Changing political and socio-economic circumstances expose individuals and communities to new challenges which force them to renegotiate their identities. Migrants/refugees are particularly susceptible to these challenges because they have to move away from their familiar environment. The experience varies depending on nationality, ethnicity, and language. Nostalgia plays an important role in this identity shift.
In the late 1940s, postwar Lithuanian refugees were amongst the “Displaced Persons” accepted by the Australian government. The later migrants began to arrive in Australia in the 1970s, 1980s and the 1990s. Although postwar refugees and later migrants greatly vary in numbers, as well as, have/had different motives for coming to Australia, they share particular group and individual stories. Many of these stories are hidden, untold. Writing a work of fiction about Lithuanians in Australia provides me with the opportunity to give voice to these stories and explore the impact of nostalgia on their individual and group identities.
The background of Lithuanian Arrivals to Australia
For the purpose of my paper, I divided Lithuanians living in Australia into three different groups: postwar refugees, Soviet, and post-Soviet citizens. I aim to explore what happened in Lithuania in the period of 1941 to 2006 that led to people’s arrival in Australia. From 1941 to 1944, the Germans occupied Lithuania (Daugirdaitė-Sruogienė, 1990: 404). With Nazi Germany’s defeat some of those who fled their homeland found refuge abroad; however, others stayed and lived under the Soviet totalitarian regime (Taškūnas, 2009: 47–55). The greatest influx of approximately 10,000 Lithuanians in Australia in the 1940s was a direct consequence of World War II (Appleyard, 1972: 19; Kunz, 1988: 73; Jupp, 1995: 71–2).
In the period of 1944 to 1991, Lithuania remained a part of the Soviet Union (Daugirdaitė-Sruogienė, 1990: 404). During the years of Soviet occupation, Lithuanians were commanded to portray the Communist Party as heroic and victorious, and the people as happily liberated (Kazokas, 1992: 49; Dawisha & Parrott, 1995: 16; Vėlavičienė, 2009: 37–54; Vardys, 1978: 173–4, 177).
Soviet citizens were expected not to project anti-Soviet opinions; instead, they had to be obedient and think as one (Krickus, 1977: 28–9). In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Dawisha & Parrott, 1995: 17–8). When Gorbachev suddenly relaxed the system of political repression and introduced the policy ofglasnost, the national movements in the Soviet Union re-emerged (Smith, 1990: 128–9; Taškūnas, V: 1996: 21–3). Lithuania regained its independence in 1991 (Taškūnas 1992; Putrimas, 2001: 5, 10).
Against this backdrop, between the 1970 to the 1989, 2435 people from Russian Federation recorded entering Australia. Out of that number, 174 were from Lithuania. During the nineteen years of arrival, the numbers differed. For instance, in 1970, only 3 people from Soviet Lithuania were recorded entering Australia; in 1972, there were no arrivals; in 1978 or 1979 – 8, whereas in 1980 the number of people from Lithuania grew to 14 and increased to 28 in 1989 (ABS 2006) – the last year of the Soviet rule for Lithuania (Doniela, 1992: 64).
The second biggest number of close to 500 people from Lithuania was recorded entering Australia from 1990 to 2006. The influx corresponded with changing historical, political and socio-economic circumstances. The numbers of their arrival in Australia were: 37 in 1990, 34 in 1991, 20 in 1997, reaching 43 in the year 2000, and declining to 22 in 2006. The overall yearly arrival numbers fluctuated between 20 plus and 30 plus (ABS 2006).
The members of all three cohorts not only settled in Australia in different circumstances, but also brought with them a particular identity they could relate to. For instance, postwar Lithuanian refugees, living in Australia for sixty years, were and continue to be, a part of a distinct collective identity. Back home they lost everything: houses, farms, land, families and consequently they formed a tight community in Australia where they shared their memories, surrounded by people who understood their experiences (see Baltutis 1996; Jonaitis 1997; Liubinas 2003, also see Gaita 2003; Zable 2005).
Kazokas maintains that postwar Lithuanian refugees, who fled from their homeland, were regarded by Soviet authorities as ‘traitors’ to the State. Soviets called them ‘potential anti-Soviet propagandists for whom punishment should be torture, deportation to Siberia or even death’ (1992: 57). Many refugees, by running away from their homeland, escaped exile to Siberia, but the fear of being deported remained. Therefore, upon arrival in Australia some refugees hid their personal stories or tried to suppress their identities. Kazokas indicates that due to a sense of insecurity, a Lithuanian couple lived in hiding for 17 years in a cave near Sydney (57–8). As a consequence of political instability in Lithuania, some Lithuanians in Australia were willing to change their identities. Surnames such as Kalvis(someone who works in metal) orMiškinis (a man living in a forest) were translated from Lithuanian into English as Smith or Forrest, while long surnames were shortened or altered altogether. Others isolated themselves from Lithuanians and stopped participating in cultural and social activities (57–8; Pranauskas 2003: 102).
However, for most, their sense of nostalgia for a lost homeland remained. Cultural and social gatherings helped postwar Lithuanians express their longings through dancing, singing and yearly commemoration of the national events (Pranauskas 1998: 38, 46–60). As an active member of the Australian-Lithuanian community I observed that, in the last ten years, the National Independence Day or the commemoration of the deported to Siberia Day (Gross & Rosentals 2004), attract little attention from recent Lithuanian migrants or from Australian-born Lithuanian generations (see Pranauskas, 1998: 26). Maybe, what was important to one group may not necessarily be important to another group of people of the same nationality. Postwar refugees, who experienced the consequences of war and displacement were labelled ‘Nazis’, ‘Fascists’, ‘criminal’ and ‘undesirable elements’ by Soviet authorities (Kazokas, 1992: 18–9). They had to cope with these accusations while living in diaspora. They also felt guilty of leaving their homeland (Baltutis, 1996: 263). None of the other groups did.
By comparison, the Lithuanian nationals who settled in Australia in the 1970s and the 1980s were Soviet citizens. Their identity was shaped by the Soviet rule that postwar refugees had escaped from (Taškūnas 1996; Baltutis 2005; Baliukevičius 2008; Jankauskas et. al., 2010). The Soviet migrants joined their dispersed families here. The difference was that they were not forced to stay in Australia and could make their own decisions whether to remain or return home. However, due to the limited opportunities to leave the Soviet Union, many Lithuanians, like other Soviet citizens, were happy once they had left to shake their previous identity in exchange for the Western freedom. One of the examples of how difficult was to leave the Soviet Union in 1970 is documented in a story of a Soviet Lithuanian sailor who jumped his ship to seek a political asylum on the United States Coast Guard cutter. Not only Kudirka was reclaimed by the Soviets but also tried for treason by the Soviet Union and given a ten-year sentence in the Gulag (Kudirka & Eichel 1978, also see Gellately 2007; Malia 2000; Dawisha & Parrott 1995; Taškūnas 2005; Žemaitytė 1989).
I arrived from Lithuania to Australia in 1989 and did not go back. Because Lithuania was still a part of the Soviet Union, the Director of Klaipėda Recreation Centre where I worked, was questioned by the KGB agents. When asked about my political views, he replied that as a musician I was apolitical, and did not return due to my marriage. Not satisfied with this answer, a few months later, they questioned him again. He saw my file. Having a file during the Soviet times meant potential persecution. How relieved I felt living so far away!
The past of Soviet and post-Soviet Lithuanians has been touched by the ‘Homo Sovieticus’ experience (Nogee, 1972: 60). Most of them grew up under the Soviet system, exposed to the full impact of a totalitarian regime. They have been subject to sovietisation, and to the imposition of the Russian language and Marxist-Leninist principles (Remeikis, 1980: 405). The Soviet citizens lived during the time when nationalistic feelings and human rights were suppressed. The totalitarian regime taught people not to voice their personal opinions, for fear of being labelled an ‘anti-Soviet elements’ (Taškūnas 1992). However, some felt proud of being Soviet citizens, not knowing they were occupied (Wulf & Grönholm, 2010: 370).
After Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviet Union, its people looked for opportunities to see the world outside the Soviet existence. Those who settled in Australia soon discovered how different they were from postwar refugees (Pranauskas, 2003: 94–107).
Thus, postwar Lithuanian refugees in Australia belong to an exodus group, forced to leave their homes due to fear of being killed, tortured or deported to Siberia. The Soviet Lithuanian cohort was lucky to escape from the grip of the Soviet regime. The citizens from independent Lithuania, by leaving their homeland, voluntarily detached themselves from the Soviet system and their previous identities (Brandis, 2006: 3–5; Bertulytė-Bray, 2006: 37–9; Vitaliev 1991; Taškūnas 1996).
The relationship between Australian-Lithuanians
The relationship between Australian-Lithuanians has been constantly tested. Clash between postwar Lithuanian refugees and the later arrivals has been addressed in the Australian-Lithuanian weekly Mūsų Pastogė. Jadvyga Dambrauskienė expresses her dissatisfaction that during a meeting later arrivals like her were called communists. She argues that in 1953, her father had been sentenced to 25 years jail in Soviet Lithuania for being a partisan. Jadvyga states never being a communist regardless that she lived in Soviet Lithuania. She poses a question of why the later arrivals are not fully accepted by the postwar Lithuanian community in Australia (2009: 7).
I have also been called a communist for wearing a red beret or a jacket, as well as been viewed as ‘the other Lithuanian’. Similarly, my MA research indicates that some later arrivals were not welcomed at the Lithuanian Houses because they did not belong to postwar generation (Pranauskas: 2003: 95, 97–103).
These accusations from postwar nationals are due to uncertainty of who the later arrivals are and why are they coming to Australia. The examples above indicate that there is no full trust between nationals brought up with different ideology. How many postwar refugees still feel guilty of leaving their loved ones behind? How many are treated as the outsiders upon their visit to Lithuania? How many of them view recent arrivals in Australia as potential KGB agents, spying on the community’s activities? How many later arrivals believe that postwar Lithuanians are guilty of escaping the Soviet regime? At the same time, how many later arrivals blame themselves for not defending the freedom of Lithuania from the Russian tanks in 1991? (see Doniela, 1992: 59–75). How many stories between Lithuanians living diaspora are still untold/not shared out of mistrust of each other?
A feeling of not being integrated into the existing Lithuanian community in Australia does exist. Six years ago, as a professional choir conductress from Lithuania, I experienced hostilities on the part of my choir committee to accept me as their new leader. When the previous leader left, the agreement was reached to appoint two conductors. I was one, and the other was a chorister. This decision made me feel an outsider among postwar Lithuanians. Also, the committee’s hesitation in allowing me to take the choir on by myself showed that members of the postwar generation were more comfortable with their own leader, regardless of conducting experience and qualifications. Tensions like this result in not many later arrivals participating in the community’s life.
Dr Saulius Varnas points to the reasons behind the irreconcilable differences between Lithuanians in Australia. He observes that Lithuanians, who left their country as a consequence of World War II, were not in control of their destinies. On the contrary, recent migrants are more flexible in their emigration choices. They are also more preoccupied with their personal lives rather than with involvement in ‘the old-fashioned Lithuanian ghetto’ activities. Varnas does not agree with the view held among the postwar generation that the passivity of new arrivals is related to the fact that they were brought up under the communist ideology (2001: 3).
Although the Australian-Lithuanians came from the same place and speak the same language, their differences associated with their previous identities back home do not diminish. While in diaspora, these migrants had to adapt to their new environment and choose whether to be a part of the Lithuanian community or not. Thus tensions within the community were unavoidable, very much depending on when, and for what reason, Lithuanians settled in Australia.
All three Australian-Lithuanian cohorts were faced with the task of renegotiating their identity within and outside the Lithuanian community. Postwar refugees and those who joined them in Australia during the years of Soviet occupation may have more in common with each other. However, those who emigrated after 1990, when Lithuania proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union, may have quite different ideas about how the Lithuanian national and cultural identity in Australia should or should not be maintained. These developments show how views and attitudes of recent migrants towards the ‘preservation’ of Lithuanian identity in diaspora set them apart from postwar refugees. Also, it indicates what kind of implications life away from the birthplace has on people while their homeland identity may shift and change.
Transition from Past to Present: Dealing with Nostalgia, “Otherness” and Life in a “Third Space”
With physical detachment from the homeland, nostalgia may play a vital part in coping or not coping with the change. A person may become susceptible to various ways of transition from his past and present. Chase & Shaw assert that nostalgia connects the past and the present, making people ‘cling to the alleged certainties of the past’ (1989: 2, 8). Rubenstein argues that nostalgia ‘represents a saturated emotional private history’ as well as cultural mourning, resulting ‘from cultural dislocation and loss of ways of life from which an individual feels historically severed or exiled’ (2001: 38). To Wilson, through recollection, remembrance, reminiscence and the corollary emotional experience, nostalgia may help to facilitate a sense of identity that we all need (2005: 8).
These theoretical views directly mirror the lives of Australian-Lithuanians who continue to maintain their national and cultural activities in Australia. These activities reflect their ‘saturated emotional private history’ as well as help them to cope with ‘cultural dislocation and loss of ways of life’ from which they were ‘historically exiled’. In order to express nostalgic longings for their lost homeland, they keep ‘preserving’ culture they brought from Lithuania (Kazokas 1992; Pranauskas 1988, 2003).
By comparison, the attitudes of the Soviet citizens back home have been shaped by their belief that Baltic nations ‘voluntarily’ joined the Soviet Union (Taagepera, 2009: 451–2). Wulf & Grönholm purport that the Estonian War Generation, exposed to the Soviet influence, ‘tends to be nostalgic with great admiration for high moral standards, communal values and the national spirit prevailing in Estonian society at the time. Also, postwar children have ‘enthusiastically described the Pioneer and Komsomol life’ in ‘building a new society’ (2010: 364). Thus the Soviet or post-Soviet Lithuanians in Australia may remain nostalgic for their pasts while others may feel cheated for not being informed of the Soviet occupation at the time.
How do we begin to contemplate the complexity of Australian-Lithuanian lived reality? After completion of my BA (Honours 1998) and MA by Research degree on Lithuanian national and cultural identity in Australia (2003), I have decided to fictionalise the historical events discussed above. In my PhD novel: Going ‘home’: a story of a Lithuanian migrant, I explore how oral stories reflect particular times in history and fictionalised accounts of these stories reflect a multiplicity of meanings. My novel’s characters − postwar Uncle Algis and his niece, Daina, from Soviet Lithuania, differ from each other: Algis longs for national food and traditions he had followed back home and Daina yearns for her previous education and Lithuanian-Russian linguistic mix.
Through the relationship between Algis and Daina, I aim to explore nostalgia and the attitudes of Lithuanian migrants to their homeland and to the Lithuanian community in Australia. I argue that Daina’s interaction with postwar refugees reveals her nostalgia as well as theirs. Also, her sense of feeling different from her fellow nationals in a foreign country mirrors that of postwar Lithuanians, determining the decisions they make in order to reshape their new identities.
Postwar nationals question her political views towards them. She finds herself surrounded by their hostile attitudes because she is a product of the Soviet system they hate. Her set of life values, such as speaking more modern native language or displaying mentality of the Soviet person, greatly vary from those around her. Thus, Daina regards herself as foreign among her own people. These differences lead her to search for new self-expression away from home.
Relevant to the novel’s plot is Said’s definition of the relationship between power and ‘otherness’ as “any and all representations [that] are embedded first in the language and then in the culture, institutions and political ambience of the representer … [and are] interwoven with a great many other things besides the ‘truth’, which is itself a representation” (1978: 272). Said’s observation highlights the territorial boundaries of postwar Lithuanian refugees in Australia. Postwar refugees and their families are in-charge of the Lithuanian Clubs and Houses, as they are the driving force of continuation of their history in diaspora in a particular way. Therefore, due to their different upbringing, some postwar nationals regard later arrivals as outsiders to their establishment (Pranauskas, 2003: 95).
Cauchi believes the experience of leaving one’s homeland with its particular political, socio-economic and cultural climate, to move to a new country, has a major impact on most migrants and refugees (2002: 4, 14−5). He states that most migrants have very little idea what awaits them in their new country, to a greater or lesser extent affected by ‘various degrees’ of separation from their homeland and isolation from family and friends (184, 175).
As Hall argues, millions of ‘displaced peoples and dislocated cultures’ move from ‘settled communities’ into new ways of life, becoming a part of diasporas. Here they are exposed to a new historical reality, where their usage of language and the meaning of citizenship must be redefined. Hence, people become displaced and cultures dislocated (1993: 361). Clifford similarly identifies diaspora as a site of historical displacement from the homeland, related to particular historical circumstances (1994: 302, 304, 308). As he suggests, these events create ‘the diasporic condition’ to which people exposed. Building on Safran, he identifies the following features of the diasporic condition: a history of dispersal, a collective identity, alienation in the host country, ongoing support of the homeland, desire for eventual return and myths and memories of return (1991: 83–99).
In diaspora, the tensions between “there”, or back home and “here”, in a place of residence, is exposed to comparisons. Rushdie writes that the migrant is exposed to ‘a triple distinction’: 1) detachment from home, 2) exposure to the foreign language and 3) exposure to different social behaviour patterns, ‘sometimes even offensive to, his own’ (1991: 277−8). To Agnew, people living in diaspora experience tension between the present and the past or between
living ‘here’ and remembering ‘there’, between the memories of places of origin and entanglements with places of residence, and between the metaphorical and the physical home (2005: 5).
Many Australian-Lithuanians exist between the two countries. They live in Australia physically and Lithuania psychologically. Like other migrants/refugees they are situated in Bhabha’s “third space” occurring in collision with two or more cultures. The “third space” may encapsulate the following examples:
- Postwar Lithuanian experiences as ‘Displaced Persons’: their told and untold stories
- Desire to keep their homeland culture in diaspora free from the Soviet influences
- Be vigilant of the outsiders to the Lithuanian community, including those from Soviet Lithuania where postwar refugees were regarded as ‘traitors’ to the State
- Necessity to adapt to their new environment and adjust to their reshaped identities as well as keeping the Lithuanian language and culture alive
- Realisation that in ‘collision’ with Australian culture, their identities become destabilised
Bhabha indicates that all forms of culture are in a constant process of hybridisation (in Rutherford, 1990: 211). Each group of Lithuanians born in their homeland occupies their own “third space” in diaspora; their own collective and individual ‘hybrid’ identity. Postwar Lithuanian refugee writers Elena Jonaitis (1997) and Ale Liubinas (2003) use Displaced Persons’ experiences to tell their own stories. These individual accounts of fear of being prosecuted, uncertainty of tomorrow, and deprivation of basic human needs during and after the World War II, blend into a collective story identifiable as a refugee story.
By close comparison, latter Lithuanian arrivals hold different stories and accounts of the past events. Their stories deal with the Soviet and post-Soviet existence (Pranauskas, 2003: 99). My personal experiences of the Soviet era help me to identify with my novel’s character Daina, who discovers that postwar refugee past and their stories are not relevant to her own experiences. Therefore, Daina’s character also lives in the “third space”. Her set of values and attitudes brought from home greatly differ from others around. Consequently, in order to fit into her new environment, she is forced to reassert her identity.
My novel takes the form of an imaginary journey of a Lithuanian tourist who suffers from making a decision to stay away from ‘home’ and lives with the desire of ‘imaginary return’. Through the principal character’s journey, the novel explores the paradox of her exile, of trying to sustain her Lithuanian identity while living in Australia.
Following is an extract from the novel, Going ‘home’: a story of a Lithuanian migrant, pp. 23–4.
“Finally, in November 1985 − months after her arrival, Algis announced they were going to the Lithuanian Club in North Melbourne for Sunday lunch.
He parked his car in Errol Street, in front of the sign Lithuanian Club. When they entered through the heavy wooden door, Daina noticed the walls were covered in photographs of Lithuania − towns, churches, and dark green forests of the countryside. There were also photos of singers, dancers and children dressed in national costumes.
It was Sunday lunchtime and the club was crowded. People were sitting at tables and at the bar talking and sharing jokes. They drank beer, wine, or vodka. Some stood around and watched the billiard players.
Daina was happy to be surrounded by the sound of her native language, and yet, on careful listening she picked up new words and phrases. Standing at the bar she had been listening to two women’s conversation. They used a combination of English and Lithuanian words. But there was more to it − they often added the Lithuanian endings to the English words or reshaped Lithuanian words to sound more English. Thus, hotel became hotelis. But hotel in Lithuanian was viešbutis. Listening to them speak made Daina laugh and she had to move away.
She accidentally bumped into a young woman. They apologised to each other and introduced themselves. To Daina’s surprise her new acquaintance had also only recently arrived from Lithuania. Her name was Saulė. They were about to take up seats at the empty table when Algis, who had been drinking at the bar, noticed them. ‘Don’t sit here girls. This is Kovas’ table. Sit over there, that’s my table,’ he pointed towards the middle of the hall.
‘Do you have to pre-book the seats?’ Saulė asked.
‘No, but some people for years claim their “own” tables. We respect that,’ Algis explained.
Saulė and Daina glanced at each other and shrugged their shoulders, following him to another table. Daina noticed that a number of people were staring at them.
‘Who are these young women Algis?’ An elderly man with thick glasses asked.
‘This is my niece Daina and this young lady is … ?’
‘Saulė. I am visiting my aunt in Melbourne.’
‘How hard was it to get out?’ A bald man standing next to Algis asked.
‘Not hard, especially because all my family lives in Lithuania,’ Daina replied.
‘Mine too, the same,’ Saulė said.
‘The Soviet authorities are reluctant to let people who don’t have any relatives in Lithuania go abroad. Russian officials are especially hard on people whose family members have been deported to Siberia,’ Algis added with authority, around them others nodded their heads.
A bottle of vodka appeared on a table and men lifted their glasses, drinking to better times and the hope of one day returning to free Lithuania as it was between the two wars…They talked of their yearning for the sap of the birch tree, to see the seagulls flying above the Baltic Sea and the beauty of amber. When glasses were emptied, people embraced each other and sat around in a tight circle, moving their feet to the sound of their own voices. They knew all the words of their beloved folk songs about a young maiden and a brave man galloping towards her on a white horse; about the war and death; about the beauty of their old country. Daina and Saulė joined in singing.
‘Are you planning to go back, girls?’ A woman asked. Daina noticed she was wearing in a linen dress and a beautiful amber brooch.
‘Yes,’ they replied.
Algis’ friend Jurgis asked them why they were not considering staying in Australia.
‘Reading my uncle’s books has made me nostalgic for things I thought I never cared about. Here you seem to treasure everything Lithuanian because once you go outside these walls, it’s another world,’ Daina aired her thoughts.”
The extract of the story exemplifies the complexities of Lithuanian identities in Australia. It shows that the same ethnic/language/nationality group experiences, as well as individual experience, differ depending on the departure from the homeland and arrival in the host country circumstances. Also, it indicates how nostalgia plays an important role in identity shift, particularly among the postwar group who is reluctant to deal with that shift. They wish to continue ‘preserving’ their ‘pure’ identity that in their view, has been saved from the Soviet influences.
This paper has analysed the background of postwar and recent Lithuanian migrants before their arrival in Australia. The German–Russian war (1941–1945) destabilised Lithuanian national and cultural identity. After escaping from Soviet Lithuania and Stalinist repression, many postwar Lithuanian migrants abroad held onto their memories of forced collectivisation and deportation, with their land being taken from them and relatives and friends killed or deported to Siberia.
Postwar Lithuanians came to Australia as “Displaced Persons.” In diaspora, homeland identity became transformed and renegotiated. Their nationalistic ideals formed under a free (1918−1940) (Rose, 1992: 16–7) and later under Soviet Lithuania, were brought and flourished in Australia. The collective identity formed in the German camps greatly encouraged Lithuanians to keep ‘preserving’ their national and cultural identity. On their arrival in Australia, this group of migrants continued to maintain their homeland identity, creating their own Lithuania that does not exist anywhere in the world.
In 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics published new figures indicating that only 2169 of the postwar nationals born in Lithuania are still alive (ABS 2006). Such drastic decline, mostly due to the ageing population of postwar generation, shows the need for urgent research so that other stories can be recorded and relived experiences documented.
Being brought up with different ideology plays a vital part in how people perceive each other. For instance, by comparison to postwar cohort, recent Lithuanian migrants, as a collective group with a shared Soviet or post-Soviet national and cultural identity, hold onto the memories, longings and pastimes, experienced of their earlier life in Lithuania. From the very moment of being detached from their familiar home environment, their identities are exposed to foreign influences.
This paper has argued that nostalgia for the past has a great impact on people. In diaspora, faced with different historical, political and socio-economic circumstances, migrants/refugees were forced to renegotiate their previous identities. The transition from being postwar or Soviet citizen in Australia, projected in the characters of my PhD novel, gives the insight of the hidden stories that continue to emerge.
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