From post-war West to post-soviet East: manifestations of displacement, collective memory, and Lithuanian diasporic experience revisited

Venzlauskaite, Gintare (2020) From post-war West to post-soviet East: manifestations of displacement, collective memory, and Lithuanian diasporic experience revisited. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.


In light of an increasing number of cases of involuntary deterritorialization, the importance of understanding the implications of the traumatic experience of uprooting on affected populations, the conditionality of their voice, as well as the development of consecutive memory landscapes, has become more apparent. While the mass waves of forced migration of the 21st century have their share of socio-political nuance and complexity, looking at countries and populations that went through uprooting in the 20th century helps to explore how tenacious and far-reaching the resonance of such experience on personal, collective and (trans)national levels can be.
This thesis draws on such an example from Lithuania, a country that experienced considerable human losses and rapid demographic shifts as a result of WWII, as well as the Soviet and Nazi occupations. Lithuania is not a unique but an evocative case in the context of Central and Eastern Europe, where problematic debates of its recent past continue to arise. Moreover, a considerable number of those issues have a connection to memories and narratives of deterritorialization and resultant socio-cultural ruptures.
The ever-growing body of scholarship and literature broadening our understanding of diverse experiences and identities, as well as public initiatives raising awareness of what writer Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie described as ‘the danger of a single story’, are a testament to the positive developments pursuing a more pluralistic collective memory landscape in Lithuania. However, the periodically intensifying tensions over historical truths linked back to the unequivocally complex period of WWII, occupations and beyond, show that the Lithuanian public still finds it challenging to accommodate perspectives that are believed to be offensive towards their cultural identity and integrity, question historical dignity and threaten national security. This is why there is ample of room for works addressing different Lithuanian narratives at home as well as away.
With that in mind, this thesis joins scholarship concerned with mnemonic particularities of displacements from Lithuania and their place in both the public realms of the country and the private narratives of victims and their descendants residing in and outside the country. The thesis approaches the subject from the perspective of ethnonational diasporic communities that emerged as a result of the mid-20th century involuntary migration and aims to address the uprooted and their experience of displacement as implicated in Lithuanian nation-building post-1990s.
The project encompasses a broad radius, in both geographical and conceptual terms and embraces a respectively diverse empirical spectrum that accommodates forced migration, diaspora, trauma and memory studies. By employing means of qualitative methodology, the study “travels” across Lithuania, the United States, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and Latvia. Engaging with previous work on the subject and invoking the multivocality of their exilic experience enables the research to explore the personal and collective perspectives of the affected groups, demonstrate previously minimally addressed the interaction between (and juxtaposition of) communities of different experience, as well as consider their positionality regarding dominant Lithuanian state narratives.
The secondary, as well as primary research, rests on analysis of over 120 semi-structured interviews, archived oral history records, relevant press articles and other material to support four key research objectives that were tailored against the general delineations of prototypical (or victim) diaspora. The thesis prescribes that the western and eastern Lithuanian communities of displacement correspond, to a large extent, to above typology due to the following characteristics: these diasporas originated from forced uprooting, maintained their collective memory and mythology through on the basis of sentiments and activity related to Lithuania; the latter was intertwined with (and telling of) diaspora’s role in developing particular narratives and discourses bound by the traumatic experience of uprooting, as was their inclination to restore and/or return to the homeland. Within this prescription, however, it is also emphasized that, because the eastern Lithuanian diaspora was not technically able to function as a diaspora until the collapse of the Soviet Union (and subsequent shift of the borders), it constitutes not only victim but also accidental diaspora.
Drawing on the above, the thesis suggests that despite the similarities and connections on the conceptual level, western and eastern dispersals had different experiences at an empirical level, which largely stemmed from their exposure to contrasting socio-political environments. It is found that due to this conditionality, and the agent-structure dynamics between dispersals and the Soviet establishment in particular, Lithuanian diasporas of displacement developed a distinctive approach to self-determination as well as their relationships with to the homeland and the respective host lands.
This is particularly noticeable when listening to the narratives of return, which are exceptionally helpful in not only appreciating the diversity of experiences, approaches and attitudes but also in challenging the reductive grand narrative(s) existing within the communities’ as well as the Lithuanian context. Occupying the larger portion of empirical analysis, the narratives of return provide a wide range of perspectives that helps to understand the complexity of both the exilic and diasporic condition, as well as the significance of this diaspora’s multi-vocality.
To the same end, the broader spectrum of voices and perspectives feeds into the conclusion that while the diversity of voices is evident, the reflection of it in the public sphere of both “host-countries” and homeland of the diaspora is fragmentized by certain periods, political-ideological contexts and people’s sensitivity to debates over memory and the history of Lithuania, etc. Similarly, when it comes to post-independence Lithuania and its present, considerations of Lithuania vis-à-vis diaspora show that regardless of similar vocabulary, sentiments and conceptual associations (such as the trauma of uprooting, exile, nostalgia, homeland, cultural, etc.), distinct socio-political conditions throughout and after the Cold War period determined that westerners developed a label of patrons and unsung heroes in sustaining the Lithuanian cause and culture, while Siberians were given the role, and became the symbol, of victimhood of Lithuania. In other words, while westerners became representatives of a particular narrative, easterners and their individual stories became the subject of representation and “inscription” in the greater narrative of Lithuanian history.
Finally, the ambition to link the diasporas of displacement and their narratives for a better understanding of the multilocality and multivocality of the Lithuanian memory proved to be a worthy aspiration. However, the research also showed that the complexity of the topic and the richness of data deserves greater volume and deeper exploration of more under-researched angles, which in turn requires more time and human resources, as well as the application of a multidimensional approach to analysis, interpretation, and dissemination.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Diaspora, displacements, forced migration, Lithuania, memory
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DK Russia. Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: David, Prof Smith and Ammon, Dr Cheskin
Date of Award: 2020
Embargo Date: 31 December 2022
Depositing User: Dr Gintare Venzlauskaite
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81432
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2020 09:08
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2021 15:18

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