Students Science Society of Vilnius University
Almost every high school in the Soviet Union had a student scientific society. The aim of these organisations was to raise the new generation of researchers and lecturers, and popularise studies among young people, developing the ideological side of their views. Some student organisations went beyond these formal aims. In the late 1970s and 1980s, members of the Student Scientific Society of History at Vilnius University made attempts to look at new topics for research, discussions and presentations at conferences, which were not strictly forbidden, but also not approved and supported by the government of that time. The collection was formed after an interview with Vytautas Umbrasas, the leader of the Student Scientific Society at Vilnius University.
01109 Vilnius Kražių gatvė 5 , Lithuania
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Name of collection
- Students Science Society of Vilnius University
Provenance and cultural activities
Almost every high school in the Soviet Union had its student scientific society. The aim of these organisations was to educate the new generation of researchers and lecturers, and popularise studies among young people, developing the ideological side of their views. Some student organisations went beyond these formal aims. In the late 1970s and 1980s, members of the Student Scientific Society of History at Vilnius University attempted to look at new topics for research, discussions and presentations at conferences. These topics were not strictly forbidden, but neither were they approved of and supported by the government of that time. Topics such as the anti-tsarist uprising in Lithuania of 1863, or the role of the Catholic Church, were not allowed in formal diploma works or PhD research. Professors would be accused as supervisors for not taking an ideological position, while students would get a bad mark for this kind of work. Meetings and conferences of the Student Scientific Society were a good opportunity to take up these risky themes as academic interests.
Secondly, they were topical in the context of the cultural opposition, and not only as academic research or presentations. Forms of discussion and collaboration, establishing new ties and organisations as a base for informal action, became an exercise ground for future anti-Soviet activity. Starting from 1979, students of history at Vilnius University started to discuss new topics, inviting young lecturers to give presentations. During these discussions, the approach of looking at the past went far beyond the ideologically approved boundaries. Led at that time by the history student Vytautas Umbrasas, the society established a relationship with a very similar organisation of history students in Tartu, especially with one of its leaders, Mart Laar, a student at Tartu, who later became prime minister of Estonia. Umbrasas and Laar corresponded with each other, and had frequent meetings in Estonia and Lithuania. During these meetings, Laar was introduced to some Lithuanian dissidents, such as Algirdas Patackas (1943-2015).
Joint scientific conferences in Tartu between the Young Tartu organisation (see the Young Tartu collection) and the Student Scientific Society of Vilnius University, held in 1980-1983, were an important moment in this Lithuanian-Estonian collaboration. Three conferences were held in Tartu, and one in Vilnius. The organisation of these conferences was stopped by the KGB, which persecuted history students in both republics for nationalistic actions. Some presentations by students were strongly anti-Soviet in manner, and some just in a non-Soviet sense. The KGB in Estonia and Lithuania monitored participants in the conferences. People from the Lithuanian group were summoned by the KGB and accused of anti-Soviet activities. Although the KGB persecution developed mistrust among young historians and a fear for their future studies, many of them continued to work together and keep in contact with their colleagues in Estonia. This is evident from the letters and telegrams from Mart Laar to Vytautas Umbrasas. In his letters, which were usually delivered by trusted people, Laar informs Umbrasas about his and others’ informal un-Soviet activity, and the dissemination of underground literature. For example, in one letter he mentions that the Lithuanian underground publication The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania (see the Catholic Press in Soviet Lithuania collection) had been translated into Estonian and disseminated through informal networks.
The collection was made after interviews with Vytautas Umbrasas about the Student Scientific Society at Vilnius University. During the first interview (on 17 January 2018), Umbrasas mentions briefly that he may have some letters and documents about the society's activities and correspondence with Mart Laar. The researcher of the project Grybkauskas stressed the importance of this kind of documentation. During the second interview (25 January 2018), Umbrasas gave letters, drafts and other documents to the researcher to be deposited in the archives of the Lithuanian Institute of History. Part of the collection, some documents relating to the society, remained in Umbrasas’ personal papers, because some notes have personal information. Grybkauskas transferred the material he received from Umbrasas to the archives of the Lithuanian Institute of History. This material will be available to researchers in the near future. It is reasonable to think that the collection will grow, with the addition of new documents received from other members of the society.
Description of content
Because of the quite strong KGB persecution, the cultural opposition in Lithuania was conveyed through verbal communication, avoiding any documentation that could be proven as anti-Soviet activity by the KGB. The same could be applied to this collection. For this reason, the collection is still small. It consists of more than 20 letters from Mart Laar to Vytautas Umbrasas, Umbrasas’ notebook from that time, excerpts from various newspapers published in the 1990s that explain and tell the story of the society, and Mart Laar’s activities in the 1980s. Umbrasas’ notebook is an authentic source that shows what kind of ideas and belief system its author had.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Vilnius, Kražių str. 5
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
- No publications
Author(s) of this page
Umbrasas, Vytautas, interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, January 17, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection