Ann Traitor (History), presented at the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS) conference at the Univeristy of Pennyslvania in May 2016. The presentation was entitled: “Yours, Mine or Ours? Gruto Parkas, Ariogala and the Control of Lithuanian Historical Memory.”
In the summer of 1991, shortly after the re-instatement of Lithuanian independence, a loosely organized group of former exiles, political prisoners and freedom fighters organized a small gathering in the town of Ariogala. Their purpose was to dedicate a new brick chapel, built by a former messenger in the Partisan War, in the memory of fallen partisans. The day was celebrated with songs, poems and tales of remembrance. The following August, the gathering took place again but on a grander scale. People met at the church, registered, and looked for others they had known while in exile. This annual meeting grew larger in the ensuing years, bringing politicians, priests and news crews. While the Ariogala gathering was slowly gaining momentum, another contender for the holder of national memory arrived on the scene. In 2001, Viliumas Malinauskas opened his Soviet statue park, “Gruto Parkas” with much fanfare, press coverage and actors dressed as Lenin and Stalin. It proved incredibly popular almost immediately as “a fun day out” for visitors as it boasts a playground, Young Pioneer café and souvenir shop. Both of these places are competing for the control of national memory. The paper focused on that competition itself, on the ways historical memory has been co-opted by the two groups and the potential future paths for both organizations.