Forget NASA’s mind-boggling Mars program and the European Space Agency’s far-reaching goals for space exploration and human spaceflight. Lithuania’s down to earth Moletai, a rural town with a mere 7,000 inhabitants in the northeast, prides itself on a unique Ethno-Cosmology Museum, the essence of which is a human being’s and humanity’s relations with the cosmic world. It is the only museum of its kind in the world. The unique museum includes a first-class observatory capable of penetrating the sky a million years back in time, and flying saucer shaped structures, which recently have been refurbished thanks to the exuberant 71 year-old Gunaras Kakaras, director of the museum. He has been known as a highly extraordinary, unworldly man, but if called an alien, he shakes his head chuckling. The Baltic Times attempted to retrieve some “unworldly” secrets from this cosmos crank.
Is Ethno-Cosmology a kind of science or cultural history, embracing human relations with the Universe?
The concept itself encompasses both. From a scientific point of view, Ethno-Cosmology seeks links between national traditions and the cosmic world in Lithuanian ethnicity and cultural heritage. From a cultural standpoint, the Ethno-Cosmology Museum is more than just ethnic relations. It involves human’s and all humankind relations with the cosmic world.
Are you proud of being the beginner of uncharted waters, not only in Lithuania, but worldwide?
Why should I be? It is not about my ego or egocentricity. It has never been that way.
How did you come up with the idea to establish this kind of museum in the rural town of Moletai?
The concept was cherished and nurtured step-by-step. Being a schoolboy at a Soviet school, I was very keen on the world above us. Thus, after graduating from Vilnius University with a degree in physics, I took up a position at Vilnius Observatory. However, it was located in a busy, noisy, dusty place, absolutely unsuitable for an observatory. We went checking out many locations in Lithuania, but we did not like any of them. Ultimately, in the late ’60s, we came across Moletai, a rural district in northern Lithuania. The location was much less affected by light pollution, dust; most importantly, the slopes of the mountain were rather steep. The mountain was towering over its surroundings and, besides, heat-wise, it was inert, which means it cools off and warms up slowly.
Thus, according to the criteria, the location was almost ideal. Initially we built an astronomical observatory, but later there was built a public museum on “ethno-cosmology” – a new scientific discipline that situates humanity and our planet within the wider context of the universe. To our surprise, people started coming. Not only from Lithuania, they were coming from the whole former Soviet Union. I’ve always nurtured the concept of the museum as being accessible to all people, the way the sky, the stars, the sun and the planets are available to everyone. However, I do not want to be credited solely for establishing the museum. My counterpart, Libertas Klimka, a physicist by profession, has been much engaged in its founding, particularly focusing on ethnology. Thus, combining his “earthly” inclination for ethnology and my “unworldly” interest in cosmos, the commencement to “ethno-cosmology” was given.
What are the numbers of your visitors?
We used to have, on average, 20,000 – 25,000 visitors per year. We see an increasing flow every year, particularly after its reconstruction in 2008. Thus, in 2009, we had nearly 50,000 visitors. Speaking about the visitors, I want to point out that they are provided with only a one and a half hour guided tour.
What kind of work has been done during the reconstruction?
The reconstruction was possible due to the European Union’s contribution of 20 million litas (5.7 million euros), as Lithuania’s government allocated 10 million litas. The original structure – exhibition premises and two tall steel towers perched atop a hill, connected by underground galleries – was left mainly unchanged. The towers, however, were covered with reinforced concrete walls, to make them rigid enough to support a new ellipse-shaped viewing platform made of glass and steel. At the bottom of the towers and connected to them, a three-story irregular truncated cone was built from cast reinforced concrete. Another building shaped like a flying saucer, with a tower that mirrors the other two, was built lower down the hill to house the museum. We still are working on supplementing the exposition. I cherish some other nice ideas though.
Can you mention them?
Well, first of all, the aforementioned 30 million litas for the reconstruction is only a small part of a larger concept. If everything goes as planned, I would like to expand the museum’s outdoor exposition by building an ancient Lithuanian Stonehenge. As we have so many weird-looking stones and boulders in our countryside, I nurture the idea of collecting the most interesting of them and forming a mystic calendar-like circle, with an analogue which was unearthed in Birute mountain. I have some grand, fantasy related ideas that fire me up as well. Since our museum focuses on human relations with the cosmic world, not only in a spiritual way but physical as well, I am cherishing the idea of expanding the current museum’s exposition to an international cosmic achievements exhibit. As there are ten countries worldwide implementing their cosmic programs and, therefore, possessing corresponding cosmic achievement expositions at their labs or rocket launching sites, I am about to get in touch with them in order to bring some of their exposition items here.
I heard that recently you amplified the optical capacities of the telescopes available at your museum. How deep can they penetrate into the sky?
We possess two telescopes. The larger one is 80 centimeters in diameter and is well adapted to scientific endeavors. Every visitor can peep through its lenses into the sky. It is hard to answer how deep one can see into the Universe, as the visibility depends on many factors, including the season, the brightness of stars, and other astronomical phenomena.
Maybe Lithuania, in seeking ways to stand out, should acquire a Hubble-like telescope, thus, possibly enabling us to detect some day a habitable planet on the outskirts of our galaxy?
(chuckles) There is no sense for Lithuania to rival the countries capable of launching Hubble-size telescopes into space. Needless to say, the price of this kind of telescope would make up a bulky part of our national budget. However, it does not mean that Lithuania should stay away from the processes in the cosmic field. It could sound interesting that currently, Lithuania’s admission to the European Union’s Cosmic Program is under way. It does not mean that we will start launching rockets soon, but it will give us access to the latest cosmic technologies.
Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?
(grins) Usually, schoolchildren tend to ask me this kind of question. The word “to believe” is absolutely inappropriate here. I know it is out there. Our human life on the planet Earth proves that there should be an abundance of the other forms of extraterrestrial life out there. It is just a matter of time when we will discover it. Otherwise speaking, it is a matter of when human kind will reach such a level of development when alien civilizations will want to respond to our calls. It can take maybe thousands of years or more to make this world-changing contact. The question I raise to myself is how far apart the other forms of life are in the vast expanse of the Universe. The other question is, how much they pass each other not only in space, but in time as well.
There is a biblical legend that an unusually bright star was crossing the sky in the East at Jesus’ birth. Have any unusual celestial phenomena ever led Lithuania’s major historical datelines?
This is not a field of our study. As far as I know, there was nothing like that.
Do Lithuanians possess more manifestations of Ethno-Cosmology in Lithuanian mythology and folklore than its culturally more different northern neighbors, Latvia and Estonia?
The question is very broad. All nations have the reflection of their perception of the Universe in their ethnology. However, that relation in Lithuanian ethnology is perhaps expressed more vividly, brighter and with a great respect to the heavenly objects. No neighboring nation has such a nice, thoughtful song like the Lithuanians, which is about God sauntering in a meadow and rejoicing over its harvest and the Sun that He worships with His cap off. It is a very nice element of folklore. It embodies a universal respect to what is above us and beyond our reach and perception.
Lithuania is called Saint Mary’s land. Is the repute deserved from an ethno-cosmology point of view?
Ethno-Cosmology does not explore this kind of question. As a person, I have my opinion on that, but it puts me into a certain frame. I do not like to be in just any frame. Speaking generally, Lithuanians’ misfortune is that we tend to see the surrounding world too simply and casually, distinguishing just the colors of black and white, or sticking with the answers “yes” or “no.” Scientific knowledge is not about that.
I guess your unworldly rave sends shivers up and down spines of your listeners. Can it be that your human body traps some alien’s mind?
(chuckles) Honestly, I do not feel anything cosmic within myself. However, I wish every man would feel the cosmic first in his mind. When I deliver public speeches, I always stress, to any kind of audience, the incredible shortness of our life on earth. Considering that there have been billions of years before our birth, and the fact that there will be billions of years to come after our death, our life is a blink of the eye. From that point, it makes sense for each of us to seek our spiritual life’s connections with the cosmic world. Only in that sense can life be full and meaningful.
But your first and last names sound alien to Lithuanians. What is your origin?
Well, it does not make me an extraterrestrial, does it? Both my parents were Latvians. However, my ancestors derived from the Swedes.
From a metaphysical point of view, what kind of question is the most important to you? The question of God, subsistence or life’s meaning? Have you answered the questions for yourself?
No, I have not. Answering these kinds of questions put one in a certain frame of mind that does not allow a person to squeeze through. Its outward part is beyond human perception and subsistence, as it is divine, thus, unreachable for human beings. In that context, I would rather stick with the word “the Unknown.” The relation with it has immense respect to it. It leads to your aforementioned questions.
To put it simply, do you believe in God?
I have not answered the question yet, though I am 71 years-old already. All existing religions in the world pay huge respect to the Unknown…
What does the strange amulet on your chest mean?
(laughs) Next question…