This weekend is our first free weekend, free for some reflections on the past two weeks. We decided to go to Nida on the West coast and simply took the bus to get there. The weather grey and drizzly, perfect for some in-house reflections while looking out over the waters in front of our B&B.
In the past weeks, we walked the streets of Kaunas.
Over 155.000 steps, took us well over 122 km’s through the various parts of this town. Step by step and image by image, it created some strong reflections in our minds.
We felt the decay as well as the old grandeur.
Over a beer we discussed with three generations Lithuanians, the divide between young and old, between Russian romantics and European realists. Between the days when Lithuania stretched from the Baltics to the Black Sea and the sometime bleak days of the present. We felt the awkward history in the old Jewish getto and saw the pictures of mass murder. We were inspired by the human empathy felt in the museum of Mr. Sugihara and are puzzled about the grim presence of the people in the street. The city as such still holds promises and dreams for some, and a lot of disillusions for many others.
European money has done its best to lighten up the city, making it more beautiful by adding modern elements. Yet, literary next door are the sigs of old and bygone times because with a minimum wage of only € 300,=, a lot of Lithuanians still face poverty. Everyday the struggle for existence when your neighbours have raised an all shiny new house, is hard to do.
Kaunas in our minds is multiculti, yet it’s more of a difference in beliefs than in religion. Beliefs that are driven by the romanticised Russian history versus progress through the membership of the EU. Kaunas -and perhaps Lithuania as a whole- still has some generations to go to truly create one common identity in which there is room for all. Via our son, we came across the work of Estonian Madli Maruste (Phd Visual Sociology at Goldsmith Dept of London University) and she has said it very beautiful;
When someone`s roots are cut, then the routes in his life are disrupted as well. The city becomes a place to hide, but at the same time a place that haunts. The city is like a labyrinth of all the memories of people, who used to live there, but it is also a lost love letter to hopes and dreams that never materialised. When one ethnic group loses the places in the city that used to be the cornerstones of their identity, they might always feel homeless. Is it possible to fill this void in the soul? Can the city give them shelter and understanding, or is it hostile towards people who are the reminders of the layered history and sad secrets of a nation?
Perhaps this is also why we feel that our Art of Empathy has potential to go beyond just pretty images and nice words. Via the work with our students we connect to the new generation Lithuanians and use their process to rekindle the power of empathy. Much needed when trying to build that one identity over various groups. At the same time, images are such a big part of the history of this country that we feel we have the means to reach older generations as well. With the help of the people of Kaunas Photogallery we feel we can help start this journey in these sensitive times and needless to say but we feel extremely privileged to be a part of it.