The construction of national museums in Lithuania can be analysed in relation to traditional conceptualizations of European nationalism which emphasize state building through the identification of an ethnic and cultural nation situated in a particular territory (Hroch 2000). Although state building is not entirely explained by theories of nationalism, this report will broadly rely on this theoretical framework. The history of Lithuanian national museums can be divided into the following stages, based on forms of national statehood, key museums and key political oppositions:
I. The first public museums: Baublys local history museum (1812) and Vilnius Museum of Antiquities (1855-1863), were established by Lithuanian-Polish aristocrats who were interested in the political and archaeological history of Lithuania. Opposition to the Russian Empire.
II. The first state museums (1918-1940): Vytautas the Great Military Museum and Ciurlionis Art Gallery were organized by groups of Lithuanian intellectuals and established as part of a ‘national pantheon’ in Kaunas. Opposition to Poland, which occupied Vilnius.
III. The establishment of a centralized museums system (1940/1944-1990): state initiated museums were dedicated to Soviet propaganda in line with Marxism-Leninism, but groups of Lithuanian intellectuals built museums relying on the nineteenth-century template of an ethnic nation. Silent opposition to the communist regime, forgetting of the Holocaust.
IV. The consolidation of national state museums system (1990-2010): Soviet centralized administrative system was both subverted and modified to emphasize the ethnic Lithuanian dimension of nation-building through history, archaeology and culture. Opposition to Western popular culture and other perceived negative aspects of globalization, but beginning to deal with the Holocaust and communist crimes.
Stage I saw emphasis on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (PLC), but also on the prehistory of Lithuania. In stage II, the Polish element of Lithuania’s history was represented as negative; hence there was little interest in aristocratic culture. History museums focused on the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL); a cult of grand dukes emerged alongside interest in Lithuanian folk culture. Jewish, Karaite and Belarusian learned societies organized ethnic museums too. During stage III, the political dimensions of ethnic nation-building were eliminated by the communist regime. However, the Lithuanian state was further constructed in museums through a history of the Middle Ages and folk culture. Aristocratic culture and the cultural heritage of the Lithuanian Jewish community did not get much space in Soviet museums, but were not completely eliminated either. The territorial focus was on the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (LSSR); references to the GDL were carefully censored. In stage IV the political dimension of ethnicity was brought back into the museums. Jews and Karaites were represented in existing museums or acquired their own museums. The Polish dimension of Lithuania’s history remained contested. However, there emerged new museums, dedicated to the difficult parts of twentieth century history, such as the Holocaust and communist crimes.
Note: A Full list of the abbreviations used can be found in an annexe of this report.
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2011. 521-552 p.
Building National Museums in Europe 1750–2010. EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Bologna 28-30 April 2011. EuNaMus Report No. 1