Arrivals Monday June 15th
The finale of the Atlantis project approaches. All exchanges have been completed and now there will be final gatherings of participants in Krasnogruda, in Kėdainiai and Kaliningrad. In the last few months work has been proceeding on a publication in four languages, which summarises the research undertaken by the young people.
This publication will act as a ‘guide’ for others, who may wish to learn about the histories of this area, the places we visited. Perhaps it will encourage you to visit these places for yourselves?
On the first evening, as the group from Kėdainiai are first to arrive, we are invited to join in a workshop with the Lithuanian Choir, who meet regularly at the manor house, in a session led by maestro Wojciech Szroeder. The choir is made up of local residents from the surrounding villages of Krasnogruda, Żegary, Dusznica as well as from Sejny.
Tuesday June 16th
The first part of the day is spent at the White Synagogue in Sejny, where the young participants from Sejny and Suwalki, along with their teachers, present to an invited audience the results of their work during the project, personal reflections through spoken word, song, music and a photographic slide show.
Here’s a couple of examples:
A special publication is also unveiled, a loose-leaf portfolio which shares their favourite locations explored during the project – all 38 of them - a mini guide in three languages. A song group performed four songs and Marta Falińska performed beautifully on marimba. (The publication will be made available online as a pdf in due course.)
The Polish, Lithuanian and Russian groups returned to Krasnogruda in the afternoon to undertake two workshops. The first, with Mariola Mitros, was an opportunity to use local herbs with a variety of spices and natural products – to experiment making refreshing drinks and teas, different infusions and flavours. At Krasnogruda, a recent initiative is to harvest the local produce of the woods and fields and create jams, various preserves and nalewka – a drink made by maceration of various ingredients in alcohol, such as quince.
The second workshop was led by Wieslaw Szuminski in the art space – creating t-shirts using from images of Czesław Miłosz. Our favourite t-shirt was ‘Angry Miłosz’…
In the evening there was an excellent performance by the Klezmer Orchestra, the junior version, followed by a traditional campfire with sausages, down by the lake. As Rimantas said: “Sausages in the evening, sausages for breakfast…”
Wednesday June 17th
Time for everyone to travel to Kėdainiai for the presentations from the Lithuanian group at the Multicultural Centre in the heart of the old town. The youth participants shared their personal reflections with the audience alongside local teachers involved in the educational exchanges in each three locations also spoke of their experiences.
Here’s the opening presentation in full (in three video clips and in beautiful Lithunian)…
Thursday June 18th
An Alternative tour of Kedainiai…
Rimantas and Audrone take the group to the local chemical plan and introduce us to our special guide, Indre Aksenaviciciute. She explains that Lifosa is a phosphate industry company which began as a state-owned Soviet enterprise and was privatised in 1996. Currently it is owned by a Russian mineral company, Eurochem. There are nearly 1000 workers here (with only 5% in administration and management) so it is the main employer in the area.
In 1952, Soviet planners approved this location for the construction of a mineral phosphate plant, 2 kilometres outside of the town. The area was chosen due to a number of factors, easy access to the ice free Baltic port at Klaipėda, away from main population areas (due to pollution factors, one of which being the prevailing wind which blew fumes away from the town). After final approvals in 1958, a concrete production plant was first constructed, and a network of roads and railways. The first sulphuric acid process line was completed in 1962. Improvements at the end of the 80’s decreased polluting emissions by a third.
Since 2000, the plant has generated its own electricity, by utilising the steam discharged from the sulphuric acid. Indeed it has the equivalent power of an electricity generating station, and feeds some of this power back to the local grid. Currently the company produce about 250 million kWh of electricity, 50 million kWh of which are provided to the electric power network of the country. The city is supplied with about 100 000 MWh of heat.
The basic product manufactured at Lifosa is the nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizer Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), the process of which requires phosphoric acid and sulphuric acid, which are also produced at the company. Fluorine, the by-product of phosphoric acid process, is further utilised and reprocessed into Aluminium Fluoride. Feed additives, such as Monocalcium Phosphate, are produced from phosphoric acid.
Most of its products are exported, with less than 4% remaining in Lithuania. Sulphur arrives from Kazakstan as a solid, to be heated, melted and turned into sulphuric acid. Phosphate rocks comes from Russia, Morocco and parts of Africa.
We are given a coach tour of the plant and visit the control room, where they keep a close watch on the required temperatures needed for production processes. We are also told about the numerous clubs and sports groups the company hosts, encourages or sponsors, from quiz teams to footballs teams. We visit the huge warehouses for storing the final product, where large mounds of the fertiliser pellets lie, ready to be transported by wagons to their destination.
The company currently produces 1400 tons of phosphoric acid a day. However, to produce fertilizer, for each ton of phosphoric acid there are 5 tons of phophorus gypsum waste. This waste is stored in a huge mountainous dump on company territory. Between 70 and 86 metres in height, it’s known locally as The Kedainiai Alps. At 40 million tons currently – and growing. There are currently several initiatives looking at how to re-use this waste. Some local farmers use small quantities to grow mushrooms, but this would need a lot of mushroom fields, stretching all the way Belgium). Indre tells us that ‘the British rock band Bastille recently used the site to film a video’.
In 2008, a small museum was opened for visitors and curated by Rimantaus from Kedainiai Museum. Archival materials collected during the last 50 years along samples of production and awards are exhibited, along with an impressive colour coded model of the plant.
After the moonscape, we travel back to earth, at the request of some of the teachers on the trip, to visit the old Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of the town. Kedainiai had two Jewish cemeteries, just outside town. The one founded in the 18th century, was destroyed. It has no gravestones, only a monument. The remaining cemetery is on Kanapinsko Street, near the banks of the small river Smilga, on the northern side of town, which has up to one hundred headstones.
There are a steady trickle of visitors interested in Jewish heritage, researching their family history and the Holocaust. There was a Jewish presence here from the 15th century, and towards the end of the 19th century nearly two-thirds of Kedainiai was Jewish, though many were expelled to Russia during the First World War. At the outbreak of the Second World War, they represented a third of the population of the town. In June 1941, German forces occupied the town. In August the remaining Jewish inhabitants and those of surrounding villages were taken to the Smilaga Creek and murdered by local Lithuanian collaborationists and the Nazis.
Friday June 18th
The group set off for Kaliningrad, the final stage of this trip and to the last of the presentations.