Vytautas Landsbergis, president of the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament), spoke at the Library of Congress on June 19 at an event commemorating the 450th anniversary of the first Lithuanian book, the Catechismus, of Martynas Mazvydas. Cosponsored by the Embassy of Lithuania, the European Division and the Library's Office of Interpretive Programs (IPO), the event also marked the opening of a display in the new European Reading Room of selected treasures from the Library's Lithuanian collections.
Irene Chambers, director of IPO, welcomed Mr. Landsbergis and Lithuanian Ambassador Alfonsas Eidintas, and showed them the Lithuanian items in the Library's display, which included 19th and 20th century editions of classics published in Lithuania and the United States, and a facsimile of a map showing Lithuania in the 15th century.
John Van Oudenaren, chief of the European Division, introduced the speaker and noted that while many visitors to the Library were prominent in the field of culture while others had made their mark in politics, Mr. Landsbergis was remarkable for his achievements in both areas. A musicologist by profession, Mr. Landsbergis was elected to the Council of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union in 1989 and subsequently led Lithuania to independence in the early 1990s.
Mr. Landsbergis's remarks emphasized the interaction among nation, language, religion and the book. "Any book is a created innovation and, simultaneously, an accumulation and reflection of different things that existed before it. Books store and convey the knowledge and the wisdom of the people's community and the whole humanity. A book becomes a written message of a nation and a continuation of its spirit, and this gives another stimulus for a new creative work."
He explained that the Catechismus was organized in four parts. "The introductory part, about the purpose of work, is a dedication to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, an encouragement and an explanation in Latin to Lithuanian priests, and then there is the famous rhymed introduction in Lithuanian -- a speech of 'the little book itself' 'to the Lithuanians and the Samogitians.' "
The book's second part deals with the teaching of reading and writing in the Lithuanian language: a short primer that contains an explanation of "vowels, diphthongs and consonants," and advice on teaching children to read.
The third and main part of the book contains religious texts: "the Ten Commandments, the Credo, the Lord's Prayer, the Sacraments and also the fifth stanza of the catechism 'about the law of stewards, life of every man, how one should live in his standing by the will of God.' These are the principles or rules to the rich, the farmers and the servants, men, women and children, their mutual obligations." The final section of the book, Mr. Landsbergis noted, is a book of hymns and music, with explanations by Mazvydas.
"This first book marked the start of the Lithuanian written language, which in itself meant many other starts. ..."
"The first Lithuanian guide to religious beliefs came into being, which, among other things, contained the rules of a Christian way of life, indeed, the 'instructions' for all ranks and classes, as if representing some moral code."
Mr. Landsbergis went on to note that Mazvydas's pastoral, cultural and educational work formed a valuable part of the Baltic region's heritage. "Lithuania survived for the reason that there was the Lithuanian language, because there was the book, and because there was Mazvydas. Truly it is marvelous that there was a man whose name was Mazvydas."