35-4 / Editorial

States of Postcoloniality/BALTICS


So much more than a bounded geography, a region is a historically contingent amalgamation of territory, politics and culture. In this issue of FUSE, we focus on the post-socialist Baltic region, placing particular emphasis on Lithuanian examples. Our use of the name Baltics most directly applies to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—commonly referred to as the Baltic states. Within the context of FUSE’s States of Postcoloniality series, the twentieth century history of Soviet occupation is particularly important in shaping our attention to the region.

Despite having distinctive cultural and political traditions and infrastructures, prior to the twentieth century the populations of the present-day Baltic states were frequently subjected to the influence of the Prussian and Russian empires, [1] with much of their combined territory falling under Russian rule from the late eighteenth century up until the First World War. After WWI, Lithuania, then Estonia and Latvia declared independent statehood, but their autonomy was short lived. In contravention of peace treaties, all three were annexed by the USSR in 1940, initiating a period of Soviet rule interrupted only by a brief period of Nazi occupation. By the 1980s, allied independence movements had gained momentum in the Baltic states—Lithuania’s Sąjūdis, the Popular Front of Latvia and the Estonian Rahvarinne. Perhaps the most sensational of their collaborative efforts was the Baltic Way demonstration in 1989, when millions of people formed a human chain stretching across the three states. The Baltic independence movements argued for the illegality of Soviet rule, leveraging the fiftieth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact—the non-aggression treaty signed in 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which by assigning spheres of influence to each paved the way for Soviet occupation of the Baltics. In 1990, The Act of the Re-establishment of the State of Lithuania became the first formal assertion of independence on the part of a Soviet republic. The USSR was forced to concede Lithuanian and Latvian independence in 1991, which set the stage for other Soviet republics to proclaim independence.

This issue of FUSE considers the withdrawal of Soviet occupation, the renewed independence of the Baltic states, and subsequent, ongoing privatization as the context for contemporary cultures of resistance. Responding to the absence of critical English-language histories of privatization in the Baltic states, we turn to the performative politics of contemporary artists. In “Revising a Strategically Demonized Past,” Agnė Bagdžiūnaitė narrates a particular collective response to privatization through the post-Soviet history of the Žeimiai manor house. In Alise Uptis’s interview with artist team Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, public culture, language and archival practice are identified as key elements of a revitalized leftist politic in Lithuania. Johanna Sophie Santos Bassetti’s centerfold offers a devastating subjective translation of Lithuania’s recent social reality.

For this issue’s theoretical tonic, we can look to Marc James Léger’s dialogue with Barbara Clausen and Michael Blum regarding Alexandre Kluge’s film News From Ideological Antiquity. Marx – Eisenstein – Das Kapital. The Short Fuse section offers flash points of resistance that resound through the rest of the issue: feminism and public speech, toponymy and memory, and leftist political theory informed by regional histories. While this collection of work doesn’t quite amount to a people’s history of the Baltics, it makes a compelling case for critical regionalism as an international dialogue.

At the outset of this series, we settled on the title “States of Postcoloniality” because of its evocation of shifting historical conditions and its prefigurative description of a decolonized reality. We took this approach for its flexibility, even while recognizing the inaccuracy and violence of claiming that current settler colonial states such as Canada are postcolonial. The emerging discipline of settler colonial studies has defined distinctive forms of colonialism with precision, showing how the notion of postcoloniality serves to naturalize the violence of settler colonial states. [2] As such, the title of our series threatens to work against us as we highlight cultural practices of decolonization, affirm the collective rights of Indigenous populations in Canada and abroad, and critique the policies and practices that restrict these rights. With our upcoming issue on Palestine, our vocabulary will certainly continue to kick up an uncomfortable dust—all we can hope is that its residue settles in a way that helps outline the changing contours of power with a greater degree of lucidity.

In forthcoming issues of FUSE, you can expect welcome shakeups from a host of talented guest editors: the next issue provides much reflection and critical context on the student-led anti-austerity movement in Montreal courtesy of the Artivistic Collective, followed by States of Postcoloniality/Palestine, co-edited by Nasrin Himada and Reena Katz, and our summer 2013 issue will be co-produced with York University Art History graduate students as a follow-up to their conference, Fallout: Visions of Apocalypse.

— Gina Badger, with the FUSE Editorial Committee

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[1] We could not have assembled the historical facts in this section without the material published by Lituanus: Lithuanian Quarterly Journal Of Arts And Science, whose archives are available online. Additionally, thanks to Nomeda Urbonas and Agnė Bagdžiūnaitė for fact-checking.

[2] Lorenzo Veracini, “Introducing Settler Colonial Studies,” Settler Colonial Studies 1 (2011), 1–12.

Image Credit: Participants rolling out a banner reading “Parduota (Sold Out)” across Vilnius’ Three Crosses public monument as part of a citizens’ action. Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Pro-Test Lab (2005–ongoing). Image courtesy of the artists.

Errata: Note that the print version, and a previous online version of this editorial included an error in Marc James Léger’s name.

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