Jan Zamoyski is reported to have said: “For the heretics [Protestants] to return to the True Faith, I would give half my life’s blood, but to defend their right to obey their own consciences, I would give all my life’s blood.”

The original text of the Confederacy of Warsaw bearing signatures and wax seals.

29 Nov 2012

The November Insurrection

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Wojciech Kossak (1857-1942), Noc listopadowa [A November Night]. 1898, oil on canvas, Private Collection.

The succession in 1825 to the throne of the Congress Kingdom of Poland of the autocratic Nicholas I, who made clear his contempt for constitutional government, led inevitably to revolt. The reactionary order imposed by the Congress of Vienna was tested all over Europe in 1830. Greek independence was recognized by Britain. In July, the Bourbon monarchy fell in France. In August, the House of Orange was expelled, and Belgium declared its independence. Fear that the Tsar might use the Polish Army to suppress the revolutions in France and Belgium led to revolution in Poland. Wojciech Kossak, in two famous paintings (the other), illustrated Polish cadets and Warsaw civilians in combat with Russian cuirrasseurs in the attack on the Belvedere Palace, the Polish equivalent of the White House, then the residence of Grand Duke Constantine, the Russian Governor General. The statue of King Jan Sobieski appears to be leading the Polish assault. This was the opening battle of the November Insurrection of 1830-1831.

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