Report From Vilnius

Activities accompanying the lecture on Bertolt Brecht and Brechtian Theater, „Performing Politics & Community Building: BRECHT for our Age“ (Lecture Demonstration), and a recent Vienna based theater production of Brecht’s „Refugee Dialogues“ (2018) by Projekt Theater/FLEISCHEREI_mobil, Nov. 29th 2018, Lithuanian State Youth Theater;

My 10-day trip proved very informative, and also productive. I met with the inviting organizers of DEMOS[1], Andrius Bielskis and Yolanta Bielskiene, several times, we decied on the framework of my talk which I had prepared in form of a paper and video, visited museums together such as the famed Genocide Museum, two art museums, amongst them the wonderful new MO Museum dedicated to contemporary art and situated in a brand-new architectural jewel in the heart of Vilnius. I also had the opportunity on one night to join a session of Andrius‘ reading circle on Aristotle’s „Nichomachean Ethic“ at Mykolas Romeris University, where he teaches philosophy.  

Futhermore, Andrius and Yolanta recommended to meet with colleagues from the theater, and form the Left, such as the Dramaturge Ervinas Korsunovas, brother of Oskarskas Korsunovas, noted Lithuanian theater director, Ervinus spontanesouly invited me to give a lecture at Vilnius University (Department of Music and Drama) where he teaches – which turned into a very succcessful exchange. There, I held an hour-long  talk to Ervinas‘ theatery students on my own artistic biography, on Brecht, Brechtian as well as Western (European/US) avantgarde theater. Some of the students participated in my lecture at the Lithunanian State Youth Rheater a few days later.

Important other new contacts included the philosopher and theater maker Henrikas Zakauskis and his wife GIlja, a dancer, teacher, and theater scientist, who together are running a community theater group. They invited me on my last day, to give a workshop in experimental theater techniques to about 8 participants which proved very successful and will see a follow-up next year (in Vienna and/or Vilnius). In addition, I joined the screening of a speical film documentary and ensueing discussion on Spain’s Podemos movement, organized by DEMOS. And on the last day, I conducted an in-depth interview with Andrius Bielskis and Yolanta Bielskiene on the genesis and development of DEMOS, which will be published in the magazine VOLKSSTIMME of the Austrian Communist Party.

Learning about the country of Lithuania and its varified culture, it became clear to me how shockingly little we in Central Europe know about the Baltic states, their culture, and their painful history. Particularly the presence of decades if Soviet reign – which by the majority was/is considered an occupation – became apparant to me, it was present every step on the way, it shaped my encounters, my vision oft he future of Lithuanian culture set now on leaving part of this burdensome history behind. For example, on my visit of the Genocide Museum I learned first hand about the desatrous role the Soviet Gulags, especially the deep wounds they effected on Lithuanian culture and lives of hdunereds of thosuands of people. I simply did not know about it before, not about the extent of this distcutrion and the many people who have perished this way! However, with the overpowering part of the exhibit at the Genocide Museum eveoted to Soviet influence, I also noted that it left all but one subterranean room (in the former Stasi-like prison cell) to the documentation of the Holocaust, the distruction of the Litwak Jews, and the Lithuanian participation in Nazi crimes. When discussing these impressions with my inviters, I was told that Lithuania had only a few years ago begun to engage ist Jewish history, the distruction oft the particularly rich Lithuanian Jewish population, including Vilnius Jewish life!  It is a city where before the Holocaust Jews made up about 40% of the total population!  

Thus, visiting the former Vilnius Jewish quarter, once one of the largest and most significant throughout Europe, was an important part of my trip, adding to a wider and deeper understanding of Lithuanian history and culture. I took a special tour through the former Ghetto with a well-informed young guide and historian which included a visit to the Choral Synagogue of 2903, the only surviving synagogue after Second Word War out of over 100 Jewish synagogues and prayer houses in a city with about 5.000 inhabitants. Today it once again functions as a temple. I saw these developments as promising signs of very recent changes in Lithuanian cultural life.

Soviet historical, political, and cultural influence can be seen for instance in the city’s Stalinist architecture which makes up agreat part of ist stuctures next to the medieval core of tourist sites, now UNESCO Cultural Heritage with its widely admired ad beautifully renovated city center bulidings.

Soviet influence is also present in the exhibits I saw, amongst them a quite wonderful photography series by noted Lithuanian photographe Antanas Sutkus who documents 50 years of Lithuanian life in exquisite black-and-white pictures – a show which was picked to travel to European headquarters in Brussels in 2019. It was also present in dialogues with artists, e.g. in the lack of information about international artistic, particularly avantgardist traditions, be it Brecht‘s Epic theater or other Modernist and experimental theater developments since the 1930s and 1960s. Ostensibly there was little teaching taking place about these matters at Lithuanian universities, art conservatories, and art institions taking into account the sparse and incomplete knowlege. This lack is – to my appreciation –  due to Stalinist aesthetic conventions, i.e. the long-standing dogma of „Socialist Realism“ which considers Western modernist and avantgarde styles as bourgeois-decadent. Obviously, these deficiencies pose serious challenges to the development of Erope as a cultural whole – and tot he European Left with ist programming of future cultural exchange. I believe that this challenge must be met by way of prolonged and intensified cultural exchange programs between West, East, North and South of Europe. Information must be shared on key international cultural movements such as post/modernist and avantgarde developments, schools, and aesthetic techniques. This must be done on a large scale and where ever this exchange is not yet present, nor avaiable!

On the other hand, I also gained insight into the fact that in the „West“, many artists, Leftists, and intellectuals so far have had little access to historical, political, and cultural developments of the East, particularly in regards to influential Russia/Soviet artistic movments, thehistory and culture of Baltic States or the Balcans.

I believe that this lack severly hampers the development of a strong united Left culture, sharing knowledge, experience, and pure information of each others developments and movements. Therefore the kind of exchange initiated by DEMOS in tandem with transform! europe should be intensified, be  it in or outside of the European Left. In that sense, it ist o be hoped that my Brecht-lecture as organized by DEMOS was decisive turning point in cultural programming as it gives a glimpse of an ongoing substantial exchange to be effected without amounting financial ressoruces..

The presentation at Lithuanan State Youth Theater was entitled „Performing Politics & Community Building: BRECHT for our Age“ and consisted of an hour long talk and the subsequent screening of a video on th theater production of Brecht’s Refugee Dialogues“ (June and October 2018), a collection of prose, aphorisms, essays, and short stories which we dramatized and turned into a well received theater performance. The lecture attracted about 40-50 people, mainly young artists, intellectuals, and Leftists, and resulted in a lively debate with a follwing exchange of poignant questions and answers. After a reception given by DEMOS, a smaller group stayed around and continued the dialogue until late at night. Almost all the people present – and most others whom I met during this short visit – voiced their interest in a continuation of this kind of exchange, extending to workshops, guest performances, seminars, and symposia in order to increase the level of shared historical, political, and European cultural identity.


[1] DEMOS Institute of Critical Thought is an NGO, established in 2008.

DEMOS’ mission is to be an influential voice in the formation of alternative politics and social-economic policies in Lithuania. In order to realize this mission DEMOS worked for 10 years on research in alternative social and economic politics and policy with especial focus on labour movement and its importance for the policy formation. DEMOS organised various activities (like ‘Slave market’ in front of the Presidential Palace or promotion of the creation of progressive employee associations while organising training for its members) to strengthen and consolidate activities of trade unions in Lithuania. Every year DEMOS institute organises educational events, seminars, and lectures for political, trade union activists to disseminate it’s expertize. It also is a small alternative publisher.