Vilnius manifestos

1. From Vilnius about Vilnius: The letters of Gediminas

In 1322‒1323, Grand Duke Gediminas sent seven letters from Vilnius to the Pope, the Hanseatic Cities, the Franciscans and the Dominicans in Saxony. They expressed Gediminas’ political ambition to renew the state and its economy, and open it up to the outside world. The ruler claimed to open his, “land, estates and the whole kingdom to every man of good will.” Also, it was in one of the letters (dated 25 January 1323) that he informed Western Europe about Vilnius – a political centre and city where craftsmen and merchants could flourish and people of different faiths could live together peacefully.

2. Magdeburg Law and the Constitution of 3 May 1791

Jogaila granted Vilnius the Magdeburg Rights on 22 March 1387, in Merkinė. Vilnius became the first city in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to receive Western self-rule. The rights guaranteed citizens personal and property freedom, as well as administrative and judicial autonomy of the community. Vilnius was governed from a City Hall by an elected city council made up of burgomasters and councillors. Court functions were performed by the court of benchmen (suolinininkai), which was chaired by the Official (vaitas) – the ruler’s representative in the city. The representatives of the city of Vilnius had exclusive rights to participate in the Seimas of the Republic of the Two Nations from the 16th to the 18th century, albeit more as observers. The Constitution of 3 May 1791 became a turning point, admitting the townspeople to participate in the governing of the former ‘nobility state’. For the first time, citizens were granted the right to hold state administrative and judicial positions, to seek military ranks, and the Seimas was to include representatives of 24 cities. This was an important step towards democracy, which gradually led to the democratic Vilnius and Lithuania of today.

3. The Third Statute of Lithuania

Lithuania can be proud of its Statutes that testify to the maturity of legal thought. The First and Second Statutes were manuscripts, and the Third was drafted and printed in Vilnius. It was written in Ruthenian and printed in 1588 at the Mamoničiai Printing House. The Polish translation was printed in 1614. Eustachijus Valavičius and Leonas Sapiega did their part in drafting the Statute. The law guaranteed the inviolability of the territory of the Lithuanian State and reflected the on-going modernisation of society. For the first time in Europe, it separated the legislature, the executive and the judiciary powers. The importance of the Statute for the concept of citizenship was revealed in the excerpt from the Lithuanian Catechism printed in the 1830s: “Who is a Lithuanian? He who believes in freedom and abides by the Statute.” The Third Statute was in force until 1840.

4. Key declarations

The two most important Lithuanian political documents of the 20th century were created and signed in Vilnius. One restored the Lithuanian State (16 February 1918) and the other restored Lithuanian independence after Soviet occupation (11 March 1990). Therefore, the main elements of the tradition of Lithuanian statehood connect in Vilnius: the city preserves the most important legacy of the statehood of old Lithuania (the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 1253-1795); the creation of the modern state happened in 1918; and the independence of the state was restored and its civic and Euro-Atlantic history began in 1990. Let us not be mistaken – Vilnius has been the most important creator, signatory, and nurturer of Lithuanian statehood for 700 years.

5. “We won't calm down without Vilnius!”

After the armed conflict with neighbouring Poland and the loss of Vilnius in 1920, the issue of the capital became an essential part of Lithuania’s political agenda. In 1922, poet Petras Vaičiūnas created a poem-manifesto entitled, “We won’t calm down without Vilnius!” The title became perhaps most relevant in 1922-1939, as both students and public officials repeated the slogan. 9 October, the day the Polish army occupied Vilnius, was declared a day of mourning in Lithuania. During the interwar period, other Lithuanian towns planted flower gardens dedicated to Vilnius, brought trees from the city and replanted them, and kept urns filled with earth from the capital. With the start of World War II in 1939, the USSR gave Vilnius back to Lithuania, but as it turned out later, it was just a Trojan horse pushed into Lithuanian independence. Despite the former disagreement, in recent decades the city has become a space of cooperation between the two historical neighbouring nations of Vilnius – Lithuanians and Poles.

6. Freedom Manifesto at the Monument to Adam Mickiewicz

After the suppression of the armed underground movement, massive protests took place in Soviet-occupied Lithuania: during All Souls’ Day in 1955-1957 after the sacrifice of Romas Kalanta in Kaunas in 1972, and next to the Monument to Adam Mickiewicz in Vilnius in 1987. At the time, the Lithuanian Liberty League, the resistance organisation active for several years, decided to break the stagnant and reform-rejecting ‘republic’. At the monument to the leader of romanticism, people were reminded of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that brought trouble to the Baltic States and Poland. The winds of change were already blowing, although there were forces in Lithuania that did not need those changes.

7. (Post)modernistiniai meno manifestai

Menka paslaptis, kad ir iki MO muziejaus atidarymo modernaus meno kūrėjai Vilniuje provokavo savimi patenkintą miesto publiką. Pirmoji tokia provokacija – avangardinio meno paroda – Vilniuje duris atvėrė 1923 m. dailininkų Vytauto Kairiūkščio ir Władysławo Strzemińskio iniciatyva, tik pripažinimo dar nesulaukė. Vilniaus literatūros padangėje modernūs vėjai papūtė vėliau – 3 deš. pabaigoje vilniečiai suskubo kurti avangardinius tekstus, persunktus katastrofizmo motyvų. Žydų literatai susibūrė į „Jung Vilne“, kurioje jidiš kalba avangardiniais tekstais kviesta atrasti modernią žydų tapatybę. Nuo tautinės prie kosmopolitiškos tapatybės bėgo avangardistų literatų karta, išauginta Stepono Batoro universitete ir 1931 m. susibūrusi aplink žurnalą „Żagary” (liet. „Žagarai“). Šios grupės priešakyje stovėjo Czesławas Miłoszas, kurio „Sultinys iš vinių“ ir „Blusų teatras“ suteikė kryptį visai lenkų avangardinei poezijai. Nepriklausomybę atkūrusioje Lietuvoje su Šiuolaikinio meno centro atidarymu 1992 m. Vilnius tapo jau postmodernistinio meno kūrėjų epicentru. Postmodernius kūrinius mieste šiandien su jų modernistiniais pirmtakais XX a. pr. dažnai sieja pirminė visuomenės atmetimo reakcija – ar tai būtų Mindaugo Navako „Kablys“, ar Vlado Urbanavičiaus „Krantinės arka“. Postmodernistai kūrėjai provokuoja vilniečius mąstyti ir diskutuoti apie meną ir jo reikšmę miestui.

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