Sunday, July 1, 2018

Lithuania’s Recognition of Paganism as Official Religion ‘a Hidden Threat’ to Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Historically, Russians have viewed the Roman Catholicism of the Lithuanians as a threat to Orthodox civilization just as they do that faith in the case of Poland. But now some Russians are worried that Lithuania may constitute another religious “threat” to Russia because Vilnius appears set to declare paganism an officially recognized denomination.

            The Lithuanian parliament’s national security committee has given its blessing to the recognition of the Romuva community of the faith of the ancient Balts despite its “spiritual and organizational ties” with Russian pagans. Indeed, Sergey Orlov of Moscow’s Svobodnaya pressa implies, the influence could run the other way (

            Some Lithuanians have opposed recognizing the old belief because of its links with Russia, he continues; but leaders of the Romuva say that their organization “does not have special ties with the Russian Federation.” Instead, it “maintains relations with analogous organizations from various countries.”

            Lithuanian historian Arvidas Anuskauskas says that links between the pagans of Lithuania and those of Russia go back into the depths of time given their common focus on nature and their remarkably similar sets of divinities. He says that no one in Vilnius is going to be able to break the two apart.

            “In June 1998,” Orlov says, “the first world pagan forum took place in Vilnius.” Why there? According to its organizers, Lithuania was chosen because it was “the last country in Europe which was Christianized” and because the old faith continues to live under the surface for many Lithuanians. Many Russian pagans took part in that meeting.

            The Soviet government persecuted pagans, but the post-Soviet Russian one has generally ignored them, while in Lithuania, there is now a chance that the old faith will be allowed to conduct marriages and to provide religious instruction in the schools if parents and pupils ask for that.

            “Lithuanian pagans played an important role in the struggle for the independence of the republic,” Orlov continues; and their representatives soon populated leading intellectual centers like the Vilnius Institute of Philosophy and Sociology” where they often promoted the idea of links with pagans in other countries, including Russia.

            There has been significant popular support for this because Lithuanian and Russian pagans worship the same pagan gods. The thunder god in Lithuania is Perkunas, while in Russia, he is identified as Perun, obviously a closely related term.  Other deities and practices are also common.

            But the way in which paganism has penetrated public life in Lithuania and the way in which that penetration could extend to Russia is reflected in the name of the recent and largest ever military exercises conducted in that Baltic country. Called “Perkunas’ thunder,” they were organized together with NATO to defend against “’a Russian invasion.’”

            Orlov does not discuss the possibility that Lithuania’s pagans will become an offensive weapon in the hands of the West, but the title he gives to his article, “The Hidden Threat of the Lithuanian Pagans,” certainly indicates that such a possibility is very much on his mind – and probably on the minds of others in Moscow as well.

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