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.

Schmalstieg, William R. “Lithuanian Names.” Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 28.3 (1982).

“Lithuanian Names.” Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names. Mike Campbell, 1996-2013. Web. 07 Nov. 2013.

Image credits

Picture of Grand Duke Vytautas courtesy of Wikipedia at

Picture of Gedimino Prospekt is author's own.

Picture of rue flowers courtesy of Pantry Garden Herbs at

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, "" 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...