WARRIORS AND SINGERS
There are grounds for believing the notion that Zemaiciai (Samogitians) work more than they talk. In 1988, with no excessive publicity, at the time of the national revival, they established a public organization the Samogitian Cultural Society which now has branches in all Lithuanian cities and all regions of Zemaitija (Samogitia) and its cities.
The Samogitians who live in Vilnius gather each month at the Teachers House either to celebrate a festival, commemorate an anniversary or discuss some issue. Notices are not needed to bring people together for an event: they tell each other about a gathering. They are drawn in large numbers by a theatre or a folk company coming to Vilnius from their native region. Some people bring cakes, while others come with a barrel of beer, and there is no end of talking.
It is important to keep in touch. A condition of our survival as Samogitians is the preservation of our identity. We must pass the fire, rather than the ashes, of love for Samogitia to our children, says Stanislovas Kasparavicius, chairman of the Samogitian Cultural Society and director of the Alka Museum in Telsiai.
In 1989, before the declaration of Lithuanias independence, the society held the First World Samogitian Art Exhibition in Klaipeda. The second, in Plunge in the summer of 1994, coincided with the opening of the Samogitian Art Museum there. The museum, in the Oginskis mansion, features painting, graphic arts, sculpture and pottery by local professionals and works by well-known folk artists.
In 1994 the Lithuanian Heraldry Commission approved a coat of arms and a flag for Samogitia. This flag was raised for the first time at the opening of the museum.
Samogitians have proved more than once that they are crafty people. They have printed passports which are given to every Samogitian as a membership card.
They also set up an academy, electing historian Adomas Butrimas, the current deputy rector of the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts, originally from Telsiai, its head. The academy organizes conferences and visits to Samogitia. It publishes books, including the Zemaiciu praeitis (Samogitian Past) series, and draws up educational and cultural programs.
With the goal of reintroducing the Samogitian language into public life, the society started issuing a newspaper, later followed by the magazine Zemaiciu Zeme (Samogitian Land) and various occasional publications. Programs in the language are broadcast on the radio.
The longer they live, the more daring they become, is how the press humorously assessed a book of Samogitian poetry published in late March, which contains work by 41 poets writing in Samogitian.
At the beginning of this year, the textbook Zemaitijos istorija (History of Samogitia) for schoolchildren in local schools came out.
(From LITHUANIA IN THE WORLD, No 2, 1998)