February 22, 2023. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, which celebrates its 700th anniversary year, has bestowed the title of Honorary Citizen on a prominent Lithuanian author Kristina Sabaliauskaitė, whose literary works about 16th-18th century Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, have been translated into a number of European languages and made it to top lists in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Netherlands, and other countries.
The title, awarded since 1996, marks the exceptional accomplishments and merits of various Vilnius ambassadors—creators, authors, public and political figures, and others. Valdas Adamkus, former president of Lithuania, Ronald Reagan, former president of the USA, and Czesław Miłosz, the Nobel prize winner, writer, and poet, are some of Vilnius Honorary Citizens.
Ms. Sabaliauskaitė, a Vilnius native, is an art historian, art research PhD, Honorary PhD of Vilnius Art Academy, and one of Lithuania’s most famous modern authors. Her historical series Silva Rerum, which follows the life of the 16th-18th century Lithuanian noble family, was published in 2008 and became an instant bestseller, scoring another 13 republications. The novel’s rich, multilayered narrative depicting Vilnius’ landscape of that age compelled the readers, literary critics, and cultural historians. The novel gained widespread recognition among the international readership in numerous European countries like Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Netherlands, and others.
The novel was translated into the Latvian language and made it to the top 100 most popular books in Latvia of all time. Later it was translated into Polish, and the translation was listed among the 30 most important books in Poland in 2015.
Another widely recognized novel by Ms. Sabaliauskaitė Peter’s Empress, published in 2019, tells a story of a Lithuanian noblewoman who was the wife of Peter the Great and the first empress of Russia, Catherine I. The book has won the Estonian “Book of the Year” award and has been among the most-read lists in the Netherlands.
“The greatness of Vilnius is the combination of the notion of beauty developed by many cultures that lived and created in it,” Ms. Sabaliauskaitė said. “Vilnius reflects Europe. Therefore it cannot be recreated to serve one nation. If you want to learn the history of Vilnius, you need to know Polish, Russian, and Yiddish languages,” said Ms. Sabaliauskaitė, attributing her inspiration for the novels to Vilnius’ multicultural spirit, fueled by its rich history and the co-existence of different nations.
Vilnius has been recognized as the UNESCO City of Literature, therefore naming the author as an Honorary Citizen carries a significant meaning to the city. Upon bestowing the title, Remigijus Šimašius, Mayor of Vilnius, said that the author initiated the wave of Vilnius culture and depicted the city’s historical layers, as well as its prosperity periods.
“Vilnius has experienced its golden age two times throughout its 700 years of existence—the first time 400 years ago and the second one right now. It is very important that Vilnius is rediscovering things it used to be all those centuries ago, thanks to Kristina Sabaliauskaitė’s novels and Silva Rerum. It is a huge lesson about why Vilnius prospered then—because it stuck to its code and its genes: the city was respectful, lively, open to the world, collaborative, and even had the most robust protective alliances like the Union of Lublin then, and NATO now,” the Mayor added. “Therefore, if we want to prosper now, we have to draw experience from our past and present, and Kristina is a person who cannot only show it but inspire us to do that.”
As 2023 is the 700th anniversary year for Vilnius, the prominent author is also collaborating with a modern music composer, Gediminas Gelgotas, to create a piece of symphonic music, The Sarabande of Vilnius, which will be performed by the Lithuanian Symphonic Orchestra and Vilnius Municipality choir later this year. According to the project’s authors, the symphony will be a compelling minimalistic musical piece that will convey Vilnius’ essence and its survivalist spirit.