Hostages of politics, or once again about the fate of collections of Vilnius Museum of Antiquities

  • Jolita Mulevičiūtė
Keywords: Vilnius Museum of Antiquities, Vilnius Public Library, Northwestern Krai, Russian Empire, culture, political discourse, nationalism


After suppression of the Polish-Lithuanian uprising of 1863–1864, the government of the Russian Empire initiated political repressions in the territory of Lithuania. One of such repressive measures was the reorganisation of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities, which resulted in the loss of its many valuable pieces, when in 1868 the major part of the collection significant to the local history was brought away to the Rumiancev Museum in Moscow. But after a few decades, the tsarist administration decided to get all historical artefacts back. The article provides a research on this unsuccessful attempt at restitution made in 1907–1910. It gives a possibility to trace a tactical turn from forced political methods of Russian ruling to “soft power” strategies based on cultural techniques. At the beginning of the 20th century, the policy of the Russian Empire in its Western provinces obtained a new quality. According to historians, attempts were made to grow the Russian monarchic nation in the body of the empire and at the same time to respond to self-manifestation of different national groups as to an inevitable fact. This ostensible contradiction was solved by applying the “melting pot” principle. Earlier, the integration of western territories into the imperial structure was implemented by homogenization, i.e. when the cultural phenomena of other nations were simply appropriated (treated as being Russian), ignored or destroyed. Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century it was started to look for the unity in diversity, with the precondition for reshaping and neutralising of the diversity being its own heterogeneity. While studying the example of the collection of the Vilnius Museum of Antiquities, we face exactly the case of diversity control. The analysis of the subject demonstrates how the historical legacy of other nations becomes incorporated into the Russian imperial body on the basis of treating them as powerless Others. In Western provinces, this direction of cultural appropriation was taken in 1872, after the cancellation of the martial law imposed during the uprising.
Representations of Power