Speech by Viktoras Pranckietis, Speaker of the Seimas, at the solemn commemoration to mark the Day of Mourning and Hope and the Day of Occupation and Genocide
Press release, 14 June 2018
Your Excellency President of the Republic of Lithuania,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors,
Honourable Members of the Seimas,
Former political prisoners, deportees and their family members,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today we are mourning and remembering tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of shattered hopes and unfulfilled dreams, broken lives and destinies. These were the dark pages of our history that had painfully affected the lives of each and every family. Sad, tragic or incomprehensible? Is there any other word to describe such a ferocious treatment of the nation? I am not going to talk about the facts contained in encyclopaedias, as this is the job of historians. I would rather share my memories of the stories which I heard as a child from my father, who used to open up about some bits and pieces of his past while being absolutely unable to cope with injustice.
One of the stories was about a young student, who turned into a pale and tortured martyr in a forced labour camp. He would stare with his empty eyes and stretch his bony fingers in a plea for a few pieces of rice for his professor, who was dying of a serious disease.
Another story was about a volunteer resistance fighter called Juzė who was locked in a 12-square-meter basement cell with almost 60 other detainees. Those who knew him could no longer recognise him, because his face had been severely beaten with gunstocks by NKVD exterminators. He was the only one to survive the siege in the forest.
These stories are but minor brush strokes in the gloomy picture of Lithuania’s history. Despite being painful and shocking, they should remain in the whole picture of our history. The stories should be written down and talked about.
Thousands of fellow Lithuanians belonging to diverse ethnic groups did not live to see a free Lithuania, as they remained lying in eternal rest far away from their homeland and in remote lands which were generally called the Gulag. Today, we are reading their names, commemorating and thinking of them.
We should be proud of our young men who annually volunteer for a very long and difficult expedition to Siberia to take proper care of the burial grounds of their ancestors.
Every cross they erect and grave they tidy are a testimony to the fact that we value our history, no matter how difficult it might be to understand it.
It is remarkable that Mission Siberia will become an international project. Poland is planning to join the project upon Lithuania’s invitation. It was often the case that Lithuanians and Poles would share the same fate of deportation.
When the resistance movement started, over 20,000 Lithuanian forest brothers engaged in an underground fight for our freedom. It was the freedom for which we will remain forever grateful.
Captivity does not last forever, while a call for freedom is timeless.
We may call it a symbolic coincidence, but this does not deny the importance of the fact that the discovery of the remains of General Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, freedom fighter and de facto Lithuania’s Commander-in-Chief, is a gift to the country at a time when it is marking its significant independence anniversaries. On behalf of the whole country, I would like to thank our historians and archaeologists, because now the hero of our nation will be laid to rest with due respect. I would also like to thank the authorities the city of New Britain, Connecticut, US, where General Adolfas Ramanauskas was born. They kindly agreed to contribute to commemorating the General in their city square. We must make sure that Vanagas, a citizen with dual citizenship, is properly commemorated on both sides of the Atlantic.
May I also thank those whose names are being read today, who saw everything with their own eyes, and whose lives were marked by sufferings, deportation, killings and relentless repression.
To thank them, I invite you to join me in a minute of silence.
Thank you. We will always remember them.