Filling the gaps: why so little is known about Lithuania in Ireland

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A sculpture of an angel from Vilnius besides Mansion House on Dawson St in Dublin. Vaidas Ramoška's sculpture is part of the events celebrating the fact that Vilnius will be the European Capital of Culture in 2009 and invites foreigners to visit the Lithuanian capital. Unfortunately, the angel, which has been watching the passers by for a couple of months, can hardly be seen through the hedges and tulips. Hopefully, Vilnius will attract more attention than the sculpture next year.


At first you get angry. Then you try to smile and quietly grumble: "Oh again..." Yet once you notice that those stories tend to repeat, you anxiously press the panic button. How come nobody knows we have electricity and we know how to flush the toilet and no, our language has nothing to do with Russian?

Explaining to foreigners what Lithuania is like, can be quite a challenge. After spending decades behind the Iron Curtain we are desperate to be acknowledged, heard, seen and identified. God forbid you don't know about our Baroque churches or the coastline. Or the fact that Vilnius is going to be the European Capital of Culture next year - along with Austria's third largest city Linz (yet we prefer not to mention that, although I love their website). Or that our beer is as good as Czech or Polish, which seem to be getting quite popular in Ireland - you can buy it in O'Briens and avoid miscommunication in Eastern European shops. Or if you haven't heard that Lithuanian language is one of the oldest and best preserved in Europe. Or...

But why should foreigners bother with these crumbles of information about a former Soviet republic nestling somewhere along the shores of the Baltic sea? For many we will always remain a mere former Soviet republic, no matter how hard we try to convince the world that we are not a black hole on the world map. Despite 17 years of independence it still seems that little is known about us.

As part of the campaign, promoting Lithuania and celebrating the fact that Vilnius will be European Capital of Culture in 2009, a contest was introduced recently. Lithuanians are invited to send various myths they have heard about their country. The best ones are regularly published on the most popular news website in Lithuania. Majority of them seem to arrive from the USA, where Lithuania oftentimes is considered as either one of the 50 states or some district in Russia. Scandinavians tend to think we live in the caves and have never seen TVs or microwaves. Some agree that our capital Riga is as beautiful as another Lithuanian city Tallinn.

The objective of the contest apparently is to challenge various myths about Lithuania and to encourage Lithuanians to send a message to the world about what their country is like.

Sounds like a good cause, yet as I was reading those bizarre stories with various misconceptions, it seemed that those myths mainly seek to emphasise foreigners' stupidity and ignorance. Besides, they are written in Lithuanian and are of little use as a message to the world.

Of course, it is funny to discover that some think Lithuanian women still don't have the right to vote or that Lithuanians live in igloos, but as we gargle with laughter at foreigners scoring a fat hollow zero in questions on Lithuania, we should ask ourselves why so little is known about us.

I must admit I used to support those who were considering people of the Western world as somewhat ignorant and being lightweight in general knowledge department, the Irish being no exception. Yet after living here for a couple of years and seeing what has been done in order to introduce Irish to Lithuania, I am beginning to reconsider my position.

Recently I was asked why the vast majority of the events organised by our embassy and various Lithuanian groups seem to be concerned only with attracting Lithuanians and rarely target the Irish audience. While I am trying to come up with some sort of an explanation, the Irish continue to weave another myth about us. Ignorance? Whose, I wonder...

Written for "Metro Eireann"

 
This Post has 23 Comments Add your own!
John - May 11, 2008 at 12:14 AM

I am glad that you have updated your blog even though you will be gone from us soon.I have a big map of Europe here in my computer room.
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After all how would I know where a place like Slovenia was?
Take a look at my blog, loads of photos of Dublin.
The very bes tof lick in Uthrect

Lina - May 11, 2008 at 2:07 PM

Hi John. It's been a while indeed. I'll be updating more often. Well, I'll try to ;) I've checked out your blog before - well done!

Derren - May 11, 2008 at 11:41 PM

Very good post - maybe I'll visit this summer.

Great picture too.

Did you take it yourself?

Lina - May 12, 2008 at 1:09 PM

Hi Derren. Glad I'm attracting some tourists to my country. ;) I did take the picture myself.

CV - June 2, 2008 at 11:13 PM

i just stumbled upon this blog and read this post, and i couldn't help my self but to write a comment.
About the language: well lithuanian or baltic languages in general have more in common with the slavic languages than some people would like to admit, the sound structure etc. i heard some people that are foreigners, but have studied russian that when they hear lithuanian it sounds to them just like russian, but they couldn't understand a word.
And about the misconception about the country in general, well i think the flag ain't helping, it looks like nothing simililar to other european country flags, it has nothing to do with the rules of heraldics,(actualy we have 2 flags, tha state flag and the national one) and if we decide to that we want to keep the funny one, we should take advantage of it's, let's be honest, funnyness(like make a parody clip of lithuanian rastamans or smth like that...).
Also the country has a big problem identifying it self in the 21st cent. becouse it's very hard for most lithuanians to identify them selves as the great nation of lithuania, which had ruled from sea to sea. and when you don't know who you are it's very hard to sell your self to others.

Lina - June 5, 2008 at 12:03 AM

cv, all points are worth mentioning, although in terms of languages the sound is one thing, yet if you look at the alphabet and the spelling, we use latin, whereas Russians use Slavic one. as for the flag, I can't but agree with you. Unfortunately... :( thanks for stopping by!

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