THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Boris Vytautas Bakunas
By Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas, Ph. D., Chicago
A wave of unity swept the international Lithuanian community on March 11th as Lithuanians celebrated the 22nd anniversary of the Lithuanian Parliament’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. However, the sense of national unity engendered by the celebration could be short-lived.
Human beings have a strong tendency to overgeneralize and succumb to stereotypical us-them distinctions that can shatter even the strongest bonds. We need only search the internet to find examples of divisive thinking at work:
”50 years of Soviet rule has ruined an entire generation of Lithuanian.”
”Those who fled Lithuania during World II were cowards -- and now they come back, flaunt their wealth, and tell us ‘true Lithuanians’ how to live.”
”Lithuanians who work abroad have abandoned their homeland and should be deprived of their Lithuanian citizenship.”
Could such stereotypical, emotionally-charged accusations be one of the main reasons why relations between Lithuania’s diaspora groups and their countrymen back home have become strained?
As psychiatrist Dr, Aaron T. Beck and others have noted, accusatory remarks are often perceived as threats by those targeted for verbal attack. Recriminations follow and escalate into verbal shooting matches that solidify hostilities between individuals and groups that previously enjoyed friendly relations.
Although debate is an inevitable and even desirable characteristic of free democratic societies, inflammatory finger-pointing can undermine a country’s national cohesion, political stability, and economic development. As individuals, what can we do to curb the spiral of anger-promoting speech that has surfaced within the world-wide Lithuanian community?
A poignant article that touches on the root causes of bias and discrimination. Throughout Lithuanian history, the Lithuanian people showed unity, determination and resiliency to overcome 200 years of foreign occupations that, once again, resulted in a free and sovereign nation. Today, it is only through unity, determination and resiliency by Lithuanians, in Lithuania and abroad, that Lithuania can move forward and reclaim her place on the world stage.
Although, physically, Lithuanians may live oceans apart, pushing each other further away only hinders the progress of the Lithuanian nation. As this article points out, cultural promotion and exchange between all Lithuanians can solidify and preserve our national identity. Organizations, such as, the National Lithuanian Hall of Fame, and the newly established Lithuanian-American Theater "Viltis" seek to promote Lithuanian culture in America, and at the same time, reach out and recognize achievements of Lithuanians in Lithuania.
One only has to look at history to learn that peoples united for a purpose or cause will always achieve their goals.
Mary Ellen Lloyd
Why would there be ANY political differences among Lithuanian-Americans, at least for those over age 40 who are fully Lithuanian?? Do actual Lithuanians who lived under communism support any party which proposes to do the same thing to America that Russia did to Lithuania?? HOW can there be political divisiveness among Lithuanians who were old enough to witness the terrors and the gulags?
One of the outstanding features of VilNews is how it publishes articles highlighting the achievements of Lithuanians around the world as well as the harsh realities of the past.
In 2011, two highly-acclaimed novels about the horrors of Soviet oppression were published. "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys told the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who along with her family was exiled to Siberia. Both hard-cover and paperback editions of "Between Shades of Gray" hit the New York Times best-seller list..
Antanas Sileika's novel "Underground" depicts the armed resistance of the Lithuanian partisans against the Soviet invaders and their collaborators. "Underground's" Lukas, is based on Lithuania's most famous partisan, Juozas Luksa--Daumantas. :"Underground" was picked as on of the best novels in English published in 2011 by The Globe and Mail. I have heard that the United States edition of Sileika's novel will be published within a few weeks.
2011 also saw the publication of Ellen Cassedy's book "We Are Here," which recounts the author's personal quest to understand how the people of Lithuania -- Jews and non-Jews -- are dealing with the horrors of the Nazi and Soviet past in order to build a new and better future. Ellen was inspired to write her book when her uncle, a Holocaust survivor, gave her a slip of paper and said, "Read this."
All three books, written by children of Lithuanians who escaped execution or exile, are helping to acquaint English-speaking public with one of the most tragic and heroic periods of Lithuanian history. They will also help educate a new generation of Lithuanians about the long suppressed history of Lithuania during and after World War II.
I am very happy that The National Lithuanian Hall of Fame is playing such an active role in helping to publicize all three books. This new organization has already donated more than five thousand dollars to help Lithuanian film director Tomas Donela secure the film right to "Underground." It is also making great progress in getting "Between Shades of Gray" on the reading lists of American schools and doing all it can to promote "We Are Here."
How can there be any divisiveness among Lithuanians in regards the terrors of the Gulag and the Holocaust? I don't have an answer to that question. I only know that during my own long life I have encountered several. I've spoken to and interviewed Lithuanians who collaborated with Nazis and with Soviet Communists. I've heard expressions of anti-Semitism, and I've heard several Lithuanians express nostalgia for the "good old days" under Communism. Probably, I'll never fully understand the dark side of human nature. But I also spoke to former partisans, political prisoners, and those who endured Siberian exile. My hope is that as individuals we do all we can to overcome hatred in word and in deed and help each other when we can.
In this endeavor, perhaps we can learn from the example set by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, "“Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering--remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you dont want to repeat what happened.”
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