THE LITHUANIAN WRITERS’ UNION
The Lithuanian Writers’ Union (LWU) includes prose writers, poets, playwrights, translators, literary scholars, critics, and some Lithuanian writers living abroad. Branches of the LWU operate in Kaunas and Klaipėda. The organization is run by a chairman and board elected at a meeting by the members.
The LWU has its own publishing house, bookshop, library, club, writers’ retreats, and periodicals (the magazines Metai, Nemunas, and Literatūra ir menas, the Online Magazine for Lithuanian Literature Vilnius Review (in English)). It also holds an annual poetry festival called Poezijos pavasaris (Poetry Spring).
Through special agreements the LWU cooperates with writers’ associations in Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Sweden, Slovenia, Marburg (Germany), Graz (Austria), Finland, Hungary, Belarus, Israel, and Croatia. In 1992 the LWU was admitted to the European Writers Congress, and in 1997 to the Baltic Writers Council and the Three Seas Council.
As soon as Lithuania declared its independence on 16 February 1918, Lithuanian artists started to form creative groups and organizations. The Writers Section of the Lithuanian Artists Association was active at that time (1920–22, 1925–32). In 1922, the Union of Lithuanian Writers and Journalists was founded. In 1929, it was reorganized as the Union of Lithuanian Journalists, and in 1932, at the initiative of Balys Sruoga and Juozas Grušas, the Association of Lithuanian Writers (ALW) was founded. The ALW board chairman was Ignas Šeinius. It organized literary soirées and writers’ Wednesdays and provided a yearly subsidy of 5,000 Litas for national awards, which were bestowed on the writers Ieva Simonaitytė (1935), Liudas Dovydėnas (1936), Jonas Aistis (1937), Salomėja Nėris (1938), and Bernardas Brazdžionis (1939). The ALW’s chairmen were Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas (1932–33), Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas (1933–37), Juozas Grušas (1937–38), Liudas Gira (1938–40), Bernardas Brazdžionis (1941), and Faustas Kirša (1942–44).
The ALW’s headquarters were in Kaunas, the provisional capital of Lithuania. Its activities were disrupted by the occupation and annexation of Lithuania.
Deportations, war, and the gulags scattered Lithuanian writers. Many of them emigrated to the West. In 1946, émigré writers (33 had been members of the ALW) established the Association of Lithuanian Émigré Writers. An almost equal number of ALW members remained in annexed Lithuania (in early 1940, the ALW had 86 members and 12 candidates).
The ALW’s reorganization into the Soviet Writers Union of the LSSR took several years. In 1940–41, the chairman of the organization’s board was Petras Cvirka. In 1942–44, the organization had a bureau in Moscow under the leadership of Kostas Korsakas. At the beginning of 1945, the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party confirmed the board of the writers’ organization. That same year, the First Writers Congress in annexed Lithuania officially established this Lithuanian writers’ organization as the Soviet Writers Union of the LSSR, which was subordinate to the Soviet Writers Union of the USSR. Its headquarters were in Vilnius.
The first postwar decade saw the imposition of socialist ideals, party spirit and “people’s” art. Writers were persecuted and terrorized: more than ninety Lithuanian writers experienced repression during this time. Lithuanian literature suffered a severe crisis. The writers’ organization was forced to take part in LSSR politics, to condemn those who were silent or of a liberal mindset as well as those who refused to agree with socialist ideas or with Lithuania’s annexation.
Publishing was nationalized (works of fiction were published by only one state publishing house), and works were censored. During the first postwar decade, some writers not only did not publish any work but did not even write. Only after Stalin’s death in 1953, during the years of the Thaw, did conditions improve.
In the mid-1950s, Antanas Miškinis, Kazys Inčiūra, and others returned from the gulags and began writing again. In 1959–65, about twenty novels and more than eighty collections of poetry were published. The publication of works by émigré writers began after 1970. Significant scholarly works about literature were also published at this time.
This writers’ organization was able to support its members financially: with funds from the Literary Foundation, it built apartments for writers and distributed grants as well as tickets of admission to sanitariums and writer’s retreats. After the deletion of the word “Soviet,” the organization was renamed the Writers Union of the LSSR.
During 1970–75, Lithuanian writers translated more than a hundred books from other languages (mostly from Russian and other languages of the USSR). About fifty Lithuanian books were translated into languages of the countries of the so-called people’s democracy. Literary soirées became more frequent: during this period there were almost 2,000 of them. They were attractive because they exhibited a growing freedom of thought and the vitality of the Lithuanian language.
From 1975–85, this organization’s circumstances and book publishing changed little. Literature was still regulated; the liberal attitude of the intelligentsia was not yet accepted, and there were almost no contacts with writers from Western countries.
Nevertheless, the Communist Party failed to completely shackle literary life. Literature became more free, and creative resistance more open. There were various ways of circumventing the censor. The spread of democracy in 1985 and 1986 opened the door a bit wider to freedom of thought in art, history, and politics.
Progressive tendencies also grew stronger in writers’ organizational activities. In 1987, at the board plenum, Literary Heritage and Today, the Lithuanian literary heritage was surveyed through new eyes; plans were made for how it would be published, and an agreement was reached to expand the publication of literature by writers who had emigrated or been exiled.
The spirit of national rebirth burst forth with anniversary events devoted to Maironis, Vincas Kudirka, and the journal Varpas. Conversations that writers had previously had behind closed doors became public, and there were discussions and articles published in the press about censorship (abolished in Lithuania on 9 February 1990), creative freedom, the Lithuanian language, and the future of the state. Writers spoke openly about their country’s occupation and annexation, about exile and resistance, and about the restoration of the Republic of Lithuania.
On 3 June 1988, at a meeting of scholars, writers, and other artists, the Initiative Group of the Lithuanian Reform Movement was formed, which included many well-known writers.
On 7 June 1989, at an extraordinary meeting, the Union of LSSR Writers withdrew from the Union of USSR Writers: it declared its independence, enacted its own statutes, and changed its name to the Lithuanian Writers’ Union.
The statutes of the LWU were amended, and a statement regarding the organization’s past was delivered, at a convention that took place in the independent Republic of Lithuania on 14–15 December 1990. The LWU readmitted all the former ALW members living in Lithuania and admitted more than twenty of the ones who belonged to the ALW that was still active abroad (whose board is in Chicago since 1998). On 16 December 1994, the LWU convention stated that the organization was changing into a professional creative community that supports writers of all points of view.
The Law of the Lithuanian Republic on Artists and their Organizations, which was passed on 15 August 1996, and the decree of the Lithuanian government regarding the confirmation of the lists of property (buildings and facilities) transferred to artist organizations, which was passed on 6 December 1996, were very important to artists and their associations. That decree helped establish the headquarters of the LWU in Vilnius, its branches in Kaunas and Klaipėda, its retreats in Nida and Palanga, and the Versmė Bookshop in Vilnius as the property of the LWU. State aid to artists took the form of grants, book and periodical publishing, and the support of programs run by arts organizations.
In 2005, the Lithuanian Writers’ Union, on the basis of new laws relating to associations, was re-registered from a general creative organization to become the “Lithuanian Writers’ Union.” Three hundred fifty-four union members were granted the status of artistic creators.
In 2006, a new internet page was established, www.rasytojai.lt, which gives information on all the union members, young writers, published books, literary festivals, events at the Writers’ Club, and other activities connected to writers and literature.
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Since the Second World War, Lithuanian writers have held many conventions in Vilnius: in 1945, 1954, 1959, 1967, 1970, 1975, 1981, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002. Since 2004, conventions are held every year, where the report of the year’s activities is confirmed and validated.
The chairmen of the LWU’s board during its time were: Kostas Korsakas (1945), Petras Cvirka (1945–47), Petras Cvirka (1945–47), Jonas Šimkus (1948–54), Antanas Venclova (1954–59), Eduardas Mieželaitis (1959–70), Alfonsas Bieliauskas (1970–76), Alfonsas Maldonis (1976–88), and Vytautas Martinkus (1988–89). The chairmen of the LWU elected at conventions were: Vytautas Martinkus (1989–94), Valentinas Sventickas (1994–2002), Jonas Liniauskas (2002–11), Antanas A. Jonynas (2011–18), and Birutė Jonuškaitė-Augustinienė (since 2018).