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Publication Date

Spring 2016


In January 2015, the cast and crew of a BBC miniseries began filming an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel, War and Peace in Vilnius, Lithuania. Since much of the filming was done in Lithuania and many scenes were filmed just a few blocks from the apartment I was renting while on a Fulbright scholarship, I felt swept up in the action. It was also impossible to escape the irony of the fact that the actors were staging a reenactment of a Russian imperialist tale on the very spot where that historical action actually took place, just at the moment in Cosmopolitan Review A Transatlantic Review of Things Polish, in English history when Putin’s Russia had begun reclaiming the memory of the Russian Empire and even engaging in military occupation of the lands that were part of the Russian and Soviet Empires by annexing Crimea and occupying Eastern Ukraine. Vilnius in 2015 was a dramatic place and time in history, both in fiction and in fact.

Vilnius makes a fabulous backdrop for a film about Napoleonic Europe, since some of its most beloved buildings, like St. Anne’s Church, were visited by Napoleon and the Grande Armée as it made its way toward Russia. But the tension between Russia and Western nations following the intervention in Ukraine was probably the real reason filmmakers chose Lithuania. Throughout most of its modern history, it was either a provincial city in the Russian Empire or one of the most well developed cities of the Soviet Union.

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