I wrote the following last year for Year 12 English (VCE EAL Units 3/4), while studying the “Imaginative Landscape” context.
One of the most interesting and significant journeys that I undertook in my eighteen years of life was a trip with my family to Europe in June and July 2013. As we travelled through Scandinavia, the Baltic States and Central Europe, I not only discovered some of the most pristine nature, visited a theme park where the characters from the books I devoured as a little girl came to life, and met extended family whom I hadn’t seen for several years, I also developed a stronger sense of my identity.
The place where I felt this most strongly was the Hill of Crosses, found on the outskirts of the regional Lithuanian city of Siauliai. It is a symbol of peaceful resistance and the maintenance of a cultural and national identity in the face of oppression. The locals began bringing crosses to the site in 1831 when the bodies of their loved ones who had been killed in the uprising against the Tzarist Russia could not be found. The practice resurged in the decade following World War Two as Lithuania unsuccessfully attempted to defend its independence. Despite the fact that the hill was bulldozed by the Soviet authorities (who opposed all religion and most particularly Catholicism because it was in direct opposition to their Orthodox Christianity, and over time came to represent democracy) on at least two occasions in the 1960s and 1970s, it is currently estimated that there are over 250,000 crosses found on the hill.
As we walked through the mountains of crosses, some wooden, some plastic, some large, some small, some carefully carved, others spontaneously arranged, I was overcome by a wave of hope that my parents’ homeland, Belarus, will one day be free from dictatorship and that one day it’s people will experience the same quality of life as their European counterparts. The monument in memory of those who died while fighting for independence, reminded me that the people who believe that all peoples should be able to practice their religion and celebrate their culture freely without fear of persecution, do not only live in history books and on the websites of independent newspapers, but also in the real world, and all over it too. And as my mother placed a small cross woven from a stray wire only moments ago amidst the mass, I felt as though I was no longer alone in my disillusionment and in my dreams, in my despair and in my hope; I was connected to something greater than myself.