Sunday, November 24, 2013

Embassy Celebrates 20 Years of Lithuanian-Pennsylvanian Partnership

This year, Lithuania and Pennsylvania are celebrating their 20th anniversary of successful collaboration through the +National Guard State Partnership Program.  More than 500 exchanges between Lithuania and the Pennsylvania National Guard have taken place since the partnership began April 27, 1993.
Connections between Pennsylvania and Lithuania, however, extend even further in time. During the United States’ colonial period, an influential Lithuanian military officer, General Tadeusz Kosciuszko, played a key role in helping the American Revolutionaries win the Battle of Saratoga, which historians regard as a turning point in the war.  Many Lithuanians also settled in Pennsylvania more than a century ago; they were among the first wave of Europeans who came to America at the time.

Read more about the celebration at 20 Years of Lithuanian-Pennsylvanian Partnership | Embassy of the United States Vilnius, Lithuania.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reflections of American Culture at Janina Monkute-Marks Museum: The Creative-Educational Children Camp

In early June, a two-week Creative-Educational Children’s Camp for the pupils of Kedainiai Foster Home “Saulute” took place at Janina Monkute-Marks Museum. During this time, children and youth had the unique opportunity to try out a variety of artistic techniques. Their works were then exhibited at the museum until 30 June, and are now on display at Kedainiai Foster Home “Saulute,” where they will remain until 30 November.

The project “Reflections of American Culture at Janina Monkute-Marks Museum:  The Creative-Educational Children’s Camp” was primarily designed to introduce students from Kedainiai Foster Home “Saulute” to American culture and its manifestations in the works of Lithuanian diaspora artists while also providing them with a rewarding pastime. It further aimed to develop cultural consciousness and initiative, and create conditions for self-expression and realization. To achieve these objectives, three art branches—pop art, graphics and stained glass – were taught.
Over the course of the two weeks, the students painted on water, carved linoleum, created graphic works, made collages, and produced stained glass works and mosaics. The children then visited Kaunas, where they toured the M.Zilinskas Art Gallery, the Kaunas Ceramics Museum, T.Ivanauskas Museum of Zoology, as well as a graphics gallery of well-known Kaunas artist Egidijus Rudinskas, who himself introduced youngsters to his own artwork and etching technology. Afterwards, participants flew kites near Kaunas Castle!

Special thanks to the director’s assistant—Jovita Buineviciene of Kedainiai Art School and her four volunteers—all alumnae of the Kedainiai district municipality project “Future Museum Open for Youth,” who assisted children with the day-to-day camp activities. The success of the project is due, in large part, to their contribution.

Having experienced its debut at Janina Monkute-Marks Museum on 15 June with an accompanying concert, the gallery, which features selected works by the students, has since been moved to Kedainia Foster Home “Saulute” and will continue to be exhibited there until 30 November. Two Kedainia region televisions made reportages and almost all Foster Home children took part in the opening!


What's in a name? Lithuanian names may be the most original in Europe.

            Without a doubt, Lithuania is a country that is proud of its heritage. Vilnius boasts the largest Old Town in Europe, and the area is sprinkled with reminders of the city’s medieval beginnings. From the last remaining tower of Gedimino Castle to Vilnius Cathedral supposedly built on the site of a pagan temple, symbols of Lithuania’s unique heritage are always close by—and this is most apparent when one looks at Lithuanian names.

            Lithuanian names are a blend of the old and the new. Names such as Aleksandras, Monika, and Arturas look familiar to most foreigners as they are Lithuanianized versions of names found across multiple cultures. Biblical names, like Jonas, Lukas, and Marija, have also enjoyed popularity over the centuries into the present day. Some names have a more general meaning—such as Dalia, meaning “fate” (which happens to be the name of Lithuania’s current president, Dalia Grybauskaite). Other names are uniquely Lithuanian. At the beginning of the twentieth century, after gaining independence from a century of Russian occupation, Lithuania experienced a revival of names that beckoned to its rich past. These names span mythology, nature, and history. One very popular name is Vytautas, or Vytas for short. Vytautas was one of the most famous Grand Dukes in Lithuanian medieval history, and to this day the name connotes power, strength, and patriotism. 

Grand Duke Vytautas. See credits for all images below.

          Another historical name is Gediminas, the knight who founded Vilnius (along with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) in the early 14th century. Besides the medieval tower that overlooks the city, and the statue of him and his horse near Cathedral Square, the main avenue of Vilnius also bears his name.

Gedimino Prospekt with Vilnius Cathedral at the end. 

        Other names reflect Lithuania’s natural environment; for example, the feminine name Eglė, which means “spruce” or “pine tree.” The name Gintaras (masculine) or Gintare (feminine) means “amber”, a naturally occurring stone that is a popular Baltic souvenir when set in jewelry. The feminine name “Rūta” is also the name of Lithuania’s national plant. 


A rue plant.

         This is just a brief overview of the multitude of names that exist throughout Lithuania. Looking at the meanings of these names gives a tantalizing glimpse of this country’s heritage—and these names ensure that that heritage is preserved and passed on through generations.


The following articles were used as references.

Tracevskis, Rokas M. “The Changing Fashions of Lithuanian Names.” The Baltic Times 21 Feb. 2002. http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/6062/

Schmalstieg, William R. “Lithuanian Names.” Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 28.3 (1982). http://www.lituanus.org/1982_3/82_3_01.htm

“Lithuanian Names.” Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names. Mike Campbell, 1996-2013. Web. 07 Nov. 2013. http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/lithuanian

Image credits

Picture of Grand Duke Vytautas courtesy of Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vytautas_the_great.jpg.

Picture of Gedimino Prospekt is author's own.

Picture of rue flowers courtesy of Pantry Garden Herbs at http://pantrygardenherbs.com/?attachment_id=11973.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Baltic DPs Project: Recovering the History of the Displaced Persons


In 2014, the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, together the Latvian Folk Art Museum and the Chicago Estonian House, are planning a yearlong series of exhibits, events and programs commemorating 70 years since the mass westward flight of Baltic Displaced Persons, refugees from the war-torn Baltic republics. The Baltic DP Exposition will include exhibits, programs and events, documenting the experiences of DP Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanians in European DP Camps; their subsequent immigration to the United States and Canada; and their contributions to their host countries, as well as to the countries they left behind.

The cornerstone of the Baltic DP Exposition will be an exhibit titled "Displaced to this Place", spanning three stages of the Baltic DP experience: pre-migration (an introduction to the events and circumstances which compelled the refugees to leave their Baltic homelands); migration (spanning refugees' flight from their Baltic homelands and life in the DP camps); and post-migration (their subsequent immigration and settlement in the United States and countries around the world). The exhibit will open in Chicago on April 26, 2014 and travel to other cities in North America and the Baltic Republics. A permanent online exhibit and website dedicated to Baltic WWII refugees, "DisplacedPersons.org" is also in development.


    Close living quarters in a DP Camp - Source ECLA 
The exhibit will serve as a launch padfor a series of film viewings, educational programs, art exhibits, lectures, and other events about Baltic DPs, their experiences, and contributions world wide as well as for the exploration of the theme of displacement in general, whether by political, social, economic, or environmental forces.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Chilly Klaipeda

            Back home in Fredericksburg, where I’m from, Virginia Beach is about a four-hour drive. Because of this, my family does not exactly make a habit of going to the beach. However, after spending nearly a month in gray, urban Vilnius, I found myself longing for a change of scenery. I had heard about the beautiful, unspoiled natural beaches of Lithuania’s coast, so one cold day at the end of October I made the four-and-a-half hour bus trip west to Klaipeda with Matt, my fellow intern.

           Besides holding the status of Lithuania’s most important port city, Klaipeda also enjoys the distinction of being one of Lithuania’s top summertime resort destinations. Since Matt and I visited at the end of October, though, we saw the town in its off-season—with sunshine having made itself scarce and the streets empty of tourists. We ate a quick lunch in town and made a beeline for the ferry that would take us to the long shores of the Curonian spit.



            The Curonian spit is a long, narrow strip of sandy beach that hugs part of the coastlines of both Lithuania and Russia (Kaliningrad). It is sprinkled with several small towns and scenic beaches. The ferry ride from Klaipeda takes barely ten minutes; however, since Matt and I had recently disembarked from quite a long bus ride, this place felt like it was at the end of the world. We had no time to visit any of the towns along the spit, but we did take a path through the forests to the beach, where we saw the Baltic Sea.




Touching the waters of the Baltic Sea--and it was cold!


            It was cold, and rainy, so we didn’t stick around too long after seeing the beach. Despite the cold weather and the emptiness of the town, I was glad to have the opportunity to see another part of the country. This would definitely be a great place to visit in the summer! 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Heinz Otto Veinsreideris

This is another installment in our continuing series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials.

Heinz Otto Veinsreideris was born in Gotha, Germany to Lithuanian parents, and relocated to the United States six years later. He received his B.S. in Engineering and his MBA in Management and Finance from St. Cloud State University. He then began work with the 3M Company, from which he retired as Business Director in 2004 after a 37-year career.


Minnesota has a population of 5.3 million. It is home to the headquarters of a number of international corporations, including United Health, General Mills, Target, and Best Buy among others. It is also, according to the most recently reported census information, home to more than four thousand  Lithuanian-Americans and Americans with Lithuanian heritage.

The Lithuanian-American Community of Minnesota (LACMN) has about 200 regular members, and is the preeminent force of promotion for Lithuania and Lithuanian culture in the state. It sponsors activities like the Martyno Mazvydo School, designed to teach children from ages three to eleven to speak, read, and write Lithuanian, in addition to the country's history and traditions. LACM also sponsors a choir, a sports club, and a folk dance group. Annually, it holds a mid-February celebration of the original Lithuanian Independence Day of 16 February 1918, as well the second Independence Day on 11 March 1990. Celebrants partake in authentic Lithuanian food, and learn about Lithuanian history and independence through films, stories, and songs. At the May Festival of Nations in St. Paul, the LACMN hosts a Lithuanian cultural booth. In the summer, it holds the St. John's Day Festival, or Jonines Celebration. Then, in the fall, the community celebrates the completion of harvest time with genuine Lithuanian cuisine, the LACMN Lithuanian dance group, Vejava, and a children's show.

For Heinz Otto Veinsreideris, the Lithuanian culture is something imbedded within him. Following the end of World War II, he and his family immigrated to the United States with the assistance of the International Refugee Committee. They reached the U.S. in March 1949 aboard the USS General Sturgis and later settled in Long Prairie, Minnesota where his father worked for a large printing company. Although German by birth, Mr. Veinsreideris has always considered himself Lithuanian. "We only spoke Lithuanian at home," he told us, "and my sister and I still speak to each other in the language."

As Lithuania's Honorary Consul to Minnesota, Veinsreideris is in charge of Lithuanian affairs for the state, a task, he says, is composed of three parts: diplomatic, economic, and cultural. "In terms of diplomatic activities, these are largely the result of receiving requests for assistance by either individuals or various organizations," he explained. He is required to research and understand the Consulate's Lithuanian passport and visa requirements, length of stay restrictions, and visa issuance locations. If a Lithuanian citizen enters the U.S. illegally, specifically Minnesota, then Border Patrol notifies Mr. Veinsreideris. He then provides the necessary translation services, and any additional contact or general information that he/she might require.

Economic duties include membership on the American Lithuanian Economic Development Advisory Council, and ameliorating any further economic issues that arise at the Honorary Consul meetings in Washington, DC. As a member of the Consular Corps of Minnesota, he also meets six times each year with Minnesota business and political leaders, including Governor Dayton, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Senate Majority Leader. Their most recent topic of discussion was the possibility of an expansion of trade betweeen Minnesota and the international market.

To support Lithuanian culture in the United States, Veinsreideris has aligned himself with the LACMN (noted above). In addition, he is a Patron of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, a contributor to the Lithuanian Fund, and a participant in the Global Honorary Consul meeting in Vilnius. His involvement with Lithuanian-Americans spans more than fifty years. He even attended the very first Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival in Chicago. His goals as Consul are to nurture the United States' already strong ties with Lithuania, and to further strengthen them through consular and economic negotiations in partnership with cultural awareness programs. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

All Saint's Day: See That My Grave is Kept Clean...

 Another installment from Dr. Windy Petrie, Associate Professor and English Department Chair at Colorado Christian University, who was a Fulbright grantee to Lithuania in 2006.

It’s Halloween in America today and my friend from Poland is as disgusted with it as ever.  After having lived in Lithuania, I think I understand why.  In America, we traditionally dress in scary, or funny, or vulgar, costumes and debauch ourselves with candy or by other means. We often celebrate by creating ugly or silly facsimiles of death and destruction, or by pretending to be someone we are not, and then, in the most innocent and cute way possible, we extort treats from neighbors we may not speak to the rest of the year. But in Eastern Europe, the real holiday is All Saints’ Day: November 1st. It's treated as an official public holiday here: there’s no school and even most businesses were closed. But the change in the date of the holiday is the least of the differences between the two.


In Lithuania, people gather at the gravesites of family, friends, and, it appeared to my observation, also complete strangers to light candles and contemplate the lives of those who are now gone. There’s a remembrance of real lives lived, not a pretense at an alternative to real life, and there’s a ceremonial giving of respect, rather than a ritualistic receiving of treats.

These photos were taken in Bernadinu Cemetery, which  was first "commissioned" by the Bernadine monks in the early 1800's, and space seems to be at such a premium now, that we only found a handful of people buried there within the last 5 years. Most of the sites are very weathered, and the ground has shifted so much from being on a hill, excessive rain, and the freezing/thawing cycles of 200 years. On one visit, we saw a woman who was cleaning the weeds from a site, but she was quite old, and I could tell it was more than she could handle. There were also burning candles, or lanterns, on many sites scattered throughout the graveyard. The most recent date of death of those three was 1926. The one pictured shows a lantern lit in 2006 for someone who died in 1919.

Walking through the graveyard in the afternoon, I heard water and a scrub brush. I peered around the corner of a small mausoleum, and saw the man pictured. He was scrubbing the markers of the family plot. When you look at the rest of the graveyard, 99% of the markers have recent flowers planted on them, but they are covered in moss, broken, shifted, settled, or at least look like they are 100-200 years old. Not the ones he's looking after. They were sparkling. The dates on them range from 1913 to 1924. He was about 80-85 years old, and most likely never met the people whose graves he was tending so carefully. I was awed by his respect for family, tradition, and history.

That's him walking out of the cemetery...






























And those are his markers...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lithuanian Freedom Cheese: The Geopolitics of Gouda

If you have ever traveled, domestically or internationally, then you are no doubt familiar with the pre-departure onslaught of travel recommendations by family and friends. First, of course, they warn you of the locals. “Keep your wallet in your front pocket,” they tell you knowingly. “Or, better yet, store it in a pouch and wear it around your neck. That way nobody can steal it.” Next, they offer advice on the “must-see sights.” This is particularly true of those who have traveled to your intended destination. “Oh, you’re going to Vilnius?” they’ll ask. “You have to see Gediminas Tower!” And finally, they demand to know about the local cuisine. “So, what do the people eat there?” they’ll inquire with bated breath. The experienced traveler will then respond: “Oh, you know—rye bread, potatoes, berries and mushrooms, pork, smoked fish, and dairy,” all information that can be found with a simple Google search.

It is this lattermost question, though, that I find people back in the U.S. ask me most. “What is the food like in Lithuania?” Of course, they are most impressed by the dishes that are more thoroughly un-American, those like vėdarai, a sausage made of potato stuffed with the large intestine of a pig. But perhaps the largest surprise to my family and friends is the importance of dairy products here in Lithuania.

On my first trip to the local grocery, I learned very quickly that this is not the place where you will find American cheddar cheese. Lithuania has its own brands, notably—Pieno žvaigždės, Rokiškio sūris, Vilkyškių pieninė and Žemaitijos pienas—and their products line not one, but multiple store aisles. During my first meal at a Lithuanian restaurant, a brief glimpse at the menu revealed that virtually every dish contained meat, potatoes, and some form of dairy, whether cottage cheese, sour cream, or buttermilk. And while I certainly can’t profess to be a dairy connoisseur, I can say that I’ve yet to encounter a Lithuanian cheese I didn’t like!

Recently, however, I was introduced to a website called Freedom Cheese, dedicated to Lithuanian-made cheese that is banned in Russia. “In general, all of Lithuanian milk products are banned,” the website says, “so by buying them you will support democracy, freedom, openness, and integration.” The site goes on to say that, “Russia has a history of banning food products from countries with which it is sparring politically. It has, in the past, banned wine from Georgia, chocolate from Ukraine and, in 2010, chicken thighs from the U.S."

“Now,” the website continues, “it is Lithuania’s turn. Last week, Russia banned imports of Lithuanian dairy products after Gennady Onishchenko, the head of Russia’s health watchdog, said his agency found high traces of yeast, fungus and bacteria from intestinal tracts in them.” Ironically, this ban comes just one month before “Lithuania will host a summit at which three ex-Soviet states are expected to sign association agreements with the European Union, moving them farther outside Moscow's orbit.”

I certainly cannot comment on Russia’s motives; however, I can say that I’ve indulged in my fair share of Lithuanian dairy, and I’ve yet to experience any ill effects to my health. But what are your thoughts? Check out freedomcheese.com and share them below!

Happy Halloween!

It’s that time of year—fall in all its golden-leafed glory has settled into Vilnius and Halloween is just around the corner! On Saturday, October 26th, the Embassy ushered in the spooky holiday almost a week early with the second annual “Monster Mash” 5k family run in Vingis Park. Employees, their families, and furry canine friends all braved the nippy autumn air to run (or stroll) through Vingis Park decked in an assortment of costumes and warm running clothes.


Everyone assembled at the starting line--on your marks, get set, go!


A view of the forest and river from the bridge in the park.

Some of the costumes were really creative! I know it was difficult for me to come up with my costume, so I was impressed with what others put together. I was particularly impressed with the Whitney family--they all coordinated as the Incredibles:



Cool costumes!


Danielle (our Presidential Management Fellow), Matt (the Political and Economic section intern), and I all improvised with what we had and this was our result:



 A pumpkin, Miley Cyrus, and Minnie Mouse.

The race was scenic and enjoyable. Vingis Park has paved running and cycling paths, and we weren’t the only ones out enjoying the crisp fall weather. In our bright orange t-shirts and interesting costume ensembles, we turned quite a few heads as we all circled around the running route! The race finished with the presentation of pumpkins to the first- and second-place winners, as well as the consumption of some delicious cake brought by the Deputy Chief of Mission and his wife.


 The winners with their pumpkin prizes--Jonathan Silberstein (R) and Drew Brown (L).

This race is just one of several great examples of how hard overseas posts work to coordinate family activities. Events like this are a nice way to get acquainted with the embassy community outside of the office—and for interns, that is definitely something to take advantage of.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Rimas Chesonis

Another installment in our continuing series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials. 

Rimas Chesonis has been involved in the Lithuanian-American community for more than thirty years. He began as President of a local chapter in Grand Rapids, Michigan and continued to serve much later as President of another local chapter, this time in Atlanta, Georgia. He has served as a member of the Board of Directors as well as a member of of the National Executive Committee of the Lithuanian-American Community of USA. Mr. Chesonis has been appointed the Vice President of the  Lithuanian World Community.

New York is the U.S.'s third most populous and seventh most-densely populated state. It is also the home of New York City, Amercia's single most populated city with more than 8.3 million people. In addition to serving as the leading center of banking, finance and communications in the United States, New York State is also a major agricultural producer, contains a large manufacturing sector, and exports approximately $70 billion worth of goods each year. "We are proud to boast a vibrant high-tech community, universities which lead the way in many areas including medicine, laser technology and business, a family-friendly environment, and our own seacoast, affectionately known as Lake Ontaro," Mr. Chesonis said of the state.

New York is fortunate enough to have within its community a number of dynamic organizations dedicated to the promotion of Lithuanian culture, such as local chapters of the Lithuanian-American Community, the Lithuanian Heritage Society, Baltu Vaikai, and weekly Lithuanian language radio broadcasts. These organizations coordinate concerts, invite singers and dancers from Lithuania to perform at special events, and conduct a Saturday Lithuanian Language School, which teaches not only the Lithuanian language, but the culture and customs as well. Three years ago, Rochester also held a Lithuanian Catholic Parish. It has since been sold, but the preservation of the Lithuanian identity still exists within another local church. 

To further increase ties with the old country, Rochester has formed a sister city relationship with Alytus, Lithuania. The mission of the Alytus-Rochester Sister Cities Committee is to nurture and strengthen the bonds between the people of Alytus and Rochester and, in so doing, strengthen those between the Republic of Lithuania and the United States of America. "We have enjoyed much success," says Chesonis, "in developing and executing projects in the areas of commerce, education, culture, sports and philanthropy.

For Mr. Chesonis, sustaining relations with Lithuania is as much personal as it is societal. He was born in Lithuania and relocated to America only after World War II; he was 12-years old and displaced. Because of his parents' efforts to retain the culture in their new lives, he continued to speak the language, and practice the customs and traditions. "I have remained a Lithuanian at heart throughout my life," he explains.

Like the other Honorary Consuls we've espoused in this series, Chesonis' central task is to represent, maintain and improve Lithuania and Lithuanian relations with America. He regularly provides consular assistance, help in questions of citizenship, property rights, and other similar matters. At present, his main project is to help locate companies that would like to invest in Lithuania and to promote commerce between the two countries. When necessary, he provides a voice to Lithuanian citizens who live in the area "I keep an active profile in our various organizations and assist them whenever and wherever I can."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Hill of Crosses: Commemorating Suffering, Survival, and the Human Spirit in Siauliai

 Another installment from Dr. Windy Petrie, Associate Professor and English Department Chair at Colorado Christian University, who was a Fulbright grantee to Lithuania in 2006.



During my time in Lithuania, I had the opportunity to visit the northern city of Siauliai to speak about American Woman Writers for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Humanities at the university there.  After my speech, one of the professors who teaches there took us to the Hill of the Crosses.  I had no idea what to expect from the name, and, frankly, even if I had, the site, and the sight, would still have completely blown my mind. You drive a ways out of town, then down a little side road, and a spreading clump of hills come into sight. When you get out of the car and walk up to them you see that these hills, these mounds, are entirely composed of crucifixes, one piled atop another, and you try to imagine just how many must be there to create such height, such breadth, and you can’t conceive what the total number must be. Or at least I couldn’t. And then you start imagining how each cross placed there was placed by an individual, who made the trip from near or from far, each for a personal, individual, reason.  And you really, really, can’t conceive of that.

This place is truly amazing. It is thought that the tradition might have begun when the town was founded in 1250 AD, although existing records mention them in the early 1800s, possibly due to a local rebellion against the presumption of the czar in the 1830s. People brought crosses in honor of those who had been lost in the fighting at that time, and have continued to bring them during all local and national struggles for liberty since then. It has also served as a site for Christian pilgrims for many years now. It's no wonder that these hills, representing to an extent the collective protest, faith, and hope of the people, grew so large during the Soviet occupation (and grew larger after each Soviet dismantling via bulldozing, blockades, and intentional flooding) and continues to grow today.

Lithuania has had a very complex National history, having been claimed by nearly all of the regional powers at one time, or another, in its long history. Russia, Germany, Poland, and I believe even Sweden, have all staked a claim to Lithuania and its people in the last 500 years. Even Napoleon occupied Vilnius during his losing bid to invade Russia. Lithuania has remained, through it all, a very independent people. Think of it: they were the last people to accept Christianity in the whole of Europe. They fought off the German Teutonic Knights for what I believe ended up being more than a century. More recently, Lithuanians engaged in clandestine, guerrilla warfare with the Soviets for decades after WWII. And they were the first Baltic nation to claim and secure independence in the early 1990's.


As a non-violent means to defy the Soviets during their occupation of Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses became a historical monument to the human spirit. For hundreds of years, individuals have been bringing crosses of all sizes, some taller than a man and others smaller than a key, made of every imaginable material from precious metals to scraps and rags, to express faith and loss in times when such expression was forbidden. 


After the breakup of the USSR, the Hill of Crosses gained worldwide fame. Pope John Paul II visited the sacred site in 1997, and declared the Hill an international site of devotion. At that time, it became known not only a spiritual symbol of Lithuanian tenacity, but a contemporary shrine. When I visited, I saw many new additions to the Hills, bearing labels from all over the world.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Dennis Garrison

Another installment in our series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials. 

Dennis Garrison is Lithuania's Honorary Consul in San Francisco. He received his undergraduate education from Illinois Wesleyan University and his graduate degree in business from Illinois State University. Formerly a Certified Public Accountant and college professor, he has worked in the  Sports Club business for the past 33 years.

San Francisco, California is the fourth most populous city in the state and the fourteenth most populous in the United States. Today, it ranks within the top 35 tourist destinations in the world. The large area around San Francisco is also the center of technological innovation and venture capital, including Silicon Valley, home to the world's largest technology companies and thousands of small startups. It is the leader in high-tech innovation and development, responsible for thirty-three percent of venture capital investment in the United States. Moreover, the surrounding area includes some of the world's most highly regarded universities, including Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, both of which are renowned research centers, which produce highly qualified graduates in technology, medicine, law and business.

A moderately sized Lithuanian community also exists within Northern California, and as Lithuania's Honorary Consul to the region, it is Dennis Garrison's job to promote Lithuanian social and artistic events there. "Right now, we have a growing Saturday Lithuanian language club for children and adults," he informed us. "Opportunities for education, research, and employment are also outstanding. Certainly, this is the best area in the world for innovation in technology related fields. While opportunities for exporting Lithuanian products here are limited, the exchange of ideas and technologies for the development of new products and jobs in Lithuania are available."

Garrison first visited Lithuania in 2001 to assist in the development of the Forum Palace in Vilnius. While there, he traveled to a variety of schools in the country's rural areas and helped to establish summer programs for the children. "My wife and I have developed friendships with over twenty children that we stay in contact with and support whenever we can," he said. "We have hosted Lithuanian college students in our home and traveled to Lithuania often. We have friends in most major cities and many small towns."

Honorary Consul Dennis Garrison and wife, Sally, at a summer camp in Dubingiai, Lithuania
In San Francisco, he works to ensure proper representation of Lithuanian culture. As Honorary Consul, he is also a member of the Consular Corps. In other words, he is responsible for helping to support the Embassy in Washington, DC, the General Consuls in Chicago and New York, and the other Honorary Consuls in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Often, Garrison finds himself as a liaison between Lithuanian government official and business delegations who visit San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. On a daily basis, his duties range from assisting Lithuanians with any passport issues they may encounter whilst in the United States to researching Americans' relatives and ancestors in and from Lithuania.  "Certainly, I also make an effort to recognize the accomplishments of Lithuanians in athletics, especially basketball," he adds.

Teaching Tolerance through English: Forging Friendships across Baltic Borders


U.S. Embassy Tallinn hosted its first “Teaching Tolerance through English” Camp from August 12-18, 2013. Twenty-five boys and girls aged 10 to 14 years from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania came together for one week to learn about diversity, how to counter bullying, and how to act as a positive force in their communities. While campers’ native languages were Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Russian, all activities were conducted in English. This year’s was the third camp in a series in the Baltics, with the two previous having been held in Latvia.  
Lithuanian students teach fellow Estonian and Latvian campers about their culture
Five Lithuanian students—two fifth graders and three sixth graders—from Pumpenai Secondary School attended the event, along with Ms. Olga Daugene, who provided instruction on English as a Foreign Language. They, along with their peers from Latvia and Estonia, engaged in an interactive session with U.S. Ambassador to Estonia Jeffrey Levine, through which they gained an insight into American culture, even learning to make S’mores around a campfire.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tolerating the Intolerable: Lessons Learned from Dr. David Frick's Lectures in Lithuania

Dr. David Frick with book Kith, Kin, and Neighbors
Last week, Dr. David Frick, a professor of History and Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California Berkeley, visited Lithuania to deliver a series of lectures based on his book Kith, Kin, and Neighbors: Communities and Confessions in Seventeenth-Century Vilno.

Dr. Frick began his lecture, titled “Tolerating the Intolerable: Coexistence in Seventeenth-Century Vilnius” with the following address:

To say that early modern Vilnius was a multi-confessional city risks understating the variety of competing and overlapping demands that religions, cultures, languages, and ties of ethnicity made upon individual Vilnans; it also obscures the means by which co-existence in the city was made feasible.  In my comments today, I will attempt to locate Vilnius on the map of confessional Europe:  to assess the range of its multi-confessionalism; to reveal some of the manners and mechanisms its citizens developed for encouraging, facilitating, and sometimes imposing toleration among its inhabitants; and to place the city on a spectrum of the solutions found in contemporary European communities for addressing the problems that arose when members of more than one confession attempted to live in one city—from exclusion at one extreme to types of inclusion at the other.

In the course of an hour, he took me and the other audience members back to 1665, to a place known then as Vilno, a modestly-sized city populated by Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Ruthenians, and Tatars (in addition to some numbers of Scots, Italians, and other immigrants). These people worshipped in 23 Catholic, nine Uniate, one Orthodox, one Calvinist and one Lutheran church, one chief synagogue, and one mosque; they spoke Polish, Ruthenian, German, Yiddish, Lithuanian, and some Tatar; and they prayed in Latin, Church Slavonic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and a little Arabic.

For me, and I’m sure for many of you reading this post as well, such a city is not unique. We, after all, live in a globalized society. But imagine yourself in 1665. For that matter, imagine yourself in a royal city in 1665. English Parliament was in the process of enacting the Five Mile Act, seeking to enforce conformity to the established Church of England. The Portuguese were battling Spain to retain their independence. In what is now present-day India, the Mughals were fighting the Maratha Empire for territorial gains. And yet, within all of this madness, there existed the city of Vilno.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Ingrida Bublys, Ohio

Another installment in our new series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials. 

Ingrida Bublys is the owner of IB International, a trade consulting company. She serves on various business and organizational boards, in addition to being active in the local Lithuanian community. With a partner, she heads the Lithuanian Trade Office in Chicago, the official branch of Enterprise Lithuania.

As Honorary Consul, Ingrida Bublys is responsible for promoting Lithuanian culture in the Midwest states, principally Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. "Ohio has a very large presence of Lithuanians," she told us. In fact, the northeastern section of the state alone boasts more than 17,000 Lithuanian-Americans. "Indiana and Kentucky have smaller, but still active communities. They are all special because they strive to continue making people aware of Lithuania."

In Ohio, Lithuanian cultural organizations are plentiful. Our Lady of Perpetual Hope Catholic Church, for instance, provides a number of opportunities for those who wish to establish or maintain ties with Lithuania. It offers Saturday school, where children can learn the Lithuanian language, history and culture, thus preserving their heritage. It also provides cultural celebrations, like folk dancing and scouting, throughout the week. Lithuanian Scouting is especially prevalent in the city of Cleveland, the second largest city in Ohio and the 45th largest in the United States. It is further home to the Lithuanian Cultural Garden, a memorial site depicting Lithuanian history and the country's struggle for a national identity.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

U.S. Marines visit local school in Marijampolė!

Sergeant Deondrick Fleming and Corporal Erik Haj
Recently, two marines from the +United States Marine Corps at U.S. Embassy Vilnius visited a school in Marijampolė, Lithuania, to discuss the history, development, and significance of the English language.

Corporal Erik Haj and Sergeant Deondrick Fleming arrived to an auditorium full of applauding middle school students and faculty. They began their presentation with a brief overview of the English language’s genesis story, dating back to the fifth century, and proceeded to document its progression from Old English (the language of Beowulf), to Middle English (that of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales), to Early Modern English (such as the plays of William Shakespeare), and finally to Contemporary English and its many variations. “The great thing about English is that it is always changing. There is no such thing as ‘standard English,’” Sgt. Fleming told the students. It is interesting to note here that, quite contrarily, the Lithuanian language is extremely conservative, retaining many linguistic features found only in ancient languages like Sanskrit and Ancient Greek.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Randy Miller, Portland, Oregon


This is a continuing series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. 
Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials. 

Today we feature a post about Randy Miller, who has been serving as Lithuania's Honorary Consul in Portland, Oregon for ten years. He received a B.S. in Business Administration from Boston University and an M.S. in Economics and Political Science from Portland State University. He currently serves as the President of Produce Row Property Management Company, and is listed in "Who's Who in Finance and Industry" and "Who's Won in the World."

Portland, with a population of nearly 590,000, is the largest city in the state of Oregon and the 28th largest (by population) in the United States. It is the national leader in land use, urban planning, transportation, environmental stewardship, and many livability innovations. 

"The Lithuanian disapora here is not large," acknowledges Miller, "but there are one thousand people of Lithuanian descent, with about 10-20% connected through organized efforts to retain Lithuanian culture and pass it on to their children. Many events are held each year around their several days of Independence," of which there are two. These include: the Day of Restoration of the State of Lithuania (1918); and the Day of Restoration of Independence for Lithuania, which celebrates the country's emancipation from the Soviet Union in 1990. These festivities are typically celebrated in the form of folk dances, singing, and story-telling, and are organized by Portland Lithuanians.

Randy Miller's selection as Honorary Consul is an interesting one. Unlike our first profile, which chronicled the goals and responsibilities of Daiva Navarrette, a Lithuanian-Amerian serving as the Consul to Los Angeles, Miller has no familial connections with the country. "I was selected by Ambassador Usackas ten years ago because of my interest in the international community and participation in international organizations in Portland, as well as my involvement in the economic development of Oregon." Though he didn't have any obvious connections to Lithuania at the time, he recognized his ability to aid the Lithuanian community in Portland with regard to their economic development, and therefore accepted the position.

As Honorary Consul, Miller attends the Oregon Consular Corps meetings and events, as well as tourism and international festivals. He is also responsible for consular affairs. "I respond to many emails and phone calls from people all over the United States inquiring about immigration, citizenship (including dual), student or work visas, and similar issues such as those. I also fulfill requests from the Embassy regarding any political issues that may arise, connecting with our Congressional delegation." His current goal is to maintain a public representation of Lithuania in the Portland area, and do what is necessary for the promotion of Lithuanian culture in Oregon. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Author Inara Cedrins presents the Baltic Anthology of Contemporary Poetry




Congratulations to author +Inara Cedrins on the occasion of the special presentation of her recently published Baltic anthology of contemporary poetry, three books for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The anthology presents three generations of poets: those born before the Soviet occupation, during it, and shortly before the countries regained their independence in the 1990's. Come by the Balzekas Museum Book Club and learn about individual experiences of exile and homeland!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why does a diplomat go to Varena? To pick mushrooms, of course!

Have you ever ventured deep into a forest in search of mushrooms? For that matter, can you even differentiate an edible mushroom from a poisonous one? The people of Varėna can, and they’re more than happy to show how it’s done. Each year, on the last weekend of September, the small Lithuanian town plays host to a Mushroom Festival, where the Lithuanian people celebrate their culture, their country’s natural beauty, and of course, their mushrooms.

The Varėna district municipality, situated in Lithuania’s southernmost region, is quite possibly the country’s best kept secret. An important center of rail-and-motorways, forestry and tourism, Varėna is first and foremost a preservation area for Lithuania’s unique nature and cultural heritage. Many jointers, carpenters, weavers, and ceramicists practice their crafts here. Traditions of wild-hive beekeeping are preserved. Likely for this reason, the Varėna region is developing itself into a popular tourist destination. Thousands of tourists, both Lithuanian and foreign, visit the area each year.  Famous for its history, old villages, folkloric traditions, and well-developed infrastructure, the provisions of Varėna’s tourism industry range from exciting hikes and water activities to more leisurely strolls through charming meadows.

Varėna district is also the largest and most forested region of Lithuania. The town of Varėna, founded as a
small settlement in 1862, yielded lower harvests due to infertile soil, and began supplementing its economy by collecting berries and mushrooms. Following industrialization in the 1970s, the town grew rapidly, and mushroom picking in particular became a staple of the economy. And thus the idea for an annual Mushroom Festival began. . .

Festival activities begin early in the morning with a mushroom collecting competition, held in Dainava, one of Lithuania’s oldest forests. The competition consists of a varying number of teams with four participants on each. Together the teams, accompanied by musicians performing traditional Lithuanian songs, make their way into Dainava and begin the mushroom collection process. Three hours later, the competitors submit their baskets for weighing; the team that produces the largest supply of edible mushrooms wins! Following the contest, celebrations take place in Varėna City Park.

My Mushroom Festival experience, however, included no personal mushroom picking. At 8:30 am, I climbed aboard the Mushroom Train and took the two-hour journey from Vilnius to Varėna. Even the train ride, I learned, is part of the affair. Men and women dressed in cultural costumes escorted us to our compartment, where a small band performed a string of cultural tunes. Throughout the trip, we were served delightful culinary treats (many including mushrooms, of course), treated to a series of wine tastings, and even personally serenaded by the Mushroom Train Choir. It was a memorable ride, to say the least.

DCM Robert Silberstein participating in the festivities
The festival itself was very much a continuation of my train adventure.Mushrooms, red and yellow autumn leaves, and various squash types ornamented the park. Folk artists proudly displayed their hand-crafted souvenirs, intricate weavings, and unique pottery designs. Costumed men and women sat behind small tables, superfluous with baked goods, vegetables, mushroom, and potato dishes. On stage, children sang and danced. Offstage, they participated in old traditional games and sporting activities. Adults, meanwhile, partook in the multitudinous beer and wine tastings. Throngs formed around the woodcarving exhibition, where people could purchase original creations made from the local artists. Others still watched as the local townspeople demonstrated their crafts: spinning and weaving and woodworking. Robert Silberstein, the U.S. Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), even gave a short speech and was honored with a basket of Varėna's famous mushrooms!



It was an affair to remember, certainly a festive inauguration of the autumn season. So, if you ever find yourself in search of a fall excursion, keep Varėna in mind. Hop on the Mushroom Train, help yourself to a bowl of cream of mushroom soup, and experience an authentic blend of the medieval and the modern!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Daiva Navarrette, Los Angeles, California

Today, we begin a new series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials. 

Daiva Navarrette has been serving as Lithuania's Honorary Consul in Los Angeles for three years. She was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and studied Economics at UCLA. After obtaining her degree, she worked for more than 17 years with investments and financial markets. 


Los Angeles, with a population of more than 18 million, is the 2nd largest city in the United States and the 11th largest globally. Among the biggest economic and culturally rich centers in the world, it is the epicenter of the entertainment and media industries. However, the city has also recently experienced a boom in tech startups, and boasts strong textile, garment, fashion, auto, defense, and advertising industries. International trade is significant as well. In fact, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are two of the busiest in the world. And tourism too plays a vital role in LA's economy; more than 41 million people visited the city in 2012. 
Much of the world knows of Los Angeles as the home of Hollywood, as a place dominated by the entertainment industy (television, motion pictures, video games, and music). In truth, though, while Hollywood's presence is certainly visible and no doubt contributes substantially to LA's economy, it is not without competition. Few people are aware, for instance, that some of the most rapidly growing and promising industries in Los Angeles are, in fact, technology startups (noted above) and the green sector.