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Recognition from the West

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My letter to the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party
Tomas Venclova Poet
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The offer was made to [Joseph] Brodsky to go to Israel even though he didn’t want to go there at all. And he left, but of course, not for Israel, but for America. Well, and I wasn’t a Jew, I wasn’t a Jew, I had no basis on which to go, none of my relatives were Jewish. But I wrote a letter. I wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party. I called it an open letter. I can even quote from the letter, it was in '75. I addressed them as follows: Honoured Members – I didn’t use the word ‘comrades’ or the term ‘greatly honoured’, but just ‘honoured’– this letter should not come as a great surprise to you. I am a writer, translator and a literary scholar. I have a fair body of work in all of these fields. I have probably served my country and my nation well, and I have earned the bread that I have eaten throughout my life. All the same, I have done much less than I would have been able to do but through no fault of my own. My father, Antanas Venclova, was a communist and a communist writer. I respected him, and still respect him as a human being. Amongst other things, I learned to be faithful to my principles from him, not just from him... but from him as well [sic]. However, in my early youth, as I observed and lived life, I created a system of views different from my father’s, something which I did not keep secret from my father nor from anyone else in Lithuania. I believe that it is also not a secret from you. Communist ideology is foreign to me and, in my opinion, for the most part, wrong. Its absolute domination has brought our country a great deal of misfortune. Repressions have been applied against people who think differently, censorship and similar things have been harmful not just to culture but also to the system which it has attempted to safeguard using those methods. I cannot change anything. I could not do so even if had the power that you have. But, all the same, I can, and probably even have to, express my opinion here. That already, however you look at it, is something. Because of my views I have lost the opportunity to do cultural work and there is no other kind of work that I could or would want to do. My very existence in this country is becoming pointless and problematic. For that reason I ask you, in accordance with the Declaration of Human Rights, and the existing… and the laws in force, the existing rules, I ask you to allow me to go abroad to live there permanently. I could go to Israel if, so to speak, such a decision were to be made. If this decision were to be final, I would not, so to speak, intend to change it. I also ask you not to discriminate against members of my family who hold different views to mine and who are staying in Lithuania – I had my mother in mind here.

My mother, in fact, supported me in these matters but did not want to go to the West herself. She decided to stay in Lithuania.

Šitaip Brodskiui pasiūlė važiuoti į Izraelį, nors jis visiškai to nenorėjo ir išvyko, žinoma, ne į Izraelį, bet iš karto į Ameriką. Na, o aš buvau ne žydas, aš buvau ne žydas, neturėjau jokio pagrindo išvažiuoti, nei mano giminių, taip sakant, nebuvo žydų. Bet aš parašiau laišką. Parašiau laišką Lietuvos komunistų partijos Centro komitetui, pavadinau Atviru laišku. Laišką aš net pacituosiu, tai buvo septyms [sic] penktais metais. Kreipiausi į juos: Gerbiamieji (nepaminėjau ten draugai, arba didžiai gerbiami, bet tiesiog gerbiamieji), šis laiškas neturėtų būti jum didelė staigmena. Esu rašytojas, vertėjas, literatūros mokslininkas. Visose šitose srityse nemažai dirbau. Turbūt neblogai tarnavau savo tėvynei ir tautai, ir atidirbau duoną, kurią per savo amžių suvalgiau. Vis dėlto esu padaręs daug mažiau negu pajėgčiau, ir tai ne mano kaltė. Mano tėvas, Antanas Venclova, buvo komunistas ir komunistinis rašytojas. Aš jį gerbiau ir tebegerbiu kaip žmogų. Be ko kito, ištikimybės savo principams mokiausi ir iš jo, ne tik iš jo, bet iš jo taip pat. Tačiau, dar ankstyvoje jaunystėje, stebėdamas gyvenimą ir jame dalyvaudamas, susidariau kitokią negu tėvas pažiūrų sistemą, kuri nei tėvui, nei niekam Lietuvoje nebuvo paslaptis. Manau, kad ji taip pat nėra paslaptis ir jums. Komunistinė ideaologija man tolima ir, mano manymu, didžiąja dalimi klaidinga. Jos absoliutus viešpatavimas atnešė mūsų šaliai daug nelaimių. Represijos taikomos kitaminčiams, cenzūra ir panašūs dalykai žalingi ne tik kultūrai, bet ir sistemai, kurią tokiais metodais bandoma išsaugoti. Nieko čia pakeisti aš negaliu. Negalėčiau net ir tadai jeigu turėčiau tiek valdžios kiek turite jūs. Bet vis dėlto galiu, ir turbūt net privalau, pasakyti apie tai savo nuomonę. Tai jau, vis dėlto, šis tas. Dėl tokių mano pažiūrų aš netekau kultūrinio darbo galimybių, o jokio kito darbo dirbti aš nemokėčiau ir nenorėčiau. Pati mano egzistencija šioje šalyje darosi beprasmė ir abejotina. Dėl to prašau, remiantis Žmogau teisių deklaracija, ir esamomis... ir veikiančiais įstatymais, esamomis taisyklėmis, prašau leisti man išvykti nuolatiniam gyvenimui į užsienį. Galėčiau išvykti ir į Izraelį jeigu, taip sakant, bus toks sprendimas. Šis sprendimas galutinis ir aš jo, taip sakant, keisti nenumatau. Taip pat prašau nediskriminuoti tų mano šeimos narių, kurie laikosi kitokių negu aš pažiūrų ir pasilieka Lietuvoje. Čia turėjau galvoje motiną. Motina mane, faktiškai, tuose dalykuose palaikė, bet pati važiuoti į Vakarus nenorėjo, nusprendė likti Lietuvoje.

Born in 1937, Tomas Venclova is a Lithuanian scholar, poet, author and translator of literature. He was educated at Vilnius University and later at Tartu University. As an active participant in the dissident movement he was deprived of Soviet citizenship in 1977 and had to emigrate. Between 1977 and 1980 he lectured at University of California, Berkeley, where he became friends with the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, who was a professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at the school, as well as the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky. He is currently a full professor at Yale University.

Listeners: Andrzej Wolski

Film director and documentary maker, Andrzej Wolski has made around 40 films since 1982 for French television, the BBC, TVP and other TV networks.  He specializes in portraits and in historical films.  Films that he has directed or written the screenplay for include Kultura, which he co-directed with Agnieszka Holland, and KOR which presents the history of the Worker’s Defence Committee as told by its members.  Andrzej Wolski has received many awards for his work, including the UNESCO Grand Prix at the Festival du Film d’Art.

Tags: Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party, Lithuania, Declaration of Human Rights, Antanas Venclova

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: May/June 2011

Date story went live: 20 March 2012