25 August 2016
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Text and photos: Aage Myhre



It is considered that around 90% of the approximately 80,000 Jews living in South Africa are of

Lithuanian descent (the so-called Litvaks), which thus constitutes the largest pocket of Litvaks

in the world! You are hereby invited to learn more about this unique Jewish community that

still holds Lithuania alive in their hearts, museums and synagogues.




For the tens of thousands Litvaks who came to South Africa during the years 1860 –

1940, the Cape Town harbour was the first glimpse they had of their new homeland.



The Jewish Museum in Cape Town is more Lithuanian than Lithuania itself.


Lithuanian footprints

in South Africa

Text and photos: Aage Myhre




The Jewish Museum in Cape Town offers visitors a journey back in time. Most museums do. The striking feature of this museum, however, is that the journey to the past also brings us to a completely different part of our world, from Africa's southern tip to a seemingly modest little country far to the north, to a country where around 90% of South Africa's Jewish population has its roots (there are today about 80,000 Jews in South Africa).


The museum's basement is dominated by a village environment (shtetl) from the late 1800s. A few houses are reconstructed in full scale, and you can clearly see how people lived and co-existed at the time. The village is called Riteve. It was recreated in the museum on the basis of entries made in the 1990s by a group of experts who went from South Africa to Lithuania to find traces of the family of the museum's founder, Mendel Kaplan. 


The village is called Rietavas in Lithuanian. It is there to this day, less than a half hour drive from Klaipeda, at the highway direction Kaunas and Vilnius. The Kaplan family emigrated from here in the 1920s, while the village's population was still 90% Jewish. Today, no Jews live in Rietavas. 


A stroll among the house-models in the Cape Town museum's basement is like walking around in a part of Lithuania, almost more Lithuanian than Lithuania itself. This impression is becoming no less strong when I discover that the café that is a part of this comprehensive Jewish complex in Cape Town, is also named after the founder's home town in Lithuania, and that the older part of the museum is a replica of a Vilnius synagogue. This synagogue was built in 1863, and was the first ever built in South Africa. 


The museum and Café Riteve are just two of the elements of an extensive complex of Jewish-related buildings here in Cape Town's incredibly beautiful botanical garden, so if you first come here, I recommend that you take your time. Worth a visit is the Great Synagogue from 1905, the Gitlin Library (including a large collection of books in Yiddish that the Litvaks brought with them on the long sea voyage from Lithuania to Cape Town), and the Cape Town Holocaust Centre (see below).


Lithuanians dominate the Jewish community in South Africa


Lithuanians dominate the Jewish community in South Africa to an extent seen in no other country. Casino magnate Sol Kerzner (1935 - ), communist leader Joe Slovo (1926 – 1995) and veteran anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman (1917 – 2009) make an unlikely trio but have in common that they are all of Lithuanian descent.


Like their Lithuanian ancestors, whose political ranks included wealthy capitalists, zealous Zionists, prominent religious scholars and committed communists, South Africa's Litvaks, have spanned the political spectrum. On the left stands Slovo, the former head of the South African Communist Party, who was born in Lithuania in 1926 and came to South Africa at the age of nine. On the right stands Kerzner, a flamboyant businessman who built the famous casino resort Sun City (north of Johannesburg) and founded the entertainment and leisure giant Sun International.

Jewish emigrants from Tsar occupied Lithuania are generally thought of as having fled the persecution and poverty for the safe shores of America. A much less known story is that of the many Litvaks who travelled to South Africa. Many of these migrants came from the Kaunas region (Kovno in Yiddish), but many also came from towns such as Palanga, Panevėžys, Rietavas and Šiauliai. 

Many travelled via the Liepāja port in Latvia on ships bound, via the Baltic Sea and (after its opening in 1895) the Kiel Canal shortcut, for English east coast ports. From there, they travelled overland, usually via London, to Southampton to embark for Cape Town.

This movement of people was not accidental: a whole business existed to cater for them, from the ticket agents in Kaunas or Vilnius, to shipping lines such as the Wilson Line shuttling between Liepāja and Hull, to the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter in London which housed and orientated many of the trans-migrants, to the Castle Line and the Union Line which specialised in the route to South Africa.

And like any successful movement of people, it became self-perpetuating, as the new South Africans sent home letters, and money, encouraging others to follow suit. The first countrywide Union of South African census in 1911 indicates a population of 46,919 Jews, a majority of whom were Litvaks. By 1921, the Jewish population had risen to 62,103, but with more of a shift in gravity towards the gold-mining and commercial centres of Witwatersrand in the Transvaal area (which accounted for 33,515). 

What this means is that a great many of those North Americans and British with Litvak ancestors are likely to have kin in South Africa. There are many good sources for Jewish family history research in Lithuania and prospects of success are often favourable, as long as the place of origin within the country is known or can be identified.

The extraordinary story of Sammy Marks (1843 – 1910) from Taurage

The entrepreneur Samuel Marks was born in the Lithuanian district of Taurage in 1843. He was one of the very first Litvaks to arrive on African shores. He came here via England in 1868 and began his career by hawking cheap jewellery and cutlery in Cape Town. Later he moved on to Kimberley where he went into business with his brother-in-law Isaac Lewis and Jules Porges. Together they formed the French Diamond Mining Company.

Following this, Lewis and Marks decided to relocate to the Eastern Transvaal where they established the African and European Investment Company. This company proceeded to become a major Rand finance house with controlling interests in several gold mines. Mr. Marks had become a leading magnate and one of South Africa’s richest men.

An example of his many success stories is one of the companies he started, theZuid-Afrikaanscheen Oranje Vrystaatsche Mineralen en Mijnbouvereeniging, which became the basis of the town Vereeniging. Marks also developed the Viljoen’s Drift coal mine and encouraged the expansion of the Witbank coalfields.

Sammy Marks was also a close friend and admirer of South Africa’s State President Paul Kruger (who is often called the father of the Afrikaner nation) and a popular figure within the Transvaal business community. It was Marks who advised Kruger to build a railway line from Pretoria to Lorenco Marques. He served as a senator in the Union Parliament from 1910 until his death in 1920 in Johannesburg.

Worth a visit is the Sammy Marks Museum north of Pretoria and Johannesburg. The museum building, a splendid Victorian mansion dating from 1884, was the residence of Marks, whose significant contribution to the industrial, mining and agricultural development of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek has given him an outstanding position in South African history, so very far away from his birthplace in Taurage, Lithuania…


Click here to read more about the exceptional history of the Litvaks in South Africa:


Some of today’s Litvaks in South Africa


Let me introduce you to some of my good friends in South Africa. Most of them are second and third generation Litvaks (plus one single first-generation Litvak). There is also a small colony of Lithuanians who have moved down here the last 20 years. My conclusion is that Lithuania and the Lithuanian spirit is alive and present, even in modern South Africa.







Sam's life story is worthy of a screenplay. His autobiographical book, 'Mulik the Zulik', says it all. Sam was the only person of his family able to escape the Holocaust in Lithuania. A Polish neighbour family acted as if he was their son and managed in this way to smuggle him out of Lithuania during the war. The rest of his family was executed.  After WWII, Sam managed to get to Switzerland, and later to Israel. But it was South Africa that was to become his new homeland, in the 1960s. Here he has done well in business and private. Sam visits Lithuania and his home-place Pabradė every summer since the 1990s. He likes Lithuania, but is still sceptical of Lithuanians and their involvements in the killing of Jews during the Holocaust. I took the above photo of Sam in his office in downtown Cape Town. On the walls hangs many of the memories from his enormously challenging youth. The image he shows me is of the tombstone he installed on his mother's grave a few years ago. In Pabradė village, Lithuania.







Jeanette completed an MA in Film Production at the University of Bristol, UK, in 2000 and, upon returning to South Africa, realised that the only way to make a film was to get out there and do it. And so, with the support of friends and other grassroots filmmakers, she made Krisimesi, also exploring children’s unique perspectives, which has, in its different versions, screened at various international film festivals and won several awards. She teaches film and has a production company with Matthys Mocke.

During my meeting with Jeanette she told me much about her so far only visit to Lithuania. She told me about when she came to Kaunas to try to find the house where her ancestors lived, and how nervous the woman who now lives in the house became when Jeanette knocked on the door, and the fantastic three days that followed when she and the woman, a known Lithuanian artist, afterwards sat down in mutual trust and dialogue…







Professor Shain excuses himself, mildly and courteously, as he welcomes me in shorts this December day. "It's really all in the middle of summer here," he says as he leads me into the facilities he is the head of, here at the “Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town”. And it is by his crowded desk that I get to know so much more about the amazing relationships between his ancestral homeland, Lithuania, and the intellectual South Africa he represents. So, dear reader, if you want to know more about Jews in South Africa, you should definitely read Milton's latest book “Jews in South Africa”.







Richard meets me at the entrance to the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town. I was expecting a man that would put the most emphasis on the many tragic events of the Holocaust in Lithuania and in Europe in general. Richard is, after all, a Litvak himself. But what he instead emphasizes, is that there are an infinite number of comparison points between the Holocaust in Europe and the apartheid in South Africa. "Whites who look down on blacks, Nazis who look down on Jews, people who think themselves better than others, aren’t they all of the same kind?", he asks… 








The Christmas trees are beautifully decorated in the district of Rosebank, Johannesburg, this summer afternoon in December. I am slowly strolling around when I suddenly see an energetic white young lady in the middle of a crowd of black youths. It turns out that she is a genuine Litvak, and that she is the head of the organization 'Tomorrow's Trust', which in recent years has become a leading institution in the fight against AIDS-HIV in South Africa.


Kim is the one who some years ago walked out of the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ filled with a sense of purpose. “I just thought, ‘I have to do something. I spoke to my rabbi and then started my own oral history project,” she explains.


What an amazing person and determination. Her name is Kim Feinberg, soon 50 years old, still young forever.








An unlikely Zulu, Ruth Rabinowitz represents the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party in the South African parliament!


I meet Ruth in the library of the Johannesburg Grace Hotel to talk about her unusual life and political career. And Ruth tells an almost incredible story. About how her Litvak family, many years ago, became close friends with the Zulu king and his family. She tells about her medical background, but first of all, she focuses on the circumstances for Africa's largest tribe, the Zulus, that today includes three million people, almost as many as the number of inhabitants in Lithuania, the country her ancestors came from (if to count only the present, local population of Lithuania, of course)…








Honorary Consul of Lithuania, Johannesburg

Honorary Consul of Lithuania,  Cape Town

Honorary Consul of Lithuania, Pretoria


Here they are. Lithuania's three musketeers in South Africa: Raymond, Alan and Ivor. Three skilled lawyers, all of them genuine Lithuanian Jews. It is these three who make up the front line in terms of current relations between Lithuania and South Africa. It is these three who help facilitate Lithuanians arriving to Africa's southern areas, and they are also the ones constantly informing South Africans about the wonderful country called Lithuania.


They were, some years ago, recommended as consuls by the Lithuanian ambassadors to Israel. Israel? Yes, believe it or not, but the fact is that Lithuania does not have its own ambassador to the country having the largest pocket of Litvaks in the world… The Lithuanian ambassador in Tel Aviv must serve Israel, Cyprus and South Africa altogether. But then, in turn, the ambassadors we've had so far have done a good job. It was, as an exemplary example, the very capable Lithuanian ambassadors Romas Misiunas and Alfonsas Eidintas who recommended these three smart guys we today are naming Lithuania's three musketeers in South Africa.


I have had the pleasure of meeting all three of them several times, both here in Lithuania and in South Africa, and I know that they all burn for stronger ties between our two countries. But I've also heard them talk about how sad it was to experience the Lithuanian Constitutional Court rule that Lithuanian citizens around the globe could no longer be registered as Dual Citizens. They feel, as I do, that it is terribly sad to see nowadays Lithuania burn bridges instead of seeking renewed contact with its fantastic diasporas around the world. In this aspect, sadly, every day that passes is a day lost…








Rietavas and the

Kaplan family




The impressions from the Jewish Museum in Cape Town were as glued to my memory. So in August last year I decided to visit Rietavas, the village the Kaplan family emigrated from almost 100 years ago. I had expected to find proud traces of the family; a museum, a memorial, or maybe even something more sophisticated… But I got terribly disappointed. What struck me, then and there, was that this was almost like coming to Salzburg without seeing Mozart mentioned at all... 


What a shame. I took some pictures and went from there with bowed head. Mendel Kaplan, by far the wealthiest and certainly one of the wisest Lithuanians ever, was not mentioned with a single word or symbol in the very home village of his own family...


When I came back to Vilnius from Rietavas that August evening, I sent my photos and comments to Dr. Kaplan in Cape Town. This is what he replied a few days later:



Dear Mr Myhre,

I thank you for your correspondence on Riteve and your complimentary remarks about our family.

When President Landsbergis was surrounded by tanks and holed up in parliament I visited him with my wife and friends in the building and established a very warm relationship.  I hope he is still well and I remember the fact that his wife was responsible for saving a number of Jews during the Second World War.

Yours sincerely
Mendel Kaplan



Mendel Kaplan (1936-2009) died of a stroke three months after he sent me the above message. In the obituaries that followed, leading Jews stated that Dr. Kaplan was a man who could be termed “the father of the South African Jewish community.”  They wrote that he had served as a leadership capacity in several Jewish organisations, that he was involved in the establishment of the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town and was also one of the first founders of the ‘City of David Archaeological Excavation Project’ in Israel.


Born in Cape Town, Dr. Kaplan had qualified both in law and with an MBA, survived by his wife, four children and grandchildren.


I never met Mendel Kaplan face to face, but I was told that there had been much for him to celebrate in his 73 years of living: The steel company Cape Gate had been transformed from a modest business selling products like wrought iron and garden benches into a vast conglomerate producing its own steel; becoming one of the largest privately owned companies in South Africa, an expansion largely orchestrated by Mendel and his brother Robert.


Dr. Mendel Kaplan, a world leading Litvak philanthropist, lawyer, writer and business magnate passed away just four months ago. His ties to and care for Lithuania were strong and impressive. Isn’t it time for Lithuania to offer a proper response?




Rietavas at the time Mendel Kaplan's parents lived here (around 1900).


Old wooden buildings

in today’s Rietavas (August 2009).



Lithuanians settling in

South Africa



If to compare with the more than 70,000 Litvaks living in South Africa, the numbers of Lithuanian expatriates of today are very modest. But there are a few of them, and I want to tell you all a little bit about Jadvyga Kazlauskiene from the village Vievis between Vilnius and Kaunas. Jadvyga emigrated to South Africa mid 1990s with her daughter, now 20 years old. She started her career down under as a waitress in a Johannesburg restaurant, but began gradually to climb up the career ladder after she came in contact with the property industry in South Africa's main city and most densely populated area.


My personal impression is that Jadvyga's success started the day she met her current manager and boss, property queen Wendy Machanik (along-standing with Jadvyga in the above photo). Wendy is an amazing Litvak with phenomenal successes within real estate brokerage in the Johannesburg area for many years (hi Wendy, are the pictures still hanging there, in correct positions?).

Last time I saw Jadvyga and her family was at her home village Vievis, here in Lithuania, on a very cold winter day just a few weeks ago, when they all came here to bring their beloved mother to her final rest. The contrast between warm Johannesburg and freezing Lithuania must have been enormous. When the funeral was over, I thought that now one more link between Lithuania and South Africa had been cut. How often will Jadvyga come back up north now when her mother is gone? 

But maybe there is something we can do to keep the ties and connections alive, all of us who love both Lithuania and South Africa? Please feel free to write me with your suggestions and ideas…

Aage Myhre




The "VilNews" e-mails from Vilnius International Club (VIC) reach around 1000 recipients worldwide, providing Lithuania-related news, articles and general information to expatriates and the diasporas. Since its founding in 2001, VIC has been a leading non-profit organisation and has created a dynamic forum for people from many nations. The club's mission is to support and encourage cultural, historic and economic vitality - in the capital city of Vilnius and in the outstandingly historic yet contemporary and cosmopolitan nation of Lithuania. Expatriates join the Lithuanian community in furthering diplomatic, business and cultural links, fulfilling VIC's mission through fellowship, monthly meetings and occasional charitable programmes. 

Please feel free to forward our VilNews to your contacts around the globe, and let us know if you have friends or colleagues wishing to be included on our e-mailing list!



Mr. Aage Myhre, VIC President - VilNews Editor
Tel. direct: +370 699 33 222. E-mail: 

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Tel. direct: +370 618 79 886. E-mail:



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Category : Lithuania in the world

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Tour guide: Aage Myhre

It is considered that around 90% of the approximately 80,000 Jews living in South Africa are of Lithuanian descent (the so-called Litvaks), which thus constitutes the largest pocket of Litvaks in the world! You are hereby invited to learn more about this unique Jewish community that still holds Lithuania alive in their hearts, museums and synagogues.

Read more…

Category : Front page

Lithuania in Minnesota

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Lithuanian Americans in Minnesota first met in the summer of 1990 with Latvians and Estonians on Summit Avenue (in Saint Paul, Minnesota) by the Governor's mansion to demonstrate for freedom of the Baltic States during the visit of Gorbachov to MN. George Jace and Tomas Markvaldas wrote the article in the St. Paul Press and Minnapolis Tribune calling Lithuanians to come to the demonstration and to send us their names and addresses.
The first organizational meeting of a small group of Lithuanian-Americans met at the home of George and Mary Jace in Hopkins, MN on January 24, 1991.
A new organization called the Lithuanian-American Community of Minnesota was established. The first meeting of all Lithuanian-Americans of Minnesota was held Thursday, February 7, 1991 at 7:00 PM in a conference room of the Hopkins City Hall. Forty people attended, among them two agricultural exchange students from the U. of MN. The exchange students were Algirdas Vosilius and Mindaugas Bubliauskas. Also a Latvian representative was present. Officers were elected. Tom Baltutis was elected as President, Kestutis Tautvydas as Vice-President, Milda Arlauskas as Secretary, Marcia Hansen as Treasurer, and Birute Tautvydas as the chairperson of the cultural committee, etc. The steering committee members were Tom Baltutis, Kestutis and Birute Tautvydas, Leo and Liana Raudys, Milda Arlauskas, Rick Vaicius, Tomas Markvaldas, and Marcia Hansen. Feb 16th, 1991 we held a commemorative demonstration for Lithuania's Independence on the steps of the MN Capital building, and at the end of April we had our first display booth at the Festival of Nations.
On October 30, 1991 the members of LAC of MN voted to become affiliated with the Lithuanina American Community, Inc. By-laws were written and approved by the members. We had a fall picnic at the farm of Gintautas and Debra Naujokas and held the first Kucios event at Christ the King Church Hall in south Minneapolis in December. We also published a newsletter; Volume1, No. 1 which came out on March 5th, 1991.
Respectfully submitted,
Kes Tautvydas 

This was not the first time that Lithuanians have organized a community in Minnesota. By 1922 the influx of Lithuanian immigrants into Minnesota had reached a point where the Twin Cities Lithuanian American Society was formed. It was a very active society, but after almost five decades the original volunteers were becoming too old to be very active and there were not enough new members who were willing to volunteer. The Society was disbanded in 1970. A review of the Society and its activities was presented by XXX at the LACMN’s 2007 Independence Day event.

Read more…

Category : News

Lido Marine – a Norwegian success story in Klaipėda

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Norwegian Gunnvald Laukhammer, the main person behind the success of Lido Marine,
is not exactly thrilled with the way the Lithuanian authorities often are acting.

LIDO Marine is a Norwegian owned Lithuanian company, established originally under the name Lauremija in 2002, with roots in the maritime business back to 1977 and as own firms since 1986.  The company's founder and general director, Gunnvald Laukhammer, has long experience in building and contracting, ship interior outfitting, industrial insulation and ventilation systems in the Norwegian onshore and offshore industry.

By basing the company in the port city of Klaipeda, LIDO Marine has been able to take advantage of the wealth of experience in the ship building industry of the city.  During post-war soviet times, Klaipeda was one of the major centres of ship repair and ship building for the Soviet shipping industry.  Four major ship building yards and numerous related businesses operated in the city; even today Klaipeda is host to 43 ship-repair, building and technical services companies.

In 2006 the company also bought facilities in Kretinga, a town not far from Klaipeda, and established Baltic Marine Furniture to produce furniture and interiors to supply the mother company’s ship and offshore fitting operations.

LIDO Marine currently has a staff of around 75, mostly Lithuanians divided into teams of 5 to 30 people, who travel all over Europe (sometimes also in other parts of the world) to furnish ships and offshore platforms. Baltic Marine Furniture employs twelve persons at the factory in Kretinga.  

The authorities do nothing to facilitate or help us
Gunnvald Laukhammer is not exactly thrilled with the way the Lithuanian authorities often are acting. "Sometimes I feel they are more eager to create problems than to help out," he says. "Take as an example that our company Baltic Marine Furniture now for a long period of time has tried to get permission to extend the furniture workshop building in Kretinga.  But instead of welcoming new jobs and investments with open arms, the local authorities seem to do what they can to thwart us, and we still have not received a building permit for a rather simple building extension, on our own land, after about two years of waiting. Now another winter may come before we can start building," he says. 

Gunnvald is not overexcited when he talks about the many bureaucrats and politicians he thinks Lithuania has too many of. 

"I simply no longer allow myself to get annoyed at how poorly the systems in this country often works," he says in his laconic, Western-Norwegian, manner. 

"It is, however, strange to see," he says, "that an investor and export company like ours is getting no support or help from the local Lithuanian authorities. I feel, on the contrary, that they sometimes are attempting to cheat and take unfair advantage of us and other foreign companies here."

“For a company like ours, maybe not so large but still engaged in important export-oriented industry, bringing value to the country in terms of wages, taxes, purchase of equipment /materials and trade with other local business, etc., etc., the authorities should exercise benevolence to give us best possible conditions to ensure that companies like ours can  evolve as quickly as possible. They should not create unnecessary delays and obstacles. We all loose on that.”

What should Klaipeda focus on for the years to come?
Gunnvald Laukhammer came to Klaipeda first time 14 years ago. It was during this first visit that he met Džiuginta, the woman who eventually became his wife and moved with him to the Norwegian west coast, where their two boys Eivin and Simon were born. In 2003 the family moved to Klaipeda and has lived here ever since. 

“That was a period of decline in the construction of new vessels in Norway, while in Lithuania it was at that time generally  many opportunities. And such opportunities are still existing here. We also thought of our children's upbringing and the opportunities this country in the future could offer. Therefore, we chose to move here eight years ago.” tells Gunnvald.

He has, in other words, a good basis for comparing Norway and Lithuania, and I asked him what he thinks Klaipeda region should pursue in the future. 

"Tourism," he replies immediately. "The coast here in Lithuania is a real gem that too few tourists still have discovered.  But the government must do more to facilitate - with better infrastructure and a more comprehensive range of accommodation, entertainment etc., as found in Western Europe." 

“In addition, one must focus on things that are natural for this region and which is already available, like the maritime  sector.”

“Agriculture should continue to be a priority. Lithuania has large agricultural acreage, and in a time of rising food prices the country should go for their own food production rather than imports. Export of food products to other populous countries  such as Asia should also be explored possibilities for.”

“It is export-oriented industry that creates value, while imports represent drain of money. Norway has exported more  goods and services than those imported, and consequently the nation has now money in the bank, a good social security system and standard of living for its citizens.”

“Many countries in Europe have lost much of its industry and we are now seeing the results of such a policy. The world countries that now succeed are those that have received industry the West has not protected and cared enough about.”

“The most important in all business operations is to think long term, demonstrate stability, quality/service and reliability.”

The basketball players understand how to think collectively
“How do you see the situation that now occurs due to the huge wave of emigration from Lithuania?”

“It is regrettable that too many "young" people leave the country. Some for a period, others for good. It was these people who should be the country's future, as they are some of the most creative and best workers Lithuania has fostered.”. 

“They were the ones who in the future should develop, build and run the country. This migration will be a bigger and bigger problem that politicians must now approach in earnest. What do we do, how do we act, how do we create  confidence  so that people  after leaving school with qualifications, will have faith in the future and wish to remain in their home country?”

Lithuania is among the best basketball nations in the world. Because these young sportsmen understand how to think collectively. Such thinking should also be implemented into all other relationships in the Lithuanian society. Today’s situation encourages too much selfishness where each individual is only self concerned. Just being able to smile at each other in everyday life should not cost so much energy, you would think.”

“Lithuania is a small country, and it should not represent too much trouble to get to the attitudes change, if there is an real will to do so.”

“And, again, to give and receive trust as well as think collectively are essential elements to success, in my opinion.”

Gunnvald again shrugs his shoulders... 

They have dug up our street four times in one year!
I did this interview with Gunnvald Laukhammer in his private home in the Klaipede district of Melnrage, a few kilometres north of the city centre. Getting there was easy, until a few hundred meters remained. What then met me, didn’t look much like a street at all, more like a ditch or a dry riverbed covered with crushed stone and manhole covers that towered a foot or more over the ground level in an uneven pattern along what once was a street. I was happy that it wasn’t dark outside.  That could have caused fatal consequences for the car I drove. 

Arriving 'in security' at Gunnvald’s he tells me that the municipality dug up the street more than a year ago to lay down new pipes for water, drains and sewers, and eventually cables for street lights. The plan was also to cover the road with cobblestones. 

"But now this farce of a road story has gone on for more than one year, and during that period, the municipality has managed to dig up the street four times," Gunnvald tells with an ironic grin.

"The authorities in Lithuania must learn to manage the taxpayers' money in a much better way. Our road problem is just another example of how badly the authorities here are wasting the people’s money because of poor planning and coordination,” he says. 

“If you have little money, which is understandable, one should consider alternative solutions, not choose the most  expensive ones to the delight of some and chagrin of everyone else - solutions other countries, with far better economy, cannot afford. In short, the money one has available should be to the benefit for most possible people.”

With a certain hope in his voice that he and his family will not have to experience one more winter with a ditch instead of a street outside their Melnrage home, our little interview has come to an end... 

Džiuginta and Gunnvald Laukhammer on one of the manhole covers sticking more than
a foot up from what once was the street outside their home in Melnrage, Klaipeda.

Category : The world in Lithuania

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Lithuania was a world super power for
more than 300 years!

“Lithuania was a world superpower much longer than USA has been“. This is how I often tease my American friends arriving in Vilnius. But the teasing is in fact not so far from reality, as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) for over 300 years was Europe’s biggest nation, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

It all started with King Mindaugas (1203-1263), Lithuania‘s first and only king, who in 1236 defeated the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and united the different Lithuanian tribes under his reign. But the real expansion began when Grand Duke Gediminas came to power in 1316, and started a new dynasty of leaders. Gediminas employed several forms of statesmanship to expand and strengthen the GDL, that totally lasted from 1253 to 1795.

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Category : Front page / Lithuania today

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The Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) play
many key roles in our world of today

Many famous Jewish people lived and created in Lithuania during 600 centuries. Vilnius was called "Jerusalem of the North" - as the wealth of its sages and of its religious scholarship competed with that of Jerusalem. The Litvaks made a large cultural and economic contribution, to both the Jewish people and to Lithuanians. Their role is today amazingly evident around the world!

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Category : Front page / Lithuania today

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USA and the relationship between the Lithuanian-Americans and their homeland was substantially covered in our VilNews editions during April and May 2012.

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Category : Front page / Lithuania today


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By Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas,
Ph. D., Chicago

A wave of unity sweeps the international Lithuanian community on March 11th every year as Lithuanians celebrated the anniversary of the Lithuanian Parliament's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. 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?

* * *

Text: Saulene Valskyte

In Lithuania Christmas Eve is a family event and the New Year's Eve a great party with friends!
Lithuanian say "Kaip sutiksi naujus metus, taip juos ir praleisi" (the way you'll meet the new year is the way you will spend it). So everyone is trying to spend New Year's Eve with friend and have as much fun as possible.

Lithuanian New Year's traditions are very similar to those in other countries, and actually were similar since many years ago. Also, the traditional Lithuanian New Years Eve party was very similar to other big celebrations throughout the year.

The New Year's Eve table is quite similar to the Christmas Eve table, but without straws under the tablecloth, and now including meat dishes. A tradition that definitely hasn't changes is that everybody is trying not to fell asleep before midnight. It was said that if you oversleep the midnight point you will be lazy all the upcoming year. People were also trying to get up early on the first day of the new year, because waking up late also meant a very lazy and unfortunate year.

During the New Year celebration people were dancing, singing, playing games and doing magic to guess the future. People didn't drink much of alcohol, especially was that the case for women.

Here are some advices from elders:
- During the New Year, be very nice and listen to relatives - what you are during New Year Eve, you will be throughout the year.

- During to the New Year Eve, try not to fall, because if this happens, next year you will be unhappy.

- If in the start of the New Year, the first news are good - then the year will be successful. If not - the year will be problematic.

New year predictions
* If during New Year eve it's snowing - then it will be bad weather all year round. If the day is fine - one can expect good harvest.
* If New Year's night is cold and starry - look forward to a good summer!
* If the during New Year Eve trees are covered with frost - then it will be a good year. If it is wet weather on New Year's Eve, one can expect a year where many will die and dangerous epidemics occur.
* If the first day of the new year is snowy - the upcoming year will see many young people die. If the night is snowy - mostly old people will die.
* If the New Year time is cold - then Easter will be warm.
* If during New Year there are a lot of birds in your homestead - then all year around there will be many guests and the year will be fun.

* * *

* * *
Christmas greetings
from Vilnius

* * *
Ukraine won the historic
and epic battle for the
By Leonidas Donskis
Philosopher, political theorist, historian of
ideas, social analyst, and political

Immediately after Russia stepped in Syria, we understood that it is time to sum up the convoluted and long story about Ukraine and the EU - a story of pride and prejudice which has a chance to become a story of a new vision regained after self-inflicted blindness.

Ukraine was and continues to be perceived by the EU political class as a sort of grey zone with its immense potential and possibilities for the future, yet deeply embedded and trapped in No Man's Land with all of its troubled past, post-Soviet traumas, ambiguities, insecurities, corruption, social divisions, and despair. Why worry for what has yet to emerge as a new actor of world history in terms of nation-building, European identity, and deeper commitments to transparency and free market economy?

Right? Wrong. No matter how troubled Ukraine's economic and political reality could be, the country has already passed the point of no return. Even if Vladimir Putin retains his leverage of power to blackmail Ukraine and the West in terms of Ukraine's zero chances to accede to NATO due to the problems of territorial integrity, occupation and annexation of Crimea, and mayhem or a frozen conflict in the Donbas region, Ukraine will never return to Russia's zone of influence. It could be deprived of the chances to join NATO or the EU in the coming years or decades, yet there are no forces on earth to make present Ukraine part of the Eurasia project fostered by Putin.

* * *
Watch this video if you
want to learn about the
new, scary propaganda
war between Russia,
The West and the
Baltic States!

* * *
90% of all Lithuanians
believe their government
is corrupt
Lithuania is perceived to be the country with the most widespread government corruption, according to an international survey involving almost 40 countries.

* * *
Lithuanian medical
students say no to
bribes for doctors

On International Anticorruption Day, the Special Investigation Service shifted their attention to medical institutions, where citizens encounter bribery most often. Doctors blame citizens for giving bribes while patients complain that, without bribes, they won't receive proper medical attention. Campaigners against corruption say that bribery would disappear if medical institutions themselves were to take resolute actions against corruption and made an effort to take care of their patients.

* * *
Doing business in Lithuania

By Grant Arthur Gochin
California - USA

Lithuania emerged from the yoke of the Soviet Union a mere 25 years ago. Since then, Lithuania has attempted to model upon other European nations, joining NATO, Schengen, and the EU. But, has the Soviet Union left Lithuania?

During Soviet times, government was administered for the people in control, not for the local population, court decisions were decreed, they were not the administration of justice, and academia was the domain of ideologues. 25 years of freedom and openness should have put those bad experiences behind Lithuania, but that is not so.

Today, it is a matter of expectation that court pronouncements will be governed by ideological dictates. Few, if any Lithuanians expect real justice to be effected. For foreign companies, doing business in Lithuania is almost impossible in a situation where business people do not expect rule of law, so, surely Government would be a refuge of competence?

Lithuanian Government has not emerged from Soviet styles. In an attempt to devolve power, Lithuania has created a myriad of fiefdoms of power, each speaking in the name of the Government, each its own centralized power base of ideology.

* * *
Greetings from Wales!
By Anita Šovaitė-Woronycz
Chepstow, Wales

Think of a nation in northern Europe whose population is around the 3 million mark a land of song, of rivers, lakes, forests, rolling green hills, beautiful coastline a land where mushrooms grow ready for the picking, a land with a passion for preserving its ancient language and culture.

Doesn't that sound suspiciously like Lithuania? Ah, but I didn't mention the mountains of Snowdonia, which would give the game away.

I'm talking about Wales, that part of the UK which Lithuanians used to call "Valija", but later named "Velsas" (why?). Wales, the nation which has welcomed two Lithuanian heads of state to its shores - firstly Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, who has paid several visits and, more recently, President Dalia Grybauskaitė who attended the 2014 NATO summit which was held in Newport, South Wales.

* * *
Read Cassandra's article HERE

Read Rugile's article HERE

Did you know there is a comment field right after every article we publish? If you read the two above posts, you will see that they both have received many comments. Also YOU are welcome with your comments. To all our articles!
* * *

Greetings from Toronto
By Antanas Sileika,
Toronto, Canada

Toronto was a major postwar settlement centre for Lithuanian Displaced Persons, and to this day there are two Catholic parishes and one Lutheran one, as well as a Lithuanian House, retirement home, and nursing home. A new wave of immigrants has showed interest in sports.

Although Lithuanian activities have thinned over the decades as that postwar generation died out, the Lithuanian Martyrs' parish hall is crowded with many, many hundreds of visitors who come to the Lithuanian cemetery for All Souls' Day. Similarly, the Franciscan parish has standing room only for Christmas Eve mass.

Although I am firmly embedded in the literary culture of Canada, my themes are usually Lithuanian, and I'll be in Kaunas and Vilnius in mid-November 2015 to give talks about the Lithuanian translations of my novels and short stories, which I write in English.

If you have the Lithuanian language, come by to one of the talks listed in the links below. And if you don't, you can read more about my work at
* * *

As long as VilNews exists,
there is hope for the future
Professor Irena Veisaite, Chairwoman of our Honorary Council, asked us to convey her heartfelt greetings to the other Council Members and to all readers of VilNews.

"My love and best wishes to all. As long as VilNews exists, there is hope for the future,"" she writes.

Irena Veisaite means very much for our publication, and we do hereby thank her for the support and wise commitment she always shows.

You can read our interview with her
* * *
Facing a new reality

By Vygaudas Ušackas
EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation

Dear readers of VilNews,

It's great to see this online resource for people interested in Baltic affairs. I congratulate the editors. From my position as EU Ambassador to Russia, allow me to share some observations.

For a number of years, the EU and Russia had assumed the existence of a strategic partnership, based on the convergence of values, economic integration and increasingly open markets and a modernisation agenda for society.

Our agenda was positive and ambitious. We looked at Russia as a country ready to converge with "European values", a country likely to embrace both the basic principles of democratic government and a liberal concept of the world order. It was believed this would bring our relations to a new level, covering the whole spectrum of the EU's strategic relationship with Russia.

* * *

The likelihood of Putin
invading Lithuania
By Mikhail Iossel
Professor of English at Concordia University, Canada
Founding Director at Summer Literary Seminars

The likelihood of Putin's invading Lithuania or fomenting a Donbass-style counterfeit pro-Russian uprising there, at this point, in my strong opinion, is no higher than that of his attacking Portugal, say, or Ecuador. Regardless of whether he might or might not, in principle, be interested in the insane idea of expanding Russia's geographic boundaries to those of the former USSR (and I for one do not believe that has ever been his goal), he knows this would be entirely unfeasible, both in near- and long-term historical perspective, for a variety of reasons. It is not going to happen. There will be no restoration of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical entity.

* * *

Are all Lithuanian energy
problems now resolved?
By Dr. Stasys Backaitis,
P.E., CSMP, SAE Fellow Member of Central and Eastern European Coalition, Washington, D.C., USA

Lithuania's Energy Timeline - from total dependence to independence

Lithuania as a country does not have significant energy resources. Energy consuming infrastructure after WWII was small and totally supported by energy imports from Russia.

First nuclear reactor begins power generation at Ignalina in 1983, the second reactor in 1987. Iganlina generates enough electricity to cover Lithuania's needs and about 50%.for export. As, prerequisite for membership in EU, Ignalina ceases all nuclear power generation in 2009

The Klaipėda Sea terminal begins Russia's oil export operations in 1959 and imports in 1994.

Mazeikiu Nafta (current ORLEAN Lietuva) begins operation of oil refinery in 1980.

* * *

Have Lithuanian ties across
the Baltic Sea become
stronger in recent years?
By Eitvydas Bajarunas
Ambassador to Sweden

My answer to affirmative "yes". Yes, Lithuanian ties across the Baltic Sea become as never before solid in recent years. For me the biggest achievement of Lithuania in the Baltic Sea region during recent years is boosting Baltic and Nordic ties. And not because of mere accident - Nordic direction was Lithuania's strategic choice.

The two decades that have passed since regaining Lithuania's independence can be described as a "building boom". From the wreckage of a captive Soviet republic, a generation of Lithuanians have built a modern European state, and are now helping construct a Nordic-Baltic community replete with institutions intended to promote political coordination and foster a trans-Baltic regional identity. Indeed, a "Nordic-Baltic community" - I will explain later in my text the meaning of this catch-phrase.

Since the restoration of Lithuania's independence 25 years ago, we have continuously felt a strong support from Nordic countries. Nordics in particular were among the countries supporting Lithuania's and Baltic States' striving towards independence. Take example of Iceland, country which recognized Lithuania in February of 1991, well in advance of other countries. Yet another example - Swedish Ambassador was the first ambassador accredited to Lithuania in 1991. The other countries followed suit. When we restored our statehood, Nordic Countries became champions in promoting Baltic integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. To large degree thanks Nordic Countries, massive transformations occurred in Lithuania since then, Lithuania became fully-fledged member of the EU and NATO, and we joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2015.

* * *

It's the economy, stupid *
By Valdas (Val) Samonis,

n his article, Val Samonis takes a comparative policy look at the Lithuanian economy during the period 2000-2015. He argues that the LT policy response (a radical and classical austerity) was wrong and unenlightened because it coincided with strong and continuing deflationary forces in the EU and the global economy which forces were predictable, given the right policy guidance. Also, he makes a point that LT austerity, and the resulting sharp drop in GDP and employment in LT, stimulated emigration of young people (and the related worsening of other demographics) which processes took huge dimensions thereby undercutting even the future enlightened efforts to get out of the middle-income growth trap by LT. Consequently, the country is now on the trajectory (development path) similar to that of a dog that chases its own tail. A strong effort by new generation of policymakers is badly needed to jolt the country out of that wrong trajectory and to offer the chance of escaping the middle-income growth trap via innovations.

* * *

Have you heard about the
South African "Pencil Test"?
By Karina Simonson

If you are not South African, then, probably, you haven't. It is a test performed in South Africa during the apartheid regime and was used, together with the other ways, to determine racial identity, distinguishing whites from coloureds and blacks. That repressive test was very close to Nazi implemented ways to separate Jews from Aryans. Could you now imagine a Lithuanian mother, performing it on her own child?

But that is exactly what happened to me when I came back from South Africa. I will tell you how.

* * *
Click HERE to read previous opinion letters >

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