Columbia Star

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Lithuania, a new democracy, a new friend: First impressions

Originally published March 18, 2005

The Lithuanian people are gleefully moving away from 70 years of Soviet rule.

The Lithuanian people are gleefully moving away from 70 years of Soviet rule.

Quite by accident I discovered Lithuania (the official name is Lietova) in 2004. There it was… pinched in at the bottom of the Baltic Sea between Latvia, Belarus, and Poland. About the size of S.C. in population and area but with a much higher (99.9 percent) literacy rate.

During my two–week stay, I observed a capitalistic furor creating new marketplaces, new construction, and new addictions by the hour; and an academic community frightened by the runaway commercialism, rampant freedom of expression, and the crush of new goods in the shopping malls.

I heard the independent– minded Lithuanians joke about their former Soviet oppressors:

“The Russians believed, ‘If I am your boss, you are a fool. If you are my boss, I am a fool.’ Therefore, everyone was a fool.”

They criticize the Russians who didn’t go home after independence in 1993: “The Russian workers drink vodka and don’t believe in God; therefore, they can’t be trusted. But they do work cheap when they aren’t drunk.”

Lithuania. Vilnius is the capital and largest city.

Lithuania. Vilnius is the capital and largest city.

They praise America for hosting their leaders in exile during the Soviet times. They are eagerly learning English and American democracy. Everyone has at least one relative living in the U.S. Most have traveled to the U.S. and are familiar with New York, Chicago, and LA. The South, they believe, is full of violence and racism, except for Disney World. They admit they fear the potentially destructive superpower that is sometimes at odds with their new motherland, the European Union. But most respect President Bush for taking a stand against terrorism.

Sidewalk impressions: The women are tall, slim, and stylish. Chins high, shoulders back, chests out. Small waists and thin hips stuffed into dark sweaters. Long legs in tight pants with high heel boots built to strut.

Men under age 50 are either muscular or painfully thin with buzz cuts or banker trims. All those between teen punk and geezer wear worsted turtle neck sweaters, black jeans, leather jackets, and business boots.

The children are obedient and playful, bright– eyed and rosy–cheeked. Just one per strolling parent.

Lithuania is a very pleasant place, a bit cooler than I prefer, but the people are polite, intelligent, and eager to get beyond their Soviet past. They look ahead to a new Europe and rebirth of Lietova.

Next week: Lietova by any other name…

One response to “Lithuania, a new democracy, a new friend: First impressions”


    It is LIETUVA not Lietova!

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