VILNIUS - On July 23, the 70th anniversary of the Welles Declaration was marked in Washington Square, in Vilnius. On that day in 1940, a month after USSR troops entered the three Baltic countries, acting U.S. Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued a statement which laid the foundations for a policy that did not recognize the annexation of the Baltics by the Soviet Union.
Despite the tropical heat, all major Lithuanian state leaders, except President Dalia Grybauskaite, showed up to the commemoration in the small Washington Square, which is situated close to the Foreign Ministry building, between Tumo-Vaizganto, Lukiskiu and Gostauto streets. A memorial panel was unveiled in the square to commemorate the anniversary. Grybauskaite sent her greeting letter to the gathering.
“Welles made a declaration stating, resolutely and uncompromisingly, to the world that America did not recognize de jure and de facto the occupation and annexation of Lithuania and the other Baltic states,” Grybauskaite wrote in her letter.
“The USA kept its promise of non-recognition of annexation during all the years of occupation. The Baltic countries did not lose their status. The Lithuanian tricolor was always on display in the U.S. Department of State,” Anne E. Derse, U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, said in good Lithuanian to the gathering.
“The USA kept its word during 50 years despite various ‘business proposals’,” Vytautas Landsbergis, member of the European Parliament, said. Former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus also emphasized the faithfulness of the U.S. to its promise.
“Due to such U.S. policy, the empire of evil collapsed. Due to such policy, we became members of the EU and NATO. Due to such policy, we’ll have energy independence,” Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said, referring to the Lithuanian government decisions which will cease Russia’s monopoly on energy supplies to Lithuania.
The initiator of the event in Washington Square was Emanuelis Zingeris, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Lithuanian parliament. He said that July 23 should become a commemorative day celebrated each year. “We should have a day of thanksgiving to the United States,” Zingeris said, adding that the declaration of non-recognition was a moral step at the time “when the German army was in Paris and the Soviet army did whatever it wanted to do in East Europe.”
On July 22, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement on the 70th anniversary of the Welles Declaration. “On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I join the governments and people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in marking the 70th anniversary of the Welles Declaration this July 23, and reaffirm the strong bonds between our countries. Following the Soviet annexation of the three Baltic States in 1940, acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles declared that the United States would not recognize the incorporation of these states into the Soviet Union. More than 50 countries followed the United States in adopting this position.
This milestone document supported the Baltic States as independent republics at a critical moment to ensure their international recognition and facilitate the continued operation of their diplomatic missions during 50 years of occupation. The Welles Declaration is a testament to our longstanding support of the Baltic States and a tribute to each of our countries’ commitment to the ideals of freedom and democracy,” Clinton stated.