The unique natural environment of Kaunas, located in the confluence of the two largest rivers of Lithuania, has always inspired its residents to think and work for more than just their daily bread, encouraging their imagination and developing their creativity. As if longing to expand the boundaries of the visible world and burst beyond their native valley, its townspeople used to build churches with towers visible from far away and houses up and down the riversides, and the city opened itself for European culture by becoming one of the Hansa cities. Italian, German and other artists together with local masters decorated Kaunas with their wonderful Gothic and Baroque style buildings.
This multinational city was one of the centres of the fight for freedom against the Tsar‘s oppression during the 19th century; it was meant to become an important point for the Lithuanian nation and its language rebirth throughout the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the cradle of Lithuanian statehood and modern Lithuanian culture in the 10s and 20s of the 20th century. The 100th anniversary of Kaunas University will finish with a series of anniversaries celebrated by many focuses of culture established in Kaunas in those days and so very significant for the development of urban, national and European culture (the State Theatre, M. K. Čiurlionis’ Gallery, etc.) namely in 2022, the year of Kaunas, as a European Capital of Culture. The interwar architecture of Kaunas, so valuably supplementing the European context, is becoming more and more well-known in Europe and I, being a man of the theatre, would like to draw attention to the fact that Mikhail Chekhov, an actor and artistic director of Russian origin, began developing his worldwide famous creative method specifically in Kaunas, working with actors of the State Theatre and students of the theatre workshop. Other famous representatives of various fields of art and culture of the Russian Diaspora, university lecturers from Western Europe and artists from various countries also participated meaningfully in the cultural life of Kaunas, the temporary capital city of Lithuania at that time. The Jewish community contributed a lot to the rapid cultural growth of Kaunas and the whole country. In publishing newspapers in Yiddish and establishing the Jewish theatre, they were nurturing their thousands-years-old culture, while actively participating in art exhibitions and musical life, and in coming into play in other areas of cultural life together with Lithuanian and other artists, they were creating common humanist culture values.
Such a heritage of humanist culture allowed for the preservation of humanity and the urge for freedom, and helped Kaunas people to retain their cultural identity and stay in the avant-garde of the fight for freedom and independence to a great extent, even in the darkest years of occupation. Today Kaunas, making reference to its rich cultural past, is creatively open to the cultural variety of Europe and the world, while simultaneously ready for dynamic cultural exchange as well as nurturing the worldwide spread of its unique cultural characteristics.
Gytis Padegimas