BETWEEN THE IDEAS OF LEV TOLSTOY
AND ADAM MICKEWICS
- Levas Vladimirovas comes from mixed family: his father was a Russian Ortodox whose
relatives have lived in Lithuania for 200 years, while his mother was from Samogitia, the
western part of Lithuania.
- Several cultures have merged in the family: his mother was from the Daujotai family, so
her father, like most of the country's nobility, adhered to Polish traditions and spoke
Polish at home. She studied in Bern, came to know the Lithuanian student community and
educated people there, and spoke out for Lithuanian culture.
- His parental grandfather, a pacifist, was a follower of Count Tolstoy's ideas. He had a
large library, of which, unfortunately, only two volumes of A History of Rome have
survived. The rest were burnt by the German during the First World War. His maternal
grandfather was a follower of Adam Mickiewics, the great poet of the Lithuanian and Polish
- "In 1915, when the Germans began their attacks, like most mixed families,
especially intellectuals, we withdrew to Ukraine," explains the professor.
"Three hundred thousand Lithuanian inhabitants fled the country then. We returned to
Siauliai in 1921. Both grandfathers had already died. I inherited my passion for book from
them - they were both bibliophiles".
- The future professor went to primary school in Siauliai. Then, wishing to give their son
a more thorough education and hoping to get him to learn languages, his parents sent him
to study at Herder's Gymnasium in Silute. (The 18th century German writer J.G.Herder was
the first to translate Lithuanian folk songs into a foreign language. This way they became
more widely known.)
- Having left the gymnasium, Vladimirovas enrolled in Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas
to study English and German. However, he got in which difficulty since his certificate did
not contain a mark for religion. The gymnasium he had left was fairly free-thinking:
children would either study religion or not, the decision rested with their parents.
- "My parents were indifferent to religion," says the professor. "We used
to go to church only twice a year: at Christmas my Orthodox father would take me to a
Catholic church, while my Catholic mother and I would go to an Ortodox church at
- Levas Vladimirovas wanted to become a teacher. "However, with a Russia surname I
could hardly expect to get such a job at that time. Therefore, I entered the Faculty of
Economics and got a job with an insurance company where I worked in the sphere of
reinsurance and foreign insurance.
- "This is how a student of arts became an economist. After the occupation of
Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940, I was appointed deputy head of the Republic
Insurance Administration and later transferred to the Finance and Trade Department of the
Planning Committee. During the war I served in the 16th Lithuanian Division, was a company
commander and subsequently deputy chief of staff and chief of the spoils unit of the
division headquarters because I knew German".
AN ACQUAINTANCE WITH AN OLD
- However, a functionary's career in Soviet Lithuania was not to Vladimirovas' liking. One
day the rector of Vilnius University invited him for a visit and said:" I know that
you're a very learned man - both a specialist in humanities and an economist. We have 'an
old maid' at the university. Maybe you could help". "I was also offered a
political career," says the professor, "but I turned it down and became a
- Levas Vladimirovas found the university library very neglected. "A Mont Blanc of
books was looming in the White Hall of the observatory, and the roof leaked. They were not
rubbish but valuable books. I found the first Lithuanian newspaper there.
- "The university library with its long history was one of the richest and most
interesting libraries in the Baltic States. I realised that it had to be handled in a
different manner to other libraries. First, it was necessary to write its history so that
people would know more about it, how valuable it is. The cataloguing was not the sole
important thing in it, even though, certainly, that also had to be done because everything
was mixed up, and it was very difficult to find the book you wanted."
ADVENTURE OR PARTIOTISM?
- Professor Vladimirovas' greatest concern, however, was to restore to the university
library its history - the old publications which after the shutdown of the university by
the Russians in 1832 were removed to the library of the St Petersburg, Kiev and Kharkov.
Even prior to the Second World War there had been attempts to return these book to
Lithuania, but Vilnius was occupied by the Poles, and the Russians refused it discuss this
issue with the Lithuanians.
- Lithuanian historian Juozas Jurginis once said that Vladimirovas reminds him of
Renaissance figures, whose ideas and ambition initially looked like adventures and later
their works were viewed as discoveries. In the beginning, Vladimirovas' desire to reunite
the oldest and most valuable books of the university library seemed adventurous and
- "First of all, I had to establish, according to the archives, where those books
were," recalls the professor." I wasn't alone. I had rallied an excellent team.
We looked both in the Vilnius and Moscow archives. We were very reluctantly admitted to
depositories, but it was absolutely necessary to get in there."
- Having got into the storage of old publications at Lvov University, he pointed with his
finger to where there books that had belonged to Sigismund Augustus, Grand Duke of
Lithuania and King of Poland, brought there from Vilnius, were kept.
- "The desire to return the old books to Lithuania was not shared by Lithuanian
government of that time, it was refereed to as nationalism. However, my Russian name
helped me in this situation. I returned about 15,000 books belonging to Vilnius University
published in the 16th-18th centuries. I had to visit several top Russian officials and
managed to obtain the following resolution from the Soviet minister of culture without the
consent of the Lithuanian government: 'Return to Vilnius University the books and
valuables from museums unless they are important to Russia'. This was a great victory.
- "From the then Lenin Library in Moscow we regained a collection of the rarest
books, with the sole copy of Mikalojus Dauksa's Catechisms among them; also The Apostle
(1525) from Francisco Skorina, the first publisher in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and
others. Collecting documents and confirming the ownership of these books by Vilnius
University also required diplomatic skills."
- The recovery of books from the library of the Leningrad Academy of Science was the most
THE FIRST LITHUANIAN BOOK
- It was only once that Levas Vladimirovas got support from the First Communist Party
Secretary, Antanas Snieckus. This was when hunting down Mazvydas' Catechisms, the first
Lithuanian book, printed in 1547. The fact that this book was in Odessa was reported to
the professor by a colleague.
- "I sent there my female assistant who established the fact that the book was really
there. Then we raised the question of Catechisms with the authorities.
- "Snieckus called his old friend, the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist
Party Central Committee, who he used to hunt with. We traded Catechisms for a big 16th
century atlas, of which we had two copies, and the Third Lithuanian Statute, of which
there were three copies".
- At present only two copies of the book are known: the other one is in Torun, Poland.
This is how the treasures of the University library were collected. The library was
founded by the Jesuit College in 1570, and Sigismund August and other Lithuanian noblemen
donated their collection to it. The history of Vilnius University Library was broken off
in the 19th century, when in 1865 it was replaced by the Vilnius city public library which
had no stock yet. "The stock is a library's blood", claims Levas Vladimirovas
with pride. "Only after the restoration of that stock did it made sense to maintain
that the library had been continuous since 1570."
- From the Lithuania in the world. 1997, No3.
- by Nika Aukstaityte
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