Relativity. It's the only explanation for how a day when the temperature is only two degrees above freezing on the Fahrenheit scale (1.1°C) somehow doesn't feel cold. This Saturday was the first day in well over a week that didn't require putting on a thick scarf and thermal underwear before heading out the door, and was quite a contrast to the previous Saturday, when the thermometer plummeted to -24°C (-11°F). It was so relatively pleasant, in fact, that I went for a walk in the park while my daughter was taking part in her weekly swimming class. Walking on the fresh snow was an infinitely more pleasurable activity than the hazardous ice-dodging I was engaged in going to and from the office every day last week:
I consider myself to be progressive on most major issues, and the majority of my friends and acquaintances share similar views. However, there are some topics the views on which held by some of them leave me scratching my head as to what happened to their progressivism. As an example, why would someone who was a passionate Bernie Sanders (and later Jill Stein) supporter during last year's presidential election campaign also be a proud member of the Vladimir Putin Appreciation Society? There is a distressingly large number of people on the left politically who proclaim their support for progressive causes in their home countries but who inexplicably will side with authoritarian regimes in places like Beijing and Moscow when it comes to foreign relations. I've written before about the anti-Taiwan bias among some on the left (Taiwan - functioning democracy, female president, on the verge of becoming the first Asian country to recognize same-sex marriages etc. vs. China - Tibet, Xinjiang, environmental degradation on a massive scale, militarization of so-called islands in the South China Sea etc.), but there are those, too, who seem to find no wrong with Putin's Russia. Despite the corruption, the violent deaths of prominent journalists and opposition figures, the official homophobia and so on, these people always fault the West for "provoking" Moscow. In addition to denying the validity of the recent hacking claims, these ersatz progressives often share on social media articles critical of the U.S. and other leading Western powers for expanding NATO's presence in the Baltic countries and Poland. What is frequently missing from these stories is an understanding of the feelings the Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Poles have toward their Russian neighbor - these are citizens of sovereign nations who have the right to determine what security policies their elected governments should pursue after having been on the receiving end of Russian imperialism for the past several centuries.
Lithuania, of course, is a perfect example. The country lost its independence to Tsarist Russia from 1795 to 1918, and then later was forcefully absorbed into the USSR as an unwilling constituent republic from 1940 to 1990. In the aftermath of the Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014, Lithuanians today face an ongoing Kremlin-directed disinformation campaign aimed at the country's small ethnic Russian minority, not to mention a build-up of Russian offensive military capabilities in the Kaliningrad enclave. Friday the 13th was the Day of the Defenders of Freedom, commemorating the events of January 13, 1991 when fourteen Lithuanians were killed by Soviet troops in what is now known as the January Events (Sausio įvykiai). Every year from the 11th to the 13th many Lithuanians wear representations of forget-me-not flowers. This is mine:
While I was outside on Saturday afternoon, I made my way over to the Parliament House, aka the Seimas Palace. Official ceremonies commemorating the victims of the attack on the TV Tower had been concluded the previous day, but offerings could still be seen:
The Seimas "Palace" itself is an ugly remnant of the Soviet era, but 26 years ago it was the scene of a historic stand-off, as barricades were erected to defend the parliament, where the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania had been adopted in March 1990, from the Red Army:
Along one side of Parliament House is a temporary exhibit on the victims of January 13, and already closed by the time I showed up. Photographs from that time in early 1991 line the glass. Note the depiction of Mikhail Gorbachev - while he might still be admired in the UK, the US and Germany for his (unintended) role in the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, Lithuanians have different recollections of their former president:
Soviet troops would be gone by December 1991 as the failure of the August Coup would seal the fate of the Soviet Union and lead to the formal recognition of the independence of the three Baltic republics. Understanding the January Events means understanding some of the reasons as to why NATO has expanded into the Baltics. Even if there are some Russian nationalists who continue to deny there was ever an attack.
Sunday was peaceful as there were no signs of Russian tanks having crossed the border overnight. My daughter had a classmate for a sleepover on Saturday night, and early on Sunday afternoon I took Amber and Dorothy to the park behind our apartment building for some fun in the snow:
On Monday the temperature dipped below freezing again, dropping down to -4°C (25°F). It was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day, meaning I had the day off. There wasn't much to do, however, as my daughter still had to go to school, so there would be no sleeping in for Dad. Still, after breakfast I went outside for what eventually became a three-hour walk. My goal was the Three Crosses, visible as I walked down Liejyklos gatvė and on into Bernardinų sodas (Bernadine Gardens):
Christmas lighting has yet to be taken down in the gardens:
Ducks regretting their choice not to fly south for the winter:
Having crossed a bridge and now walking on the opposite side of the only partially-frozen over Vilnia:
It was a short but steep walk up to the Three Crosses, which reinforced just how out-of-shape I've let myself become. I've been to the monument several times now (first time here), and the view looking out over Old Town is always worth the effort:
A view from a different vantage point while walking away from the Three Crosses. Somewhere through all that mist and snow is Amber's school:
I next tried to ascend Bekešo Kalnas (Bekes Hill) via an even longer, steeper path, but ended up stuck on the side of the hill, unable to go up any further but also unable to descend. The solution, however, was easy: it's winter, so I just sat down and slid on my posterior to the bottom (rimshot) of the hill. I then climbed a shorter route to reach the "Republic" of Užupis. From what I could observe walking along the streets, the main industry in the republic appears to be orthodontic clinics (our family dentist is also located in the district):
Heading down the street:
A church located off of Polocko gatvė. According to the sign on the gate, services in the Belarusian language are held there. The car with the green license plate is registered to a French diplomat (not sure why it was parked outside as the French Embassy isn't in Užupis); our vehicle also has diplomatic plates:
The Užupis Angel, which also can't be bothered to take down the Christmas decorations:
Tibeto skveras (Tibetan Square) - note the words "Save Tibet" at the bottom. In the background is the Orthodox Cathedral of the Theotokos:
St. Anne's Church and the Bernadine Church & Monastery:
Shu-E had done a lot of cooking over the weekend, both for our daughter's classmate as well as for a dinner guest on Sunday evening. So after Amber returned home from school on Monday, we went out for dinner at a place called Foxes a short walk from our apartment building. As you can see, my wife opted for the lobster:
Back in the Eighties, when Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika reforms had awakened long-suppressed nationalist movements in the then still-intact Soviet Union, I had a summer job at college as a housekeeper (part of a crew taking care of dormitories being used by attendees of academic conferences and athletic events). One of my co-workers was of Lithuanian heritage and would tell me that his ancestral homeland would soon be a free country again. I confidently told him that such an occurrence wouldn't happen anytime soon.
Never have I been so glad to have been proven so wrong...