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Speaker Degutiene, President Grybauskaite, Prime Minister Kubilius, President Landsbergis, President Adamkus, your Excellency, Cardinal Bačkis, distinguished guests, family and loved ones of the heroes who sacrificed their lives for Lithuania’s freedom. Aciu. Thank you. I am deeply honored to stand before you in this great democratic assembly on this solemn and historic day.

My first visit to Lithuania was over 30 years ago, but my ties to your nation reach back even further. One hundred years ago, my grandmother left Jurbarkas with her three small children to join my grandfather in America. In her arms, she carried a 2-year-old infant – my mother, Ona Kutkaite.

Hidden in my grandmother’s baggage was a small Catholic prayer book, printed in Vilnius in 1863, the last year before printing in Lithuanian was outlawed under the czars. That prayer book — the last, cherished relic of my family’s life in this beautiful and ancient land – escaped the czars and was kept safe with our family in America during the brutal Soviet occupation. Today, in the name of my mother and my family, I am proud to bring this prayer book home to a free Lithuania.

Because of the heroic sacrifices of the victims of January 13 and those who stood with them, because of the courage of President Landsbergis and other brave Lithuanian patriots famous and unknown, no one in this nation lives in fear of the tyranny that once punished Lithuanians who only wanted the freedom of their faith, the freedom to speak, and the freedom to vote.    Today, we can proclaim fearlessly and proudly: “Laisva Lietuva Free Lithuania. Now and always.

In February 1990, I came to Lithuania as part of an official Congressional delegation to observe your historic elections. I will never forget that scene in the dead of winter when this historic city was alive with the energy of people ready to fight for independence. This Parliament building was barricaded with sandbags. Groups of school children prayed the rosary and lit candles at the barricades. My friends took me inside the Seimas to show me the secret arsenal of the Lithuanian freedom fighters. In the corner stood a handful of old rifles, useful for a farmer or hunter but no match for the Soviet war machine.

One year later on Bloody Sunday, the Soviet tanks rolled in, as we always feared they would. Fax machines around the world hummed with the news that Moscow was setting out to crush Sajudis and end the battle for freedom. Here in Vilnius the crowds gathered to make their stand as Gorbachev massed his military forces. But Lithuanians were armed with stronger weapons than the Soviets; they were armed with faith and courage.

The flame of freedom that had never been extinguished throughout the long, starless night of Soviet occupation grew into bonfires at the TV Tower and Parliament Square and cast out darkness not only in Lithuania, but in Latvia, Estonia and across the world. Those 13 martyrs and the hundreds who were injured did not suffer and die in vain.

Today, the Republic of Lithuania has replaced tyranny with freedom, dictatorship with democracy, and the rule of the secret police with the rule of law. Lithuania holds the Presidency of the Community of Democracies and the Chairmanship of the OSCE. You are a full and responsible member of the European Union and the United Nations.

Lithuania is a force for stability and peace, not only in the Baltics but throughout the world. And you have helped to defend freedom in Bosnia, Kosovo, Georgia and Iraq.

Lithuanian and American soldiers are fighting side-by-side today as part of a NATO force in Afghanistan You are helping to train Afghan security forces, and Lithuania is heading a provisional reconstruction team in Ghor Province. Despite difficult economic challenges, this small nation has contributed more in Afghanistan than many larger NATO partners, and America is grateful.
Your sacrifices and contributions as a member of NATO have strengthened our alliance and enhanced stability in our world. The US and its NATO allies are committed to ensuring Baltic freedom so that January 13 never happens again.

America is proud that for decades we stood together in refusing to recognize the illegal annexation of the Baltics by the Soviet Union. We stood with you through the dark years of occupation. And we stand with you today.

The United States remains committed to a Europe that is whole, free and at peace with itself, from Britain to Belarus.
We know that national security and energy security are indivisible, and we support Lithuania’s goal of increased energy self-sufficiency, including safe and responsible development of nuclear energy. Freedom must never be held hostage for fuel.
We will strengthen our partnership with Lithuania based on mutual respect and shared purpose. We also welcome your efforts to reach constructive new understandings with old foes.

In my own nation, President Obama has said there are many matters on which Russia and NATO can and should work together, including terrorist extremists, and securing loose nuclear weapons. But let me be clear: We will never accept the claim of any nation that it has a “sphere of influence” that overshadows its neighbors. All nations, large and small, possess an inviolable right to choose their own alliances and chart their own destinies.

Members of the Seimas, the past left many painful scars. In designating this as the “Year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania,” you are helping to heal some of the deepest wounds ever inflicted on humanity. I applaud your President and President Adamkus before her for Lithuania’s unshakable commitment to human rights and human dignity.

I’ll close with one more treasured memory: In 1997, my brother and I visited Jurbarkas, where our mother was born, for the first time. My brother brought a photograph of our mother as a young girl, hoping someone might remember our family.

A man stepped forward to show us the same photo, which had been carefully kept since our family had left many years earlier for America. After almost a century, our family, which had been divided by czars and the Iron Curtain, was reunited. We had found a cousin we never knew we had.

May our families never again be divided. May we always remember the courage and sacrifices of the heroes who fought for Lithuanian independence.    And may we continue to honor their memories by working together to protect the ideals for which they gave their lives. Te gyvuoja Lietuva! Long live Lithuania!

Source: usa.mfa.lt