Statement by the Honorable Warren L. Miller,
Chairman U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad on Signing the Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Lithuania on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties
October 15, 2002 * Vilnius, Lithuania
Minister Dovydeniene, Ambassador Tefft, honored guests:
Four years ago, I had the honor of signing a Declaration of Cooperation with then Minister of Culture Šaltenis which committed our countries to try to negotiate a cultural preservation agreement.
I am pleased to be in Vilnius today to sign this symbolically and substantively important agreement. The signing of this agreement is evidence of the successful and ongoing cooperation between our countries. The agreement represents, however, an even greater milestone in the partnership of the United States and the Republic of Lithuania to protect and preserve the mutual cultural heritage of our peoples.
In this agreement our countries commit to take appropriate steps to preserve historic sites, places of worship, monuments, cemeteries, collections, and documentary materials that are important to the joint cultural heritage of our peoples.
The agreement also commits our countries to protect the cultural heritage of all national, religious, and ethnic groups, including those who were the victims of genocide during World War II and ensuring that there is no discrimination against their cultural heritage.
It requires both governments to cooperate in the identification of vulnerable cultural sites and to ensure that such sites will be protected. In addition, the agreement establishes a Joint Cultural Heritage Commission to oversee these efforts and resolve issues that may arise.
Since our entering into the Declaration, the Commission that I chair has conducted surveys of sites in Lithuania of significance to Jewish, Roma, and Old Believer communities. This information is now ready to be shared with your government, and with Americans of Lithuanian descent, who want to know more about the cultural heritage of their ancestral land, and want to ensure the protection of this heritage.
Our survey of Jewish sites in Lithuania has collected new information about 400 Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust-related places, including sites of the massacre and mass burial of over 200,000 Lithuanian Jews.
Our surveys of Roma and Old Believer sites, directed by faculty from the University of Vilnius, collected information about churches, cemeteries, and other previously undocumented sites significant to these important religious and ethnic minorities. We look forward to expanding this work, in collaboration with our Lithuanian colleagues.
Our partnership with the Republic of Lithuania has been made easier by Lithuania’s embrace of democratic principles and recognition of the value of cultural pluralism.
Lithuania was the first country in the former Communist bloc to pass a law requiring the protection and marking of Holocaust related sites. This law is responsible for widespread efforts to rediscover ravaged Jewish cemeteries, identify sites of mass killings and burials, and appropriately mark and maintain these places – so that the memory of past events will be assured. These efforts have caused the rewording of inscriptions at massacre sites, such as Panaeriai, just outside of Vilnius where 100,000 people were murdered.
Lithuania has taken many other steps to confront its past. There are several exhibitions about the Holocaust in Lithuania, including the permanent exhibition at the “Green House,” which has been a model in the region. The Government should also be commended for its inclusion of Holocaust education as part of the national curriculum for secondary schools and its program to help educate its citizens about the life and achievements of Lithuanian Jews before 1940. Additionally, last month Lithuania hosted its first international conference on Holocaust education.
However, there is still much more to do, many long-standing problems of the Communist-era still remain. Inappropriate development and use of Jewish cemeteries and former synagogues is a serious concern to the local and international Jewish communities.
During the past decade, Lithuanians have begun to seriously investigate the role of some of their fellow countrymen in the murder of Lithuanian Jews. As early as 1995, former President Algirdas Brazauskas apologized for the role of ethnic Lithuanians in the mass murders. And in 2000, the Lithuanian Catholic Church publicly apologized on behalf of parishioners who had participated in the killing. Most importantly, President Adamkus in 1998 established an International Commission to Investigate Nazi and Soviet Crimes in Lithuania.
Our Commission applauds the government of Lithuania for these positive steps toward achieving an accurate understanding of the past. Openly and truthfully remembering acts of the past – shameful as well as glorious – are hallmarks of a strong and free democratic society.
On behalf of the people and the Government of the United States – including President George W. Bush, who appointed me – I thank and congratulate the Government of Lithuania for taking the positive steps that are represented by this agreement. It is my hope and expectation that its signing will signify the beginning of an even more productive partnership between our two countries as we address together the legacy of the past, in the spirit of truthful remembrance, tolerance and understanding.