“Project – HOMO SOVIETICUS”

Introduction

In the Tuskulėnai Manor House, an exposition entitled “Project – HOMO SOVIETICUS” is displayed. The aim of the exposition is to reveal the efforts and means of the Soviet totalitarian regime to create a new social, cultural, and political environment. It is an attempt to understand an individual living in the Soviet Union and Soviet Lithuania, who is sometimes called homo sovieticus, and at the same time to reveal his characteristics and living conditions.
Objects, texts, fragments of memoirs, and other exhibits reflecting that world serve to reveal the spirit of that time and the general peculiarities of the Soviet era. In an effort to emphasise the multifaceted nature and internal paradoxes of the Soviet era, the entire exhibition is presented at three levels: the upper part of the screens and exhibits is devoted to the things that were seen in public, officially announced and propagandised; in the middle, the visitors can see how the daily life of people looked like and what was considered “normal”; at the bottom, deviations from the Soviet “normality”, starting with crime and ending with the fight and resistance against the system, can be seen. Such division is, of course, conditional, since everything is intertwined in life. The location of one or another exhibit is likely to raise doubts or trigger thoughts that it should be moved elsewhere.
The descriptions of the objects exhibited aim at emphasising the paradoxical nature and internal contradictions of the Soviet reality. All this reveals a fundamental characteristic of the exposition – it is as non-definitive as the assessment of the Soviet era or the effort to understand it.

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Culture

During the Soviet era, a large-scale revolution was carried out with the aim to create the newest, the most progressive and humane Soviet culture that was controlled by the party. As this was important to achieve, artists were made to comply with the strict requirement that creative work was to be understandable to people. Therefore, when socialist realism prevailed searching for more modern forms was particularly criticised. Stalinist culture was characterised by the boundless glorification of the Communist Party, the progress of the Soviet Union and its leaders, particularly of Stalin, the extolling of Russian culture, and the contempt of the past and bourgeois culture (Lithuanian including).
After Stalin’s death ideological restrictions in cultural policy eased and more chances not only to show part of the “bourgeois” Lithuanian cultural legacy introducing it through the prism of Marxism-Leninism appeared, but also to create new forms of expression. Basing oneself on folklore traditions of the “Lithuanian people” provided quite many possibilities: by it artists justified their goals, which was a search for modern forms.
When ideological pressure was alleviated during the later Soviet era, it became increasingly easier for modern trends of Western culture to reach the Soviet Union. That was exerting more and more influence on art and society. Popular American culture that encouraged informal youth movements in the Soviet Union (hippies, punks, hard metal etc.) gained mass admiration. Nevertheless, even such modernised Soviet culture did not become a credible alternative to Western culture in the minds of the people.

VEF RADIO. Latvian SSR, 1965. Riga state electrical engineering factory.__“One late evening, I was waiting for a trolleybus at a stop near the conservatoire, only a step away from the state security building. Suddenly I heard a Voice of America broadcast on a radio. Another young man was listening to the latest news, keeping a small device in his hand. He paid no attention to the large group of people, including several men in uniforms, who were also waiting at the bus stop”. Skuodis V. Playing Within the KGB’s Networks. Vilnius, 1996.

Changes of Morals and Values

After Lithuania’s occupation, efforts were focused on changing the values and moral consciousness of the local population. Bourgeois morals had to be replaced with a new Soviet morality. During the Stalin era, it was believed that there was no human morality – only class morality. This suggested rejection of compassion for class enemies and linking all moral norms to class struggles and the proletarian struggle for victory.
After Stalin’s death, such combatant morality began to decline gradually and was replaced by the principles of what could generally be referred to as human morality resembling the truths of Christianity, but different in name. A clear example of this was the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism, which laid down twelve moral principles that the New Soviet Man had to comply with. This code was expected to serve as a tool of social control in consolidating the rule of the Communist Party and educating proper citizens. Despite the mass ideological campaign aimed at promoting the new values, the New Soviet Man did not adopt them, and the old Christian ones declined considerably. This resulted in the development of morality that directly contradicted the principles defined in the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism: indifferent attitude to Communist ideas and the Soviet Union as a motherland; dishonesty at work; unstable family relations, tolerance to injustice, parasitism, dishonesty, etc. This was the clearest testimony to the failure of the Soviet project.

Book series “Your Moral Code”. Moscow, 1962.__“The principles of the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism are taking root in the lives of Soviet citizens. It is not a spontaneous process, but a result of a fierce struggle against the relics of the past, by removing all the dirt of the past brought by individuals from the bourgeois system or the dirt that the imperialist world is trying to throw under our feet”. Balsys A. Man’s Position. Vilnius, 1966.

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Religion

Soon after Lithuania’s occupation, the new Communist government announced the separation of Church and state and the separation of school and Church. It was a radical shift given the fact that Catholics made up the majority of the Lithuanian population. The Soviet government aimed to destroy religion or at least to create a political and social climate that would be conducive to such destruction. To this end, the regime banned religious organisations and virtually suspended and imposed strict control over the publishing of religious literature. It also eliminated the subject of Religion in schools and took measures to hinder catechisation of children in churches and attendance at religious services. All churches were declared the property of the state, and most houses of worship in the major cities were closed and converted to public uses. Direct persecutions also began during Stalin’s rule: priests were arrested; monks who refused to renounce their calling were subjected to punishments and deportations; and repressions were carried out against practising believers. Although repressions against believers began to ease in the post-Stalinist period, the most active priests and believers were persecuted and punished for disseminating their faith.
Public display of faith was denounced throughout the Soviet period, yet some people continued their religious practices. Besides the atheisation policy, the influence of religion was further reduced by modernisation, which destroyed traditional rural communities and traditional way of life. Such circumstances did not, however, lead to the destruction of the Church as religious communities played a very important role in the liberation movement and in most cases it became the hotbed of dissident activities.

A medallion. 1940s –1950s. A chalice. Russian SFSR (Petrozavodsk), 1953. This chalice is a gift from the Karelia-Finland SSR athletes to the Lithuanian SSR speed skating team.__“Setting a civil ceremony against a church ceremony would destroy the most stable and firm element of religion, i.e. rituals of religious worship that mystify very important life events. The destruction of these vital religious links would result in the destruction of the religious education system itself and loss of its critical components. After all, every Catholic and every Christian in general is baptised, confirmed and married in church and is buried with a religious ceremony. In this way, the cult becomes a tool to tap into feelings associated with religion and to strengthen religious ideology and mythological images”. Pečiūra P. Tradition Yesterday and Today. Vilnius, 1974.

Transformation of Identity

In order to consolidate the new Soviet regime, the state had to “rewrite” the history of the inter-war period, to erase the memory of Lithuania’s past, to destroy the evidence of its existence. By controlling publicly available information, the state could put all its weight on an individual and in this way change an individual’s identity. Besides the state’s attempts to rewrite history textbooks, destroy books that were ideologically unacceptable, and conduct censorship of artworks, the living environment was also changed. Streets were renamed, urban planning changed radically and new public spaces emerged. They were dedicated to various Soviet rituals. New settlements of kolkhozes and their buildings were distinctly different from a traditional rural setting which was regarded as a symbol of backwardness. Enforcement of the Russian language and the spread of Russian culture played a considerable role in transforming Lithuanian identity.
The regime promoted mutual relations and cultural exchange among Soviet Union republics to make people give up their Lithuanian national identity in favour of the common identity of “brotherly Soviet republics”. The regime wanted to replace the concept of the nation with that of the people. This people’s identity enabled citizens to express their deeply-harboured national sentiment and at the same time allowed the Soviets to suppress people’s aspirations for political independence, which posed a threat to the regime. However, these attempts had failed. As soon as the state pressures waned, the ethnographic character was transformed into the deliberate display of the nation’s uniqueness and came to symbolise the struggle for autonomy and independence.
Of course, the transformation of identity was not only the result of the state’s efforts: lifestyle changes, as well as economic and social change, made an even greater impact. This resulted in the development of a rather anti-Russian, conservative and defensive identity. It kept the memory of independent Lithuania alive and eventually manifested itself during the rallies of the Reform Movement.

Traditional woven sash “25th Anniversary of Chernyakhovsky’s Collective-Owned Farm [kolkhoz]”. 1970s –1980s.__“The legacy of the past culture of Lithuania, just like that of any other Soviet nation, has become a shared part of the Socialist culture as it was used for addressing the vital task of cultural revolution: elevating the culture of all Soviet nations and ethnic groups”. Šepetys L. Culture and Us. Vilnius, 1985.

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Everyday life

In Soviet Lithuania, life revolved not only around officially promoted government plans and Soviet modernisation projects but also around people’s everyday experience influenced by those plans and actual possibilities to implement them. Society was becoming increasingly distrustful of what was said in the official press or of official Soviet statistics as citizens understood perfectly well that public information did not give an accurate account of what was actually happening, that it was false and it distorted the actual realities. In Soviet state, independent activities outside of state control were viewed with some suspicion and were often subjected to persecution. This led to an indifferent attitude to work and to the diminishing of pro-activeness and independence in people. This situation, along with the deficiencies of the systematically planned economy, contributed to the constant shortages of staple goods. On the other hand, such complex conditions encouraged artfulness and creative skills in people as they tried to get hold of much needed household items or produced these items themselves. People often purchased goods not because they needed them, but because these goods were available for sale. Constant shortages of goods and strong networks of contacts created the conditions for corruption to thrive. People often relied on their contacts to get a better job, a car or a flat, to enrol in prestigious study programmes at higher education institutions, etc.
Society’s isolation from the West also made an impact on Soviet everyday realities. This created a sense of cultural otherness and contributed to the fact that the artefacts of Western culture were highly valued and idealized due to their inaccessibility. While the state controlled all areas of life, attempts to avoid these restrictions or take advantage of them in everyday life were made.

“Sietka” (String bag). 1970s .__“[…] the content of this string bag was on full display as you could see everything that was inside. Soviet citizens did not seem to have any problem with that as they did not carry any items in their shopping bag that their neighbours, relatives or co-workers could not afford. Everyone was equal: every citizen was seen carrying a watermelon, a carton of milk, a pack of vermicelli, a sausage and a loaf of bread”. Бацман А. С надеждой на АВОСЬку // Собеседник, 2008.

Interactive Space

Interactive space is where the visitor gets individually acquainted with the efforts and measures that the Soviet totalitarian regime used to create a new social, cultural, and political environment. Interactive space is located in the centre of every hall, and is activated after walking into the curtain-covered area above the glass floors. Here, visitors can view different activities: videos about unmasking the lies of Soviet propaganda; a photo gallery; a quiz; and a glossary of Soviet times.
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Alley of Memories

The Alley of Memories is a space dedicated to the memories of specific people and ideologised characters. Through the pulled back curtains you can see portraits and short presentations of people that lived during Soviet times. Walking through the alley, memories are heard – some quieter, others louder. In order to hear a memory clearly, you can walk towards a specific character and use your smart guide. The Alley of Memories is interesting not only for learning the stories of people of different ages, social statuses, and worldviews, but also because it shows that individual people exist beyond the monochrome crowds. Without listening to their individual opinions, only polyphonic whispers can be heard.

Interactive Film “One Man, Two Destinies”

The Alley of Memories ends with an “authentic zone”, hidden behind a curtain, where the visitor is invited to express their opinion and to see how much of homo sovieticus lies within themselves.
The visitor is photographed by standing in the specified area. Then, the two possible destinies of the visitor’s character are shown on the screens. The left screen shows what would happen to a person that conformed to the rules of a totalitarian system by transposing the visitor’s image onto a vision of Soviet household normality. The right screen shows what would happen if a person did not adapt to the system or attempted to oppose totalitarian rule, by presenting the image of the visitor as a subject of surveillance and repression.

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Visitor information

Museum “Project – HOMO SOVIETICUS”

Author of the historical part of the exposition
The Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania

Author of the design, technical and work projects of the exposition 
Darius Baliukevičius

Exposition work project prepared by
UAB FORTEco

Exposition installed by
UAB Amvesta, UAB MultimediaMark, UAB Salgesta, UAB Vilniaus kompiuterių servisas

The exhibits were provided by (thank you):