22 February 2018
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Lithuania in the world

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Text and photos: Aage Myhre





A rickety old bus runs past me in a busy, polluted Mumbai street. Suddenly I see a little girl's face in one


of the bus windows. The contrast between the old bus and the beautiful child is striking. We are in India!






Text and photos: Aage Myhre








India's development over the past 20 years has been unprecedented positive and impressive, and I will in this issue of VilNews tell you a few things about what this development has consisted of.


I will also investigate the allegations I have heard that Sanskrit and Lithuanian languages, for some strange reason have much in common. 


But first and foremost, I'll take you on a journey to a land without parallel in our world, and I will introduce you to some truly remarkable individuals!


India has been described as a “Rich country where poor people live.” The last few years have seen incredible growth in the Indian economy that from 2000 to 2005 grew from $460.2 Billion to $906.3 Billion, making it the second fastest growing economy in the world after China. The world’s largest democracy, India is making huge investment in infrastructure and technology, which was evident while I visited the country’s two largest cities, Mumbai and Delhi.


The man who sits here on the sidewalk in the giant city of Mumbai with his small child sleeping undisturbed on his lap and his crutches standing next to them makes an impression on me. But even if poverty in India is very visible and obvious, my main impression is that this is a country first and foremost characterized by warmth, kindness, hospitality and tranquillity. The eyes of the poor man on the sidewalk are not characterized by a demanding look; that I should give him money. Instead they tell the story of inner peace and contentment in spite of the situation he lives under.









MADHUR ROY waits for me at the Delhi International Airport when I fly in from Mumbai in the late evening. She represents the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has been given the responsibility to show me around and introduce me to people I have special interest in meeting during my visit. On the way to the hotel she tells me about the programme. She also talks about her hobbies; filmmaking and singing. During my days in Delhi, she does a very good job, every day from early morning to late evening. A few days later, on the way to the airport, she sings a quiet, melodic song about herself, a song about the little girl from a village up in the mountains far to the north who came to live in the big city. I see tears rolling down her cheeks, and I feel very touched having got to know a person who not only performs her job in a very professional manner, but also dares to show her feelings in such a way. My visit to India got a new dimension after the meeting with Madhur. Thanks a lot!!






India, officially the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. It is the world’s seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.18 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world. Mainland India is bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the west, and the Bay of Bengal on the east; and it is bordered by Pakistan to the west, the People's Republic of China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north; and Bangladesh and Burma to the east. India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka, and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, its Andaman and Nicobar Islands are also in the vicinity of the Indonesian island of Sumatra in the Andaman Sea, and in the Andaman Sea India also shares a maritime border with Thailand. India has a coastline of 7,517 kilometres (4,700 mi).


Home to the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation and a region of historic trade routes and vast empires, the Indian subcontinent was identified with its commercial and cultural wealth for much of its long history. Four major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated here, while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity  and Islam arrived in the first millennium CE and shaped the region's diverse culture. Gradually annexed by the British East India Company from the early eighteenth century and colonised by the United Kingdom from the mid-nineteenth century, India became an independent nation in 1947 after a struggle for independence that was marked by widespread non-violent resistance.


India is a federal constitutional republic with a parliamentary democracy consisting of 28 states and seven union territories. Apluralistic, multilingual and multiethnic society, India is also home to a diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats. The Indian economy is the world's eleventh largest economy by nominal GDP and the fourth largest by purchasing power parity.


Since the introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1991, India has become one of the fastest growing major economies in the world; however, it still suffers from poverty, illiteracy, corruption, disease, and  malnutrition.  India is classified as a newly industrialised country and is one of the four BRIC nations. It is a nuclear weapons state and has the third-largest standing armed force in the world, while its military expenditure ranks tenth in the world. It is a founding member of the United Nations, the East Asia Summit, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the G-20 major economies.



DELHI (official name: National Capital Territory of Delhi - NCT) is the largest metropolis by area and the second-largest metropolis by population in India. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with more than 12.25 million inhabitants in the territory and with nearly 22.2 million residents in the National Capital Region urban area  The name Delhi is often also used to include some urban areas near the NCT, as well as to refer to New Delhi, the capital of India, which lies within the metropolis. It is the capital of India and its political and cultural centre. Located on the banks of the River Yamuna, Delhi has been continuously inhabited since at least the 6th century BCE.



MUMBAI, also known as Bombay is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of approximately 20 million. Along with the neighbouring urban areas, including the cities of Navi Mumbai and Thane, it is one of the most populous urban regions in the world. Mumbai lies on the west coast of India and has a deep natural harbour. Mumbai is also the richest city in India, and has the highest GDP of any city in South or Central Asia.










Almost two years ago India experienced its 9/11 when terrorists from Pakistan came in by sea and sneaked into Mumbai via the port areas you see in the picture above. Taj Mahal Hotel and other buildings that were attacked are located just a few meters away from the hotel window I take this picture from…


The Mumbai Old Town is built on seven islands and was once an important centre for fisheries in the northern Arabian Sea. It was later turned into an important trade centre by the Portuguese and the British.  Today almost 20 million people live in Mumbai. The downtown bustling life is so dynamic and noisy that we Europeans can scarcely comprehend it…


Let me also tell you something about shopping in India, an activity almost always accompanied by haggling for the price, even in the finer shops. There are no price tags. If you are interested in an item, you ask one of the many store clerks how much it costs. Most prices start ridiculously high, even more so for me than my wife (I guess I look like a sucker). If you actually might buy the item, you try and look disgusted and see if they will lower it on their own. If they do (or if not), you offer a much lower price. They will counter with a slightly more reasonable price than the first, you respond with something above your first. This continues until one side refuses to budge and then you agree, or walk away empty-handed. I was never too good at this sort of bargaining (car dealers love guys like me) and usually let my wife do the buying.




Taxi driver waiting for new passengers at his ‘Auto-rickshaw‘

(three-wheeled taxi)






  Vibrant daily life




Look closely at these three pictures. Maybe you will get a better insight into how daily life is lived and experienced for many in India. Look at the men above and their little ‘habitat’ on a pavement in Mumbai. Inside the building a hairdresser is in full swing to take care of a customer. The room contains obviously also a small pharmacy and a café. Out on the sidewalk a waiter just started serving tea to a small group of guests, while the vegetable trader has stopped up with his trolley full of figs and nuts, probably to share a cup of tea with his friends…


The image at right shows a small family that makes its living by selling vegetables from a sidewalk. No sales boot. No desk or cash registers.  They simply sit on the ground doing their business. But smile they do!


A rocky beach in downtown Mumbai. The fishermen have just come in and already sold today’s catch. Now they sit on the sand to rest a bit. They smoke, drink tea, and do obviously have lots of fun together.


The contrast between the distant fast-paced world and this “timeless” world is enormous.





               People I’ve met in India



My driver is a Muslim, but claims that in India there is no religious discrimination



Prof. Dr. Satya Vrat Shastri (80),

Teacher of Sanskrit:

“To see him is to like him”


This Mumbai University student is convinced that I am a famous Hollywood actor


Prof. Vachaspati Ypadhyaya,

one of India’s finest scholars


Guarding the door

at our hotel


Dr. Uma Vaidya, Dept of Sanskrit at the Mumbai University



Dr. Phil. Ashok Vora,
University of New Delhi


The Minister tells me about poverty in India


The main person behind Navi Mumbai, Mr. Shri Nukul Patil


A wannabe slumdog millionaire

I meet him near his home in one of the huge Mumbai slum districts. He is out in the streets every day to sell books and magazines to tourists and residents, so there is not much time for school or family life. Due to rising population, the number of slum dwellers in Mumbai is rising every day, and it is today estimated that around 55% of the city’s population lives in the slums (one billion people worldwide live in slums and the figure will likely grow to 2 billion by 2030). Even as the Indian economy remains one of the bright spots in the world showing an upward growth trajectory, around 49,000 slums continue to blight the urban landscape forcing lots of people to live in pathetic conditions. 

My young friend is still optimistic as he hastens on….



Incredible business growth


 Geeta and Gulu Mirchandani in their beautiful Mumbai home

During my stay in Mumbai I get one night invited to the home of Geeta and Gulu Mirchandani. Gulu is an old acquaintance who since 1981 has developed and been in the forefront of the electronics giant ONIDA (Mirc Electronics). I consider Gulu one of the masterminds behind the impressive development India's economy has undergone over the last 30 years. He is also one of those behind the initiative 'Mumbai Angels' that provides a unique platform to start-up companies by bringing them face to face with successful entrepreneurs, professionals and executives, also helping with start-up funding. I believe this kind of support and team-work is what brings India quickly forwards in today’s harsh economic climate. Ref.



India GDP



The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in India expanded at an annual rate of 8.80 percent in the 2nd quarter of 2010. From 2004 until 2010, India's average quarterly GDP Growth was 8.37 percent reaching an historical high of 10.10 percent in September of 2006 and a record low of 5.50 percent in December of 2004. India's diverse economy encompasses traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide range of modern industries, and a multitude of services. Services are the major source of economic growth, accounting for more than half of India's output with less than one third of its labour force. The economy has posted an average growth rate of more than 7% in the decade since 1997, reducing poverty by about 10 percentage points.



  Incredible Indian-Lithuanian relations



Professor Lokesh Chandra (85), one of India’s leading experts on Sanskrit and Buddhism


It’s early morning in Delhi. I have been invited to the small, dark office of Professor Lokesh Chandra, one of India’s leading experts on Sanskrit and Buddhism. “The same year I was born, 1927, my father went to London to get a degree in Lithuanian language. He spoke the language fluently, but he never visited Lithuania,” tells the elderly professor, still with his Kashmir coat and cap on despite the outside temperature of close to 300 Celsius.


I soon learn that the professor’s knowledge about the connections between Old Sanskrit and Lithuanian language and ancient cultural ties between India and Lithuania is nothing but amazing. He confirms that there since ancient times have been unique ties between India and Lithuania, not only with regards to language. Also the songs, the medieval cultures and more were extraordinary closely connected to each other.


Here is what he tells me this early morning at his New Delhi office: “The very mention of Lithuanian opens up an image, a vision that gives a people their identity through language. It shows how the darkness of dreams becomes the new embodied hope. My father was stimulated and strengthened in his work on the development of Hindi by the history of Lithuanian language. It has been the eternal continuity of these people; - it rustles something deep in their being. My father felt that we in India share with our distant Lithuanian brothers the silent geography of lost frontiers. Political freedom is inseparable from language.”


And the professor continues with his amazing story: “My father would relate how grandmas in the remote villages narrated folk-tales to eager grandchildren in their Lithuanian language which was despised by the Slavised nobility and punished by the Czarist regime. My father also told me how the Lithuanian daina (songs) were abandoned by the courts, but still continued to live on in the villages, faithfully preserved by the poorest people of Lithuania, guarded by the mothers of the families even during the darkest periods of Lithuania’s history.”


“Such was my first contact with Lithuania, in 1937, at an age of ten,” smiles Professor Chandra.



Sanskrit Tattoo Symbols

  Sanskrit and Lithuanian are closely related


Since the 19th century, when the similarity between Lithuanian and Sanskrit was discovered, Lithuanians have taken a particular pride in their mother tongue as the oldest living Indo-European language. To this day, to some Lithuanians their understanding of their nationality is based on their linguistic identity. It is no surprise then that they proudly quote the French linguist Antoine Meillet, who said, that anyone who wanted to hear old Indo-European should go and listen to a Lithuanian farmer. The 19th century maxim - the older the language the better - is still alive in Lithuania.


 Professor Shashiprabha Kumar, and her amazing team of specialists at the Centre for Sanskrit Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, is convinced that there is a very strong connection between Old Sanskrit and Lithuanian


It is a common belief that there is a close similarity between the Lithuanian and Sanskrit languages; Lithuanian being the European language grammatically closest to Sanskrit. It is not difficult to imagine the surprise of the scholarly world when they learned that even in their time somewhere on the Nemunas River lived a people who spoke a language as archaic in many of its forms as Sanskrit itself. Although it was not exactly true that a professor of Sanskrit could talk to Lithuanian farmers in their language, coincidences between these two languages are truly amazing, for example:


SON:           Sanskrit sunus - Lithuanian sunus 

SHEEP:        Sanskrit avis - Lithuanian avis

SOLE:          Sanskrit padas - Lithuanian padas

MAN:           Sanskrit viras - Lithuanian vyras

SMOKE:        Sanskrit dhumas - Lithuanian dumas


These Lihuanian words have not changed their forms for the last five thousand years.


The relationship between Sanskrit and Lithuanian goes even deeper. Take, for example, the Lithuanian word 'daina' that usually is translated as 'song'. The word actually comes from an Indo-European root, meaning ‘to think, to remember, to ponder over’. This root is found in Sanskrit as dhi and dhya. The word also occurs in the Rigveda (ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns) in the sense of ‘speech reflecting the inner thoughts of man’.


Apart from its Indo-European background as word and term, the ‘daina’ incorporates the idea of the Sun-Goddess who was married to the Moon-God, reminiscent of goddess Surya in the Rigveda.


Sanskrit Tattoo Symbols


OM (also spelled AUM) is a Hindu sacred sound that is considered the greatest of all mantras.

The syllable OM is composed of the three sounds a-u-m (in Sanskrit, the vowels a and u combine

to become o) and the symbol's threefold nature is central to its meaning.



  Mr. India in Lithuania





Wing Commander Rajinder Chaudhary (ret.), owner of Sue’s Indian Raja in Vilnius.


It is not easy to have a conversation with Raj if you sit down at one of the outdoor tables in front of his Indian restaurant near the Cathedral Square in Vilnius city centre. ‘Everyone’ knows Raj, and many want to shake hands with this extraordinary gentle man when they see him. During the 15 years that have passed since he first came to Lithuania, he has become an outstanding, popular living legend and institution here in this cold country so far away from his childhood home in warm and hospitable India.


Raj was commissioned in the Indian Air Force in 1961, where he served for more than 20 years. He decided to retire in 1983. That same year he was awarded the Vasishat Seva Medal by the President of India. He joined the private sector in India in 1984 and rose to higher management positions with renowned ‘business houses’. In 1993 he became the CEO of a British company for their CIS operations and moved to Moscow. In 1995 he decided to join a Dubai based group’s office in Moscow, as Resident Director.


And, luckily for Lithuania, in 1997 Raj moved to Vilnius and started his own business; a restaurant with the name ‘Sue’s Indian Raja’. In less than three years he had set up a pan-Baltic chain with six other restaurants. His restaurant in Riga was named among the 100 best restaurants in the world.


Raj is married to Lina Skutaite-Chaudhary, a medical doctor who now works as a specialist at a hospital in the United Arabian Emirates. He has two sons, both IT professionals in the United States.


He was the Honorary Consul of India to Lithuania for the period 2007-2010.


Raj is the kind of man who does genuine honour to his country and his people. Lithuania should, for its part, feel honoured having individuals like Raj living and working in this country.





Category : Lithuania in the world

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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!



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Category : Lithuania in the world

Report from the annual mass and picnic in Putnam, Connecticut

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The annual Lithuanian mass and picnic, was held in Putnam, Connecticut, United States on Sunday, July 22nd, 2012.

The event was held at the grounds of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception Convent, a beautiful field, with trees and a stone wall forming a perimeter. The day started off with celebration of Catholic mass, in Lithuanian. After the mass there were all sorts of Lithuanian food and beverages; Saltbarsciai, kugelis, chicken dinner, cabbage, Lithuanian Kielbasa, and the Lithuanian beverage gira, to name a few. The sisters wonderful breads sold out fast, they are so popular. Then, there were vendors in the outdoor area, selling Lithuanian T shirts, music, books, jewelry, folk art, and many other items. There were MANY picnic tables, and people also bring their own picnic food as well. Lithuanians travelled from all over the Northeast to come to the event.

Letter and pictures: Dana Petkaityte

Hello Aage,

The picnic was wonderful!  It was on the grounds of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (convent).  The day started with a Catholic mass celebrated outside, by three Lithuanian priests.  The activities began after mass.  The sisters sold their famous bread (duona), either rye or raisin bread was available.  It always sells out quickly. 

There was music playing over the sound system.  Most was recorded music, and some music and song was live.  The young people from Camp Neringa (a Lithuanian-American summer camp located in the state of Vermont) performed Lithuanian songs and dances in traditional folk costume. 

There was an area with vendors, selling Lithuanian related items.  Such things included clothing, books, music, and amber jewelry.  I purchased a tank top (shirt) to put on my dog "Kola".  She is a German shepherd (Vokieciu aviganis, or "vilkas").  I thought it was appropriate that she should have a shirt with the "Gelezinis vilkas" on it!  Some other people brought their dogs, too. There was even a pony for children to ride!

Many people walked into the wooded area on the grounds, to visit what is known as Father Yla's castle.  It is a castle, I believe in the spirit of Mindaugas, built by Lithuanians in the 1950s, under the supervision of Father Yla.  My own father, I'm proud to say, is one of the people who helped to build the castle.  I took some pictures of it this year, but I also have some other ones from last year.  I will send them in the 4th email.  There were some young ladies doing some sort of presentation about the castle and Lithuanian history, but I'm sorry to say I missed that presentation.  They wore 16th century style costumes. 

Lastly, there was the food!  There was all sorts of food to be eaten; Kugelis, rugstus piena; sausage with bread, potato and sauerkraut; saltibarsciai; chicken with carrots, peas and rice; gira to drink, and pastry and ice cream for dessert.  There were also "hot dogs" for the American taste.  It was all very delicious! 

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One of my favorite attractions is a hand built, stone castle you can visit that is on the grounds. It's known as Father Yla's castle. It's built in the spirit of castles that exist in Lithuania, and dedicated to Mindaugas. I'm proud to say that my father was one of many people who helped to build it, I believe in the 1950s. 

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Category : Lithuania in the world

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The Lithuanian World Community (Lithuanian: Pasaulio lietuvių bendruomenė or PLB) is a non-governmental and non-profit organization established in 1949 that unifies Lithuanian communities abroad. The Constitution of the Lithuanian World Community declares that it consists of all Lithuanians living abroad. The Community is active in 36 countries, including representation in Lithuania.

On February 7, 1932 a fund to support Lithuanians in foreign countries was established in Lithuania, making one of the first attempts to maintain closer ties between the Lithuanian diaspora and Lithuania. Three years later the first Lithuanian World Congress was held in Kaunas, which established the Lithuanian World Union. The mission of the Lithuanian World Union, also drafted during the Congress, called for a cultural and economic union of Lithuanians in different countries. However World War II and Lithuania's occupation interrupted the work. Many educated Lithuanians fled to western countries, hoping to avoid approaching Soviet repressions. In 1946 the Lithuanian community in Germany established the Lithuanian Deportees Community, which aimed at consolidating and helping Lithuanians in Germany. In 1949 Lithuania's Supreme Liberation Committee (Lithuanian: Vyriausiasis Lietuvos išlaisvinimo komitetas or VLIKas), established in 1943, delivered the Lithuanian Charter and the Constitutions of the Lithuanian World Community, which solemnly pledged to support and unite all Lithuanians outside Lithuania's borders and promote Lithuanian culture and language abroad. The Lithuanian Charter also proclaimed:

  • a nation is a natural community of people;
  • a human has birthright to freely profess and promote his nationality;
  • a Lithuanian remains a Lithuanian everywhere and always;
  • his parents maintained the Lithuanian national consciousness; a Lithuanian relays it to the generations yet unborn, to remain alive;
  • a language is the strongest tie to the national community;
  • the Lithuanian language is the most precious national honour for a Lithuanian;
  • national solidarity is the highest national virtue.

In the 1950s many Lithuanians from Germany moved to the United States, Canada,  Australia, South America and other countries, where they established new branches of the Lithuanian Community. 1955 saw elections to the first Lithuanian Community Council in the U.S., which allowed better coordination among the different Lithuanian groups. In 1960 Lithuanians in the U.S., among them future President of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus, collected about 40,000 signatures and petitioned the United States Government to intervene in the ongoing deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia conducted by the Soviets.

In August 2006, President Valdas Adamkus attended the opening ceremony of the World Lithuanian Community's 12th Seimas. Adamkus proposed new goals for the Community as it was facing new challenges which had to be accepted and dealt with because a new wave of Lithuanians had left their homeland since the declaration of independence in 1990.

The Lithuanian World Community consists of local Lithuanian Communities around the world, currently numbering 36. The highest body is the Seimas of the Lithuanian World Community. Its main goal is to periodically adopt and review the Community's strategy and program. Each country sends at least one representative to the Seimas, which gathers every three years (1958-1997 it gathered every five years). The Seimas also elects the Community Council to deal with day-to-day issues. As of 2009, thirteen Community Councils had been elected:

  • 1958 in New York City. Elected Chairmen Jonas Matulionis and Dr. Juozas Sungaila
  • 1963 in Toronto (Canada). Elected Chairman Bachunas-Bačiūnas
  • 1968 in New York (USA). Chairman Juozas J. Bachunas-Bačiūnas, after his death Stasys Barzdukas
  • 1973 in Washington D.C. (USA). Chairman Bronius Nainys
  • 1978 in Toronto (Canada). Chairman Vytautas Kamantas
  • 1983 in Chicago (USA). Chairman Vytautas Kamantas
  • 1988 in Toronto (Canada). Chairman Dr. Vytautas Bieliauskas
  • 1992 in Lemont, Illinois (USA). Chairman Bronius Nainys
  • 1997 in Vilnius. Chairman Vytautas Kamantas
  • 2000 in Vilnius. Chairman Vytautas Kamantas
  • 2003 in Vilnius. Chairman Gabrielius Žemkalnis
  • 2006 in Vilnius. Chairwoman Regina Narušienė
  • 2009 in Vilnius. Chairwoman Regina Narušienė
  • 2012 in Vilnius. New chairperson to be elected.


Category : Lithuania in the world

U.S.-Nordic-Baltic cooperation

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By Dr. Stasys Backaitis

Conference on U.S.-Nordic-Baltic Cooperation:
Shaping the U.S.-European Agenda

The conference provided an overview by U.S. and European researchers and political experts on the importance, need and benefits of a close U.S. collaboration with the Nordic-Baltic region. The collaboration would facilitate building a wider and more secure Europe, reinforcing U.S. attention to transatlantic engagement, and achieving a more constructive dialog with Russia leading to democratization of its society. The conference took place on Friday, May 4, 2012, at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the John Hopkins University, Washington, D.C.

The agenda included:


Opening remarks. Kurt Volker, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations


Europe Whole and Free - An Unfinished Business. Adam Daniel Rotfeld, Professor, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland

Russia, NATO and Nordic-Baltic Perspectives. Linas Linkevicius, Ambassador-at-Large, Office of the President of Lithuania, Former Minister of Defense of Lithuania


Panel Discussion

Russia and the East. Damon Wilson, Vice president, The Atlantic Counsel; DavidKramer President, Freedom House;Urban Ahlin, MP, Deputy chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Swedish Parliament;
Kadri Liik, Senior Researcher, International Center for Defence Studies of Estonia


Keynote Remarks. Julia Smith, Deputy National Security Advisor in the office of the Vice President


Panel Discussion

Embedding and Integration. Kurt Volker, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations
Jānis Sārts, State Secretary, Ministry of Defense of Latvia
Daniel P. Fata, Vice President, The Cohen Group
Mike Winnerstig, Swedish Defense Research Agency


Panel Discussion

Energy Security. Robert Nurick, Senior Fellow, The Atlantic Council
Matthew Breeze, former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan
Andris Sprūds, Latvian Institute of International Affairs
Arunas Molis, Energy Security Center under Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Concluding Remarks
Kurt Volker, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations

Reception at the Lithuanian Embassy and Remarks by James Townsend, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy

This summary does not intend to deal with every specific issue addressed in this conference. Since many of the issues covered by the speakers and discussers overlapped, it would be of little value to repeat them in this summary on an author to author basis. Rather, the summary is intended to highlight the issues raised and provide the readers the general direction of the topics presented. Details of the issues addressed may be found in the Center for Transatlantic Relations publication entitled “Nordic-Baltic-American Cooperation: Shaping the U.S.-European Agenda”, John Hopkins University, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, May 4, 2012, Kurt Volker and Ieva Kupce, Editors. 

Need for more attention towards the relationship between the United States (U.S.) and the democracies of the Nordic- Baltic Region (NB8)
The conference highlighted the need for more attention towards the relationship between the United States (U.S.) and the democracies of the Nordic- Baltic Region.  Encompassing Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, the Nordic-Baltic countries (NB8) are remarkable for their economic health, their promotion of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, their contribution to international security and peacekeeping operations beyond their borders, in spite of the on-going economic crisis in the EU.  The values and the vision  of the NB8 countries to strive and promote these policies make them valuable allies to the United States.  In spite of a changing globalized world and shifting power centers, a strong transatlantic link remains indispensable for enhancing common principles and values within the Euro-Atlantic area in general, and particularly valuable and example setting between the U.S. and the NB8.

While there is some disappointment in the U.S. over Europe’s difficulties to cope effectively with the economic crisis and being an effective security partner, the NB8 nations stand out uniquely as a stable, responsible and dynamic region of Europe.  The region also shows that democracy still works, that a positive onward vision of the free world is possible, and that there are still important challenges ahead for the transatlantic institutions.  The conference explored how the NB8 region and the U.S. can be engaged in and cooperate to shape the broader transatlantic agenda in a positive direction.

The topics in the conference explored the vision the Nordic Baltic countries together with the U.S. might bring to the table and cooperate to shape the broader transatlantic agenda for common good and security.  The conference organizers noted that concrete contributions as a result of such cooperation, in line with the EU and the NATO agendas, can be made in a number of areas such as:

  • Continue to promote a Europe whole, free and at peace,
  • Help aspiring European nations to join the NATO and EU
  • Regional integration to attain higher levels of security than could be possible as a disparate collection of individual states and policies
  • The relationship with Russia
  • Energy and Cyber security
  • U.S engagement with Europe

NB8 region has found ways to produce unprecedented security and stability
At a time when a larger part of the Euro-Atlantic community struggles to determine how it should address and resolve its financial and political difficulties, the NB8 region has found ways to produce unprecedented security and stability. Unlike their older EU counterparts, the Nordic and the Baltic countries have shown willingness to reform, to cooperate and to integrate where necessary. Their example of addressing together the arising challenges is a good example to the rest of the EU members on how to solve their current difficulties, leading to a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. .   

The Baltic states, Norway and Finland, bordering Russia, have a direct interest and valuable perspective on living with Russia as a neighbor and managing with it security, energy and environmental issues. This provides them a better in-depth understanding and ability to interpret linkages between Russia’s authoritarian system and its external behavior.  The NB8 states cannot change Russia on their own, but they can contribute to better formulated and more coherent EU, NATO and U.S. policies toward Russia.

The Baltic states, being particularly energy resources poor, stand out as models for handling complicated and intertwined energy issues with Russia while also reducing their dependency on Russia’s supplies.  There is a concerted effort by all NB8 states to move towards integrated energy security by interconnecting their energy generating systems, cooperation in the development  of alternative resources, and the construction of a common regional energy market.  The region’s move towards greater energy security and sustainability is a good policy model to both the EU and NATO.

In view of the new U.S. Defense Policy Guidance of January 2012, in which the U.S. intends to reduce its military presence in Europe, Washington promised as compensation rotation of U.S. based brigade size forces to Europe to participate in multinational and NATO led training and military exercises.  These rotations should be structured to maximize U.S-Nordic-Baltic military engagements  including the use of training facilities on both sides of the Atlantic. By the use of trips across the Atlantic, the Nordic-Baltics would leverage state of the art training facilities in the United States and Canada and would enhance their readiness to undertake expeditionary operations throughout the entire NATO nordic region.  Active and increasing participation by NB8 in various NATO training operations both at combat and command as well as planning levels, offer to the U.S a value model on the need to sustain a strong transatlantic engagement.  

While there can be no security guarantee to the NB8 region without the U.S., there is also no sustainability of a U.S. role in the NorthAtlantic-Baltic and Central European regions without participation and contribution by the Nordic-Baltic countries.  The United States needs Europe and thereby NATO, as much as Europe needs the United States as well as NATO. Transatlantic solidarity is essential to support and promote global trade, economic development, security and stability in an increasingly unpredictable world. The interdependence is best reflected in common political objectives, such as to assure a level playing field through unique transatlantic solidarity embodied by NATO.  The Alliance’s new focus on partnerships at the Chicago NATO summit is in recognition of global security interdependence.

NATO and EU seem to share similar objectives in energy diversification of supplies, working toward creation of identical infrastructures and interconnectivity, response to emergencies, assistance to third countries , etc.  Shale gas has been and will be a game changer in the foreseeable future.  It is breaking Russia’s stranglehold on supplies to Europe. Furthermore, the developing interconnectivity of gas and electricity resources and competition in the energy market within the Nordic–Baltic region is diminishing GAZPROM’s power of monopoly.  Focusing on diversification of supplies, attaining diminished vulnerability, and building a permanent framework for reduction of short and long term  energy security risks are activities bringing greatest added value to energy security.  This will be beneficial for both the EU and NATO, because it will make them much stronger in dealing with possible future energy crisis, and projecting stability and sustainability in their respective areas of operation. Effective NB8 cooperation supported by U.S. in the establishment of NATO Energy Security Center of Excellence in Lithuania represents a window of opportunity for attaining these goals.

NB8 countries are leaders in promoting democracy, rule of law, human rights and market based development
The Nordic-Baltic region offers many assets to the transatlantic community. They are leaders in promoting democracy, rule of law, human rights and market based development in Europe and around the world.  They are also regarded as honest brokers in many hotspots of the globe. U.S.-Nordic-Baltic cooperation can serve as an important new and stable pillar to the transatlantic community.  The shared vision, values, capabilities and collaboration that define the Nordic-Baltics, can be used to reanimate the effort to build a wider and more secure Europe, transatlantic stability, and help to achieve constructive dialog and cooperation with Russia. Such collaboration can also reinforce U.S. commitments to Europe’s regional security requirements and simultaneously drive forward the transatlantic community’s effort  to address developing global challenges

During subsequent discussions several comments were made on the futility of the U.S. and EU to accommodate Russia’s adversarial political positions, and continuing human rights and rule of law violations. It was suggested that the West should take a strong and critical stand on these abuses with the Russian government while encouraging and facilitating developments of respect for human rights, rule of law and governance by the people through democratic institutions.  While some comments indicated that the U.S. and EU currently are not in a good position to challenge Russia because of critical access to Afghanistan, others noted that Russia needs NATO presence in Afghanistan as means to reduce its vulnerability to Muslim extremism.  In this regard the United States and the Nordic-Baltics should leverage their capacities and experience in a way to deepen their engagement with the Russian people and the state.  Shared concerns in the Baltic Sea region such as environment protection, maritime safety, land and air transportation, could serve as platforms of common interest. Properly constructed, U.S.and NB8 cooperation could become a positive reinforcement of the insecurities encountered in the EU-U.S. transatlantic partnership.  U.S.-Nordic–Baltic cooperation will also be a positive inducement to the U.S. to reinforce its commitment to maintain strong transatlantic ties as means of maintaining stability in the adjoining part of the world with minimal expense and effort.

Stan Backaitis

United Nordic-Baltic region will ensure economic stability and energy security

Saturday, October 29, Helsinki - President Dalia Grybauskaitė, currently on a working visit in Helsinki, met with the President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, to discuss Nordic-Baltic cooperation issues, Press Service of the President reports.
This year Finland coordinates the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8) cooperation with Lithuania taking over these duties next year. Lithuania and the other Baltic and Nordic countries cooperate actively in advocating the interests of the region in the EU, NATO, OSCE, and other international organizations.

“Joint efforts to strengthen the security of the region’s borders, ensure its economic stability and energy security will help create general well-being and advance progress in the Baltic-Nordic area,” the President said.

The President noted that the deepening of security cooperation was among next year’s top priorities, including border control of the Nordic and Baltic countries, closer interaction on the Baltic Sea environmental issues as well as in cyber and energy security, using to the full extent the possibilities offered by the Vilnius-based Energy Security Center.

The President underlined that the Nordic-Baltic region – one of the most rapidly developing regions in the European Union – was a dynamic driving force to advance economic stability, growth, responsible fiscal policies, innovations, and progress.

The Nordic Baltic region aspires to be among the first to put a single information space and digital market in place for accelerating electronic settlements, information exchange and access to information.

The presidents of Lithuania and Finland emphasized that keeping the Baltic Sea clean and secure for the future generations was a key commitment for all the Baltic Sea rim countries. Specific measures binding for all the nations around the Baltic Sea were set forth at the Baltic Sea Action summit held in Helsinki last year.

Tagged as: Dalia Grybauskaitė, Nordic-Baltic cooperation, Tarja Halonen

JAV-Šiaurės-Baltijos valstybių bendradarbiavimas formuojant JAV-Europos kooperavimo darbotvarkę

Dr. Stasys Backaitis, P.E., SAE Fellow

Category : Culture & events / Lithuania in the world

Global Baltic ‘family reunion’ in Chicago

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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who traces his roots to Lithuania, spoke on the
topic of “the unbreakable U.S.-Baltic partnership,” and referred to
the conference as “a family reunion.”

Photo: Jurgis Anysas.

By Ellen Cassedy

“The Global Baltics: The Next Twenty Years” was the subject of the 23rd biennial conference of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS). The conference took place April 26-28 at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“We are truly the global Baltics,” said Robert Vitas, chair of the Chicago-based Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, in an opening address. “Wars, migrations, and deportations have wrenched our people beyond our national boundaries. Lithuania is home in our hearts, but the countries of the diaspora are also home.”

More than 200 scholars from 15 countries participated, including some from as far away as Japan and Brazil.   Scholars in the field of Lithuanian studies made up about one-quarter of the participants.

Sixty speeches, roundtables, and panel discussions explored Baltic history, literature, linguistics, political science, aesthetics, culture, sociology, psychology, economics, gender, anthropology, musicology, environment, education, and public health.

Numerous members of Chicago’s Baltic-American community turned out for the opening session, which was addressed by the three Baltic ambassadors to the U.S. and two White House representatives. 

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who traces his roots to Lithuania, spoke on the topic of “the unbreakable U.S.-Baltic partnership,” and referred to the conference as “a family reunion.” 

Ever since its beginnings in 1968, according to Bradley Woodworth of the University of New Haven, AABS has striven to maintain strong ties with the émigré communities.  “We foster a high level of scholarship,” he said, “but we also want to reflect a deep emotional tie” with the Baltics. 

Not only the Baltic nations themselves but the Baltic émigré communities were under discussion. 

Some presentations focused on the home countries – for example, the Estonian contribution to digital music, Baltic linguistics in Renaissance Europe, the Latvian SS Voluntary Legion, Soviet art in Lithuania, and Poles in contemporary Klaipeda.

But others focused on such topics as whether the mission of early Lithuanian immigrants to the U.S. was to preserve or to create Lithuanian identity; the meaning of “Lithuanian-ness” outside Lithuania; and the state of Baltic archives and libraries in North America. 

Past president Guntis Smidchens, of the University of Washington, recalled that from the very beginnings of the association in 1968, AABS conferences have served as a valuable place for Baltic scholars to share research and seek critiques of their papers.  To begin with, “you didn’t need to show where the Baltics were on the map,” he said.  “Everyone knew.” 

Today, Smidchens said, the conferences are changing, as scholars from the Baltic countries themselves are able to attend, and Baltic studies are on the rise in Europe.  At the same time, he voiced disappointment that Baltic language courses are being eliminated at U.S. universities. 

Woodworth emphasized that for him, Baltic studies means an exploration of all the peoples who live in the Baltic lands.  “The emphasis on Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as nation-states has been a real strength,” he said, “but that can go too far.  I study the people who live in a certain region, not ethnicities per se.  This is not a place for Baltic nationalism.”

Scholars of all three Baltic countries not only joined together in formal discussions but chatted at the coffee urns. 

Did the conference create a “pan-Baltic” spirit– a sense of fellow-feeling among Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians across national boundaries?  Some participants said they felt it, while others did not. 

The conference was not all work.  Participants perused the exhibits of books and journals and explored the lavish display of artifacts and manuscripts mounted by the Lithuanian Research and Studies Center.  In a session chaired by Violeta Kelertas, of the University of Washington, Baltic fiction writers from the U.S. and Canada entertained the participants by reading from their short stories and novels.  A Latvian and a Lithuanian men’s choir serenaded the gathering.  There was a dinner and a play performance.  And conference chair Giedrius Subacius, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, was feted with a rousing Lithuanian birthday song.   

The next AABS conference, to be held jointly with the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies, will take place at Yale University, March 13-15, 2014.  Some travel stipends will be offered.  Two “sister’ conferences are also in the works.  For more information:

Ellen Cassedy traces her Jewish family roots to Rokiskis and Siauliai. Her new book, We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust, was published in March and will appear in Lithuanian in May.  She lives in Washington, D.C. Visit her website at
Category : Lithuania in the world

As vast as the waves of Lithuanian immigrants who crossed the ocean to start new lives thousands of miles from their native land

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Boris Vytautas Bakunas (left)
has much good to say about
Frank Passic’s “Chicago
article” here in VilNews

Dear Mr. Frank Passic,

How can I thank you for your article How Chicago Became Lithuania’s Second Capital?

Its scope is as vast as the waves of Lithuanian immigrants who crossed the ocean to start new lives thousands of miles from their native land. .

Until I read your article, I didn’t know that Bridgeport, the Chicago neighborhood, where I spend the happiest years of my childhood, is said to have gotten its name from Ansas Portas, who owned land on the south side of the Chicago River.

Nor did I know of the 18 men who were the first Lithuanians to set foot on Chicago as part of a railway crew. I can easily imagine the grime on their faces and their calloused hands as they trudged home to their families after toiling all day in the railroad yards.

Nor was I aware of the small token “chips” that struggling Lithuanian societies issued in order to raise meager sums to support the building of their cultural institutions. Those meager sums added up and helped pay for the bricks that built institutions where Lithuanians gathered to preserve their customs and worship in their native tongue.

Your article is a source of inspiration for all Lithuanians and their descendants. It shows how fiercely Lithuanian immigrants fought to preserve their cultural heritage. With little money but with great determination, they established organizations, published Lithuanian newspapers, built churches, schools, and centers of culture.

They worked in sweat shops and labored in the Chicago Stock Yards. They fought beside their fellow workers to unionize the Meat Packing Industry.

My gratitude extends far beyond the historical knowledge you conveyed.

The words you wrote and the photographs you posted stirred my memory. My my mind flooded with names and stories of Lithuanians who fled their native soil to escape exile, execution, or torture in 1944.

The sky is gray and overcast in Chicago as I write. Why do I feel it should be raining? Do I want the rains to come and wash away those memories of misery and pain?

My mother and grandparents rarely talked about the Second World War and its aftermath. The questions my half-sister and I asked were often met with curt answers like “Those were terrible times.”

But we kept asking, and over the years, when family and friends had gathered together to celebrate holidays, we snatched bits and pieces of conversations that helped us form a mosaic of the hidden past.

I remember how fortunate my grandparents and mother said they felt to have caught the last train leaving Lithuania in August of 1944.

I remember hearing how the train, carrying both troops and civilians, was strafed by a fighter plane. The train screeched to a halt. People rushed from the railway cars and scattered to hide in the fields.

When the strafing ended, my mother turned to her side and saw that the body of a German soldier beside her -- his body sliced in two by bullets. He was one of several who had tried to shield her with their own bodies.

I remember being told that my mother screamed hysterically for nearly an hour. . Then she fell silent and did not whisper a word for a month.

I remember my godmother telling me how she and her husband fled their home when they heard the roar of Soviet cannons. They rushed to a neighbor’s house. They handed their infant daughter to the woman who lived in the house. “We will hide in the woods. When the front passes, we will come back for her.”

But the battle intensified. The bomb blasts grew louder, pushing my godparents further and further from home. More than thirty years had to pass before mother and daughter were reunited again.

I have no memories of the displaced person’s camp in Germany where I was born. But I remember being told that an American soldier, a Black G.I., lifted me in his arms and gave me chocolate. My mother laughed as she told me how I asked if he was made of chocolate.

I remember Ponia Aldona Konciene, an enormous woman with a heart as big as her bulk. She and her husband were among the first from our D. P. camp to come to America. Despite their poverty, they sponsored dozens of other Lithuanians, often sharing their small apartment with them for weeks at a time.

I remember the actor Alfonsas Brinka and the heavy load he had to bear to support his family at a backbreaking menial job. Yet he always found time to amuse children with his stories, both in person and on the Lithuanian radio show “Margutis.”

I remember the poet Apolinaras Bagdonas. He worked as a desk clerk in a hotel during the week, and taught at the Lithuanian Saturday school I attended. A man of extraordinary gentleness, he didn’t have the heart to yell or punish us when we misbehaved. He would only pause with a look of sadness on his face. On Friday evenings, he’d host gatherings for us and sit quietly as we talked about sports, The war in Vietnam, and our hopes for the future.

The Saturday sky is still gray, but the rain has not come. Names, faces, images flood my mind. I am glad that the rains have not washed my memories away.

Mr. Passic, thank you again.

Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas

Category : Lithuania in the world


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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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