chapter  7
Iconoclasm and resistance:Wayside shrines in the struggle for Lithuanian independence
ByMilda B. Richardson
Pages 13

For the two centuries between 1795, when the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth subjected Lithuania to Czarist Russian rule, and 1990, when Lithuania was the first of the Soviet Socialist Republics to declare independence from the USSR,Lithuania was the object of nearly constant invasion and domination by foreign rulers.The occupying forces,which included not only Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union but also Nazi Germany and, after the FirstWorldWar, Poland, employed a range of methods to maintain control over the population. Some of these turned on the direct use of force, as in the coerced recruitment of Lithuanian serfs into the Russian army during the Czarist period, often for periods of servitude of 20 years; and in the mass deportations to Siberia that Soviet authorities inflicted on Lithuanians starting in the 1940s and 50s and continuing in modified form into the 1980s. But occupying forces in Lithuania also typically employed another strategy: to suppress or destroy autochthonous cultural features such as the Lithuanian language and Roman Catholicism-the religion of the large majority of Lithuanians, but a threat to both the official orthodoxy of the Czarist regime and to Soviet state atheism. This strategy of cultural destruction included efforts to neutralize or obliterate a distinctive feature of the Lithuanian built environment: wayside chapels and shrines and their attendant landscapes, whose origins dated to the introduction of Christianity to Lithuania in the fourteenth century, and which in addition to retaining their spiritual significance gained additional political meaning in the face of Russian violence.These built embodiments of Lithuanian folk religion were the target of prohibitions and demolitions from the nineteenth century onward, including the razing of over 2,000 shrines on one particularly important site, the Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, on the orders of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party in 1961.1

But if these two centuries were marked by invasion, occupation, and violence against culture, they were also characterized by Lithuanian resistance to them.On the one hand, such resistance included armed revolt, as in the uprisings in 1831 and 1863 and partisan warfare during the Second World War. However, given the small size of Lithuania relative to its colonizers and the propensity of those powers to respond to rebellion with harsh punishment, Lithuanians more characteristically turned to non-violent ‘arts of resistance’ and

‘weapons of the weak’.2 Well-known examples of this countermovement include the establishment of underground schools and book smuggling networks in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in response to prohibitions and censorship targeting the Lithuanian language and the Latin alphabet, and the creation of samizdat publications during the Soviet era. But the construction, reconstruction, and adaptation of wayside shrines and their landscapes also featured prominently in this countermovement. Proxies for what was seen as futile armed confrontation, the shrines became visual symbolic expressions of individual freedom in the reality of enslavement, as well as instruments of solidarity and community in the struggle to preserve an inherited cultural tradition.This chapter will discuss three periods in Lithuanian history during which these examples of miniature architecture played a prominent role in the battle for independence.