By ERIN MARTIN
Lithuania’s ambassador to the United States, Stasys Sakalauskas, said tolerance is the only way to maintain a peaceful coexistence.
Sakalauskas spoke at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday as a part of a lecture series for International Studies.
Sakalauskas said it is hard to imagine the treatment of different ethnic groups happening in Kosovo. He said this is not the way.
“We agree, many of the central and eastern European countries, that we are united in supporting and understanding the decisions NATO has deemed necessary in order to bring an end to suffering and violence in this region,” he said.
Citizens of Lithuania are proud to show tolerance for other nations and beliefs, he said. Lithuanians generally accepted the Russians during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.
“Tolerance should be developed through religion, culture and education,” he said.
Sakalauskas also said Lithuania has done more suffering than any other country in Europe. For 50 years they struggled against foreign doctrines and Soviet occupation, he said.
“We are lucky to be blamed for the downfall of the Soviet Union,” he said. “That’s our honor; that’s our privilege.”
In 1990, Lithuania declared its independence and started to rebuild its identity. Although Russia and Lithuania did not break on the best of terms, Russia did recognize Lithuania in 1991, he said.
“It’s really amazing how it was possible to get through and get on good terms with Russia,” Sakalauskas said.
The ambassador said regimes such as the Soviet Union rule for so long because people are afraid of what might happen. Even if they just go to a meeting against the government, they are afraid for their lives and for their families, he said.
“Regimes are strong because of the fear,” he said. “When the fear leaves, we become stronger.”
Lithuania is proud of its relationship with the United States, which did not recognize the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. He said this was a symbol of U.S. belief in Lithuania.
“We are lucky to be a partner with the United States,” he said.
Julia Blair, from Provo, lived in Lithuania with her husband, Robert Blair, who was a Latter-day Saint mission president in the Baltic states from 1993 to 1996. She said Lithuania is different than the other Baltic states.
“The Baltics are all wonderful people, but they are more tolerant in Lithuania. They have a wonderful attitude,” she said.
Lance McAdams, 23, a freshman from Cleveland, Ohio, majoring in international politics, agreed tolerance is better in Lithuania, but he said Lithuanians have not easily forgotten the horrors of the Soviet occupation.
McAdams served an LDS mission to the Baltic states.
“There are some strong feelings about what happened — some people saw members of their families killed,” he said.
McAdams said the branch in Lithuania where he served held services in both Russian and Lithuanian.
“The branch got along despite their differences,” he said.