Congratulations! Tomas Venclova responds to his newest honor

"Above all, love language" (Photo: Dylan Vaughan)

“Above all, love language” (Photo: Dylan Vaughan)

Preeminent Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova has been named an honorary citizen of Vilnius … but wait!  Why does he need honorary citizenship?  His family moved to Vilnius from Klaipėda when he was quite young, and he attended Stefan Batory University (now Vilnius University) in the city, as did his friend Czesław Miłosz.

Oh, that’s right.  He was more or less kicked out.  He was active the dissident movement, hence,  he was “deprived of Soviet citizenship,” which means he had to leg it out of his native land in 1977.  I believe he spends part of the year in Vilnius,  as well as in Kraków and New Haven, Conn., where he is now an emeritus professor at Yale.  Well, he gets around a lot.

From a Lithuanian news site:

Vilnius City Council unanimously decided to name Tomas Venclova, a Lithuanian poet, publicist and translator, an honorary citizen of Vilnius.

“Vilnius deserves to have the right and reason to be proud of the fact that such an outstanding figure came of age in the city; by naming Tomas Venclova an honorary citizen of Vilnius, the ties between the poet and his beloved city will be strengthened forever,” the Directorate of Vilnius Memorial Museums said in its nomination letter.

35 years ago, Venclova published his correspondence with Czeslaw Milosz, another celebrated writer born in Vilnius [not true, he was born in Szetejnie – ED], in an essay titled “On Vilnius as a Form of Spiritual Life.” Thanks to this publication, the world learned more about problems of Soviet-occupied Lithuania and Vilnius.

His alma mater, Vilnius University (Photo: C.L. Haven)

His alma mater, Vilnius University (Photo: C.L. Haven)

Venclova will become the 11th honorary citizen of Vilnius.

Wait.  Publicist???  I suppose they’re referring to his top-notch guide to Vilnius, which exists in English.  From his introduction:

…Vilnius has always remained many-faceted and multi-lingual.  It has been and will always be a dialogue city. … The Lithuanian capital reminds one of a palimpsest – an ancient manuscript in which the text reveals traces of an earlier text or even several of them underneath it.  The city is surrounded by a hilly northern landscape: because of abundant forests and lakes it has always appeared somewhat untamed. Throughout the city, up to its very centre, islands of untamed nature can be found.

So what does it mean to be a citizen of the city you have lived in so many years?  I sought quick clarification from the poet himself.  He wrote back yesterday from Berlin:

Dear Cynthia,

There are eleven honorary citizens of Vilnius, including Milosz (for whom the  city was also home for decades). The list includes Reagan and Brzezinski; that may look a bit awkward (they helped Lithuanians in the fight for independence).

Winner takes nothing, except the right to participate in the meetings of the city council (nobody ever insisted on that privilege). City also provides for the upkeep of his/her grave. In case of Reagan, the last provision is obviously void.


Well, there you have it.  From the horse’s mouth.

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One Response to “Congratulations! Tomas Venclova responds to his newest honor”

  1. Web of Stories Says:

    Listen to Tomas Venclova talk about his life in a recording he made for Web of Stories on