Jonas Jurašas collection
The collection reveals the life and work of the famous Lithuanian theatre director Jonas Jurašas. He was expelled from the position of director of the Kaunas State Drama Theatre in 1972. Jurašas did not agree to work under the proposed conditions of ‘Soviet theatre director’. He expressed his own view of what kind of working conditions and rights artists, and specifically theatre directors, should have. His terms were rejected by Soviet cultural administrators. Jurašas became unemployed, and had to endure poor living conditions. He and his family were among the first people in Soviet Lithuania to request permission to emigrate to the West, and received it from the Soviet government.
Name of collection
- Jonas Jurašas collection
Provenance and cultural activities
Jonas Jurašas is a Lithuanian artist and theatre director. He started his creative work in 1963, directing a production of Paskyrimas (The Assignment) by Aleksander Volodin (in 1963, at the Russian Theatre in Vilnius), Varšuvos melodija (A Warsaw Melody) by Leonid Zorin (1967), and Tango by the Polish dramatist Sławomir Mrożek (1967, both at the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre). Tango was removed from the repertoire of the theatre after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, because of the public protest by Sławomir Mrożek against the Soviet invasion.
In 1968, Jurašas moved to Kaunas, becoming the leading director at the Kaunas State Drama Theatre. During his career in Soviet Lithuania, which lasted until 1972, he directed 13 theatre productions. According to Jurašas, while many of these productions were very well received in the auditorium, they were all received very critically by cultural administrators for ideological reasons, even including Bolševikai (The Bolsheviks, 1970) by Mikhail Shatrov. This production was intended to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin. As Jurašas recalls, Lionginas Šepetys, the minister of culture at the time, suggested in an informal conversation he take something with a Soviet revolutionary theme for a new production, in order to improve his ideological reputation, which was a little ‘damaged’ after Mamutų medžioklė (The Mammoth Hunt, 1968) by the dramatist Kazys Saja. This production was interpreted by cultural administrators as an allegorical criticism of the Soviet system. But Bolševikai was also allegorical, and took on a double meaning by associating the first revolutionaries with the first Christians who died for their faith. The last production directed by Jurašas at the Kaunas State Drama Theatre (1972) in Soviet times was Barbora Radvilaitė by Juozas Grušas. A discussion after the official preview ended with an order for Jurašas to make big changes to the production. According to Jurašas, one official who attended the preview evaluated the production as ‘an assembly of anti-Soviets under the dome of the Catholic Church’. Jurašas himself took these ‘suggestions’ and orders as intervention by bureaucrats into creative matters, which did not leave creative space for the director's own interpretation. After the discussion, he wrote and sent several copies of an open letter to governmental and media organisations. Although the letter was not published in Soviet Lithuania, it became known in the West. This was the reason for dismissing him from the position of theatre director. It was suggested he apply to the Lithuanian Russian Drama Theatre, and take a position as an ordinary theater director. But again, he did not agree to take a position under the proposed conditions of ‘Soviet theatre director’. He expressed his own view of what kind of work conditions and rights artists, and specifically theatre directors, should have. His terms were rejected by Soviet cultural administrators. He became unemployed, and had to endure poor living conditions. He and his family were some of the first people in Soviet Lithuania to request permission to emigrate to the West, and received it from the Soviet government. According to Jurašas, by allowing his family to go to the West, the Soviet government tried to show Lithuanian society that only the Soviet system was capable of providing good conditions for artists. The second motive was the regime’s fear of making Jurašas and his family a convenient rallying point for opposition. After he lost his position, members of the cultural opposition, and even anti-Soviet dissidents, started to see him as an important person in the anti-Soviet movement. According to Jurašas, his family were given a warm welcome in the home of the poet Tomas Venclova, who had close ties with the cultural opposition throughout all the Soviet Union. Some dissidents proposed that Jurašas’ wife Marija Aušra Sluckaitė translate samizdat works from Russian into Lithuanian. It is important to note that the international conditions of detente also played an important role in the regime's decision to allow Jurašas to leave the Soviet Union.
Jurašas does not see himself as an anti-Soviet dissident. According to him, all his efforts were put into attaining excellence in drama. His interpretations of plays were always related to topical questions of citizenship and the need to choose a moral position. He tried to avoid politics. Taking historical topics for his productions was only a historical background that was used to provoke the auditorium and make it think about today’s situation. Jurašas thinks that this was the reason for the ideological attack on him as an artist. He did not agree with dissidents who accused him of giving way in the fight against the regime by applying to leave. He remembers the words said to him by some dissidents: ‘While we’re fighting against the system and all this dirt, you want to stay clean.’ Thus, Jurašas was criticised by some dissidents for trying to avoid politics, and the struggle against the Soviet regime, and remaining a ‘pure’ artist. Despite this, his activity, his art and his position had a big influence on the anti-Soviet resistance. As the European commissioner Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, who was then a political dissident, recalls, Jurašas set an example to the younger generation of how to make a stand against Soviet rule.
Description of content
There is no single collection about Jurašas‘ acitivities, neither in private nor in state archives. The collection consists of three sources. First of all, the Lithuanian Archive of Literature and Art holds documents from the Kaunas State Drama Theatre. According to Lithuanian law, the archive supervises all state cultural institutions involved in the management of documents and archives. The theatre's collection in the archive holds formal documents about Communist Party and government resolutions about the theatre's activities, and personal files of directors and actors. This material is very interesting and informative. For example, the resolution by Lionginas Šepetys, the minister of culture in Soviet Lithuania, about the dissmissal of Jurašas from his position as director reveals what kind of formulation was used. It is important to note that there are no minutes of the theatre's artistic council from the years 1970 to 1972. Obviously, this material could help us to understand the atmosphere in the theatre at that time. These kind of documents exist from other years, but not from the interesting period between 1970 and 1972.
The second part of the collection is made up of material from the Archive Department at the Kaunas State Drama Theatre. The Archive Department holds many (about 500) photographs of live theatre performances, as well as drafts and manuscripts of productions. In the sense of cultural opposition, the most important documents are the drafts of productions with changes and comments made in the hand of Jonas Jurašas. Unfortunately, the Archive Department of the theatre does not have the minutes of the artistic council from the years 1970 to 1972 either.
The third source of the collection is Jurašas‘ private papers. According to him, he was not very careful about collecting, keeping and saving documents. During his career, he changed his place of residence many times, and because of this he was unable to form a large private archive. Nevertheless, he has some letters and photographs. Some letters and documents from his private papers show how the Soviet Lithuanian government tried to manage and direct Jurašas 'the right way'. An example is a letter (an answer) received by Jurašas from the Russian Drama Theatre in Lithuania.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 10-99
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 10-99
- photos: 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Show on map
Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
- Girdzijauskaite, Audronė. Jonas Jurašas. Vilnius: Gervelė, 1995.
Part of network
Author(s) of this page
Pliopa, Adas , interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, June 14, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Jurašas, Jonas, interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, June 16, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Klivis, Edgaras , interview by Grybkauskas, Saulius, May 31, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection