Laurynas, you have finished both bachelor‘s and master‘s degree at IIRPS VU. How did you decide to study political science?
I entered IIRPS VU in 1999, so it‘s been almost 20 years that I am here. Those years passed by so quickly… How have they passed? That‘s a more difficult question.
I entered IIRPS VU because it was the closest to my home of all the faculties of Vilnius University. At that time, IIRPS campus was situated in Baltupiai. I lived in Baltupiai too, hence I didn‘t need to commute and could come home for lunch anytime. I thought then – why not giving it a try? By the way, political science was regarded as a prestigious field of study, so that added up to my decision. It was not a mistake – I don‘t know what others think of it, but I liked studying there. At first, it was difficult, but challenges made me stronger. After finishing bachelor‘s and master‘s studies one after another, then I began working in the sphere associated with my studies, so, I wrote my dissertation. The route to PhD was pretty boring. I never went for an Erasmus exchange semester, however, I spent some time at Creighton University (for those who doesn’t know, this University is located in Nebraska, “in the middle of nowhere”). Opportunity to travel to America probably also became one of the reasons why political science turned into such a passion for me. Sometimes it‘s quite shocking – 20 years spent at the Institute already, there were days when I used to regret being here, but all in all, there are more pros than cons.
At the moment, you are the lecturer of subjects about Russia to both master‘s and bachelor‘s students. How did you become that interested in Russia and Eastern Europe?
Both supply and demand. Firstly, as I live in Lithuania and follow the political tendencies, this area always remains relevant and brings out new practical problems. Secondly, I am addicted to following my footsteps. As an institutionalist would say, why should I abandon what I have begun and choose another sphere, if I can become an expert in one sphere, or this time, a region? And thirdly, there is a high interest from people, who would like to learn more about practical events happening in this region. The problem in Lithuania is that lots of people claim to know everything about this subject and think that their opinion is the most justified. Looking on a bright side – our Institute opened a programme for Eastern European and Russian Studies. The students of this programme often know less about the region but are keen to find out more. This highly motivates me.
Apart from being a lecturer, you are the head of the Eastern European and Russian Studies programme committee. Could you tell us what is so special about this programme?
Vilius Mačkinis could answer this question better. I could tell you how I became a member of Study Programme Committee, but I will not do so this time. But this programme is very effective, as we, the lecturers, are experts of this region. I think that the highest quality of this programme is our competences. There are many advances about this programme from the left to the right. Furthermore, top-down and bottom-up advances. Just come and try it.
You are active not only in academia but also at playing intellectual games. You have participated in LRT game show “Kas ir kodėl” and in “Auksinis protas” – you reached a superfinal in both TV show and a live quiz tournament with your team. Why did you become so interested in quizzing and how have you become that successful?
I used to participate but now that I’m older, I’m not as involved. Who doesn’t like to play? Especially, when you feel that you’re good at it, this hobby helps you to chill, to feel better. Moreover, in this way, I spend a good time with my friends. This activity has its roots way back to 6th grade when I took part in a Best Student contest of my school. One of the tasks was to match the flags of Scandinavian countries and to tell their capital cities. I performed the task very well and it was quite a happy moment for me. Also, we often used to play “Hangman” with my history teacher. I guessed the words correctly quite often, so I understood that quizzing is definitely for me. At some time, my progress slowed down. I do not have a special training for these games, it just shows your general knowledge. You gain specific knowledge and experience by playing again, and again. Some questions are repeated once in a while, so, later on, you can just know how the logic of a question works.
Laurynas, you play football and are a huge fan of this game. Which team is your favourite one?
I don’t support one specific team, I am a fan of high-quality football. When I was younger I played myself, even considered becoming a professional footballer until I finished high school. At that moment, I had to choose between football and studying. As you can see, I chose to study, but football is still my hobby. Football is not always good for your health – sometimes it harms your body a lot, but we all are addicted to something. You imagine that you’re still young and quick, but when you are in a pitch, you understand that imagination differs from reality – just like in politics.
You worked in Lithuanian Presidential office as a President’s advisor for foreign affairs. How was this experience useful for you?
How did I end up at the President’s palace? After receiving an invitation call, I entered it through the front door. My work with youth organisations in Lithuanian NATO and EU integration didn’t go unnoticed. I consider this experience as very good because touching the real politics by practice is invaluable to a political theorist. Reading and studying academical articles make you build mind palaces, and a lot of them are demolished by turning into the real political world. This helps you understand, how the theory in the books can be realised in practice. I would suggest practical politics to everyone as an instrument of controlling their ambitions. As you try more practices, life gets more varied and interesting. It doesn’t make your life easier, but life is difficult for everyone these days.
Remember your 20 years at the IIRPS VU. What is your funniest memory from all that time?
The most fun time is during the first and second year when you are very young, you still believe in yourself. ‘Cementofkė’, ‘betonofkė’ – all those parties of the first two years for bachelor students, usually things that are not about science at all. On the other side, it’s fun when you upgrade from bachelor’s to master’s degree, later on from master’s to PhD, and finally – from PhD to a lecturer. When you sit at the class as a lecturer and see the first-year students, it’s so funny, because you remember yourself during the first year and you can easily tell what these students are going to say. The process of transformation is really funny. When you are taking your first exam, you are all scared, you just think about what would happen, if you didn’t pass, what would happen if you got an 8, etc. When you write your master’s paper, you think that 2 hours until a deadline is adequate time to begin writing. While the time passes, your outlook to problems changes, you can differentiate which of them are really important.
What are your greetings to the members of IIRPS VU society?
I wish that nobody would feel like they know everything. There is a tendency, that people often think that their answers are the correct ones. The essence of academic studies is critical thinking, questioning your opinions, how close to the truth they are. Sometimes you need to leave your position and look at yourself from another perspective, because that opens a variety of colours to your thinking.