Globalisation is inexorably changing us. But it has no impact on our ethnic nationalist laws, and our tooth and nail defence of Lithuanian identity is beginning to be problematic. “We listen to English songs, watch Russian films and eat Soviet-styles sausages. We live in London or in Norway, and we adapt without any great difficulty.

Not long ago, the president and the president of the parliament along with the minister of finance and the minister for defence were all women. Now we have [Lithuanian] Poles in our government. Viktor Uspaskich [leader of the Labour Party, which is a member of the ruling coalition] is Russian, but he has been one of our most popular politicians for years.”

With this enumeration, Vladas Gaidys, director of the public opinion and market research institute Vilmorus, is eager to prove that ours is a modern society with all of the strengths and weaknesses which that entails. “Part of the Lithuanian elite is eager to tell us horror stories about the loss of identity. They are the same people, who, before we entered the EU, brandished the the threat of immigration, drugs, and homosexuality, just so they would not have to take part in a debate on how we were to create a modern Lithuanian society. But society, unlike politicians, is not prone to such fears. So we have to distinguish between two discourses; the discourse of society and the the discourse of the elite, and the first of these is evolving, whereas the second is not,” points out Vladas Gaidys.

Changing styles

Journalist Edita Mildazyte remembers how sartorial habits have changed since independence. Back then, wearing white socks with a suit was the height of fashion for men, not to mention the bunny hats that ministers wore. Twenty years ago, no one knew what carpaccio was, and no one had ever seen bananas.

“There is barely 3m of us, hardly enough to populate a district in Moscow, Istanbul or New York. Of course, we should protect our interests, our citizenship, our ambitions for the nation and our identity, but the change we have experienced has been so radical that our desire to cling to a constitution drafted between the wars, which provides the basis for current policy, is far from appropriate,” insists Mildazyte.

Historian Alvydas Nikzentaitis is convinced that “we should not focus on protecting Lithuanian identity, but ensure that it changes harmoniously.” He emphasises that the phenomena linked to globalisation — migration, marriages with foreigners, the birth of children abroad — are now part of Lithuanians' daily lives. “These changes will inevitably have very concrete consequences, for example, on the law on citizenship.

Dual nationality

How are we expected to deal with the children of Lithuanians born in Great Britain, who have to make a choice about their citizenship when they reach adulthood, or the foreign spouses of Lithuanians who want to be citizens of our country? How are we supposed to write their surnames? Clearly the writing of non-Lithuanian characters in passports does not only concern the Polish minority in Lithuania, it is also a problem for Lithuanians with foreign spouses,” points out the historian.

Sadly, it appears that these questions will continue to be the source of tension. The most recent episode in the drive to preserve the purity of the law on citizenship concerns Deividas Stagniunas, the man who currently holds 13th position in the global ice dance rankings.

For the second time, the state has refused to grant him an opportunity to contribute to the prestige of his country by refusing to grant Lithuanian nationality to his second American partner.

If we were to be proper patriots, we should question the citizenship granted to Ruta Meilutyte, “the golden girl” who brought so much pride to Lithuania, because she swims in non-Lithuanian waters and her coach is not even Lithuanian.

In the same ironic vein, we should say that rejecting foreigners who try to do something for Lithuania is our purest local tradition. The MEP and philosopher Leonidas Donskis has more than once expressed his astonishment at the fact that we do not recognise Litvaks [Lithuanian Jews] as our own, even though painters like Marc Chagall and Chaïm Soutine were the first to put Lithuania on the cultural map of the 20th Century.

Open secret

“If we do not want to lose our fellow citizens, we will have to win this battle. Ours is a small state, and we must make it attractive for our own citizens, but not only for them. Dual nationality would be a competitive advantage,” points out ethnologist Vytis Ciubrinskas.

It is an open secret that our strict legislation on nationality is mainly designed to protect Lithuanian property, because we are worried that former residents of Lithuania of other nationalities, in particular Litvaks, will come back to claim their inheritance.

The partisans of ethnic nationalism, like associate history professor Tomas Baranauskas, insist that this is not the case. “Lithuanian citizenship law is not the main problem in the debate about dual nationality for emigrants, it is the fact that they want to become Lithuanian without giving up another nationality. However, citizenship is a commitment to a state, and this can be a source of conflict. How should you prove loyalty to a country?” he wonders.

“Our attitude is excessive,” says renowned musician Andrius Mamontovas. “Any emigrants who want to acquire dual nationality should be able to obtain it. When I see Lithuanian inscriptions in Poland, it gladdens my heart. We should never forget that the scales can be tipped in two ways.”