America’s refusal to recognize Lithuania’s Soviet occupier is an inspiration today.
By Dalia Grybauskaite
July 22, 2015
Seventy-five years have passed since the United States declared that it would not recognize the annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the Soviet Union. The occupation of my homeland lasted for 50 years, but the hope of freedom outlived the Soviet nightmare. Today, Lithuania is strong and free, a responsible member of the international community, a full-fledged member of the European Union and NATO.
The declaration of July 23, 1940, by America’s acting secretary of state, Sumner Welles, is our reference point in the changing geopolitical landscape. Occupation does not outlast the struggle for freedom. Brutal force cannot silence resistance. Oppression will not prevail over commitment to liberty, democracy and human rights. The Welles Declaration gave my people the strength and hope to persevere in our struggle for freedom.
In the past decade we have seen the Russian Federation leaning on its Soviet past and drawing lessons from the methods of the brutal Stalinist regime. Invasions in Georgia and Ukraine speak for themselves. Today, as 75 years ago, we must stand united: We reject the occupation of Georgian territory, denounce the annexation of Crimea, and categorically deplore Russian military aggression against Ukraine.
The story of the recent transformation of Lithuania can serve as an example to our Eastern neighbors. The country underwent drastic reforms, found peace with its past, took responsibility for the tragic losses of our nation, and built foundations for the future. Today, prosperous and free Lithuania is proud to be part of the club of thriving democracies.
Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have also chosen the path of European integration. To succeed on this path these countries will have to transform their economies, rid their governments of corruption, and protect their citizens’ rights and freedoms. This is the choice of the people in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and no one has the right to question or undermine it.
History teaches that coercion, pressure and outright blackmail will serve as an even bigger motivation to persist and achieve these goals. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes never succeed in taking away the freedoms of the people for long.
Our democracies have a moral obligation, a responsibility to support the choice of dignity and democracy, trade and free travel, life in security and prosperity. The Welles Declaration is the best example of the American role in the world—to stand with the oppressed. In these difficult times we, too, have to stand firm as the U.S. did with the occupied Baltic States.
Lithuanians are grateful to the people of the U.S. for their trust. It is now our obligation to stand together with the U.S. in denouncing aggression, occupation and terror in the world.
Ms. Grybauskaite is the president of the Republic of Lithuania.