The Centre of Francophone Countries at Vytautas Magnus University opened its doors in October 27, 2016. Our centre is presently operating at VMU Multifunctional Research and Studies Centre located at the very heart of the city of Kaunas. When the Rector of Vytautas Magnus University Prof. Juozas Augutis and the Ambassador of France for Lithuania Philippe Jeantaud signed the Agreement for the Establishment of The Centre of Francophone Countries, the vibrant idea to encourage a more intensive academic cooperation among Lithuanian and French scholars has been successfully put into practice.
The Centre of Francophone Countries is currently operating in accordance to the official regulations approved by the Senate of Vytautas Magnus University. The Resolution No. 7-2 (approved in October 15, 2018) has been serving as the legal basis for all our activities. The above-mentioned document indicates that our centre has the ambition to attain the following important objectives:
The Centre of Francophone Countries takes up the initiative to organize academic lectures, discussions and seminars. These events usually turn into a significant impetus for the academic community of Vytautas Magnus University to analyse the most important challenges for the globalized world and examine international social phenomena in more depth. These areas of our activity remain relevant taking into account of the status of Lithuania as a country-observer at the International Organization of la Francophonie.
Professor Aurelija Leonavičienė who serves as the Head of the Centre of Francophone Countries and the Head of Department of Foreign Language, Literary and Translation Studies at the Faculty of Humanities has aptly indicated major tendencies: “Academic lectures given by scholars, experts and diplomats provide much assistance in attaining the main objectives of our centre. We are currently striving to actively spread the French language and make it even more popular among Lithuanians. We enthusiastically support the dominant cultural values of Francophone countries and encourage different cultural, political and economic forms of representation of these countries in Lithuania as well.”
Vytautas Magnus University re-opened its doors for students in 1989 due to the joint efforts of Lithuanian scholars and Lithuanian researchers living in emigration. Lithuania finally regained its independence in 1990 and much intellectual energy was devoted to the revival of the Francophone tradition of Kaunas and the spread of ideas about the subsequent development of the Humanities as a lively field of academic studies.
It is important to note that our academic personnel and researchers have been successfully preparing high-ranking specialists of French philology at Vytautas Magnus University for more than two decades. In addition, a beneficial possibility to learn the French language on the academic level has always been offered to students specialising in other academic fields, including political science, economics or arts, so that they could broaden their cultural horizons.
According to the professor Aurelija Leonavičienė, Kaunas has always been strongly oriented towards Western Europe as compared to other Lithuanian cities. Before World War II, most members of Lithuanian society traditionally perceived Paris as one of the leading cultural destinations. France truly stood out for them as a symbol of the treasure house of Western culture. Eager to take over and adapt certain elements of modern western culture, Lithuanian professionals and scientists deliberately chose to study either in France or in Switzerland. Lithuanian painters, in turn, drew their inspiration from important pieces of French art. Meanwhile, professional translators endeavoured to introduce the local public to French literature and they made a considerable impact on the general taste of most readers at the time. Lithuanian writers and poets often explored the literary ideas of their French counterparts, too. Besides, the majority of Lithuanian secondary schools usually offered lessons of French as a foreign language to their pupils. As a result, more and more inhabitants of Kaunas gradually acquired the linguistic skills necessary to communicate in French and this tendency eventually laid the foundation for the Francophone tradition in Lithuania, and especially in Kaunas. During five long decades of the Soviet occupation, the Francophone tradition became an important part of the cultural resistance movement of Lithuanians.
The Centre of Francophone Countries strives to maintain a fruitful dialogue with the French-speaking world and operates as an institutional guardian of the Francophone tradition inherited from the pre-war Lithuania. This centre seeks not only to encourage people to learn French but to improve the quality of teaching the French language all around the country. Another ambition has always been to provide support, expertise and assistance so that the French language would be widely used in the public spheres of Lithuania. It should also be emphasized the Centre of Francophone Countries plays an active role in organizing the Month of la Francophonie in Kaunas with the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, the Municipality of Kaunas and the French Institute in Lithuania.
One more innovative initiative took place in 2019 since we organized a special festival entitled The Francophone Spring. The festival included a series of events from the beginning of February until the end of May. Professor Milda Danytė discussed Canadian literature and the genre of science fiction. Kristina Aurylaitė, an experienced translator, read a public lecture on the professional challenges related to translating the literary texts written by a well-known Lithuanian-Canadian novelist Antanas Šileika. Professor Gytis Padegimas shared his surprising insights with our students and other participants during a special event dedicated to the inspiring tradition of French Theatre. The personality of Patrick Modiano, a French novelist and recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, and his major works were thoroughly analysed by Professor Aurelija Leonavičienė and Dr. Inga Litvinavičienė. Ugnė Žirgulė, a famous actress from National Kaunas Drama Theatre, read some excerpts from Patrick Modiano’s novels as well.
The inhabitants and visitors of Kaunas have truly a unique chance to get more information about scholarly researches and analyses carried out by political scientists originating from France and other Francophone countries. Much attention is devoted to the practical implementation of public and cultural diplomacy on the international arena. Professor and Dean of the Political Science and Diplomacy Faculty at Vytautas Magnus University Šarūnas Liekis claims that it is of vital importance to learn new languages in a much wider context that would cover regional and cultural peculiarities as well as politics.
The French language is widely used in various places around the world: starting from the Province of Quebec in Canada and finishing with the African countries. The Dean of the Political Science and Diplomacy Faculty at Vytautas Magnus University Šarūnas Liekis openly claims: „Contrary to other Lithuanian universities, we pay less heed to teaching abstract theories that provide no tools to implement necessary changes. Quite the contrary, we are eager to analyse concrete regions of the world in order to understand political processes better. The French language is often regarded as a truly global language spoken by millions of people worldwide. There is no doubt that the adequate mastery of the French language opens up new possibilities for students, scientists and professionals to work on the global level without any restrictions. “
The Centre of Francophone Countries manifests a strong interest in French cultural diplomacy and its implementation in Lithuania. For this reason, the Centre of Francophone Countries in collaboration with the Political Science and Diplomacy Faculty at Vytautas Magnus University organized an international conference La diversité culturelle et politique dans le monde francophone: entre le présent et l’avenir in March 14, 2019. The following researchers from France and Lithuania took part in the event: Prof. Gintautas Mažeikis, Dr. Philippe Perchoc, Dr. Giedrė Pranaitytė, Dr. Sima Rakutienė, Dr. Andrius Švarplys, Dr. Giedrius Česnakas and Rasa Zozaitė.
Francophone studies also remain an extremely important field of our activities. In accordance to the Agreement for the Establishment of The Centre of Francophone Countries No. 1 – 101, the Embassy of France takes up the responsibility to assist Vytautas Magnus University in disseminating the information about the importance of the French language and our Francophone Study Programs. It corresponds to the official aim of intensifying the spread of the French language and supporting cultural initiatives in Lithuania.
The Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Vytautas Magnus University doc. Rūta Eidukevičienė notes that culture of France becomes increasingly popular in contemporary Lithuania: “At present, France is rapidly gaining its popularity among Lithuanians. Provence style in interior design is extremely fashionable. People prefer eating their pastries at French bakeries or enjoying the subtleties of the French cuisine during special culinary evenings. However, if you want to feel the real French spirit or get immersed into French culture through food, theatre, cinema art or well-known French chansons, there is simply no other choice but to study the French language.”
Democratic values, the openness to international influence, the model of studies based on the principles of artes liberales and the modernity of Vytautas Magnus University help to develop proximity to the French perception of life: Professor Aurelija Leonavičienė notes: “After evaluating contemporary and historical contexts of Kaunas and the openness of Vytautas Magnus University to international influence as well as the academic tradition of spreading French culture, it becomes obvious why the French Embassy of France has chosen our university as a place to establish the Centre of Francophone Countries. There is no doubt that this centre is important to Vytautas Magnus University since it strives to build new connections with the Francophone world, including the embassy of France and the embassies of other French-speaking countries as well as Francophone organizations operating on the international level.”