Lithuanian Diaspora: Preservation and Loss of pre-WWII Traditional Culture Among Lithuanian Catholic Émigrés in Western Australia and Siberia


This paper will identify and evaluate comparisons between the cultural changes which have taken place within two distinct Lithuanian communities, one in Perth, Western Australia and the other in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, as part of the post-WWII diaspora.

At the end of WWII, approximately 60,000 Lithuanians fled their homeland as a result of the Soviet occupation, immigrating to countries which were signatories of the International Refugee Organisation Program. Of this number, 583 established themselves permanently in Perth. A total of 126,817 were deported to Siberia. Upon the death of Stalin in 1953, amnesty was granted and many deportees returned to Lithuania. However, approximately 8,000 remained in the Krasnoyarsk region including 248 who were original deportees.

The Lithuanian culture has always defined itself through a rural lens. Clearly it would not have been possible in their new land to recreate the totality of their previous linguistic experience, their formal Lithuanian village and rural life or to persist unchanged with their farming, education, and religious practices as some ‘transplanted’ form of pre-war Lithuania. However many were able to reproduce elements of this in their new environment, particularly at the more local and personal level. Thus, whether in an attempt to preserve Lithuanian language, family traditions, national and religious celebrations or the establishment of community groups and activities which allowed the preservation of cultural heritage, some continuity with appropriate modification occurred.

In what ways and to what extent has this process of modification affected the lives of the Lithuanian émigrés? To answer this question, in-depth interviews were conducted with 34 émigrés; 17 in Western Australia and 17 in Siberia. Each participant was selected according to specific criteria (age ranging 78 and older, both parents of Lithuanian origin, married to Lithuanian partner and having children, possessing some formal education in Lithuania and practising Roman Catholic).

The aim of the interviews was to ascertain what differences and/or similarities exist in the preservation or loss of the core characteristics of the pre-war culture between the groups investigated. This paper shows that both groups retained at least some of their pre-war cultural heritage, although each is significantly distinctive.

The émigrés in Western Australia have retained a sense of ‘Lithuanian-ness’, but have also adapted, to such an extent to the dominant culture, that their traditions, values and beliefs now reflect the new environment, rendering them unable to sustain their culture to hand down to the next generation. The findings reveal that the future of the pre-war Lithuanian culture in Western Australia is close to extinction.

The émigrés in Siberia, due to their strong connection with the homeland, have continued to maintain a high level of their original culture. The findings show that the old émigrés have been able to keep alive the interest among their children and grandchildren; and thereby preserve continuity with the pre-war Lithuanian culture.

This paper intends to contribute to the literature on the history of Lithuanian immigration and to give insight into the process of acculturation within two diasporic communities living in different environments and circumstances.

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