We wanted to show off our language, history, or at least our famous Zeppelin potato dumplings – but Danish anthropologist Pernille Hohnen came to Lithuania in 1994 and, to our great surprise and disappointment, chose to study the filthy open-air marketplace called Gariūnai – a place that many Lithuanians felt did not truly represent their country.
At the time, the word “speculation” had already been replaced by the word “trade”, but marketplace vendors still felt pushed to the margins of society. Cold and lacking sleep, vendors would have gladly exchanged their trade for employment based on their actual professions, even at lesser wages. Even though they earned more than they would have in the public sector, they considered themselves “unemployed”, because they made their living from unofficial activity that had little to do with their actual professional background. And then there was all the stress, the extortion, and conflicts with police.
One woman who had previously working in an official cultural institution told Hohen: “It was tragic when I had to start selling things at Gariūnai. I’d worked in the theatre – I would have never gone to buy anything at Gariūnai… But a friend who worked with me at the theatre was more courageous. […] She’d been forced to take unpaid leave and never came back to the theatre, and instead started trading at Gariūnai. She suggested I join her. The first day, I had five sweaters in my bag, but as I walked around the market, I only held one in my hand. I was afraid I’d run into somebody I knew…”
Pernille Hohnen spent a considerable amount of time in Gariūnai, talking with market vendors. Her anthropological study was published in 2003 by the Oxford University Press.