2013.06.10 11:45

Smetonienė: back from washing dishes in England and can’t speak Lithuanian anymore 2013.06.10 11:45

The World Lithuanian Economic Forum (WLEF) took place on 3 June in Vilnius with Lithuanians from all over the world gathering to confer in English, wrote 

The World Lithuanian Economic Forum (WLEF) took place on 3 June in Vilnius with Lithuanians from all over the world gathering to confer in English, wrote

That surprised not only former mayor of Bogota,  Antanas Mockus.  Speaker Irena Smetonienė put it bluntly:  “it’s a provincial syndrome and a constant conforming”.

Prominent innovators of Lithuanian background, successful businessmen and experts in various fields from throughout the world gathered in Vilnius for the WLEF. They shared opinions and ideas, spoke about how Lithuania should deal with global economic challenges and how it should prepare for them.

At the event English was spoken with the participants’ speeches being interpreted into Lithuanian.

The Bogota mayor, a former candidate for the Colombian presidency, was taken aback at the fact that English was used at the WLEF. “I’d be ashamed to speak English,” said Mockus when he was introduced in English at the forum

“I’ll speak the state language,” artist Daiva Laurėnienė of the Russian Lithuanian Association told him approvingly.  At that point most of the participants in the forum, even those who live in Lithuania, were speaking in English.

Organiser: we need to rid ourselves of a complex 

“You need to understand that two languages were used at the event – English and Lithuanian. This was an international event where there were people of Lithuanian origin who don’t speak or no longer speak Lithuanian. I think we need to rid ourselves of a complex – if  we say beforehand that this is an international event, we are respecting the Lithuanian language, offering interpretation from Lithuanian and whoever wants can speak Lithuanian, ” said WLEF organiser and G:LL |Global Lithuanian Leaders director Dalia Petkevičienė.

According to Petkevičienė, having the two languages and giving English priority allows mostly international experts – who have links to Lithuania, yet who sense a language barrier – to become much more involved in Lithuanian issues. She pointed out that for some WLEF guests it was easier to express themselves in English when it comes to professional matters.

“I understand Mr Mockus. He is being really principled, especially because he always emphasises his Lithuanian identity and strives to preserve the language. And it’s namely for that reason that each time the WLEF or any other large event is organised, we try to provide interpreting so that at least those who want to can listen in Lithuanian. At the same time, however, it doesn’t limit the other guests,” explained Petkevičienė.

Smetonienė:  back from washing dishes in England and can speak Lithuanian anymore

“I found it a little bit strange. We have some kind of provincial syndrome and just can’t get rid of it,” said the lecturer of Vilnius University’s Faculty of Philology and former Chairperson of the Lithuanian Language State Commission Irena Smetonienė, commenting on the situation.

Smetonienė remembered that the same kind of situation occurred during Soviet times. “If someone came from another country and spoke Russian, the Lithuanians always managed it and even spoke Russian amongst themselves. It seems that it’s in our blood to constantly conform. That’s why I shall say boldly – Lithuanians are not scared of bilingualism. From an early age they are prepared for bilingualism,” said Smetoniene.

The linguist remembered all too well a specific instance where a young man returned from the Soviet army and pretended that he couldn’t speak Lithuanian anymore. He spoke to his mother in a type of Russo-Lithuanian. “And now it’s exactly the same. In reality a person who left Lithuania before the war, still after the war speaks better than a person who goes off for a few years to wash dishes, excuse me, somewhere in England. After coming back they suddenly can’t pronounce the sound “tė ”; they can’t manage regular Lithuanian syntax or whatever else,” observed Smetonienė.

Smetoniene summed it all up in two words: “constant conforming”.  She also confirmed that when she’s at an important conference overseas, she always respects the country organising the conference. Out of respect to the hosting country, its culture and language, the working language is usually the language of that country. It’s no issue that only one or two people can speak it.

“It’s difficult for us to understand that. We call ourselves Europeans, but we simply aren’t aware of the fact that Europeans respect their own as well as well as other languages. That’s how it’s going to stay until we change our way of thinking. And I see that it’s not changing. Generations come and go and it’s just the name of the language that changes.   It used to be Russian, now it’s English. It would really be bad if there were lots of people who think this way,” said the linguist.

At that same forum the creation of a  “European identity” was being advocated according to Smetonienė. “I was a student when I was hammered to create a Soviet identity,” she said.

That’s why, let me tell you,  Justinas Marcinkevičus was so right when he once said: “I blame everyone, everyone, everyone who has taught the Lithuanians humility”. And Irena Smetonienė is convinced that we’re “sawing off the branch on which we’re sitting.”