National and Transnational Scientific and Educational Interests in the Period of the First Republic of Lithuania

Audronė Janužytė

Abstract


In the apogee of nationalism, i.e. in the period following World War I marked by the creation of the nation state of Lithuania, at first the establishment of national Vilnius University and later the founding of the University of Lithuania were seen as a government priority goal associated with the consolidation of the underlying elements of the nation state. The aim and originality of the article, which is based on the methods of document and comparative analysis, lie in the attempt to divide the policy of science and higher education in the first Republic of Lithuania into stages and define them through the inquiry into national and transnational scientific and educational interests posed by politicians in creation of the nation state of Lithuania and international correlations in favour of higher education in Lithuania searched out in the European sphere. The article raises several questions. First, did the politicians manage to escape ethnocentrism and remain unbiased in science and education-related issues or were state and national interests predominant in the sphere of science and education? Second, what was the role played by the active position of the society which pursued conformity of science and education with contemporary European standards? Third, to what extent professors and scholars were able to participate in the European academic life? The author of the article divides science and higher education policy in the first Republic of Lithuania into fourth main stages. The first stage is related to the establishment of the Lithuanian Vilnius University and covers the period of the German occupation starting from autumn of 1915 and ending in the beginning of 1919. Two different conceptions and strategies of the Lithuanian Vilnius University developed by politicians may be distinguished at this stage. The first conception involved the founding of a secular and autonomous Vilnius University, open to national minorities, whereas the second conception favoured a national Catholic Vilnius University with limited rights of self-rule. Supporters of the first strategy suggested that the opening of the national Vilnius University was rescheduled and the required specialists were educated at foreign universities. Proponents of the second strategy requested immediate opening of the Lithuanian Vilnius University as the country was lacking of well-qualified specialists and foreign universities were unable to educate sufficient numbers of civil servants and economy specialists of various levels; the second stage covers the period from 1919 marked by the loss of Vilnius and its region and the possibility to re-establish Vilnius University by the opening of the University of Lithuania on 16 February 1922. This stage is characterised by the divergence of opinions expressed by political parties, governments, and the academic society regarding higher education in Lithuania. Governments and political parties agreed to put on hold the establishment of the university and confine to the preparation of specialists at foreign universities on the basis of state grants. The academic society, however, held an opposing opinion on the abovementioned issue and initiated the establishment of a private university-type school, namely the Advanced Courses in Kaunas; the third stage is related to the founding of the University of Lithuania and covers the period from the opening of the University of Lithuania on 16 February 1922 to the establishment of new universities in the early 1930s. This stage is characterised by the fact that political parties managed to reach a compromise regarding the founding of the University of Lithuania in Kaunas, i.e. the university was intended to meet the interests of both the nation state and the society. The fact that the same subjects of the humanities based on the world-view were available for studying at the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Theology-Philosophy suggests that politicians failed to fully escape ethnocentrism. They demanded that the university should train a national official who could make policy as well as administer it. However, this stage also saw active international cooperation between the University of Lithuania and Eastern as well as Western universities, manifested in various forms: (1) studies at European universities; (2) study tours to foreign universities; (3) engagement of foreign professors to work at the University of Lithuania; etc. Thus, it can be stated that the University of Lithuania outgrew the boundaries of the nation state; the fourth stage started with the early 1930s and lasted until the occupation of the first Republic of Lithuania by the Soviets in 1940. This stage is characterised by the following features: on the one hand, certain process of liberalisation was observable in the sphere of science and higher education, namely new institutions of higher education were established (7 in total), and Lithuanian scholars gained favourable reputation in the European sphere of science and education, i.e. they were awarded honorary degrees by foreign universities; on the other hand, certain antidemocratic processes were discernible in the sphere of higher education as authoritarian measures were employed to put bounds to the autonomy of Vytautas Magnus University and the newly established higher schools were refused autonomy whatsoever. The author of the article arrives at the conclusion that politicians of the first Republic of Lithuania failed to fully escape ethnocentrism, however, active position of the academic society helped navigate among national and transnational interests by creating the system of science and higher education that enabled scholars to enter the common scholarly European networks. They became fully integrated into the international community of scholars. That is why in the interwar period the University of Lithuania was rather international in its nature, a placewhere professors from both Eastern and Western Europe worked and shared their knowledge.

Keywords


university; sciences; studies; national and transnational interests of sciences and studies; the First Republic of Lithuania

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"Societal studies" ISSN online 2029-2244 / ISSN print 2029-2236