Lithuania and the Struggle for Freedom
Remarks by Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy on the occasion of the commemoration of the Day of the Restoration Lithuania’s Independence
The Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania
President Grybauskaite, Lech Walesa, friends:
It’s a great honor for me to speak to the plenary of the Lithuanian Parliament on the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the Lithuanian Revolution, when Lithuanians joined in singing their national anthem and Catholic hymns in a demonstration of hope and human dignity. This was one of the great uprisings for freedom in all of human history, since it led not only to Lithuania’s liberation from communist oppression but also to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was the world’s last remaining empire.
It is a source of enormous pride for me to say to you today that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which I have the honor to lead, and through the NED the American people – since the funds we provide come from the United States Congress and, therefore, from the U.S. taxpayer – have been with you every step of the way.
We did not share your suffering and sacrifice, and no people on a per capita basis under Soviet communism suffered more in terms of death, mass deportations, prison, and exile than the people of Lithuania. But we were with you in spirit and have supported you in many other ways.
We supported the Sajudis reform movement and The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania.
We helped Lithuanian and U.S. NGOs that assisted in the country’s post-communist transition to democracy.
We funded cross-border programs carried out by Lithuanian NGOs working in Kaliningrad and Belarus.
We supported pro-democracy Belarusian exile and diaspora groups based in Vilnius but working in Belarus.
We have supported the Inter-Parliamentary Training Institute through which the Lithuanian Parliament has shared its best practices with parliamentarians and their staffs from Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
We worked with the Lithuanian government and parliament in organizing the Vilnius ministerial meeting of the Community of Democracies in 2011 when Lithuanian held the presidency of the Community. It was then that I met my dear friend Zygis Pavilionis and Emanuelis Zingeris and saw how a small country can act as a global force for democracy and human rights.
And we had the privilege in 2013 of organizing in Washington a ceremony at which the National Endowment for Democracy bestowed its Democracy Service Medal on the father of Lithuanian independence, Vytautas Landsbergis.
Most of all, we have worked with Lithuania in countering Russian efforts to subvert and destroy democracy in Lithuania, in Europe, and in Russia itself. We have supported the work of the Lithuania-based DELFI and the East European Studies Center in monitoring, documenting, and combatting Russian disinformation in Lithuania and the Baltic states.
And we have partnered with Lithuania in helping activists and dissidents from Russia who are trying to resist the worst crackdown since Soviet times. No country has helped as much as Lithuania in doing the things that make the difference between life and death and between freedom and jail. I am talking about visas that are granted rapidly; helping people adjust to new circumstances and to remain active in supporting work still being done inside Russia; and even speaking to them in their own language.
Lithuania sees clearly the difference between the Russian state and Russians working for free expression and democracy, and they clearly and consistently confront the former and protect the latter at home and in every European and international venue.
Lithuania supports democrats from the entire region through diplomatic efforts to promote better policies, by providing refuge for democrats-at-risk, and by hosting meetings and conferences where democratic ideas can honed and democratic networks developed.
Lithuania also serves as a symbol of democratic solidarity for the region and the world. For Georgia and Moldova, it is a model of democratic transition and a friendly partner and adviser.
Lithuanian is a model of perseverance against great odds in the cause of freedom.
Its example embodies what Vaclav Havel meant when he said that “none of us as an individual can save the world as a whole, but that nevertheless each of us must behave as if it were in our power to do so.”
Lithuania exemplifies what Havel called “Living in Truth.”
At a time when democracy is under attack and faces an historic crisis of belief and conviction in the democratic heartland of Europe and the United States, Lithuania’s example can help reignite the flame of freedom and revive the commitment to the defense of human dignity and responsibility.
May the world rise to the standard set by this small country, and may the path chartered by Lithuania help guide mankind from the present state despondency and confusion to a future of freedom, security, and peace.