Bay Area Lithuanians gather at Stanford to celebrate a quarter century of freedom
More than 150 Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians and friends of the Baltic states celebrated Lithuanian independence on March 11 at a cultural event hosted by Stanford University Libraries in the School of Education.Stanford University Librarian Michael Keller and Lithuania’s Honorary Consul Dennis Garrison welcomed the audience following an introduction from Liisi Esse, the library’s assistant curator for Estonian and Baltic Studies. Keller spoke about Stanford’s growing relationship with the Baltic countries. “Let us know how we might help you and your country stay free, and how we can help young people learn about your country,” Keller told Lithuanians in the audience.
The evening featured a screening of “The Other Dream Team,” a compelling documentary about the Lithuanian national basketball team that won the Bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics shortly after the country broke away from the Soviet Union. Produced by Lithuanian-American Marius Markevicius, who answered questions after the film, “The Other Dream Team” tells the story of how the national sport of basketball helped Lithuanians survive the 50-year Soviet occupation. “We were fighting the enemy not with guns and explosives but on the basketball court,” former President Valdas Adamkus said in the film. Lithuania was an independent nation for 20 years until the outbreak of World War II.
Cultural historian Violeta Davoliute-Opgenorth from Vilnius University introduced the audience to the country’s 20th-century history with a talk titled, “Fact, Fiction and Memory: Representations of the Postwar Fight for Lithuanian Independence From Soviet Times to the Present.” Lithuania was the first Baltic republic to declare the restoration of independence on March 11, 1990. This act led to a crippling economic blockade from Moscow but also catalyzed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Davoliute-Opgenorth said Lithuanians used different forms of resistance to fight Soviet rule after the end of World War II. An estimated 30,000 Lithuanian partisans, known as the Forest Brothers, actively fought Soviet forces from 1944 to 1952. “This is becoming more and more significant when one has a fully blown war right on the footsteps of Europe in Ukraine,” she said, referring to the Russian invasion in Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea. “Lithuanians and people in the other Baltic states feel this threat very strongly.”
All three Baltic states are members of NATO but Lithuania recently announced plans to introduce military conscription in response to growing Russian aggression in the region. In the first 10 months of 2014, for example, NATO’s Baltic air policing mission was forced to perform 132 military scrambles to intercept Russian jets near Lithuania, up from only four in 2010. Lithuanians know from experience that appeasement brought disaster and occupation to their country in 1939. Today, they and their Baltic neighbors know that the only way to counter Russia’s expansionist policies is to fight back.
See also the Baltic Studies Facebook page.