Majority of Lithuanian-Americans disappointed with Grybauskaite

  • 2011-06-08
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

The Lithuanian World Community (LWC)  is a non-governmental and non-profit organization established in 1949 that unifies Lithuanian communities abroad. Since 2006, it has been chaired by Lithuanian emigre Regina Narusiene. Having emigrated to the U.S., she obtained a degree in political science at Illinois University in 1957, and later she became a law professor. Her established law firm, Narusis and Narusis, became a prosperous law establishment, revealing the emigre’s entrepreneurial skills. When Sajudis, the Lithuanian National Movement for Lithuania’s independence, started in 1988, Narusiene became actively involved in activities of the American Lithuanian Community. Thus, in 1991, she established the American Lithuanians’ Association of Lawyers; later her husband and she organized two consecutive World Lithuanian Lawyer Congresses in Vilnius, Lithuania. Her LWC chairwomanship has been marked by robustness and strong involvement in the Lithuanian cause. Regina Narusiene kindly agreed to answer The Baltic Times’ questions.

Do you feel more American or Lithuanian?
Lithuanian. I was born in Lithuania. I am a citizen of Lithuania and also a citizen of the United States.

How do Lithuanian emigre communities live today? What are their specifics in the U.S., Oceania, Western Europe, Canada and the former USSR republics?
The Lithuanian World Community consists of 41 Communities worldwide. They are all different, as are their respective needs. There are about one million Lithuanian-descent persons in the U.S., the largest of the diaspora Communities. There are basically three groups of Lithuanian emigres: the first having arrived over 100 years ago, the Second World War emigres - displaced persons - and the new emigres since the reestablishment of Lithuania’s independence. Though they may be somewhat different, all strive to maintain their Lithuanian heritage in one way or another and are pretty self-sufficient.

Lithuanian emigres to Western Europe are predominately new emigres; however, there are active Lithuanian Communities in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Britain that have existed for some time and long before 1990. Canada has a large community of Lithuanians that has existed long before 1990 and is self-sufficient. South American Lithuanians formed their Community during the Czar’s time, some 100 years ago. Their descendants are now involved in the Community and are active. The former USSR republics are different again, for they lived through the Soviet occupation. Some are now living in newly established democratic countries, while others still live in some type of dictatorship. Australia has mostly the Second World War refugees and is still active, but has very few new emigres. They all wish to maintain their ties with Lithuania, for that is their identity, in whatever form possible. We have mainly three goals: first, to maintain our heritage; second, to seek unity; third, to participate in the creation of Lithuania’s future.

We have worked hard to find meaningful ways to become a part of Lithuania. We have two working commissions with the Lithuanian government, one with the Parliament and the other with the executive branch, the government. What is worrying us the most is the dual citizenship issue for the new emigres.
No one doubts the LWC played a major role in the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990.  However, many analysts believe that after the restoration of independence the Community’s importance is consistently dwindling? Do you share the notion?
I do not think it is dwindling; however, our role has changed, as have our goals. We need to adjust to that change in our relationship.

How did the goals change after 1990?
Collaboration can have different meanings. Our private ties with the country after independence never diminished, but, in fact, intensified. Economic ties are different. A great deal of money is sent to Lithuania by Lithuanians abroad, especially to their family and friends. I believe an amount equal to about 20 percent of Lithuania’s annual national budget. Some firms have located in Lithuania, but Lithuania has to maintain an inviting environment for investment, which they are developing. Cultural collaboration, however, I admit, has been weak. There is a Lithuanian opera in Chicago that has been collaborating with the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theater. We have participated in the Dance Festivals in Lithuania and sent works of art to Lithuania. Some of the entertainers from Lithuania have come to us to entertain, but working out joint programs has been difficult.

According to WikiLeaks’ leaked information, Lithuanian President Grybauskaite is supposedly “disappointed by Lithuanian emigres’ inability to attract U.S.-based investments to Lithuania.” How do you comment on that?
The Lithuanians abroad have brought many investments to Lithuania. However, I want to emphasize, Lithuania has been having a difficult time setting an investment climate competitive with other countries.

Also, according to WikiLeaks, Grybauskaite emphasizes that most prominent U.S. Lithuanian emigres, instead of focusing on developing U.S.-Lithuanian business ties, prefer providing political advice to the Lithuanian authorities, which may not be that necessary nowadays.
It depends on how you define political advice. Lithuania has come a long way and has much to be proud of, but still needs help. There are experts abroad who would be willing to help, but they need to be asked and appreciated.

How do you see the current collaboration between the LWC and the Lithuanian authorities? What hampers it?
There is the tendency of some Lithuanian politicians to think that “Lithuania belongs to the Lithuanians.” By that they mean those living in Lithuania only. The people of Lithuania have a more favorable view of Lithuanians living abroad. The biggest impediment is the citizenship issue. The Lithuanian World Community has ties with the Parliament and the ministries. Recently, Lithuanian ministers have adopted a “Global Lithuania” program to try to implement the involvement of all Lithuanians wherever they may be in building Lithuania’s future. The idea is beautiful, but we will need to see how it works and develops.

LWC’s efforts to have second or third generation emigres eligible for dual Lithuanian-U.S. citizenship have hit a snag. Do you believe there can be a turn-around regarding the issue any time soon? Are you going to lobby to put the issue for a people’s vote – referendum? Would the 2012 Seimas election not be the right time for it?
I am an optimist. I believe the politicians and courts will soon recognize that the present citizenship policy is destructive to the nation’s future. A referendum is not an alternative. For one, it is not necessary and would be a wasteful expenditure of money they do not have. The law can be changed to meet the requirements of the Constitution, whenever there is a political will to do so. In the best interest of Lithuania, we do not think [a referendum] is the best way to seek dual citizenship. It may take a bit of time to find that will, but it will become necessary to do so.

Can you think of any cases when Lithuanian emigres cut off their ties with the Motherland because of the lack of the political will to adopt a dual-citizenship law?
There are a number of new emigres who have simply said, “I can do better and live more securely abroad. If they do not want us, then why bother.” Unfortunately, these are well educated young people that Lithuania cannot afford to lose. In several instances, the taking away of Lithuanian citizenship has forced some to keep foreign citizenship so as not to lose their means of support, their pension.

Is there anything else that you strongly dislike about Lithuania and its political, economic and social processes besides the unwillingness to pass the dual citizenship law?
Too many matters that are purely legal matters are treated as political matters, thereby weakening the legal system, the rule of law and governance.

How do Lithuanian-Americans’ views generally differ on the former U.S.-much-linked President Valdas Adamkus and his successor, Dalia Grybauskaite? Which is favored?
There are different points of view. Some favor President Adamkus, but the majority, I believe, are disappointed and discouraged with the present president’s seemingly unfriendly view toward Lithuanian Americans and others abroad.

Is there a big gap among the first, second and third generation Lithuanian-American emigres? Is it possible to slow its deepening? What prompts it?
Sometimes language barriers hinder the first wavers. The second wavers left Lithuania to escape the Bolsheviks, a Lithuania they loved and wanted to return to. The third wavers, present emigres who left a once Soviet-occupied country that is still recovering and suffering the damages from the Soviet occupation - unemployment, low pay, lack of rule of law, safety and security.  There also exists a generation gap. The new emigres are young and well educated for the most part. Many new emigres still do not yet feel that by uniting together in a common cause, we can achieve all our goals. Frankly, some are so disillusioned with Lithuania that they do not want to be a part of the Lithuanian Community. Certainly we can and will come together.  It may take some time for them to fully miss their homeland, language and culture. They will then become not just active, but very active, for they are energetic and persevering.

What is the situation when it comes to Lithuanian schools, churches and other cultural centers in the U.S.?  What is the most alarming thing in that sense?
The Lithuanian language schools in the United States are growing; the new emigres look for schools for their offspring and are willing to teach in those schools as well as help finance them. As the Lithuanians move away from a Lithuanian neighborhood, the Cultural Centers in that area disappear. The most alarming is the loss of our Lithuanian parishes, some 100 years old. When a Lithuanian parish church is not attended because it loses its Lithuanian parishioners, the parish loses its Lithuanian ethnicity. The American bishops close those Lithuanian parishes because the parishioners have gone, but sometimes the parishes are closed for some unclear reasons that only anger the Lithuanian people.
The former President Adamkus was a staunch U.S. ally; Grybauskaite did not go to Prague last year to meet U.S. President Barack Obama, which was perceived by many as an attempt to shift away from the Adamkus-era pro-American policies. Do you think it the right thing to do? Do the Lithuanian emigres feel a possible change?
I think all of us, not just the Americans, feel the change. We all wanted NATO membership for Lithuania as a security blanket to keep Lithuania free and independent; however, the simple truth is that NATO, as well as the United States’ military might, is able to do that, and the president should not forget that.

In a recent meeting with Obama in Warsaw, Grybauskaite stressed exactly that, emphasizing that NATO and the U.S. are the ones to provide Lithuania security. If you were to meet Grybauskaite and Obama separately, what would you tell the two, bearing in mind Lithuania?
I would ask President Obama not to totally divert his attention from Lithuania. Lithuania lives in a difficult neighborhood. It is a young developing democracy. It still needs support and encouragement as well as America’s assurance and protection against a potential aggressor. I would ask President Grybauskaite to reconsider her stance against Lithuanians living abroad. They are Lithuania’s influential emotional, spiritual and, most importantly, political support worldwide.