Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on January 27th, 2008

The news broke late last week, and was spun in two different ways to two different news audiences. In, reprinting an article from Delfi, Mindaugas Jackevičius wrote with his opening sentence that “Lietuva – drąsi šalis.” The marketing program that decided on this version of Lithuania also recommended that Lithuania change its English name, which became this lede in Reuters:

Lithuania is thinking about changing its name in English to something easier to pronounce in plans to boost its image, officials said on Friday.

The projects are related, of course. They are parts of a general marketing concept that was developed by a commission led by Gediminas Kirkilas. And they suggest, in their two main recommendations, two things about Lithuania (, Republic of) that gladdens me quite a bit. In this post, I address the branding of Lithuania as a bold nation. I address the actual renaming in greater detail in a later post. In a third post, I address the other, more specific recommendations, particularly the desire for a Guggenheim Museum in Lithuania.

From being the final pagan nation in Europe and sparking the crumbling of the Soviet Union in the past to the current regional leadership, athletic success, and economic growth, Lithuania, the commission asserts, has always been bold and innovative.

This is probably true. How unique it is, of course, is a different issue. But there is one aspect of Lithuania’s bold history that is not included in the list given by commission member Paulius Senūta: the tolerant government, unique at the time among European states, of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania both before and during its membership in the Žečpospolita. The Roman Catholic Commonwealth was a haven for Jews and Protestants, fleeing religious intolerance in Western Europe. It managed enormous populations of ethnic minorities, speaking a wide variety of languages and dialects. It was a massive undertaking, and Lithuania definitely, as I have argued before, stands to gain by emphasizing its governmental innovation during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In fact, to me a willingness to construct a history of the boldness of Lithuania that encourages its pagan resistance without sparing time for the Žečpospolita also seems, to me, rather shortsighted.

What the Commonwealth provided was an (anachronistic) example of the bold separation of nation from state—a project which continues to be both an abject failure and source of profound disinterest to diaspora Lithuanians as well as one which is pursued in peculiar forms by the actual Lithuanian government. In fact, then, this bold history of the Lithuanian people provides an approach to the renaming project of Lithuania. If Lithuania is looking to (boldly) abandon its atavistic nationalist project as well as rename itself in English, something like “The Commonwealth” or “The Republic”—similar to “Žečpospolita” and “Abiejų tautų respublika”—suggest limit cases toward that end.

As Benedict Anderson notes, very few states in modern history have had non-national names. In fact, he lists only two: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Even similar sounding state names, such as the United States of America and the United Mexican States indicate, through their geographically specific names, a national feeling. There is something national/cultural that embodies “American” or “Mexican” that is not the case for “USSRean” or “British and Northern Irish,” at least, not in Anderson’s understanding of the nation.

So in renaming itself, Lithuania could do a whole lot worse than to look to the examples of the UK and USSR, abandoning, more formally, the connection to one, specific, national group. To do so would surely be very, very bold.

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2 Responses to “Lithuania contemplates extreme makeover, pt. 1 of 3”

  1. Proposed new English names for LITHUANIA (Lietuva)

    Liet (pronounced: Leet)
    Samolita (Samogitia Lithuania)

    Some of the above you may laugh at, but some you may seriously consider (applying to the Government of the Republic of Lietuva). Along with the country name’s change I would also change the colours and the layout of the official flag and the current transcription (rasyba) making it more smooth and attractive. And please don’t kill me if you don’t like what I just said, please go and bang your head into a wall or something like that. Only serious opinions and discussions are expected.

  2. #3 must be “Litha”

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