Sunday, October 2, 2016

Embassy Celebrates 25th Anniversary in Vilnius

On this date (October 2) 25 years ago, George H. Bush was the President of the United States, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch were sending out “Good Vibrations” across American airways, and Darryl N.  Johnson opened the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.
The first U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, Darryl N. Johnson, 1992

The United States has long enjoyed a close friendship with Lithuania, dating back to July 28, 1922, when the U.S. established diplomatic relations with Lithuania.  The opening of the Embassy in Vilnius in 1991 marks the beginning of an important chapter in that story.

Between 1922 and 1940, the U.S. Government maintained its diplomatic presence in Kaunas, Lithuania’s interwar capital.  In total, eleven U.S. consuls served at the American Legation in Kaunas until the USSR occupied and annexed Lithuania, as well as Estonia and Latvia.

America’s steadfast refusal to recognize the forced incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union continued for 51 years.  During this period, the U.S. Government permitted Lithuanian representatives accredited by the last independent government to remain in the United States with diplomatic status. 

As Vice President Joe Biden told the peoples of the Baltics when he visited Riga in August 2016, “Even when your nation’s flags could not fly here in Riga, even when they could not fly in Vilnius, even they could not fly in Tallinn, they waved proudly in Washington, D.C. ” 

Vice President Joe Biden’s address
to the peoples of the Baltics in Riga, Latvia, August 2016
The U.S. Government was proud to recognize the restoration of Lithuania’s independence on September 2, 1991, in an announcement by President George H.W. Bush.

“The Baltic peoples of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and their democratically elected governments have declared their independence and are moving now to control their own national territories and their own destinies,” said President Bush at a news conference in Kennebunkport, Maine. “The United States has always supported the independence of the Baltic States and is now prepared immediately to establish diplomatic relations with their governments. The United States is also prepared to do whatever it can to assist in the completion of the current process of making Baltic independence a factual reality.”

Four days later, on September 6, the United States and Lithuania resumed normal diplomatic relations when U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Curtis Kamman and the Lithuanian First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Valdemaras Katkus, signed a memorandum of understanding concerning diplomatic relations.

One month from the date of President Bush’s announcement, on October 2, the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius opened.  The ribbon-cutting was led by Vice-President Dan Quayle and Darryl Johnson, Chargé d'Affaires ad interim, who soon became the first U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania.

Vice-President Dan Quayle, Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, and Chargé d'Affaires ad interim Darryl Johnson at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at U.S. Embassy Vilnius, February 1992.  Also pictured: Marilyn Quayle, Deputy Prime Minister Zigmas Vaišvila, Member of Parliament Romualdas Ozolas, and Member of Parliament Kazimieras Motieka

In the 25 years since, our shared democratic values and commitment to addressing today’s global challenges have strengthened our countries’ strategic relationship. Since 1992, the U.S. Embassy has worked diligently to deepen the connections and cultural ties between our two countries.  More than 1,000 Lithuanians have visited the United States on U.S. Government-funded exchanges and returned home to help strengthen a growing and developing Lithuania.  Many others have traveled on private exchanges, studied at U.S. universities, developed business relationships, or visited friends and family in the U.S.

Since re-establishing its independence, Lithuania has taken on increasingly prominent roles in transatlantic and global institutions to meet these challenges – roles that many would be unable to predict just 26 years ago. 

In total, six Secretaries of State have visited Lithuania and in 2002, President George W. Bush visited Vilnius.  “Anyone who would choose Lithuania as an enemy has also made an enemy of the United States of America,'' President Bush told a crowd in front of City Hall. ''In the face of aggression, the brave people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will never stand alone again.''

The U.S. Embassy in Vilnius has vigorously supported the U.S.- Lithuania relationship for the past 25 years, under the leadership of 13 different Ambassadors, and looks forward to continuing this support for many years to come.

Vice-President Dan Quayle arrives in Vilnius, Lithuania in February 1992