Recently I saw a Latino teenager on the subway with tattoos peering from beneath his tank top and headphones blaring brass flavored melancholy tones over his doo rag. His face was calm and stoic. Suddenly I noticed his eyes tearing up and becoming red, his expression unchanged, the stillness of his face unable to stop the moisture from drowning his pupils. In about three minutes his eyes dried up again. I wondered what had happened, and then I realized – it was the song he was listening to. It reminded him of something. I let my mind run wild and I imagined he remembered a childhood from a simpler time, when America was just a dream, and the surrounding obstacles, the lack of opportunities in a provincial part of Mexico, like the situation in Bulgaria when I left in 1991, almost comical and theoretically escapable – as long as America existed. That’s how I felt when I saw The Invisible Front, a brand new documentary about the Lithuanian resistance to Soviet rule, at the premiere in Soho this summer.
It’s strange that I should feel that way about a time that wasn’t mine, an underground Eastern European spirit of resistance that had died by the mid 1950s. International communism was fading when I left Bulgaria, and the Invisible Front is about a time when it was at the peak of its influence. I’m sure many impoverished people in the wake of World War II believed communism was real and tangible. Instead they got a disguised Soviet invasion.
Imagine the concept of expanding borders in present day America. It would make more economic sense to let some states loose, not add new ones. The Soviet Union never invaded Bulgaria, never attempted to make Bulgaria a Soviet Republic. There was nothing to gain from having more mouths to feed. They already had access to the Black Sea, across which Bulgaria was still trying to catch up with the rest of the world after five centuries of Ottoman rule that had ended only 60 years prior. The Baltic, however, which was Lithuania’s asset, was a different story.
The new world that dawned after World War I was a world that transcended traditional nations, it was a world of businesses. The Soviet Union was a business, as were the United States. They had two different business models, but the priority had become to make the most out of property. By the time Poland, Germany and the Soviet Union had started passing pieces of Lithuania to each other war itself had become the only thing that kept nations in business, a reality that is very hard to swallow to this day.
Communism’s “redestribution of wealth” ideal was supposed to be a peaceful solution to this problem, but only turned the war inward, against those who weren’t all in with the grand plan. After the Soviets took over in 1945, the Lithuanians who still had faith in a world in which prosperity and government worked together despite the fact that their property was nationalized could only maintain that faith by looking at America.
The Invisible Front opened my eyes to just how strong this belief in the American beacon of freedom was – 30,000 partisans in the anti-Soviet resistance were killed in Lithuania, and all of it was covered up for a long time. That’s the sort of aggressive desire that fueled me and my kind – Eastern European immigrants in the wake of perestroyka – to succeed in the States.
The film focuses on Jouzas Luksa, a charismatic leader of the resistance who found safe passage to Paris and contacted the American Office of Policy Coordination training camps that specialized in aiding anti-communist movements. He realized, even before he was parachuted back into Lithuania to sabotage the Soviets, that any American involvement can not be sustainable. He wrote about his disillusionment from Paris. The half-cooked nature of the missions convinced Luksa that despite the fact that some people’s hearts were in the right place, there was no American investment in truly restoring Lithuanian peace. Luksa knew this was a farce and went through with it anyway.
America. The word has become a religious mantra since World War II. America will help us. We’ll do what America does and we’ll be like America some day. America, how could you let this happen?! When did the world begin to realize that there is no such thing, no material, consistent entity that could be called America, like there is, for example, a Lithuania, despite the Soviet Union’s best efforts. As an Eastern European immigrant, watching The Invisible Front answered that question for me.
With an American Dream that seems little more than a sales pitch to me now, I still see a benefit in going through with it. Because in between the bottom lines and policies and money spent and money made, there are still people, and experiences. Be sure to check out The Invisible Front, it radiates humanity, and any chance to reconnect to that feeling should be welcomed.