True Lithuania

Generations in Lithuania

The Western-style generations (Baby Boomer, X, Y, Z, etc.) could hardly be applied to Lithuania (or Eastern Europe), as the historical events in Lithuania were very different from those in the Western world, with just a few exceptions.

This article helps to classify the generations of ethnic Lithuanians (who made up ~80% population of Lithuania). While, of course, every person is unique and there are exceptions to all generalizations, this helps to understand the rather massive generational divide that exists in Lithuania.

Interwar generation (born 1910s-1930s)

Childhood Youth Late years Differences
They were the only generation to grow up in independent interwar Lithuania (1918-1940). The newly-free nation (both schools and parents) passionately educated its children as patriots and good Roman Catholics (effectively a state religion, considered inalienable part of Lithuanian culture), imbibing this generation with patriotism, national romanticism, and religiosity. While they were raised to build free Lithuania even greater, the interwar generation was forced to witness its tragic demise and suffer World War 2, Soviet occupation and Stalinist Genocide. Avoiding persecution for their beliefs, many have fled to the West, others fought in forests as guerrillas against the Soviet regime. Many were murdered or expelled to Siberia, often for obscure reasons (e.g. being a Boy Scout or owning a Lithuanian flag). The interwar generation thus learned to hide their political views and opinions, some even collaborated with the occupational authorities in hopes (sometimes vain) of ensuring their own survival. They taught their children of the importance of religion and patriotism. Those who survived the Stalinist Genocide were generally officially exonerated (and allowed to return to Lithuania, if exiled) as the Soviet regime dropped the genocide from its agenda after Stalin's death. The occupation remained harsh, however, and having lost their most productive years to the persecutions, as well as still being considered disloyal, Lithuanians of the Interwar generation would often spend their lives underemployed, having not been able to complete higher studies even where their talents should have allowed it. As the independence of Lithuania approached, however (~1990), the participation and encouragement of the Interwar generation was instrumental in legitimizing the "new Lithuania" as a direct continuation of the old interwar Lithuania. Some people of the Interwar generation spoke positively about independence again after a long fear-induced silence. The part of the Interwar generation which fled to the West revitalized Lithuanian communities there (also constructed new Lithuanian churches and clubs) and spent the Cold War campaigning for Western support of Lithuanian independence. Their support has also been crucial after independence was achieved, as some of them returned to Lithuania to help modernize it after the Soviet neglect. COMPARED TO THE PEERS IN THE WEST the Lithuanian interwar generation is...
*More patriotic and religious (due to Lithuania being a new country during their childhood, as well as the need to defend the nation and religion).
*Less daring to voice their opinions, often avoiding politics altogether (due to the Soviet Genocide experienced in their youths).
*Suffered much more persecutions.

As cars were rare in the Lithuanian villages (where most of the interwar generation lived) until the 1990s, horses remained a transport of choice for many people of the interwar generation throughout their lifes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Genocide generation (born 1930s-1950s)

Childhood Youth Late years Differences
They spent their childhood during World War 2 or the Soviet Genocide. Tens of thousands of them were born or grew up in refugee camps outside Lithuania, where their parents fled. Tens of thousands were born in Siberia or Central Asia, where they were expelled by Soviets. Those who spent their childhood in Lithuania also grew in fear, as persecutions and guerilla warfare raged across Lithuania. Parents instilled them with religiousness and patriotism and many spent their childhoods believing the occupation would soon end. A disproportionate number of the Genocide generation died as children due to the Soviet Genocide (often unable to survive the exile to cold Siberia), such decline making the "baby boom" that characterized the Western world an unknown term in Lithuania. As the hopes of Lithuania's freedom did not materialize, Genocide generation faced significant pressures to conform from the surroundings. Those remaining in Lithuania generally caught up the idea that not sticking out of the crowd was beneficial for survival. Outwardly, they lived lives similar to those of many other Soviet citizens, learning Russian, receiving politically-loaded education, marrying early, watching Russian cinema, often moving to Soviet micro-districts in the cities. Some got addicted to alcohol. In families, however, they tried to continue the Lithuanian and Christian tradition, although, having grown up under occupation and heavy censorship, they already understood somewhat less of it than their parents did. On the other hand, those who were born to Lithuanian displaced persons in the West became known as the "Landless generation", and many of them came to love Lithuania as their homeland even though some have not visited it until late adulthood due to the Soviet occupation. That's the ideas Interwar generation Lithuanian parents and diaspora Lithuanian schools instilled in them. Being 40-50 at the time of Lithuanian independence, the Genocide generation has initially welcomed the freedom, yet economically it was arguably greatly disadvantaged by it. Having spent the entire youth under occupation, they found it hard to adapt to the new system, where once-unknown things like searching for a job, marketing, investment and modern technologies swiftly became essential. As they retired from the workforce, the Genocide generation became recipients of quite meager pensions as the broken pension system was inherited from the Soviet era. While such pensions previously guaranteed a lifestyle like that of everybody else (i.e. equally poor), in independent Lithuania where some became rich and others middle class, the pensions could only afford a lower class lifestyle. Therefore, people of Genocide generation often came to view independence as "well-intentioned but mismanaged", or "hijacked by oligarchs". They often have cheap, "traditional" hobbies related to their village background, such as gardening, mushroom picking; they also often help rear grandchildren. COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most Lithuanians of the Genocide generation...
*Do not have a driving license, never travel abroad and never tried many other forms of Western entertainment (as all that was inaccessible in their youth and middle age, making them unused to it all).
*Have most likely spent their childhood or even their entire youth in a village, exile location or a refugee camp.
*Do not understand the inner workings of capitalism.
*Spend very little (e.g. just for food and home) and save up the rest of income for "that black day" which seems to be likely due to the turbulent history of their lifetimes.
*Are much poorer (the wealth gap is greater than between the later generations).
In the case of the "Landless generation" born abroad, they are more similar to the people of the nations where they grew up, however, they have a much greater sense of the importance of ethnic roots than most locals there.

Religious events, such as the Hill of Crosses festival shown here, are mostly attended by the Genocide Generation. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Soviet generation (born 1950s-1970s)

Childhood Youth Late years Differences
They grew up surrounded by propaganda about the "nearly perfect" Soviet society which permeated the TV, school programs and everywhere else. While censorship and discrimination were still prevalent as the occupation continued, the Soviet Genocide was no longer visible (and not described in any school books). Parents would often fear to convey the truth about the prosperity of pre-occupation Lithuania or the cruelty of Soviet Genocide to them, or had somewhat limited knowledge themselves. As such, information the Soviet generation received about these things in their childhood was often limited. That said, parents and (especially) grandparents would arrange the main Christian rites of passage and traditional holidays for the families, continuing some traditions. At the same time, the Soviet generation Lithuanians have inevitably adopted many Soviet practices. They came to love Soviet animation (essentially the only one available at their childhood), they learned to speak the Russian language at near-native levels due to its prevalence in the society of their childhood (as well as many mandatory lessons). Most of them moved to towns and cities (if they were not already born there), making this the first mostly-urban Lithuanian generation. In these locations (e.g. universities), where they lived away from parents, they got a first-hand experience of the Soviet society full of corruption, limitations, and cronyism that was far from the declared ideals. This made them especially critical of the Soviet system. However, the Soviet system seemed too invincible and too dangerous to them to attempt changing it, so instead they have built networks of discrete dissent, e.g. "hiking clubs" that would walk to various historically important locations in their expeditions, or people clandestinely sharing Western rock musical records. By the late 1980s, as the Soviet regime became softer, they voiced these opinions aloud, doing the heavy lifting for independence. After independence was restored, they gave vocal support for a swift dismantlement of regulations. They became the new elite of Lithuania as they were still young and able to adapt to massive changes and use up the new opportunities, eagerly establishing businesses and launching the Lithuanian capitalism. In the 1990s, the newly-reborn Lithuania had most of its millionaires and many politicians in their 20s or 30s, who established an unprecedented level of freedom of speech and conscience (after the Soviet experience, any censorship, self-censorship or political correctness seemed "sacrilegious" to them, and suddenly a society of state-supported taboos was replaced by a society where no ideas were too radical to propose). While the Soviet generation was less religious than the previous ones, it often viewed the church quite positively as an institution of dissent against the Soviet regime (some have joined many new religions and denominations that sprung up in the 1990s). Also, the Soviet generation led rather conservative lifestyles similar to those of their parents, marrying and having kids early and often spending entire adulthood in a single home (even after independence, when earnings would have permitted a change). However, after independence brought in the freedoms, this conservativeness became less pronounced, as a larger percentage of the Soviet generation divorced or had no children than any of the previous generations. As they aged, the Soviet generation retained the "elite of the society" position they have earned in the 1990s. Even the poorer among them eventually belatedly experienced various "joys" once inaccessible to most in the Soviet Union, such as foreign travels or owning a car. However, even though the Soviet generation became familiar with many Western practices, most of them spoke too little English (or any other Western languages) to regularly use Western media or converse with Westerners. This made them somewhat detached from the Western world, which they nevertheless idealized as a bastion of economic freedom and free speech. After Lithuania joined the European Union (2004), many people of the Soviet generation emigrated westwards, especially to the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Norway, experiencing the West firsthand for the first time (many became disillusioned, but most still preferred higher salaries there to the "homeness" of free Lithuania, therefore they never returned). COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most Lithuanians of the Soviet generation...
*Believe in a market economy and consider leftist beliefs to be dated, utopian and wrong (due to childhood and youth experiences in the leftist Soviet Union and its economic backwardness).
*Gained first access to Western amenities, such as a private car and foreign travels, much later (in their 30s-50s, rather than childhood or 20s) and see them as somewhat less important in their lives or even deride some of them as childish (especially the PC games and fast food).
*Save up instead of taking credit.
*Believe in free speech and are especially wary of ideology-based politics.
*Are much more reluctant to change their home within Lithuania, yet are more eager to emigrate abroad.
*Always owned private apartments without any bank credits attached (due to the policy of 1990 allowing a nearly free privatization of state property).
*Have a great knowledge of the Russian culture and popular culture (movies, music, etc.) and often less knowledge of the Western culture (especially pre-1990s). They often speak little English.
*Had a much more tame protest in their youths (as anything more serious would have cost them careers, freedom or even lives). To a Soviet-generation Lithuanian, 1968 protests of the West may seem as unexplainable rampage (the situation was not that bad, was it?), while to the Westerners, the protest of Soviet-generation Lithuanians would seem as not a protest at all.
*Became the elite of Lithuania much earlier than it would be expected elsewhere, with some ministers and many self-made millionaires of 1990s in their late 20s and early 30s.
*Less religious, but also less eager to declare themselves "atheists" or "agnostics".
*Married and had children earlier.
*Feel less comfortable abroad (at least non-emigrants) and are more likely to choose package holidays rather than independent travel.

Independence generation (born 1970s-1990s)

Childhood Youth Differences
Independence generation grew up as the Soviet Union gradually opened up and then totally collapsed, giving way to libertarian Lithuania. As such, they were the first generation to get childhood exposure to many of the once-obscure details of foreign cultures, such as Latin American soap operas, fast food, anime, Mickey Mouse and hip hop. Still lacking direct contacts to the West or traveling experience, such exposure, was, however, limited to what was available on Lithuanian media at the time, and thus some foreign trends became disproportionally influential while the others remained largely unknown. They were also the first generation to get childhood (or more likely teenage) exposure to computers, which were nearly non-existent in the Soviet Union as that country lagged at least 10 years behind technologically. What's more, the Independence generation grew up in the time when many ideas competed against each other in Lithuania, and nothing seemed "too radical to discuss" anymore. Anarchism to racism, non-traditional sexuality to religious cults, patriotism to Lithuania-bashing: all these ideas had some vocal supporters and detractors among both teenagers and their parents and became considered normal to exist. Imbibed in libertarianism, it was rare for teachers to scold their students for an opinion, clothing style or symbols used (when that happened, that was always a personal opinion of a teacher rather than an official disciplinary action: teachers too enjoyed a rather massive freedom of speech). Every opinion could have existed, yet no opinion could have been "official" or "politically correct" in schools (either for students or teachers). Growing in such unprecedented atmosphere of freedom the Independence generation became especially critically thinking. The old Soviet traits such as Russian language or Russian movies lost their monopoly, but they too remained as options for the Independence generation. Many other cultural monopolies were challenged as well, as many subcultures were imported from the west. While the respect for traditional authorities (parents, schoolteachers) also started to seem more optional, they still largely remained. Independence generation brought the plurality of lifestyles into their adulthood, marrying and having children at various ages (or not doing that at all), "importing" even more hobbies. Often they would align with some particular causes, and suppression of other causes did not seem to be as taboo to some as it was a decade or two ago. Still, rightist economic beliefs remained prevalent among the generation. As Lithuanian economy has already matured and most of it was under the control of Soviet generation, Independence generation sought its own niches inspired by the West, especially in the e-businesses where their childhood experiences with the computers helped lots. When they reached adulthood, most Lithuanians of the Independence generation spoke English and only a half spoke Russian; however, typically they spoke both languages worse than the previous generation spoke Russian, as the exposure to them was often limited to school and video games. COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most Lithuanians of the Independence generation...
*More libertarian minded (supportive of the free market).
*More likely to hate political correctness and prefer critical evaluation of all thoughts.
*Less able to speak English or other foreign languages.
*Likely to know some Western cultural tenets (e.g. movies, TV series), but not others, depending on what was popularized by the Lithuanian media during their childhood and teenage years.

Opinion-based volunteer groups often have the bulk of membership from the independence generation, as they grew up at the time when they could freely develop their opinions, such as environmentalism, nationalism, pro-Europeanism, feminism, and others. In this image, the patriotically-minded National Youth Organization is celebrating the Lithuanian independence day in a non-state-sponsored grassroots parade. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

European generation (born 1990s-2010s)

Childhood Differences
They grew up as Lithuania integrated into the European Union. By this time, the libertarian atmosphere dissipated and state (or EU) sponsored adverts promoting various lifestyles and discouraging other viewpoints became common (even if still less so than in the West). Among the many tenets promoted by the EU are children's rights, leading to the popular belief among the elder generations that "Children [of the European generation] know their rights, but not their duties". In particular, issues such as bullying, lack of interest in education, disrespect of parents/teachers (even open insults) seem to be more common in the European generation than in the previous generations (while these generations were children/teenagers). This is usually attributed to the inability of parents and (especially) the schools to discipline misbehaving children. European generation is also the first generation to lack a meaningful direct contact with the Interwar generation. This way they were unable to learn about key nation-forming events such as interwar independence, World War 2 or Soviet Genocide from the primary "living" sources. As such, there came external initiatives to (re)form their collective memory. The European generation also became the first one to have massive childhood exposure to the English language, mainly through modern technologies. At the time of their earliest memories already their families likely had a PC and cell phone or knew someone who had. The economic conditions in Lithuania came closer to those of the Western world. All this meant that the difference between these children and their age-peers in the West ("Generation Z") was smaller than between any two previous generations, however, it still existed. Likewise, the differences between ethnic Lithuanians and the ethnic minorities within this generation are much less pronounced than in the earlier generations as they all grew up in a rather uniform post-Soviet society. Furthermore, the particular Lithuanian-Westerner differences have shifted: while the previous generations grew up as far more home-bound than their Westerner counterparts (never traveling, for instance), the European generation is less home-bound than its Western counterparts (due to having more emigrant relatives); while the previous generations grew in a more culturally divisive environment than their Western counterparts, the European generation grew in a less culturally divisive environment than their Western counterparts (as the Soviet occupation ended and the ethnic cohesion increased, while few new immigrants came to Lithuania). COMPARED TO THE WESTERNERS OF SAME AGE, most people of Lithuania of the European generation...
*Are less attached to their home or homeland (due to the emigrant parents or other relatives most of them have).
*Are nearly all born in Lithuania (immigration to Lithuania was especially low during their childhood years, thus there are nearly no people of this generation who live in Lithuania yet are not born there or not born to Lithuanian citizen parents).
*Care far less about the "class", ethnic, gender or racial differences (as their upbringing depended little on the ethnicity or class and such differences were much less pronounced in Lithuania than in the Western world at the time).
*Are more pro-Western-integration (as Lithuania suffered no immigrant-related crime and other problems of cultural globalization during their childhood).

Unlike the previous generations, the European generation has adopted Western musical and other styles. Their preferences have relatively little difference from their peers in the West.

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