Greetings from sometimes sunny Lithuania!
I’ve been meaning to publish my first blog entry for a few days but, in all honesty, have been dragging my feet a little. Not because my travels in Vilnius have been uneventful and certainly not because my work at the Law Institute of Lithuania (Teise) hasn’t been interesting, but because I’ve been a little anxious about what to write and where to start. It is surprisingly hard to write something that is equal parts interesting, informative, silly, serious, and all other things expected, but I suppose I will just have to fumble my way through this.
I’ll start by making a confession: when I was fortunate enough to be offered this position, I knew little more about Lithuania than what Jonathan Franzen laid out for me in The Corrections. That is to say, Vilnius was merely a destination in a popular fiction. Before setting off, I did a bit more research-- it’s one of three Baltic states (“Of course American’s are always confusing the Balkans and the Baltics, they must look like they’re the same place compared to a map of the United States”), a member of the European Union (although the Lita is still the official currency), and borders Latvia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia. I also managed to download some free audibooks on speaking Lithuanian. I realized shortly on arrival, however, that my knowledge of Lithuania was still rudimentary and my ability to order a coffee in Lithuania was greatly overestimated.
Thankfully, Vilnius is a truly amazing and beautiful city that has proven easy to navigate. Despite a few hills and rogue race car drivers, the city is incredibly walkable. And because it’s the capital and a bit of a college town, it’s brimming with culture and adventure as well as abundant parks and nature.
But enough scene setting, time to get to something a tad more serious: Work! To recap, I’ll be spending my summer with the Lithuanian Law Institute, also known as Teises. The institute was founded in 1991, during the same time period that Lithuania became independent from the Soviet Union and was once again recognized as an independent country by the international community. Since then, a lot has changed in Lithuania but Teises has remained a consistent source of legal research and scholarship. Currently, Teises works on many projects for the European Union and other cross-national legal organizations.
Now, this international work at the institute is where my research comes in. To be a little more specific, Teises is working on a few projects relating to “new” european crimes. While the term might seem a little vague, these new crimes are actually a pretty well-defined phenomenon across europe (although, it should be stated that some of these crimes are actually quite old, even though the trend is recently emerging). These so-called “new” crimes across europe include human and drug trafficking, cyber crimes, and goods smuggling. Because of Lithuania’s geographic location-- sandwiched in between Russia, Belarus, and the European Union-- smuggling of otherwise legal goods, particularly tobacco products, is very prevalent. So, that’s just a little teaser of what I’ll be working on this summer, but expect more details in next week’s edition!
Ah, that’s not a bad summary of my first few days in Lithuania, right? And just to make sure I conclude on an uplifting note, I promise my Lithuanian is improving! In fact, my coworkers tell me I’ve mastered a phrase sans american accent. Fortunately, it’s the ever important phrase, Aš nesuprantu lietuviška. Unfortunately, it means, I don’t understand Lithuanian.