Rimantas Vėbra collection
Rimantas Vėbra (1931-1999) was a Lithuanian historian and specialist in 19th-century history. His research covers the Lithuanian national movement in the second half of the 19th century. While he was not an active participant in the anti-Soviet dissident movement, his professional activity was restricted because of his writings, research works that were perceived by the authorities as unconventional, and his deviation from the ideological norm.
Vilnius Žygimantų gatvė 1, Lithuania 01143
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Name of collection
- Rimantas Vėbra collection
Provenance and cultural activities
The collection was created in 1999. After Vėbra’s death, his daughter Inga Ilarienė gave his manuscripts and other material to the Manuscript Department of the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. The formal reason for giving this material to the Manuscript Department was quite clear: Vėbra was an academician, and the department collects material about the work and activities of its researchers. There were other reasons as well. While Vėbra is still an ‘undiscovered’ part of the cultural opposition to Soviet rule, members of his family believe and argue that he suffered persecution because of his activities as a historian. Inga Ilarienė knows personally Dr Rima Cicėnienė, the deputy director of the library, who worked as head of the Manuscript Department and helped transfer files to the department.
Rimantas Vėbra was very active as a historian and researcher. He spent a lot of time in archives in Lithuania and in other archives (such as the History Archives in St Petersburg/Leningrad). He discovered many issues in Lithuanian history of the second half of the 19th century. In a letter to Henrikas Zabulis, the minister of higher and special secondary education, in1973, he argued that he was the first to find the file ‘Lietuviškos spaudos draudimo panaikinimo byla’ (File on the lifting of the ban on Lithuanian publications), but publishers refused to publish his article about it. There are many letters and manuscripts of this kind, in which Vėbra expresses his dissatisfaction with interference by research journals in publishing his works.
After a close survey of Vėbra’s manuscripts, we could argue that his professional activity was very dynamic, and went through several phases. It is interesting that he started his career very loyal to the Soviet regime. After secondary school in Utena, he attended a military school in Petrozavodsk, and became an army officer. But in 1955, he gave up his military career, and started a career in the Komsomol communist youth organisation. We can guess that Khrushchev’s policy of abolishing national units in the Soviet army and reducing the USSR’s military forces had a big impact on Vėbra's life. At the peak of his Komsomol career, he reached quite a high position, becoming deputy head of a Central Committee department. At the same time, he started part-time studies in history at Vilnius University. In 1960, he became a full-time student of history, working in the university at the same time as an assistant. In 1966, he defended his doctoral thesis, and his first book Lietuvos katalikų dvasininkija ir visuomeninis judėjimas (XIX a. antroji pusė) (The Lithuanian Catholic Clergy and Social Movement in the Second Half of the 19th Century) was published in 1968.
Inga Ilarienė believes that becoming a history student and getting to know the Lituanistic environment at Vilnius University had a big influence on Vėbra in the late 1950s. According to her, the events in Hungary in 1956 made a big impression on him, and he decided to end his Party (Komsomol) activist career because of them. But this question is not so simple. Even in the 1970s he was quite a well-established historian. His letters to Genrikas Zimanas, editor-in-chief of the main ideological journal Komunistas (The Communist) and publications in the same journal show that his turn to so-called ‘revisionism’ started a little later. In a letter in 1973, he thanked Zimanas for his support, and in March 1976, his ‘Attributes of a Bourgeois Nation’ was published in Komunistas. This might show that Vėbra's investigation of nationalism in Lithuania in the 19th century still left room for negotiations with the power structures, and from time to time he received support from the main Soviet Lithuanian ideologists. The situation later became more complicated when he attempted to recover the idea of the United Stream (Vieningoji srovė). During the Stalin era, the United Stream was attacked by Soviet ideologists for its efforts to show the origins of the revolutionary movement not only in socialist (communist) activity, but also in the Lithuanian national movement in the 19th century. It was blamed for denying the class approach to history, seeing Lithuanians as a united nation. Vėbra tried to use all-Union trends in nationalism studies, expecting it to be possible to speak and write about it in Soviet Lithuania. The United Stream was strongly attacked during Stalin’s times, because of its conflict with the ideology of the class struggle. In 1983, Vėbra was not allowed to give a presentation at a conference devoted to the first Lithuanian newspaper Aušra (Dawn, established in 1883). He only made a comment (although quite long, at ten minutes), in which he strongly advocated the legalisation of United Stream. Although his speech received some support and applause, Soviet ideologists were unhappy about his speaking out. Romas Šarmaitis, the director of the Institute of Party History, wrote in his diary about Vėbra’s failure. He was surprised at the speech and at the support in the auditorium for it. Thus, one could say that in the 1970s and 1980s, Vėbra’s accommodation of Soviet ideology was not one-sided, and he inhabited a grey area.
It is reasonable to think that his wife Vanda Zaborskaitė had some influence on Vėbra. She is a prominent professor of Lithuanian literature, and a participant in cultural opposition. In the late 1950s, Zaborskaitė was dismissed from Vilnius University for her so-called bourgeois nationalism. Vėbra was an active participant in the ethnographic movement, which was treated with suspicion by the government as a form of nationalism. According to Zaborskaitė, Vėbra was refused permission to travel abroad (to East Germany) by the Party, and only with the help of Edurdas Vilkas, Party secretary at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, was he allowed to go to socialist countries. As Zaborskaitė argues, one reason for the refusal was Vėbra's ‘nationalist presentations and discussions at history conferences’ (see Zaborskaitė, Vanda. 2012. Autobiografijos bandymas. Vilnius: Lietuvos rašytojų sąjungos leidykla. p. 201).
Speaking about the Rimantas Vėbra collection, it is worth mentioning that the collection has not yet been formalised and arranged. Although the documents were received by the department more than 15 years ago, the collection still has a temporary status, and is waiting for final confirmation.
Description of content
The collection consists of 240 files. All these files were received from Vėbra's daughter, Inga Ilarienė, in December 1999, except for one file, given by his wife Vanda Zaborskaitė in 2004. This is a comparatively small collection. Some of the files date from the Soviet period, and slightly fewer from the period after 1990. The files encompass various subjects and topics, like Vėbra's letters, manuscripts, and correspondence with publishers and editors of history journals. There are few documents showing Vėbra’s personality, like photographs and CVs. According to archivists, many of these documents were not given to the archive. So we can expect the collection to increase in the future.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
Date of founding
Place of founding
Lithuania, LT-01102, Vilnius, Žygimantų g. 1
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Creator(s) of content
- Ilarienė, Inga
- Simanavičius, Mindaugas
Important events in the history of the collection
- all closed to the public
- No publications
Part of network
Author(s) of this page
Simanavičius, Mindaugas , interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, March 06, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Ilarienė, Inga , interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, February 28, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection