Well, that was interesting.
On Tuesday Ramunė wanted to take me to see Grūto Parkas near Druskininkai, about 100km southwest of Vilnius, close to the border with Belarus. It is a museum and sculpture park hosting relics of Lithuania’s Soviet era. This surprised me, because in the past she has never spoken much about the first half of her life as a citizen of the USSR.
I was even more surprised when we got there. She talked non stop telling me about various aspects of it. Fascinating.
Stuff like at high school everyone having to pass a test to take apart and re-assemble a Kalashnikov. Boys had to do it blindfold in 60 seconds. Girls had 90 seconds and didn’t have to be blindfolded.
When the Moscow Olympics took place in 1980, thousands of “undesirables” were expelled from the city and relocated to the 3 Baltic States. Whole housing schemes were built. Of course the people were Russian and not Lithuanian.
Among the sculptures, the three of Marytė Melnikaitė drew Ramunė’s attention in particular. She’s the only Lithuanian woman to have been awarded Hero of the Soviet Union. She was shot by the Nazis in 1943 (aged 20) after being captured in Nazi occupied Lithuania while operating as a Soviet resistance fighter. She became a cult figure with a film and opera made about her. Ramunė’s ex husband’s grandmother was her best friend in the resistance.
The park is certainly about more than sculptures, and the kvass tanker drew my attention, reminding me of my schoolboy trip to the USSR in 1968. Even better, the park’s cafe even sells its own homemade kvass. Nectar… When we visited Moscow and Leningrad the kvass mini tankers were on every other street corner. 1 kopek a glass, if I remember right.
The trip was a little bit far taking account of the limited time we had, and it would have been better if we could have gone into Druskininkai as well. However, it was 7pm by the time we’d seen the park.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2018