Lithuanian Diaspora in Kazakhstan: Devaluation of Cultural Heritage and Mercantilization of Ethnic Identity

Jolanta Kuznecovienė (Lithuanian University of Health Sciences)

The research on the forced migration of Lithuanians to the former Soviet Union in the 1940s and early 1950s has revealed a wide range of issues. Most studies are similar in terms of the sample chosen, which consists of the former prisoners of Gulag and deportees who have returned to Lithuania; however, usually they disregard those who stayed behind. Accordingly, the Lithuanian diaspora that emerged after the forced migration in Kazakhstan in the 1960s and 1970s have not been studied in detail.

In this presentation, I aim to answer two questions: How can the ethnic identification of the Lithuanian diaspora in Kazakhstan be determined? How is generational memory used for this purpose?

My research has revealed that the normativisation of ethnicity implied by the post-Soviet Kazakhstani state, adopted by our informants, eliminates its cultural content and devalues cultural heritage as a resource of ethnic identity, or in most cases, reduces it to the forms evident in festive culture. As a result, ethnic identity is constructed on the basis of the sole criterion, the Lithuanian descent, which is enacted by familial and generational memory and expressed through “roots and blood.”

For most of our informants, “roots” are just a fact of origin, as shown in the practice of entering Lithuanian ethnicity in personal documents, an officially required practice in Kazakhstan. Thus, ethnicity, seen as in-rooted and also as culture-less, invites a whole spectrum of manipulations on ethnic identity. One such manipulation is mercantilization of ethnic identity attempting to profit from it.

The use of Lithuanianness as a resource for gaining benefits in the form of Lithuanian citizenship and the right to repatriate to Lithuania, is probably the most frequent factor in “becoming” Lithuanian by activating familial and generational memory and remembering one’s Lithuanian roots and in this way, activating one’s Lithuanianness.