I. PREFACE


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The history of every nation contains several symbolic milestones. Lithuania appeared in the history of Europe in the 13th century as a politically active state conducting, at first, its administration in written Latin, Old Slavonic and German. But the maturity of a national culture is usually associated with the time at which oral tradition is replaced by the written and printed word. The earliest known Lithuanian manuscripts date back to the beginning of the 16th century, while the first printed book in Lithuanian, Martynas Mosvidius' (Lith. Mazvydas) Catechismus, was published in Königsberg in 1547.


Martinus Mosvidius'
signature

What is the significance of this event viewed in a wider perspective, especially if we bear in mind that at the time the written traditions of the neighbouring nations - the Poland, Russia and Germany - were already both well developed and rich? Several answers come to mind. As is evident from the critical sources, the clash of different cultures is reflected: in the Catechismus we see pagan Lithuania's beliefs cross with Christianity, Catholicism with Protestantism, Polish influences with German pressures, political intentions with cultural aspirations. By its very nature, a cultural event of this kind is bound to hold great tensions, but Catechismus also represents a dialogue of European cultures. In the latter sense the book is interesting also for the study it affords of the cultural traditions that shaped it. Yet the publication of the first book in Lithuanian was also an act that bore witness to the determination of Lithuanians to look to the West rather than East by adopting the Roman alphabet and joining the written traditions of Western Europe. (Political decisions had already been taken before by accepting Christianity, but these had not yet become the foundations of national culture.) Finally, the appearance of the first book in Lithuanian showed Lithuania’s determination to build her own culture distinct from and resistant to the overwhelming Polish and German influence.

Such acts of determination are crucial to the independent existence and survival of a small nation. For Lithuanians their first book become an important symbol of resistance to a number of political and military occupations, because it demonstrated the depth and continuity of their national history and the right of the nation to determine its own destiny.

Such acts of determination are very important in order to ensure the possibilities for the independent existence and subsequent survival of a small nation. For Lithuanians their first book became an important symbol of resistance to various political occupations, including the resistance to Soviet ideology, because the first book demonstrated the depth and continuity of national history and the right of the nation to determine its own destiny.


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Copyright: BALTOS LANKOS, Vilnius, 1995.