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Review of the event organised by Velso Lietuvių Bendruomenė – Lithuanian Community in Wales held on Monday 28th November at ‘The Table’ Pentyrch Street Cardiff.

What do you do with the books and other documents that you inherit from your parents or grandparents? If they are in English, you might be able to give them away to charity shops or sell them on eBay. This is more difficult if they are in a relatively obscure, foreign language. If you never learned the language they are written in, how can you decide what is worth keeping? You could pack them up in a box and leave them in the garage for your heirs to worry about. What if there are hundreds of books? The temptation is to dispose of them but the value of books is more than monetary, however, someone else might be very interested in them. They might be irreplaceable. You could be throwing national treasures away.

On the evening of Monday 28th November, four members of the Wales Baltic Society attended the launch event of an exhibition about Biblioteka – archyvas” (Library – archive). This was held at ‘The Table’, a small Baptist church in Cathays, Cardiff. The exhibition itself is being displayed in The Hub at Cardiff Central Library until 10th December 2022. Three similar exhibitions are taking place in Oxford, Manchester and Edinburgh.

On arrival, our first impressions were of a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. The audience was accommodated on sofas and at tables and offered wine, tea and sandwiches. Unusually for an old church building, it was cosily warm thanks to several wood-burning stoves. Our Lithuanian hosts were themselves very warm and welcoming.

The headline act was a concert given by Lithuanian opera singer Aurelija Stasiulytė with pianist Andrew Wilson-Dickson. Aurelija’s lovely voice filled every corner of the small hall as she performed a diverse programme of songs in Lithuanian, Ukrainian, English, and Welsh.

The concert was followed by a talk by Daina Kliukiene (in Lithuanian with some translation into English by Igne Timinskiene). Daina explained how she had learned of a collection of books, pamphlets, records, photographs, and more left by an elderly Lithuanian who had lived in Glasgow. These were not only an individual person’s belongings, but they were also examples of media which had been key to the preservation of Lithuanian culture abroad during the Soviet occupation. This prompted the initiative to establish an archive of such materials for preservation and research. An agreement was reached that these historical materials should be made available for future research by being housed in the Lithuanian Embassy in London.

This extract from the leaflet provided at the event provides more background:
About two-thirds of Lithuanian authors ended up in exile. Conditions for creativity to flourish were far from ideal: after long days in factories, farms and construction trying to make the ends meet Lithuanian authors found it hard to dedicate themselves entirely to writing.
Though the struggle was evident, the need to connect with the lost homeland was stronger – the Archive is the very symbol of people’s courage to not give up on things that are invaluable for a state struggling to be free: Lithuanian identity, Lithuanian traditions and the most precious spoken Lithuanian word, which is at the heart of this exhibition.’

The final part of the evening’s presentation was the screening of a somewhat frustrating video showing images from the archive. Blink and you missed some of the photographs and press cuttings displayed for a second or two on the overhead screen. Included was an image labelled ‘Cardiff Baltic Society’ and some names and faces known to WBS members popped up. The video gave a good idea of the variety of material available in the archive reflecting the range of activities organised by Lithuanian exile groups in the UK since the 1940s.

In conclusion, the Wales Baltic Society members who attended this event were impressed by the outstanding musical performance, the dedication of the Lithuanian community in the UK to preserving their heritage, the warm atmosphere of the location and the generous hospitality of our hosts.

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