Foreign myths about Lithuania 2021

Controversy or exaggeration

Themes: Food Gender Humor controversy Language National identity Violence

Humour form/genre: Video

Humour mechanisms: Exaggeration Grotesque Humorous stereotype Parody Status reversal

Country: Lithuania

Author: Rita Repšienė

Affiliation: University of Vilnius

Foreign Myths about Lithuania

“What do we see here?”

This is a video that builds a pseudo-coherent narrative from misleading myths, beliefs, historical facts, famous phrases, rumours and interpretations related to Lithuania. This is also a visual response to an official video presentation of Lithuania in 2009:

The humorous video is narrated in a crude English accent by the actor Vytautas Rumšas, and constitutes a parody of principal facts, for example, about historical and cultural priorities, heritage myths, etc.

Starting with the name of Lithuania as being “unpronounceable” in English, a series of non-facts follow, some political – e.g. Lithuania is reported to be part of the Soviet Union, and others geographical such as Riga being its capital city, and that the country was apparently “established by lesbian and gay community of America somewhere near Hawaii”. As to the name “Lithuania” (Lituae), it was actually first mentioned in 1009 AD in the Annals of Quedlinburg, which recorded the death of St. Brunon of Querfurt – the video mock-interprets it as the country being “the pagan murder place of Saint Brunon”.

In the film we can see different products with Russian names, and the narrator claims “all Lithuanians speak Russian, but after independence they invented their own language called Lithuanian” and the clip shows a sign language lesson.

The film is largely self-deprecating and mentions the “fact” that “according to some novelist”, Lithuania is a country without electricity (the reference is to Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections, 2001), and the narrator claims that it is curious how they manage to have internet and e-mail (the clip shows men pedalling bicycles riders in a sports shop “producing electricity”).

Darkness, rain and cold are said to be the synonyms of Lithuania, and “winters are so hard that foreigners wonder how big is the population of Lithuanian penguins.” “In winter time”, all Lithuanians are said to live in the cities, in the “multilevel buildings” (referring to high-rise flats) from the Soviet times. Their city life is also complicated, with no normal cars, only old Skodas or Zigulis (cars from the Soviet era), and salaries paid in stones. However, in the summer time they are said to live “in forest”, even “on big trees”, and often encounter packs of wolves, and live on mushrooms, berries, and even sand. The video refers to other Lithuanian stereotypes and even archetypes: Lithuanians live in families with ten children, all Lithuanian girls are blond with blue eyes and “look like fashion models” and are mostly cabaret dancers; they have pale skin because they feed on potatoes, and they dress in leaves “because of clothing lack” (the Russian accent is clearly extended to intended grammatical errors).

Referring to the notorious comment by Mel Gibson about Lithuanians, male Lithuanians with sharp teeth crawl up across the beach into houses, armed with golf clubs. Relatedly, they are “proud of Hannibal Lecter’s Lithuanian origin” (he was the film character born in the ancient castle of Vilnius). Lithuanians are to be the last pagans in Europe, drinking so much vodka that they are all “potential alcoholics”.

Travellers are advised to bring candles, as there are only two hours of daylight, as well as toilet paper, books, and everything they want to eat as all local products were exposed to radiation during the Chernobyl incident. They are also asked to bring their flak jackets as they can “meet random shot in the street” and keep their passports on them all the time, because “Soviets can occupy Lithuania any time without any reason”.

Finally, the original advertising message “Welcome to Lithuania” is converted into “Don’t go to Lithuania unless you want to bust all these myths”, and a reference is made here to a Hollywood documentary Mythbusters.

Which public issue is being addressed here?

The issue raised in the video concerns Lithuania’s official promotional video, which, like other videos of this kind, is artificial and uses a stilted template to show the country according to generally assumed standards. In the parody video, history, heritage, and culture are shown in another, more conceptual way via humour and sarcasm. Following this idea, it is not only a foreign audience that is considered the essential addressee (the video ends with tips for travellers). Local viewers that like to reflect on national history, heritage, culture and traditions in a more original light, or viewers from neighbouring countries can also enjoy the video. It brings to light national problems and peculiarities, especially stereotypes and prejudices, that are emphasised in an exaggerated way.

What does the humour do?

The humour arises from the discrepancy between historical facts and prevailing attitudes, images and falsifications, supplemented by original tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic interpretations. In the parody video, materials which derive from historical sources, Soviet-era documentaries, and online information are inconsistent with the laconic and factual information about the present time, and create a sense of obvious “misunderstanding”. The development of a dystopian approach to Lithuania encourages a focus on straightforward as well as concealed humour as an opportunity to understand the deeper reality behind sarcasm, controversy, or exaggeration that is not just black and white. There is also a grey area in our understanding and evaluation of the facts presented in the video.