New East Digital Archive

Dawn chorus: Lithuania in the light of a new day

Photographer Norman Behrendt first visited Lithuania in September 2015. “I had neither great expectations and nor an exact idea of the small Baltic state, which has almost as many inhabitants as Berlin,” he admits. During his stay in Kaunas and Vilnius he decided to explore the visual surroundings, trying to understand contemporary Lithuanian identity. Lithuania was the first Soviet republic which declared itself independent and is celebrating 26 years of regained sovereignty this year. The country’s been a member of the European Union since 2004. Last year it adopted the Euro as the official currency and became a part of the Eurozone. The country is increasingly leaving behind its Soviet past and moving towards Europe, but what does it mean for its day to day life? “I remember Lithuania as a country with plenty of wild apple trees, dozens of small apples hanging on crowded branches, and as a quiet laid-back place. The streets were not busy, people were not in a rush and took their time to make conversation”, Behrendt remembers. “It feels as if Lithuania is in a moment of change. As it’s facing the future and seeking economic growth, the past becomes a burden. One can see a lot of modernisation, especially in the New City Centre of Vilnius. However, the past is still visible, in wooden houses all over Vilnius and hundreds of identical Soviet apartment blocks in the outskirts of the city.” Behrendt’s series is not a mere depiction of the changing nation, it also captures the soft light and the quiet lyricism at the point where the urban and rural merge. “The title for my series, Morning has not dawned yet, is taken from a traditional folk song, a Lithuanian daino. These traditional dainos are widely known among Lithuanians and form a basic part of Lithuanian identity. Singing is indispensable to Lithuanians. It also refers back to “The Singing Revolution”, a national and nonviolent movement in the Baltic States between 1987 and 1991, where unarmed Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians fought for their countries, freedom, and independence in face of the Soviet occupation by singing songs.”