Project Tranquility (Ramybė)

It is a story of one typical apartment block No. 43 located in Kaunas. Even though there is no commemorative plaque on this house, no important historical events have taken place in it, and it does not aim to become a memorial, this five-storey building is worth a story as both a monument for the community life and a way to immortalize my autobiographical memory. It is an example illustrating life of one small social group under the conditions of the authoritarian regime.

The history of a cooperative called Ramybė started as early as in 1965, when the new micro district of Dainava was emerging in Kaunas and one of the streets got the name of Ramybė (Tranquility)* (ironically, in 1970, the name of the street was changed into the ideologised name of “LTSR 25-čio” (The 25th Anniversary of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic), and after the recovery of independence it was renamed as Kovo 11-osios g. (March 11 st.)). Residents of this typical 60-apartment block were from various corners of Lithuania, usually the ones who had received a compensation for expropriated home and land used to build the collective farms. After paying the initial contribution, people used to acquire the so-called cooperative apartment, for which they had to pay for a long time to finally own it. So, the settlers of this house lived in large families (different generations lived together: parents, children and their children). Since the residents of the house were united by a similar destiny, they established a house community and thus the cooperative “Ramybė” (named after the street name) started its existence. This building was surrounded by then popular official houses and residential dwellings. In contrast to other houses in the neighborhood, the residents of which took care of their surroundings only during the annual obligatory communal works, residents of the cooperative Ramybė started to shape their surroundings consciously. Gradually the territory around the house started to differ from others, because of the way it was maintained: flowers, alpine gardens, various species of trees, mowed lawn, children’s playground, and benches. Step by step, the territory around the house become rather exceptional: marked and protected by neatly cropped hedges and paved pedestrian paths, like some sort of border marks. Besides the traditional celebrations (Christmas Eve, Christmas, Easter, All Souls Day, then officially banned by the regime), the cooperative started its own traditions and celebrations of the community. One of the most impressive bonding initiatives was commemorations of the establishment of the cooperative. The first one was celebrated on the 5th anniversary, then continued and celebrated on the 10th,15th anniversary and so on. Therefore, the entire community of the house would join the festivities. I remember these were exceptional days, when all residents of the house would go to some surviving native homestead of one of the residents, traveling with families, by their cars or rented buses. The trips would last for several days, with a feast, evening dances, trips to historical places of Lithuania, purposely forgotten during the Soviet times. This would allow the community to feel the sense of belonging together, remember the history of their land and keep a friendly spirit. Maintenance of the surroundings and designs were used to create the forbidden patriotic symbols: three colors of the flag of the independent Lithuania (yellow, green and red) could be visible everywhere. Everything was decorated using these colors: e.g. benches were yellow, green and red, stairway floors were like carpets with folk ornaments at the edges, so were the post-boxes and the decorative fences protecting the flower beds. Several generations grew up in such an environment. I also grew up in this five-storey building...

When the independence of Lithuania was restored, the head of the cooperative, former deportee and my godfather Albinas Staugaitis, who had a little workshop in the basement of the house, made a cross, which he later built close to the children’s sandbox. Next to it, there also appeared a pole for the Lithuanian flag. Finally, the vision of our five-storey house and its surroundings was complete; it reminded the iconographic image of a Lithuanian individual farm (vienkiemis): there was a house, a fence, a tree, flowers and the wooden cross... Years were flying by, trees grew tall, residents of the house changed, a part of the old residents died, but the spirit that united the community in the past still lingers in the air. People are celebrating the Assumption day together, and make sure their surroundings are well-kept. Sometimes I go back to visit my family, mother, sister, nephews, and thus together I visit my “native land”.

Ironically, by continuing the cultural traditions of the pre-occupied Lithuania, through their efforts, the residents have created an atmosphere, which the Soviet socialist ideology could only envision in their utopia. By underestimating and destroying the heritage of “Lithuanianness” and independent Lithuania, they used to constantly provoke national patriotism. This history of the residents of this community shall remain in the memory as one of the examples of collective life during the Soviet era.

Dainius Liškevičius, 2014