Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
ANTONITES, Alex. South Africa after thirteen years (1994-2007)- with special reference to analogies with Lithuania. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.2, pp.159-194. ISSN 2224-7912.
Several analogies exist between South Africa and Lithuania in general and more in particular between the Afrikaans and Lithuanian peoples. The article contains much history in so far as it is relevant to the analogies. Therefore it is not a historical treatment of Lithuania's history as such. Although the main point of comparison is the Empire, modern and contemporary Lithuania is also discussed, but then seen in continuity with the Empire. In both Afrikaner and Lithuanian cultures, the important role of heroes in the past is obvious. In South Africa well known examples are Racheltjie de Beer, Piet Retief, Paul Kruger, General de la Rey and many others and in Lithuania these include Gedeminias, Jonas Basanavicius and Roman Kalanta, amongst others. In times of crisis convergence of expressions are noted between hortatory expressions of, for example, Gedeminias and Voortrekker women. Lithuania is discussed because of its little known qualities. Very few academic studies exist outside Lithuania about Lithuania. This is largely because of the closed Soviet past and a general unfamiliarity with Lithuania. British, Roman, Greek, and other empires are very well known, but very few people are even aware of the existence of the Lithuanian Empire. The late usage of Lithuanian in written works may have played a role in this regard. For the same reason as well as background, a short comparison is drawn between the Lithuanian, Latvian, Sanskrit and Latin languages. It is taken into account that the idea of federalism started very early in Lithuanian history. This can be seen in the relative independence of groups or areas. This seemed to get stronger in the Empire. Although there was no federal constitution in a modern sense of the word, the philosophy of relative independence for various cultural groups just seemed to be spontaneously taken for granted. Even today many Lithuanians are keen to speculate on a federation with Latvia, Estonia, Belo-Russia and the Ukraine. The 14th century constituted the culmination of the Empire under the leadership of Gedeminias. Some disanalogies with the two Boer Republics in South Africa, are that Gedeminias occupied large areas of central and Eastern Europe, while the Afrikaners never strived for an Empire. The analogy consists in the multi-cultural realities of both the Empire and later South Africa. Although simple generalizations cannot be made about empires, a significant correspondence exists between such empires and a contemporary multinational state. Both Afrikaans and Lithuanian people have a high regard2for the value of their two languages. The role of the Lithuanian language in the Empire and afterwards varied. In the Empire it did not play a strong normative, let alone constitutive role. Lithuanian was appreciated, as becomes clear from the fact that the Lithuanian people continued to speak it. However, in rustic times before World War I, the top echelons spoke Lithuanian, but preferred Polish above Lithuanian in official and important written works - even in ordinary private correspondence. The analogy with Afrikaners in the Free State Boer republic is striking. Before the Anglo Boer War, in rustic times, the state president, all important officials, and many private citizens, preferred to write and speak English. The moment that oppression and suppression of Lithuanian by the Tsar and the suppression of Afrikaans in the previous Boer republics by British imperialism became evident, a strong awareness of these languages took place among their speakers: the two languages became part of a strong sense of national identity. The Lithuanians were remarkably tolerant in cultural, political and religious matters. Although the Convention of Geneva was still far-off in the future, Gedeminias and many followers applied the rules and spirit of Geneva. The Lithuanians besieged Berlin, and several times Moscow. It was in their power to destroy the cities and people, but they did not do so. And the inhabitants of Berlin and Moscow were treated fairly. Initially Lithuanians comprised about 70% of the Empire but very soon this figure dropped to 30%. Most were Slavic ethnic groups, like Polish, Ruthenian/Ukranian, Belo-Russian, and Latvian. The tolerant spirit in the Empire attracted many Russian principalities outside the Empire as well as many Germans and Jews to settle in the Empire. Never did one hear of ethnic cultural oppression or discrimination. Religious freedom was also highly valued and promoted. The Lithuanians eventually became Roman Catholic, while in the (now) Belo Russia and the Ukraine most were of Russian/Greek orthodox orientation. The Lithuanians even tried to unite the Roman Catholic Church and Greek orthodox churches in the Empire. Jews and Muslims settled voluntarily in the empire - no discrimination was experienced. Some attempts to discriminate were severely dealt with by Lithuanian authorities. I think that this is most remarkable for the 14th and 15th centuries. This tolerance and democratic spirit did not persevere for a very short time only; it was not a whim, but instead this spirit lasted for three ages in the Empire. It was not the outcome of western democratic liberal philosophies. Rather, it is something unique and is still current in contemporary Lithuania where the small Russian population is treated2fairly in contrast to Latvia (related to Lithuanian) where a larger Russian population is compelled to learn Latvian. The logo of the Lithuanian and Boer republics is the same. The Soviet era brought about an inauthentic existence among Lithuanians. Russification as in the Tsar's time was repeated, similar to Lord Milner s Anglicizing of Afrikaners after the Anglo Boer war. Contemporary Lithuania still breathes the tolerant spirit of the Empire. Much is to be learned for South Africa. Although not perfect, it shows that respect for culture and identity, can work in a multinational state. Post-Soviet Lithuanians as well as post-apartheid Afrikaans people, seem to find meaning in both national and international values in several areas of life.
Keywords : Lithuanian; national values; international values; authentic existence; cultural diversity; russification; Vilnius.