The Making of Modern Lithuania
This book argues that – contrary to contemporary Lithuanian nationalist rhetoric – Lithuanian nationalism was modern and socially constructed in the period from the emergence of the Lithuanian national movement in the late nineteenth century to the birth of an independent state in 1918. The book brings into sharp focus those aspects of the history of Lithuania that earlier commentators had not systematically explored: it shows how, in this period, the nascent political elite fashioned its own and the emerging nation’s identity. Moreover, factors such as the elite’s social isolation, educational experience, marital strategies and narrowly based, fragmented and uncoordinated political activities were crucial factors in shaping identity and nation-building. It demonstrates how the elite was often in conflict with the peasantry, the religious establishment and other ethnic groups, and how critical considerations such as class, religion, displacement and ethnicity – rather than national ideology – were. The book’s conclusion that Lithuanian nationalism is a construct emerging from modern social forces is highly significant for understanding nationalism and contemporary political developments in Eastern Europe more generally.
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Reviewed in 2010feb CHOICE.
There was nothing inevitable about the emergence of the modern Lithuanian nation. According to Balkelis, "the process of the formation of the new Lithuanian state was uneven and riddled with various difficulties, paradoxes and alternatives." He explores these in seven chapters that discuss, among other things, the emergence of a patriotic intelligentsia and its pivotal role in the national movement, the 1905 revolution and the subsequent focus on cultural work, the women's issue, and the nation building that took place during WW I. Balkelis (Univ. of Manchester) smartly rejects the teleological approach to national formation typified by nationalist intellectuals and effectively shows how the creation of the Lithuanian nation was contingent, fraught with tensions (intellectuals versus the idealized peasantry, "progressives" versus "regressives," secular activists versus Catholic clergy), and in the final analysis "essentially an anti-Polish project." Based on the writings of the Lithuanian intelligentsia (newspapers, journals, memoirs, diaries) during the period of national formation and demonstrating a thorough acquaintance with secondary works in several languages, this important book immediately takes its place as the standard work on the making of the Lithuanian nation while being a welcome addition to the growing literature on nationalism.
Summing Up: Essential. Graduate students, faculty. -- K. C. O'Connor, Gonzaga University