'Hello, Lenin!': Sensing The Proletarian Past at a Lithuanian Side-Show of Socialism
Anthropology University of Regina Regina, SK, Canada
Distancing itself from logocentric methodologies that privilege narrative and text in memory research, this paper argues for the importance of the senses in practices of social recall. Its principal ethnographic focus is on Grütas, a Lithuanian park museum commemorating the nation's recent socialist history through recuperated Soviet-era artifacts. This open-air museum is explored as a place of public memory where Lithuanian socialism is remembered through visual representations (recovered statues of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, among many others ), as well as by implicating the sense of taste ('Soviet' drinks and dishes served at the museum's café).
It is suggested that the senses of sight and taste at Grtas activate differing (and at times conflicting) memories of socialism. While seeing the Soviet era objectified in visual representations conjures up reminiscences of trauma and victimhood, tasting that past engenders more nostalgic recollections of it. It is further argued that Grütas, as a kind of side-show of socialism, constitutes a visual and gustatory critique of Lithuania's increasingly 'capitalist' and commodified present. It is also proposed that collective memory in today's Eastern Europe affords a productive ethnographic site in which to investigate the ambiguities and paradoxes of the ongoing systemic transformation in the aftermath of communist rule.