Rediscovering real society

  • 2009-05-21
  • By Adam Mullett

WORKING BEE: Talka is a tradition whereby community members lend each other a helping hand. Its origins come from beekeepers who would share their honey as bees moved from one hive to another.

VILNIUS - Countries like the Baltics that were released from communism and thrown headlong into capitalism have seen a rollercoaster of social changes 's many of which have had largely negative consequences on people, their family life and the fabric of society.
"Sharp capitalism," one commentator said, has led Lithuania down a dark path to where people are making short-term decisions and looking to make a quick buck. In the meantime, they have sacrificed many important things in their lives.

A revolution is at hand, however, with citizens of the country getting together to engage in the ancient form of community life 's the "talka."
The dictionary translation of talka is "voluntary, unpaid work performed collectively."
"This is a reunion of people who know each other 's could be relatives or friends. They get together to do work that requires a lot of physical strength. In a village, if you help someone, they will help you later 's this is an exchange," Audrius Jokubauskas, a dairy farmer who produces cheese products for ecological markets, told The Baltic Times.

"It comes from the communal relationship in kinship societies and peasant societies like the Lithuanian villages. It was not only for farming and hard work, but it is also done for construction 's in the same way," associate professor Vytis Ciubrinskas, head of the Social Anthropology center at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, told TBT.

The conditions are right for a comeback of the talka to Lithuanian society.
"This culture of favors comes from an economy of shortages 's in both goods and services. There is not enough to go around, so one is a dentist and one is a butcher 's one gives a sausage through the back door and one fixes the teeth," Ciubrinskas said.
"Actually the main change happened with capitalism 's with the money and the market economy. The talka comes from the economy before money and before the market 's it is another model of behavior."

Jokubauskas said talka, which is a vital element of the country's peasant farming traditions, has disappeared since independence because farmers and people are no longer reliant on each other for help.
"In the modern farm, people invested money and got tractors and machines, so they need no more help from outside anymore."

Ciubrinskas said that the mythological bee has a lot to do with the culture of talka. Beekeepers in neighboring  farms would have hives, but the bees would not stay in their original hives. When the bees moved from one hive to another, the neighbor with the honey was expected to donate some back to his neighbor in return for the bees.
This in turn led to a culture of helping one another. Social interaction is an integral part of talka and the community, Jokubauskas said.

"[Not needing help] lets them avoid talka and communications, which is sometimes difficult 's sometimes you have to invite people to help you that you don't like 's the technology offers the alternative."


This lack of communication has led to a slow disintegration of society as people have known it for centuries.
Rainer Nolvak, a hugely successful entrepreneur from Estonia, has declared his new passion in life to be helping others. He recently organized a coordinated clean up in Estonia and is the creator of the Bank of Happiness.

"Once upon a time, work used to connect us and was part of the culture. Suddenly with all this money and capitalism, people are feeling sort of alone 's the chance to do something collectively to be together for a good reason and without money, this is the thing," he said on BBC World Service.
"What we found out is that if you do something good it feels good and this is something that we have lost. We lost it in Eastern Europe trying to be like the West."
Nolvak's mass clean up in Estonia was hailed as a success. Both Lithuania and Latvia performed similar clean ups.

Darom '09, the mass clean up talka in Lithuania, went well with an estimated 100,000 people getting outdoors to beautify their country.
"I think it was a great success this year 's we gathered about 100,000 people with around 50,000 registered people who will get a tree planted in their honor," Vytautas Krasnickas, Darom '09 project leader, told TBT.

"There will be a forest for them and we will plant trees 's we hope it will be seen from the cosmos. Everybody will see how the trees are growing 's there will be pictures."
Krasnickas said the loneliness of people, particularly in cities, was part of the reason why Darom '09 was so successful.

"People were very satisfied with their actions afterwards and they wanted to come out to the public places and help. Everybody cares 's but they won't do it if the neighbors don't 's it needs to be a team and so when other people go outside, then they go outside together."
"Talka for Lithuania is a celebration of nature and the rebirth of nature. For Darom, they wanted to participate in making their environment more beautiful. 100 years ago, people would clean their surroundings in the spring. Even old people went out and cleaned their surroundings."


There is still passive resistance to the old ways, though.
Despite the hard work and initiative taken by Krasnickas and his team, there were very few in the country that cared to sponsor the project. Krasnickas said that the MTV TV channel was the only media organization to get behind the event and promote it regularly.
"The worst part was we didn't get any support 's we did it from our own money. We used the media with MTV and the press. Other people didn't help us. TV3 and LNK didn't help 's they didn't want to support us for free."

"Now that we have a crisis, we have this sharp capitalism, but everybody wants to get money from us for that 's our team changed seven times because the idealistic people left. It was really hard. Some companies supported us, but not too much," he added.
Despite the poor showing from media entities, Krasnickas is optimistic about the future.
"I think it is really changing and we see that in our society 's it would have been really hard if we did this five years ago 's it was real wild capitalism then in Lithuania," he said.
"I think our society has become more and more postmodern 's we don't think so much about money 's this is not comparable with Western Europe, but I see young people that don't care about just money," he added.

Nolvak said, to his great surprise, that his quest for riches hadn't brought him happiness.
"Happiness is not the word to use [about money] 's it gives me a ton of worries. Once you get into the position where you can choose what to do 's it is all about doing things that help others and making yourself useful 's this makes me happy."
Not all the changes in society can be chalked up to capitalism. Ciubrinskas said he was surprised at the level of community when he went to the U.S.A.

"I witnessed a large hurricane in Illinois with trees falling down and many things had fallen down. Many people came to help 's brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends of those brothers and sisters."
"So what was the reward? Actually nothing 's it was just thanks, but later down the road they might go and help others. It helps to make a closer kinship and neighborhood who really feel that obligation to help," he said.

The culture of Lithuania is in a state of flux, however, and can't be defined at present.
"The social life of Lithuanian people is different 's there is the lack of civic society and open society, the traditional society. It is something in progress; we can't tell what the mood is. It is sometimes post communist, post-traditional, sometimes it seems to be open to globalization and Europeanization and they accept things like Halloween and Valentines."