Historical research enables us to understand how things change, what factors have led our states and societies to the current changes, what elements of our past persist despite social, economic and political changes, and why they persist. The current states of states, nations and societies can only be understood by delving into the vast laboratory of human experience gathered through historical study, the storehouse of information about how people and societies behave and how the world works. This understanding is indispensable for taking a stand on the problems of today and gaining insights into the future. This makes history one of the cornerstones for analysis in many other areas of social science and humanities research.
The place Lithuania has occupied in the history of Europe is of great value for understanding the various political and social processes that have taken place on the continent over the millennia. It’ is the country that had the largest European territory until the 15th century and is now one of the smallest member states of the European Union. It was the last country to join Christian Europe (it wasn’t baptised until the end of the 14th century) and the first to leave USSR, ushering in the collapse of the empire. Lithuania has long played an important role in the region’s international relations and was a rival of Moscow along with Poland until the end of the 17th century. However, the past can only be viewed in the light of the present. Therefore, knowledge of the common socio-political and economic practises and meanings that make up the cultures we live in is essential to explore the historical roots from which our cultures originate. Vilnius is one of the best places to engage with the Central European memory of the intertwined destinies and beliefs of many cultures. For centuries Vilnius has been called “the Jerusalem of the North” because of its tolerance and multiculturalism. Catholic and Orthodox churches are located in the same streets, the largest Eastern European synagogue stood in Vilnius until the end of the World War II, and one can still spot pagan symbols on church crosses. Vilnius was the place where the most famous Polish poets took their first literary steps and Belarusian literature was born. At the same time, Vilnius is the city that experienced the tragic fate of Lithuanian-Jewish (Litvak) culture under the Nazis and the tragedies of Soviet totalitarianism. The troubled past still haunts people’s thoughts and feelings, leading to xenophobia and related intolerance – something that can only be understood and overcome through a thorough and unbiased study of the country’s historical and cultural heritage.