Valdas Jaskūnas (Vilnius University, Lithuania) “Stateless Orientalism: Bodies and Frameworks of Knowledge about India in Soviet Lithuania”


Asian studies as a constituent of Area Studies has constantly been framed by the discourse of a nation-state both as an object of studies and the subject generating demand for such knowledge. In particular it holds true to the nation-state debate in Area Studies, which questions methodology as well as the organizational principles of Area Studies based on the concept of nation-state. However, the predominantly outward orientation of Western Asian studies preoccupied with post-colonial discourse has given less attention to frameworks and strategies of engagement with Asia from the perspective of non-colonial nations in Europe or those deprived of statehood and sovereignty through occupation, as was the case with the Baltic states in 1940. What is specific about the engagement with Asia in these stateless countries is that, instead of producing knowledge in the service of state, the local academies and especially cultural activists set out to appropriate Orientalist knowledge for the construction of national identity aimed to resist colonial regime.

This presentation thus sets out to explore the case of engagement with India in the marginal zones of colonial formations, such as 20th-century Lithuania under Soviet occupation, by addressing the rather hybrid Orientalist tradition of imagining and knowledge of India, which gained currency in the society preoccupied with the reframing of national identity. The idea of Lithuania‘s links with India, modelled on the linguistic affinity between the Lithuanian language and Sanskrit established in the 19th century by comparative linguistics, contributed during the years of Soviet oppression not only to a long-term fascination with this country but also raised profound interest in ethnic Lithuanian culture, proving to be an effective and socially engaging framework of identity transmission.