2018-05-11 / Travel

Lithuania, a new democracy, a new friend

Part Seven: The Artist of Silent Resistance
By Warner M. Montgomery, Ph.D.


The self–portrait on the wall behind Serys was done when he was a student in 1948. The self–portrait on the wall behind Serys was done when he was a student in 1948. Lithuania has had it rough. After emerging as a major power in Eastern Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries, it suffered invasions from Germans, Mongols, and Tatars. In 1569, Lithuania became part of Poland, and then in 1795, it was incorporated into Russia. During all of this time, the Lithuanians resisted and fought for their land, religion, language, and identity.

Finally in 1918, Lithuania proclaimed its independence, but 22 years later after a brief period of Nazi terror, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania. Until the dissolution of the USSR in 1990, the outnumbered and overpowered Lithuanians resisted, usually quietly, always stubbornly. Many suffered, many died, and many disappeared into Siberia…tens of thousands of people.

“Soviet Times” in Lithuania were rough. I learned during my visit in 2004 that thousands of professionals and intellectuals were commandeered by the Soviets for their war machine. Those who refused, disappeared. Those who openly resisted were gunned down as traitors. Others went underground; many fled to America.

“I am always free, then and now. I create art for myself,” says Vytautas Serys.“I am always free, then and now. I create art for myself,” says Vytautas Serys.
Some, however, resisted silently. They didn’t flee their native land. They didn’t disappear into the vast underground. In the language of the American Old South, they simply said, “ Yas, massa,” and went about their business… silently.

Vytautas Serys was a member of the Lithuanian Silent Resistance. When Andrius’s wife, Jurga, asked if we would like to visit Serys, I jumped at the chance. Before Jurga became a stay–at–home mother, she was an art teacher. Serys was one of her heroes, and she was willing to share him with us.

Vytautas Serys, winner of the Lithuanian National Prize in 1995Vytautas Serys, winner of the Lithuanian National Prize in 1995
Vytautas Serys ( b. 1931) is one of the well–known Lithuanian artists from the Soviet times. I felt a bit awed in his presence. Though humble and soft–spoken, this man with the Einstein hair and Ichabod Crane nose moved around his home with power and purpose.

His wife, who served as his manager and interpreter, conducted our tour of their small nondescript home in Vilnius. His daughter, a classical cellist and singer recently home from Germany, brought a youthful flair to the stacks of wooden framed paintings and dusty sculptures. It was clear she worshipped her father.

Serys showed us his self–portrait done when he was a student in 1948. “Time has made me better, no?” he asked.

His first work of art, he told us, was a well made from sticks. “My father sent me to get water, so I built a frame around our well. It only exists in my mind now, but it set me on a career of creating.”


Serys, a member of the Silent Resistance, and his daughter Serys, a member of the Silent Resistance, and his daughter He started as a sculptor but moved quickly into painting. When recruited by the Soviets to produce art for their propaganda machine, he told me, “I didn’t refuse. I just never finished what they wanted.”

As we sat in his kitchen, drinking tea and eating cookies served by his wife, Serys exclaimed, “I am always free, then and now. I create art for myself. Not for government, not for anyone else. Me, only.”

In the 1950s he moved into abstract work, both painting and sculpture, which the Soviets couldn’t understand and which was almost inaccessible for a wider public during the Soviet era. After independence, he emerged, uncorrupted, as one of Lithuania’s greatest artists. He was awarded the National Prize in 1995.


“Y’all come back real soon, y’hear,” Serys and Yurga said in Lithuanian. “Y’all come back real soon, y’hear,” Serys and Yurga said in Lithuanian. As we left, he gave me an autographed copy of a book of his artwork. His daughter gave me a CD of her music. Neither would accept any money. “We only give; we do not take,” his daughter said. “Come back soon.” Next week: Grutas Park, a

Soviet satire

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