Yesterday Creighton University hosted the Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States, Vygaudas Usackas, in a visit to Omaha. The Ambassador’s visit came through the good graces of my colleague and fellow blogster, Terry Clark, who is a world-class expert on Lithuania. I had the privilege of spending some time with the Ambassador during his visit, and I’d like to share a few observations about that.
The Ambassador is a first rate apologist for his nation and his people. His background as a dissident who took great personal risks to stand up to the Soviet regime, which dominated their nation for more than 50 years, adds a positive dimension to his personality. His love of freedom and democracy, including economic freedom as reflected in progress empowered by market-based economic systems, was apparently strengthened from his experiences in a system which lacked these characteristics.
I was particularly moved by his story about Soviet oppression of people of faith as well as people with the convictions of freedom, which in his view went closely together. Parents who baptized their children had to do so secretly and often in other cities to avoid being sent to the gulag. Yet they did so. Many priests and parishioners were sent away because of their faith. They also listened to Radio Free Europe, Vatican Radio, and the Voice of America, which gave them hope and helped to strengthen their convictions to resist. (Too often we take our freedom for granted and we waste it on things that don’t matter.)
As for economic development, Lithuania is apparently taking its cues from the West, in that they have embraced a pro-growth, pro-business, and pro-freedom environment that seeks to foster initiative and competition. Less than 15 years ago during Soviet occupation, Lithuanians had lines to shop in stores full of goods they did not prefer. Today, they have a growing economy with many options for goods and services. They are not stopping their people from moving to find better opportunities elsewhere in the European Union, but instead they recognize that as their economy develops, those opportunities will soon be at home. In time, I am sure their approach will pay off.