Speeches & Remarks
Eighty-fifth Anniversary of Lithuanian-American Diplomatic Relations
Ambassador John A. Cloud
Old Presidential Palace, Kaunas, July 26, 2007
President Adamkus, Ambassador Bruzga, Mayor Kupcinskas, esteemed guests, colleagues and friends:
Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us to celebrate the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Lithuanian-American diplomatic relationship. I would like to thank President Adamkus for his powerful words here this afternoon. Mr. President, the Lithuanian-American relationship has long benefited from your leadership and strength, and it is truly an honor to join you today in celebration of this wonderful occasion.
The eighty-fifth anniversary of our diplomatic relationship is a special and important moment, a symbol of national friendship that speaks with greater eloquence and power than my words will achieve today. For the true honor of this great day derives from the long line of speakers who have come before me over the past 85 years. To me, this day is about the continuity, the endurance, and the permanence of the Lithuanian-American friendship.
When President Bush visited to celebrate Lithuania’s entry into NATO, he reminded us that, “Many doubted that freedom would come to this country, but the United States always recognized an independent Lithuania. We knew that this continent would not remain divided. We knew that arbitrary lines drawn by dictators would be erased, and those lines are now gone.” President Bush, I’m honored to note, is the fifteenth consecutive American President to recognize a free and independent Lithuania.
The more I have read and learned about the Lithuanian-American relationship, the more humbled I have become to follow in such a constant, unbroken, uninterrupted history of national friendship. From U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles’ declaration of July 23, 1940, that we would not recognize the occupation of the Baltic States, the United States has acted with a consistency and a tenacity of which every American can be proud. As Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Fried reminded us last month, we housed Lithuanian diplomatic delegations. We accredited your diplomats. We flew your flag in the State Department’s Hall of Flags. We never recognized in deed or word or symbol the illegal occupation of your lands.
After 1940, Lithuania continued to exist not only in our minds and in our hearts, and not only here at home, where Lithuanian language and culture continued to flourish proudly and defiantly, but also in a very simple and rightful place: on legal ground. When President Antanas Smetona was forced to leave Lithuania, to leave the office directly adjacent to this room, he traveled to America, to Cleveland, Ohio, where he continued his work. Lithuania’s diplomatic and consular representatives continued to function in the United States, in accordance with international law, between 1940 and 1991. Your diplomats continued to formulate and express the official opinion of your country, and to protect the interests of your country and your citizens abroad, until the restoration of independence in 1991.
They faced unthinkable adversity. On August 8, 1940, the Soviet Union ordered all diplomatic activities of Lithuanian embassies and consulates to be terminated. Diplomats were deprived of their citizenship, banned from returning to their homeland, and had their property confiscated. I think it would be fitting to recognize the three diplomats who remained in service throughout the entire occupation period: Mr. Stasys Antanas Bačkis, Mr. Vincas Balickas, and Mr. Anicetas Simutis. These brave diplomats, among countless others, were not only representing a country, but also preserving an ideal on the international stage: the restoration of Lithuanian independence. No commemoration would be complete without a recognition of their bravery, their dedication to their country, and – ultimately – their success.
We are here to mark the anniversary of a rock-solid foundation that our predecessors have built steadily and durably for almost a century. Of course, they had help: from the Lithuanian and American people. Our cultures and histories are entwined in a deep and longstanding national friendship. We share mutual admiration, family ties, and a joint commitment to democracy and personal freedoms. For the Lithuanian-American friendship has never been just a matter of words; the diplomatic relationship has always been just a symbol – albeit an important one – of the genuine friendship and joint history that our two peoples have shared.
This is not an accident. We have been a permanent part of each other’s national stories since the time of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who helped us fight for our independence. The vibrant Lithuanian-American community in the United States, a hard-working community of talent and ingenuity, has contributed mightily to American society for over a century. Lithuanians and Americans share a passion for music and sports, a passion that is on vivid display when our two teams meet on the basketball court or share the stage for an evening of jazz. I was pleased to note, for example, that the captain of the United States Olympic Basketball Team in 1936 was Frank Lubinas, whom you might know more commonly as Mr. Pranas Lubinas. When the United States stood by Lithuania during the decades of occupation, we were not just respecting the principle of national sovereignty or upholding the rule of law; we were standing by an important friend – and the United States continues to stand by you today as a friend and ally.
We also share a determination to persevere, to work hard, and to refuse to shy away in the face of adversity. Thanks to the courageous contributions of your servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lithuania has made a brave and lasting gift to the people of those two countries, who are struggling to take their rightful place among the family of democracies. Having stared tyranny in the face in the streets of Vilnius 16 years ago, Lithuania has delivered a message to Iraqis and Afghanis everywhere: That you will now stand by them as they fight for their own freedom.
This principle that Lithuania has embraced – that supporting the spread of freedom around in the world strengthens your freedom and security at home – was also at the heart of America’s determination to stand by Lithuania. As President Ronald Reagan once proclaimed, “Americans are united in an enduring belief in the right of peoples to live in freedom. The United States has refused to recognize the forcible incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. We must be vigilant in the protection of this ideal because we know that as long as freedom is denied to others, it is not truly secure here.” Eighty-five years after the United States first welcomed an independent Lithuania to the family of free nations, and over twenty years after President Reagan spoke those words in celebration of Lithuanian Independence Day, our shared determination to promote personal liberty remains as strong as ever.
As they have for the past 85 years, our people represent the foundation beneath our friendship. It is the human ties that unite our two countries. We have extensive cooperation between our governments, our militaries, our scientists, our schools, and our societies. Our soldiers serve side-by-side in Iraq and Afghanistan and in NATO and Coalition forces. American and Lithuanian researchers collaborate on cutting-edge research. And most importantly, our two societies exchange experiences. American and Lithuanian participants in the Fulbright program travel across the Atlantic every year to broaden knowledge and share ideas. Each summer thousands of Lithuanians travel to the U.S. on the Summer Work and Travel program.
Without a doubt, just as our nations are joined today, our futures are entwined as well. From our joint efforts on the international stage to our shared cultural and family ties, we have a great deal to celebrate about the future of the Lithuanian-American relationship.
It is my great privilege to join my long line of distinguished predecessors, to continue to build on 85 years and counting, and to work with you to embrace our shared values as close friends and transatlantic partners.