THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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JULY 2012: Regina Narusiene leaves the position as President of the World Lithuanian Community now in August.
Here with her husband Bernard in Vilnius’ charming, bustling Pilies gatve on a beautiful July Sunday morning.
Text & photos: Aage Myhre, editor-in-chief
“We need new enthusiasts, young people in our worldwide organization, the World Lithuanian Community (WLC). We need Lithuanians, wherever in the world they live, to participate more actively in the maintenance and development of the Lithuanian identity and heritage.”
I wander through beautiful Vilnius Old Town with Regina Narusiene and her husband Bernard, both of them successful Chicago attorneys, this sunny July morning.
We hear voices in all languages, laughter, sounds. It smells of food from all world corners around us. Vilnius has become a hugely popular destination for tourists from all over the globe. I think back on how this street looked 22 years ago, when I came here for the first time. The pictures above and below are from the same street, one taken now in warm July 2012, one taken in November 1990 when coal was still dumped on the sidewalks from the horse-drawn carriages.
The lady I walk with, Regina Narusiene, has been President of the World Lithuanian Community (WLC) since 2006. Before that she led the Lithuanian American Community Inc. (LAC) for six years and then was the president of the Board of Directors of that Community for another 6 years. Now she has finished her second term for WLC and will leave the organization in a few days, at a meeting here in Vilnius starting 6th of August, and she is concerned that the recruitment to international Lithuania has become insufficient.
For six years she has lived a busy double life. Through part of the year, she stays with husband and family in a small village 100 km northwest of Chicago, but it’s not usual to see her for long periods at her home in Vilnius, working intensely on behalf of ‘the international Lithuania’ – this nation outside the nation that includes about almost as many Lithuanians as the country’s resident population.
WLC is now suffering from what is commonly known as an "ageing population" even if there in recent times has been some amazing enthusiasm from "second, third and fourth generation Lithuanians”, not least here in VilNews. An input of new members and enthusiasts is, however, vital to ensure the long-term continuity of this important Lithuanian tradition and movement around the world. WLC needs YOU!
If you've previously taken part in other forms of organisations you'll have a good head start. Naturally, if you've been active in Lithuanian groups or institutions WLC would particularly like to hear from you. But what if you are a complete beginner? Don't worry, you'll still be made very welcome. Don't let the apparent complexity of what this organization does put you off!
I have agreed with Regina that she will be quick to answer everyone who writes her with questions, expressing any sort of readiness to participate in the works of international Lithuania.
So please do not wait, write her an email as soon as you can. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
November 1990, my first visit to Vilnius: Delivery of coal to properties in Pilies g. right in the centre of the city. With horses. People pick it up in burlap sacks. Other times, the horse driver is simply shovelling the coal out on the sidewalk in front of the buildings on his ordering list.
These two words have come to represent Regina's premier of the heart since she took over as leader of WLC in 2006, the same year that Lithuania's Constitutional Court ruled that the country's Constitution had to be interpreted in such a way that individuals with citizenship of another country should not be allowed to have and keep Lithuania’s citizenship as well.
“The first few months after the court had made its terrible decision, at first I received almost 100 angry letters every day from Lithuanians and their descendants from around the world. They felt that the mother country had disowned them, cutting ties with them and that their efforts and desires to be citizens of Lithuania were not welcomed or respected. They felt that the mother country wanted to punish those who had emigrated, whether this occurred against the background of war, persecution or for economic reasons.”
Regina is herself a lawyer, with over 50 years legal practise in Illinois with her husband Bernard, litigating all types of court cases. Still, the ruling of the Lithuanian Constitutional Court has surprised her. She strongly argues that Lithuanian citizenship for those of Lithuanian descent is an inalienable constitutional birth right and that the government may not arbitrarily take it away.
"I maintain that people of Lithuanian heritage, who were born in Lithuania and have Lithuanian citizenship, have an inviolate birth right to citizenship. Lithuania cannot deprive them of this birth right. That right is guaranteed by the Constitution, but somehow that Constitutional right has been ignored. In my opinion, depriving Lithuanian citizenship to Lithuanians living abroad is against the best interests of Lithuania," she says, convinced that Lithuanians living abroad worldwide should be welcomed to participate in their motherland’s future through Lithuanian citizenship. The most valuable asset of a nation has is its people. When a substantial part of its people are rejected the nation dwindles. It self destructs.
She proceeds to tell me that the WLC laboured to supersede the decision statutorily, but that Presidents Adamkus and Grybauskaite declined to approve Parliament’s pro dual citizenship statutory enactments. Finally Lithuania did on 2 December 2010 enacted a new citizenship law, which allows Lithuanians citizens and their descendants to preserve their Lithuanian citizenship if they emigrated before 11 March 1990. This new legislation prohibits dual citizenship for all those who emigrated after the reestablishment of Lithuania’s independence on 11 March1990, with the exception for those who received another country’s citizenship between January l, 2003 and November 16, 2006, the date the Constitutional Court decision became effective. The ruling is not applied retroactively, only prospectively. The new citizenship law becomes effective on 1 April 2011. The World Lithuanian Community takes the position that it is incorrect to take away the Lithuanian citizenship from Lithuanian descent people and their descendants that was acquired by birth. The Community does not support an unrestricted dual citizenship Constitutional amendment.
Lithuania needs a new global strategy
In 1994 Regina Narusiene was elected President of LAC (Lithuanian American Community Inc.). She held this
position through two terms, until 2000, then she served as chairman of the LAC Board of directors for two terms until 2006, when she was elected President of the WLC. During the more than 20 years that have
passed since Lithuania regained its freedom, she has made tireless efforts for her homeland. She spearheaded the drive in the United States for the admission of Lithuania into NATO from January 6, 1994 until its official admission into NATO on 29 March 2004. She has served as an advisor on various matters to most of the Prime Ministers of Lithuania and extensively contributed her legal talents with respect to the printing and issuance of the Lithuanian currency - Litai. She is a founding member and continues to serve as a member of the Lithuanian Royal Palace Foundation.
She feels that she has always been personally well received in Lithuania.
“Recently however, I've heard some in Lithuania say that Lithuania does not need or want our help. Still I see
significant reluctance to improve the country's legal systems. It seems that some of the country's leaders
simply are not ready to or interested in implementing urgently needed reforms. I am saddened to see the public’s perception that rule of law is still not working effectively in Lithuania." Regina sighs a little deflated
when she shares those thoughts with me.
Towards the end of the conversation I ask her to express some thoughts on what it takes to get Lithuania to
grow stronger and better over the years to come. I'll let her words finish my little report from our talk:
"Let me first say that it is deeply tragic to see so many young, talented and beautiful people leave this country.
Some say that it is now no longer talk of emigration, but evacuation. It is therefore obvious that much more must be done to pave the way for good jobs and opportunities for the country's younger population. But it is
also my opinion that we need a shift in mindset among some of the country's leaders.”
“Last but not least, I yearn to see far more of the population, young and old, engaged in voluntary public oriented organizations and activities. That is exactly what democracy for a large part is about, and it does not take much. Lithuania's people should begin to take such initiatives themselves. A good, democratic society
consists of people who give of themselves to help each other. Lithuania has unfortunately still a long way to go in this respect.”
“I will conclude by saying that it is important for the nation to maintain good relations with all
Lithuanians, and their descendants, now living in other countries.”
“Lithuania needs a new global strategy, and we in the ‘Lithuanian World Community’ should do our utmost to contribute to such a strategy.
Lithuania has an enormously large group of smart Lithuanians and good hearts outside the country,
and it is important that Lithuania invite to dialogue with them and seek their support and input to promote a better future for Lithuania, the country we ALL love."
VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the editors: editor@VilNews.com.
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