On 5 July, a session of the 15th World Lithuanian Symposium on Arts and Sciences took place at the Vytautas Magnus University’s Aula Magna. The symposium sought to strengthen relations and establish useful ties between Lithuanian and Lithuanian-origin scientists, businessmen, cultural figures and students living abroad. During the discussion at the university, honourable guests and members of the academic community paid special attention to keeping the ties strong between young world Lithuanians and their homeland.
Prof. Auksė Balčytienė, the VMU Vice-Rector for Public Communication and a lecturer at the Dept. of Public Communications, and Mykolas Lepeška, the Director of the International non-profit organisation Global Lithuanian Leaders, moderated the discussion. First speaker of the session was Vida Bagdonavičienė, the coordinator of the Vytautas Magnus University‘s project entitled the Lithuanian Diaspora Academy. Drawing on the political theories of migration, the head of the project reminded the audience that the relations between emigrants and their native country came into focus of the governments around the world in the beginning of the 1970s.
Afterwards, the scholar spoke about the situation in Lithuania, noting that the communication between the country’s politicians and the Lithuanian diaspora is seriously harmed by the created negative image of the latter. “Strange requests often appear in the public sphere, and in politicians’ speeches in particular, for the emigrants to return, to do something in the name of Lithuania. There have even been proposals to prohibit people from leaving Lithuania for some time after graduating from the university. These proposals remind me of a Georgian joke that contains the phrase “Why do you need the address, just come like that”. Requests for the skilled emigrants to return have no addressee. The activities of the Lithuanian Diaspora Academy, on the other hand, have provided almost all inquirers with some kind of an answer, continuity”, Vida Bagdonavičienė explained before naming the essential goals of the organisation and stressing that all of them are being successfully implemented.
Communication is the key
The session was continued by Kęstutis Pikūnas, the President of the World Lithuanian Youth Association (WLYA) in the United Kingdom. He emphasised that not all emigrants belong to world Lithuanian communities, and remembered how he looked for the way to unite all youth of the diaspora, which is quite large in numbers: the WLYA in the UK alone, according to its president, is one of the largest and most active communities. However, the conclusion was reached that it is impossible to unite everyone due to the large scale of the community. Keeping the ties strong, according to Pikūnas, is something that is still not completely grasped: “It is an interesting time. After Lithuania became the member of the European Union, many people left and only now begin to realize where they stand and whether Lithuania can give them anything or they can give anything to Lithuania”, he said.
Speaking about the image of a world Lithuanian in the homeland, the guest mentioned the often negative readers’ comments in the online media: “They say we are laundering Lithuania’s money when in fact it is all from our own pocket. Sometimes you just throw your hands up – does this work have a purpose, is there any continuity, because you talk with ministries and various organisations and see that their priorities are different. In my opinion, it is not all bad. Just like everywhere, the minority often speaks for the majority. I am a restless optimist and believe that the work by VMU and all the organisations is very necessary, it is only a matter of time before it all rises to the surface”, Pikūnas said. He concluded that the key here is communication, the desire to communicate and discuss, which makes one realize it is not hopeless and there still are people who are working hard in this field – there are no grounds for pessimistic talks about the disappearance of the Lithuanian nation.
Building the future Lithuania
Another speaker of the symposium, Karolis Adomaitis, previously headed the Lithuanian Youth Association in the United Kingdom (JKLJS) uniting 3000 young people and implemented numerous successful projects. “Our organisation has accumulated a large network of contacts because students who graduate from universities find work in the largest companies of the world and acquire experience there. If we lost contact with them, their contribution to the future of Lithuania would equal zero. This is why the World Lithuanian Youth Association is working and nurturing this bond, striving for the young people living abroad to be able to contribute to the building of the future of Lithuania”, Adomaitis explained.
As the talk shifted to the particular projects carried out by the association, Karolis Adomaitis first spoke about Lietuvos Ateitis (Future of Lithuania): successful businessmen, scholars and representatives of other fields arrive from Lithuania to meet with the Lithuanian emigrant youths in the United Kingdom and hold discussions. Another project, JKLJS Praktika (JKLJS Internship) allows students to come to Lithuania and do internship in various companies; special internship programs, adapted for those coming from the United Kingdom, are created together with companies’ representatives. Many participants receive job offers and stay to work in Lithuania.