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Young writer from Lithuania

Sixteen-year-old Aleksas, author of a historical book, tells how he discovered his life purpose: my goal is to work for Lithuania

Image source: © Canva / Canva
Materiały Prasowe,
11.01.2024 14:58

Living for the sake of others, not solely for yourself, is not something that everyone strives for, but there are numerous examples that can inspire and motivate to do more. One of them is sixteen-year-old Aleksas Bartkus from Lithuanian town of Marijampolė, whose remarkable achievements, thoughts and love for Lithuania are worth global recognition. The teenager is already sharing his wisdom not only with his peers, but also extends it to elders. Bartkus kindly agreed to share his story, shed light on his noble deeds, and reveal his understanding of the most important duties of every citizen.

Life’s purpose – devotion to the homeland

The concept of citizenship appears to be something that everyone should comprehend and actively engage with. However, many fail to grasp its importance and why it should be the foundation for each day of our lives. According to Bartkus, emphasis should be put on three crucial concepts of citizenship: citizenship itself, patriotism, and nationalism. Although the teenager sees them as interrelated, in his opinion, they are fundamentally distinct from one another.

"Citizenship is the duty of every citizen of a country to improve the daily life of their homeland and community. Citizenship encompasses fundamental everyday things, such as helping and respecting one another, practising tolerance, refraining from littering, fulfilling daily duties, upholding justice and seeking truth. Also, civic duties, such as voting or fulfilling compulsory military service, are key," says Bartkus.

According to the young citizen, patriotism is something different – it is a "voluntary duty".

"No one can or will ever make you patriotic by force, it is voluntary, but, in my opinion, it is also kind of duty, because I am deeply convinced that every honest citizen must pay his or her tribute to the state," Bartkus thinks.

Bartkus enlists the essential aspects of patriotism: love for one’s homeland, knowledge and appreciation of its history, language, and the understanding that "I am responsible for my homeland’s well-being".

"Nationalism is the most serious area. I think we have far too few representatives in this field. To begin with, nationalism should never be equated with Nazism or fascism – they are different and incompatible things," Bartkus explains.

To help other young people better understand the concept of nationalism, Bartkus provides some examples.

"For example, Ukraine’s soldiers and defenders are the perfect examples of nationalists. The AZOV regiment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is well known – a unit rooted in the nationalist movement. Lithuanian soldiers and other officials, I believe, are also nationalists. Nationalism has been crucially important in saving and building states for centuries. If we talk about contemporary example, it was only after 24 February, 2022, that Ukrainians realised that without nationalist movements it would be hard to imagine a still free and independent Ukraine," the teenager explains.

According to Bartkus, nationalism is an ideology and belief that your country is the best, your nation is the strongest, and the nature of your homeland is the most beautiful.

"Nationalists uphold the fundamental ideas of the state, promote them clearly, and loudly defend and praise the honour and history of the state. Nationalists prioritize their compatriots, the citizens of their state, and encourage all to be active members of society and to love their homeland genuinely. The aim of a nationalist’s life is the homeland, and he or she will do anything for the homeland and the well-being of its people. Today, when the world is on the brink of massive wars and our homeland facing real threats and dangers, nationalism is particularly needed," said Bartkus.

Bartkus identifies himself as a nationalist.

However, according to him, this is not a very easy choice.

"At the same time, I often feel like banging my head against the wall. That wall is an attitude called "what’s that kid making waves here?" It is indeed difficult to deal with people, who are only interested in personal gain and make it clear that I should "limit my performance to a minimum and know my place". It is challenging to deal with them, but the young people win - that is the way it should be. It’s my purpose, my essence and my daily routine, the thing that I am obsessed with, that teaches and helps me to grow as a person", Bartkus says.

Inspiring role model from childhood

Sixteen-year-old Bartkus is well known in Lithuania for his noble deeds. The teenager cannot pinpoint when the desire to engage in various activities related to the state’s wellbeing was born, but remembers feeling that urge from the early childhood.

"I remember well that when I was already in the fourth grade of primary school, on the Day of the Defenders of Freedom, I gave a presentation to my classmates about the events of January 13th. This was probably one of my first patriotic activities," he remembers.

Bartkus admits that examples he saw have been the main reason why he chose this exact path.

"From an early age, I saw my family members in uniform and serving the state, but I cannot recall the exact turning point. It probably came naturally, and when it did, it became unstoppable. In the 5th grade, I was telling about the 16th of February to all the primary school children, started actively participating in the activities of the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, and so on," the boy explains.

All this has led Bartkus to the things he does now – and he does a lot.

"Those who follow the Facebook page of my book "Personalities in the Labyrinths of Occupations" see that I am always doing something. It’s actually very demanding – from personal time, effort, and energy to personal finances," the youngster admits.

But that does not stop Bartkus from achieving his goals.

"I deliberately chose to dedicate all my work to Lithuania, and I’m proud of that. Nobody pays me a penny, and I am not asking to. All my activities are financed by me and my family, I am still at school, so it is not simple, but I do not consider it a problem. The most important thing is enthusiasm," Bartkus confesses.

Lithuanians lacks patriotic education

Bartkus would like his peers to share the same enthusiasm in pursuing their goals as he does.

"I always say to young people: no matter what you do – whether you play basketball, swim, play

football, whether you are good at IT, robotics, drones or in the arts, for example, dancing, folk art, music, or whatever – do it with all your heart, with passion. That is the only way to earn respect, be loved, become a role model. And don’t forget to adorn your drone or computer with the Lithuanian tricolour or embroider our national flag on your sportswear. Whatever we do, let’s do it the best we can and with confidence, but let’s not forget our country, which is our home and our security," inspires Bartkus.

However, the teenager admits that he has only met a few young people who are active in areas close to his heart.

"I am not referring to civic minded young men and women; at worst, every third Lithuanian is active in such matters. I am talking about a higher level: patriotism with passion and nationalism. I have met young people who think alike, but they also face similar problems as I do, which hold them back. However, the most important thing is that they want to do it, and that desire comes from the heart," he explains.

Bartkus notes that Lithuania does not have a mass youth patriotic movement yet, but highly needs such, especially today.

"We lack patriotic education in schools and other educational institutions", Bartkus laments.

Bartkus, recognized among his peers for his civic activism, admits receiving support from other youngsters, but it is often accompanied by some criticism. However, criticism does not hurt him at all.

"I appreciate the support and encouragement, and completely disregard those who do nothing and think they can humiliate me. Such people do exist, but I believe that with time we will all become civic and patriotic, we will learn to appreciate each other’s efforts and we will get rid of homo sovieticus both form our society and thinking", Bartkus believes.

The results are the most inspiring

Bartkus, who is still in school, finds time for multiple activities. The 16-year-old recently published his first book, and has been actively participating in the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union for several years, educating young people and engaging in other meaningful initiatives. As Bartkus himself admits, it is the tangible results he gets that motivate him the most to move further with other causes.

"The most rewarding thing is to see the results of a project, activity, event, or lecture. I am delighted to see that I have contributed something good to society and my country, something that for some seems impossible and for others – almost effortless. So, while others do nothing, you give your time and do something extraordinary. It’s a wonderful feeling when you hear people talking, enjoying and appreciating what you are doing. That’s the main source of inspiration and motivation," the young Lithuanian confesses.

The young boy also mentions having some role models whose thoughts resonate with his views a lot.

"My motto is the words of Lionginas Baliukevičius-Dzūkas, the Lithuanian partisan leader, the commander of the Dainava District, a real Lithuanian hero: "Well, who will defeat us if we are not afraid to die, if we have defeated death itself!" With these words I finish every book presentation, lecture or education. This sentence has more in it than just a literal meaning," Bartkus explains.

According Bartkus, these words encapsulate the true essence of the Lithuanian DNA.

"Lithuanians are a nation of warriors, not ploughmen. And Lithuanian national symbols Vytis – a warrior on horseback – and the red hue of our national flag represents the blood shed for the homeland. Dating back to the origin of the Balts, we know that we are warriors who have always fought for freedom and defended the truth. It is not surprising that all those who dared to come to the Lithuanian territory quickly met their death," Bartkus emphasizes.

The story of his first book – with memorable dates and events

In February 2023, Bartkus presented his first historical book "Personalities in the Labyrinths of Occupations". When asked how he came with the idea for the book, Bartkus admits that the concept was quite straightforward.

"The idea originated during the quarantine times. When a pandemic struck Lithuania and the world, we – schoolchildren – were transitioned to remote learning. At that time, I maintained constant communication with my friend Laima Vaičiūniene, the librarian at my former school. She is a remarkable person. She encouraged me to delve into the history of the school; after the quarantine, we planned to do some kind of lecture or education event for the students," he remembers.

Like many youngsters, Bartkus commenced his historical research online.

"I searched the names of the former headmasters of Rygiškių Jonas State Girls Gymnasium in Marijampolė (my former school –Rimantas Stankevičius Progymnasium in Marijampolė – traces its roots back to this particular institution). And learned that Zigmas Masaitis fell victim to the Nazis and died in Stutthof, and Feliksas Treigys, during the Holocaust, courageously saved Jews. That’s how it all started. Laima encouraged me to write to Poland, to the Stutthof Concentration Camp Museum in Sztutowo. On 25 January 2021, I received the initial information. I consider this day to be the beginning of my historical book," recounts Bartkus.

Although the book itself was completed quite swiftly, the publishing process took much longer.

"I am happy and proud that the book was published by the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania. Unfortunately, during the period, tragedy struck – the war in Ukraine began. Although the publishing faced dome complications, they failed to halt the process," Bartkus remembers.

A few weeks before the official release, the author made the final additions and corrections, and then the big day arrived.

"It’s amazing that I acquired the book from the Military Cartography Centre on the eve of the birthday of my country. On the afternoon of 15 February this year, I held my book for the first time. On 16 February 2023, as I congratulated everyone on the Day of the Restoration of the State of Lithuania, I announced that the long-awaited moment had come and the book is ready. The first book presentation took place very soon afterwards, it coincided with the commemoration of the anniversary of the war in Ukraine, on 24 February, and took place in the conference room of the "Mercure Hotel Vilnius" in Marijampolė. It was the most wonderful and memorable book presentation that I could have ever envisioned," the boy shared his joyous memories.

According to Bartkus, the process of writing his first book was not only interesting, but also meaningful, as provided him with the opportunity to delve into entirely new experiences.

"I learnt everything along the process. It was my first serious historical research, so I had to learn everything from the scratch. It was not easy, I had to immerse myself in information analysis: you acquire information, analyse it, draw conclusions. Upon closer look, it was not so easy as it may sound," he admits.

In a way, the pandemic itself deserves some kind of "credit".

"All the institutions I collaborated with were also working remotely, just like me, so nobody knew how old I was or realised that I was not a "pro" historian, but just a schoolboy. I used to write letters to these institutions with clearly outlined questions, and the institutions provided me with answers. I want to emphasize that this book is unique not only because I have revived the memory of its heroes, but also because of information about them from all over Lithuania, that I managed to systemise," Bartkus shares.

Significant challenges turned into valuable lessons

Although, as the young author of the book stressed himself, all the work was done quite consistently, and the project was successful, during the process certain challenges have been met. Fortunately, all of them turned into lessons, as Bartkus navigated the entire project independently.

"I have managed to master my computer skills – believe me, it took me a lot of effort. Initially, I laid out the book myself, created the cover, designed it. A little later, the layout designer from the ministry improved my version, but I’m glad that both the layout and the cover kept my thoughts and style. I did all this by watching tutorials on YouTube and learning how to make a layout," explains Bartkus.

There were more lessons to be learned.

"At one point, while writing the book, loads of various information about the heroes began to flood. At that time, I did not understand the necessity of analysing every detail and organising them systematically, I simply skipped some of the information without thinking. After realising that I need that information, I had to sift through my entire computer for more than one hour, looking for it. That’s how I realized that in such cases systematization of information is more than crucial, and that everything must have its place," shares Bartkus.

So, although encountered come challenges, the teenager values them as important lessons.

"It was a project that constantly challenged me to learn something new, but it was fun. I really appreciate the excitement of discovering something new, a new detail about person, a new fact. My heart sang with joy, and even now, having learned something new about these people, I am very happy," Bartkus smiles.

The book waves together the life narratives of two prominent historical figures

The book by Bartkus tells the story of two distinguished personalities of the 20th century Lithuanian education and the city of Marijampolė, along with recollections of their former students and colleagues.

"These two men – gymnasium principals, intellectuals, patriots, and educators – are Zigmas Masaitis and Feliksas Treigys. Their life stories begin before the war, extend through the interwar era, the Second World War, and the harsh occupations of Lithuania. Amid the challenging circumstances of that period, these two educators face great troubles: one became a saviour of people from the occupiers, and the other became a victim of the occupiers," explains the young author.

Bartkus has no specific target audience in mind, but had chosen to present the book to certain groups.

"Presentations were held for high school students, soldiers of the Lithuanian army, officers of the State Border Guard Service, pensioners, and librarians. Of course, there were several presentations for everyone. The book must lead its own life. It must spread widely, and therefore the audience must be diverse. I believe that the book has greatly interested young people, residents of Suvalkija, educators, history enthusiasts, and patriotic people," says Bartkus.

According to the author, that was his goal.

"I aimed for my book to reach not only specific groups of people, but everyone. I want to spread patriotism and show an example, and for this reason wide audience is essential," he explains.

Bartkus admits receiving various reactions from fellow high school students during the presentations.

"In the beginning, I sense surprise, because it is hard to believe that it is not a historian standing in front of them in a suit, but their peer, a fellow high school student. I've always said that not everyone should be interested in history, just like I’m not interested in some other things, thus it is impossible to make audience 100 percent interested. However, book distribution process tells everything. A long queues and warm chats with peers demonstrate that they are genuinely interested," he shares.

The young author adds that the electronic version of the book is available completely free of charge. Those interested can find it on the website of the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania.

Young people understand the significance of the homeland and the importance of freedom

In addition to all his patriotic activities, Bartkus is a young man who perfectly comprehends the importance of love for his homeland, Lithuania. Although it is often said that this is a rare phenomenon in today’s society, particularly, among young people, Bartkus says that he is confident that these things are encoded in the DNA of every Lithuanian.

"Even during the darkest periods of the greatest atrocities or oppression, we always recognized and appreciated the importance of freedom and the homeland. This understanding is passed down from generation to generation. Young people really understand the meaning of the homeland, the importance of freedom, it’s just regrettable that patriotism is a rarer phenomenon among young people," he admits.

Bartkus is optimistic that this problem can be solved.

"Young people may not always understand their role in society and the state, they don’t always appreciate what the homeland provides them, but I think this problem can be solved. If we implement patriotic education in schools, that would change. Young people would genuinely begin appreciating what they have and develop love for their country," Bartkus shared his insights.

Although, nowadays, the topic of young people not knowing how they can contribute to the well-being of their country is widely discussed, Bartkus is convinced that everyone can contribute to the well-being of the country through small everyday things.

"Everyone should start with simple things: see some litter? Pick it up. After all, the bin is usually somewhere nearby, and the park is already cleaner. Notice an old lady at the store who needs assistance? Help her – it only takes a few minutes. Observed an abandoned monument of partisans or volunteers? Take a rake, pull up some grass, light a candle – you’ll see what a great feeling it brings," Bartkus gives some examples.

In addition to this, the patriotic teenager suggests paying attention to what should be important for every Lithuanian.

"Celebrate national holidays and don’t forget to raise the flag, remember the days of remembrance and honour those who died and fought for our freedom. Well, just smile, hold your head up, speak Lithuanian and be happy. We live really well, we just need to look around," concludes Bartkus.

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