Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Grutas Park ~ Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Good as a scratching pole, too. 
We left at 10 a.m. in the pouring rain to Grutas Park. By the time we got there the rain was just a drizzle.

Grutas Park is a bizarre creation, a theme park devoted to Lenin and the era (1941-1990) when the USSR imposed communist rule onto Lithuania.  So how come the first thing we saw when we walked in was a llama?

cute bears in an awful cage

Imagine a family-oriented park in the country complete with a few farm animals lolling around the pasture, a zoo with cages of fowl and mammals, a restaurant, picnic tables, swings and other simple playground equipment good for 3-8 year olds.

Soviet-era music resonates
through the trees from old
prison watchtower.
These are set alongside a black-topped path through the woods alongside a stream.  Every few yards appear the actual statues of Lenin, mostly, but also other Soviet leaders and heroes and “ideal types” (Soviet partisans, well-muscled and attractive farmers) that had been placed in public spaces in Lithuania and nearby Baltic states. 

huge Soviet partisans

Written explanations (in Lithuanian, Russian, and English) give a short biography of the person’s life and the achievements that merited the statue-making, acts like “ordered the deaths of 5,000 Lithuanians in such-and-such forest in 1956-1960” or “responsible for sending 30,000 to imprisonment in Siberia” or “committed acts of genocide.”   (Genocide?  Did the Soviets commit acts of genocide in Lithuania?  Hmm. . . . More on that tomorrow.)

Stalin and Jackson
There were also several inside exhibit rooms alongside the path with explicit displays of Soviet-era art work, uniforms, medals, souvenirs, and other items upon which were imprinted pro-communist symbols or messages.  One exhibit displayed world and local newspaper articles reporting Soviet oppression, criminal trials, and violence from diverse perspectives.  There were copies of horrific photographs that the communist regime would put on display, showing the fate of Lithuanian resisters who had been caught. 

Here’s the idea behind the combination family-fun-learn-about-communism-outing:  the little kids play and see the animals while Mom and Dad and teenagers absorb lessons about the cruel and despicable Soviet rule.  We were both little kids and adults at Grutas Park. 

The bus ride there and back, in our cozy and comfy bus, was an occasion for catching up on much-needed sleep!  Leonardas stopped at the side of the road so we could buy wild strawberries and blue berries from the sellers.  He got us around a clogged street by driving down the left-hand side of the highway and then moving back just in time.  

Back in Vilnius, we had free time.  Some went souvenir shopping in the on-and-off rain, some ate, some stayed in the hostel and wondered where everyone else was.  Vilnius was nearly closed-down at the end of its national holiday.  Us, too. 
soccer ball with the colors of
the national flag of Lithuania

That night most people hung out in the common room and watched the World Cup. 

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