RIGA - Forming a picture of this part of the world – the lands surrounding the Baltic Sea – can be done from many different perspectives: be it history, economic, politics, the environment. Looking through the eyes of a philosopher, though, may be the most revealing, and one that ties it all together.
Leonidas Donskis, the European parliamentarian, deep thinker, writer and, ultimately, philosopher, in his book 99 Baltic Stories takes us on a journey around the northern Baltic Sea and further, one centered on his home town of Klaipeda but not limited by geography.
He doesn’t hide the fact that the book is autobiographical. How could it not be? “We’re made out of the memories that other people leave us with no less than [what] we’ve personally gone through.”
In the book - yes, a collection of 99 vignettes all with a connection to Donskis’ birthplace - he addresses the question ‘What is Klaipeda today? What is in its history that has been lost, preserved, created?’
For the author, the city is undergoing a rebirth after the destruction wrought by WWII and the facelessness under decades of Soviet occupation.
All coastal cities reflect not only their tie to the sea, but straddle a boundary between two worlds, looking out to a “new reality and the dream of freedom,” he writes. It is this openness that marks Klaipeda, and its inhabitants, today.
What are these stories?
One comes from Donskis’ student days, confirming in his eyes the belief that all life in Klaipeda is a “jazz improvisation.” When the musician Boris Grebenshchikov was giving a concert at the Klaipeda Conservatory, the audience apparently wasn’t very enthusiastic for the “contemplative, deep lyrics and tender ballads” they were listening to. So when the sounds of a jam session from the nearby Jazz Department were heard, applause erupted with the crowd demanding more. This Jazz Department, the only one in the Baltics in those years, introduced and guided the young Donskis through the world of jazz.
In another, the author expresses a special reverence for the Swedish island of Gotland and the “two geniuses of the cinema [that] gave nature a different form of being” there. He’s referring to Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky, both of whom filmed on the island. They both were “Creators of a language of art, a form of culture, perhaps even a form of consciousness.” Faro, the little island favored by Bergman, was well-known for its “special light… The rocks, sun, and water [that] create a shining and a mood that are quickly picked up even by those who do not hold a camera in their hands.” From this, I begin to imagine the islands’ beauty.
One can’t discuss the Baltics and philosophy without mentioning the “genius of Konigsberg, Immanuel Kant.” Perhaps planting the seed of a future European Union, Donskis writes that Kant’s political treatises “may be regarded as fundamental theoretical premonitions and visions of a unified Europe.” This in 1795. “Another brilliant idea of Kant’s,” writes the author, is that “without freedom higher morality is impossible, that freedom as mutual recognition and self-determination rather than barbaric arbitrariness is the only thing enabling humankind to become moral.” The Baltic region was, indeed, a center of thought and instrumental in Europe’s path to modernity.
Donskis draws the reader in from start to finish, one story leading to the next. He builds a tapestry rich in history, culture, science, what defines his ‘Klaipedian,’ and one that provides an example for all of us.
Book available at: /goto/shop.efoto.lt/knygos/99-baltijos-istorijos.