Lithuania shows unanimous support for United States

  • 2001-09-20
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - National flags with black ribbons were hoisted throughout Lithuania after Parliament declared Sept. 14 a day of mourning for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The date was the same as that set for mourning by the European Union. Following a call by Lithuanian Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, state flags with black ribbons had already been raised as a sign of solidarity with the United States on Sept. 12.

In some places the United States' Stars and Stripes was flown alongside the Lithuanian tricolor.

Emotions run high

Hundreds of people from Vilnius and elsewhere in Lithuania brought flowers to the U.S. Embassy in the days after the attacks. "It felt the same as when I watched the bloody Soviet attacks on the Vilnius Television Tower on Jan. 13, 1991," said Ramunas Kryzanauskas, an official at Marijampole Historical Monuments Protection Agency.

On Sept. 13, William Davnie, acting U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, told journalists at the American Center: "Senior Lithuanian officials took special security precautions at our embassy before we could even ask for help. We received phone calls of sympathy and support throughout the evening. Private citizens have called, brought flowers and expressed their sympathy. We all here are deeply touched and deeply appreciative.

"As I told the (Lithuanian) foreign minister yesterday evening, it is most reassuring to serve in a country that is both capable of providing for our security and ready to do so."

Lithuania's Roman Catholic Church proclaimed Sept. 16 a day of prayer for victims of the attacks and their relatives and also for world peace. Outside churches across the country many churchgoers discussed the events after Mass.

There was much agreement with Pope John Paul II's call on the United States not to react militarily. "Revenge will provoke further violence," pensioner Nijole Karaliuniene told The Baltic Times. "Better to turn the other cheek as Jesus teaches."

Inmates from Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq at the Pabrade center for asylum seekers responded calmly to the news. But LNK TV reported that at another center, in Rukla, the reaction of two Chechen men was to dance in a state of elation.

Stunned reaction

On Sept. 13, the Lithuanian Parliament held a special sitting to respond to the tragedy. MPs unanimously passed a resolution condemning terror and expressing solidarity with the United States.

Social Democrat MP Vytenis Andriukaitis told Parliament, "Social Democrats perfectly understand that terrorism, intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism are a challenge to our civilization."

He reminded MPs of the United States' refusal to recognize the Soviet Union's incorporation of Lithuania and the fact that Lithuania's Embassy continued to function in Washington from 1940 to 1991: "The United States helped defend Lithuanian territory when Lithuania was not able to do so itself. Many Lithuanians describe America as their second fatherland."

He went on to emphasize that a third of the Lithuanian nation, more than 1 million people, live in the United States.

Returning to Vilnius from the United States on Sept. 13, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told reporters his plane was the first trans-Atlantic plane allowed to leave the United States after the tragedy.

At Adamkus' invitation Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins also traveled with him from the United States. "After 24 hours, life in the United States started to return to normal," said Adamkus. "People went to work yesterday morning, government offices were open."

Together with his wife, Adamkus had spent some time in the basement of a hotel near the Pentagon after it was attacked. "This is your second home now," read a sign at the entrance to the basement.

The CNN news channel reported on Adamkus' visit and the grief of the Lithuanian people in its news bulletins on Sept. 15.

Adamkus rejected speculation about a possible slowdown in NATO enlargement. "How can one consider such a case when, just the opposite, a unification of positive forces will occur."

On Sept. 14 Lithuanian radio and all TV channels broadcast an address by Adamkus to the nation. Describing the United States as "an unquestioned leader of democratic development," he noted that the European Union was also committed to defending democratic values and expressed hope that all countries, including Russia, would join in fighting terrorism.

"After September 11 it has become even clearer that we along with America should not only be in Bosnia and Kosovo, but everywhere where human rights and liberties are at risk," Adamkus said.

Lithuania should be prepared to defend itself and the democratic world, to act as the United States and NATO's ally and to assess the resources it puts into defense.

On Sept. 14, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry expressed support for NATO's decision to invoke Article 5 of its founding treaty, which states that an armed attack against one or more of the allies should be considered an attack against all NATO members.

"Lithuania, seeking NATO membership, has continuously reiterated its commitment to following the regulations of the strategic documents of the alliance," read a statement from the Foreign Ministry.