THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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I was raised to have a very positive view of our ancestral homeland, and hope that we can avoid polarizing Emigres and Lithuanian citizens. I have always felt welcome when I visit, but have personally never attempted to do business. This could be a difficult process, and one that creates tension. I can only hope that we all work together for a successful and sustainable economy.
Jurate Kutkus Burns,
There has been a lot of negative commentary in Vilnews recently from some of your readers and even from Regina Narusiene in the recent piece about the need for change in attitudes toward what the Lithuanian diaspora can do for the country and what volunteerism can do within Lithuania. I guess I don't disagree at all, however…
Sitting here on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland I'm reminded of the battle flag of Commander Oliver Hazard Perry, USN during the decisive battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. On the blue flag were the words "Don't Give Up the Ship" which he had to transfer from his sinking flagship to the sistership, Niagara. Commander Perry ultimately won that battle against the Royal Navy and altered the military balance on the Great Lakes. In his report to superiors he stated "We have met the enemy and they are ours".
To all my Lithuanian friends and friends of Lithuania I exhort "Don't Give Up the Ship" . And especially to my Lithuanian friends I quote the "Pogo" cartoon paraphrase of Perry " We have met the enemy and he is us!" Maybe our modern Lithuanian example of heroism needs to be Bishop Valancius who came to the conclusion that in the mid 19th century Lithuanians needed to sober up before they came to any national reawakening or effective resistance to Russian domination.
Dealing with Russian occupation, as difficult as it was, may have been easier than dealing with ourselves. But we have sort of been here before, haven't we? Onward!
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Lithuanian-American Alexander Bruce Bielaski was born in Montgomery County, Maryland. He received a law degree from George Washington University in 1904 and joined the Department of Justice that same year. Like his predecessor Mr. Finch, Mr. Bielaski worked his way up through the department. He served as a special examiner in Oklahoma where he “straightened out the court records” and aided in the reorganization of Oklahoma’s court system when the Oklahoma territory became a state. Returning to Washington, Mr. Bielaski entered the Bureau of Investigation and rose to become Mr. Finch’s assistant. In this position he was in charge of administrative matters for the Bureau. At the end of April 1912, Attorney General Wickersham appointed Mr. Bielaski to replace Mr. Finch. As chief, Mr. Bielaski oversaw a steady increase in the resources and responsibilities assigned to the Bureau. Read more…
I am positive that Lithuania - not only the expats who live there - need writing in English. A lot of it. As much as possible, really.
The presence of a vibrant expat community, which is closely linked with Lithuanians or half-Lithuanians (if I may use this term), who have spent many years overseas and had been exposed to Western culture, is critical as an ultimate mind-opener.
I have always been going against the flow in that I said good things about the Lithuanians who go abroad for a year, for five years or even for good. In Lithuania, it is often seen as a disaster and an exodus of biblical proportions with similarly apocalyptic implications. I see it as a natural part of being a free country. Even if it leads to some transformations that may even be irreversible, such as compromises over what is seen as Lithuanian ethnic purity (which is an artificial and doubtful construct anyway, in my view) or a changer of the Lithuanian identity, emigration is good because it opens the mind and creates new patterns of thinking. It opens up angles which people have not thought about. It changes the way that parts of the society interact with each other and their relationship with the government, the establishment, the educational elite.
A confident and active expat community brings all this to their host land too, and does this in a concentrated and very effective manner. The English-speaking expat crowd is bringing values and behaviours that Lithuania needs the most: perceived and often imaginary "Americanization" is mostly skin-deep and has little lasting impact. And this is why any exchange of written words is so critical.
About two decades ago, I was one of the first employees of "Vilnius In Your Pocket", a city guide started by four expats in Vilnius. VIYP at that time it was the Bible for all English-speaking local residents, witty and bright and colourful, and a brilliant contrast to the drab surroundings of early post-Soviet Vilnius. It no longer holds the exclusive position of cult publication, but its impact is still remembered by those who remember the English-speaking Vilnius 20 years ago. There was also The Baltic Independent, a Tallinn-based English newspaper for which Edward Lucas, today of the Economist fame, was writing - there was a little office in Liauksmino gatve and I was a writer there. Edward lived in Vilnius at that time.
It is, therefore, impossible to say no when people ask me to get involved with the writing for English speakers in Lithuania. So I wish the Editor-In-Chief perseverance in chasing articles from contributors and I wish the publication a huge readership of intelligent and curious people. God speed.
Lietuvos Rytas Correspondencet in Washington
January 15, 2011
How much more blood would have been shed in Lithuania, had news about
the Soviet aggression not reached the outside world? In commemorating
January 13, US journalists still wonder why the Soviets did not expel
them from Vilnius.
“If we had been unable to continue broadcasting, no one knows what would
have happened” stated former US National Public Radio correspondent Ann
Cooper, who was reporting on events in Lithuania 20 years ago.
“It’s always easier to inflict violence when there are no witnesses
around. In Vilnius, there were a lot of witnesses,” stated former
Newsweek Warsaw Bureau Chief, Andrew Nagorski.
On January 13, 2011, Americans gathered in Washington for the filming of
a broadcast on the role of Western media during the events of January
1991 in Vilnius. The show would air on Lithuanian television in Vilnius
the following week.
They were afraid to tarnish their reputations
It was a time when telephone calls were routed through Moscow,
information had to be faxed or transmitted via teletype, and news about
Lithuania was transmitted around the world from the basements of ham
David Satter, a Soviet Affairs correspondent for the influential
newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, hurried to Vilnius a few days after
the events of Bloody Sunday.
The number of journalists in the building of the Supreme Council kept
growing. Satter felt that Mikhail Gorbachev delayed his offensive for
that very reason.
"He was not a typical Soviet leader. His predecessors knew not to get
too friendly with the West and become dependent upon their opinion.
But Gorbachev was obsequious with leaders of the Western world so he was
afraid to behave poorly in their eyes.
Gorbachev realized that aggression in Lithuania would discredit him
completely. I think that made an impact,” said David Satter in an
interview with Lietuvos Rytas.
Images reached congress
Images of tanks attacking unarmed people and buzzing bullets quickly
reached the United States.
The Lithuanian-American community did everything possible to make sure
that these images reached television audiences and important policy
New York Lithuanians gave a recording to their Congressional
representative, Gary Ackerman, who showed pictures from Lithuania to the
entire U.S. Congress. “This helped to mobilize the House of
Representatives and the Senate” said Washington Lithuanian-American
community activist Asta Banionis.
Dan Ritter, a Congressman at the time, described how difficult it was to
draw the attention of the White House to events in Lithuania because
then U.S. President George Bush senior, even after the declaration of
independence in 1990, was in no hurry to recognize independent
Just as Dan Ritter flew immediately to Vilnius, so did other members of
the Congressionally created Commission on Security and Cooperation in
Europe still known as the Helsinki Commission.
"We wanted to show that the people and the state of Lithuania were
important to the US, despite contradictory comments coming out of the
U.S. authorities did not necessarily support the idea of a free and
independent Lithuania. But the Helsinki Commission was convinced that
the empire was in its death throes, "said Ritter.
A caricature appeared in one US publication showing Gorbachev in a
Soviet tank headed to Lithuania. A passerby picks up something from the
side of the road and says "Oops, I think someone just lost a Nobel Peace
Holed Up In a Lithuanian Apartment
When news reached Washington from Rita Dapkute, an employee of the
Lithuanian Supreme Council, that the building was full of foreign
correspondents, American Lithuanians tried to inform the Soviet Embassy
of this fact.
"So they would know that if the Supreme Council was attacked,
representatives of the foreign media would be killed, too" explained
Foreigners working in Vilnius were less concerned with their safety than
they were with possibly being expelled from Lithuania. It could happen
at any moment because most foreigners were accommodated at one hotel,
"The Tourist" so that the Soviets could track their movements more
"We kept wondering when they were going to come and surround us.” Peter
Gumbel of The Wall Street Journal found a Lithuanian family who housed
them in an apartment near the Parliament. About eight of us slept on the
floor there. We shared their telephone and their bathroom.
“I kept calling Moscow to ask to be connected to my editor because I
felt that I was preparing what could be the most important report of my
life" recalled Ann Cooper.
The Lithuanian Legation in Washington
Regardless of the important role that the media may have played in
Lithuania's independence, the U.S. journalists underscored that without
the absolute unity of the people, nothing would have been able to stop
"I received a call from then Ambassador (Charge d’Affaires) of Lithuania
in Washington, Stasys Lozoraitis, Jr., who said that the people refused
to leave even after being fired upon.
I turned around to the Secretary of State James Baker to say that maybe
it was time to think about opening an American embassy in Lithuania.
Because no one has enough bullets to stop those who are not afraid of
them" stated Paul Goble, then special adviser to the Baltic countries
for the U.S. State Department.
Witnesses to Other dramas in Vilnius
"The Soviet leaders realized that in order to subjugate Lithuania they
would have to kill many people, and still they would not succeed.
In January 1991, they understood that they could go no further, and that
it was time for the Soviet Union to bid farewell to Lithuania" concluded
Dave Satter about these dramatic events..
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