This week I’ve been thinking about diversity, xenophobia, empire, nationalism, genealogy, and family history.
How can we embrace each other even though we are different? How can we all be Americans and work together to make a better world for the future? How can we embrace our pasts, live with love in the present, and plan for a colorful, diverse, and peaceful future?
Do you know about the Singing Revolution in the Baltic countries?
Millions of people in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia sang traditional ethnic folk songs, rock music, and anything else they could. Many singing groups wore traditional regional clothing that their grandparents would have worn in daily life and for holidays. I talk about this in my knitting classes when we are making Lithuanian beaded wrist warmers. It’s something we in the USA need to learn about as we try to keep our democracy from being squelched in the next few years.
Anything can be used for protest:
knitting, singing, art… be creative.
During the Soviet period (1944-1991), there were very few ways to express patriotism for one’s homeland without putting oneself and one’s family in danger. In Stalinist times—both before (1940) and after (1944-53) the second World War—many thousands of patriotic, intellectual, and politically active Lithuanians were deported, or “disappeared,” to Siberia. Packed into cattle cars, much as the Jews were by the Nazis, and transported thousands of miles away from their homes, they were either imprisoned, or set to work in labor camps and on collective farms. Those sent to the most distant outposts in Siberia, were dropped in the middle of nowhere and left to build whatever shelter they could before winter came, using only materials they could find in the landscape. Every family I met on my travels through Lithuania had either been in Siberia or had family members who were sent there. Although the situation improved after Stalin’s death in 1953, Soviet citizens were far from free.
Folk singing groups began performing in Soviet Lithuania in 1968, but it is probably not a coincidence that Irena and others started to reproduce traditional costumes for performances in 1986, just two years after Mikhail Gorbachev came into power and one year after Glasnost and Perestroika were initiated. Even with the increased amount of freedom, singing was used as a form of nonviolent protest against the Soviet regime, only allowed because it ostensibly had nothing to do with politics. Folk singing groups kept young people occupied. “They aren’t doing anything dangerous,” the thinking went. “What harm could there be in singing?” Ironically, the peaceful revolution that eventually led to Lithuania’s renewed independence in 1991 is now known as “the singing revoluion.”
Today, national song and dance troupes—as well as many textile artists and researchers—continue to spin, weave, sew, and knit to create the garments and accessories of the Lithuanian national costume. Not only made and worn by performers, beaded wrist warmers are among most popular knitted items in Vilnius. Walking through the streets, you spy them for sale by women selling their wares on street corners, at booths in the tourist market, and in upscale folk-art galleries.
Here’s an article and a free pattern for Lithuanian beaded wrist warmers that I did for Knitty a few years ago. (The pattern is for simpler wristers than this antique pair!)
Antique Lithuanian Wrist Warmers