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Recap: Leonidas Donskis Memorial Seminar

Bradley Woodworth, Marci Shore, Timothy Snyder, and Viktoras Bachmetjevas
October 23, 2023

On Friday, September 29, 2023, as part of the European & Russian Studies Community Lunch Seminar series, the Baltic Studies Program and the European Studies Council of the Yale MacMillan Center hosted a seminar titled “Leonidas Donskis Memorial Seminar: Social Dialogue in Times of Troubled Identities.” This event commemorated the seventh anniversary of the passing of Professor Leonidas Donskis (1962-2016), a philosopher, publicist, and politician, and one of the most internationally prominent contemporary Jewish Lithuanian intellectual figures. In a conversation facilitated by Dr. Arvydas Grišinas, a Fullbright fellow in the Yale Baltic Studies Program; Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History; Timothy Snyder, the Richard C. Levin Professor of History; Bradley Woodworth, Yale Baltic Studies Program Manager, and Associate Professor of History at the University of New Haven; and Viktoras Bachmetjevas, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vytautas Magnus University, and the 2023-2024 Joseph P. Kazickas Associate Research Scholar in Yale Baltic Studies Program, offered personal reflections and anecdotes about the late Prof. Donskis. Watch the full video-recording HERE

Timothy Snyder spoke first about meeting Prof. Donskis and described how, in an age where technological advancement makes us ever-more vulnerable to totalitarianism “Leonidas held things up” by engaging deeply with the thoughts of other people. Marci Shore spoke next, reflecting on Prof. Donskis’ “magical” way of talking and connecting with people, and shared her experience of finding out he had passed away and a story of watching Prof. Donskis connect with a student only a month before his death. Viktoras Bachmetjevas told the story of how he first met Prof. Donskis at the age of 14 at a Lithuanian summer camp where Prof. Donskis was a counselor. He then spoke about Prof. Donskis’ positivity and wide-ranging interests—philosophical, political, and otherwise.

Marci Shore then gave a moving reading of Krzysztof Czyżewski’s eulogy for Prof. Donskis. This was followed by a reading of an excerpt from one of Prof. Donskis’ works in progress, a collection of exchanges to his friend, the Romanian political philosopher Vladimir Tismaniano, to be titled Demons, Metapolitics, Nihilism, and Radicalism. The eerily prescient excerpt discussed fear, which Donskis described as the “most precious political commodity” and evil. He warned against “self-inflicted dumbness, numbness, and blindness” that allows evil to persist in the world and offered Ukraine as a counterexample: “Ukraine could serve here as the best proof of courage, bravery, sacrifice, willpower, and magnanimity, without which the country never would have had the strength to mobilize and defend itself against Russia’s aggression and political terrorism.”

At this point, the discussion was opened to the audience. Topics discussed included Kierkegaard’s definition of anxiety as “fear without an object,” courage, totalitarianism, “liquid modernity,” populism, and Prof. Donskis’ ability to engage with “the horrors of the world” while still loving deeply. The seminar ended with a moving recording of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” performed by Leonidas Donskis.