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Congratulating Lithuania On The Tenth Anniversary Of Its Independence

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and concur in the Senate concurrent resolution (S. Con. Res. 91) congratulating the Republic of Lithuania on the tenth anniversary of the reestablishment of its independence from the rule of the former Soviet Union.

The Clerk read as follows:

Whereas the United States had never recognized the forcible incorporation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the former Soviet Union; Whereas the declaration on March 11, 1990, of the reestablishment of full sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Lithuania led to the disintegration of the former Soviet Union; Whereas Lithuania since then has successfully built democracy, ensured human and minority rights, the rule of law, developed a free market economy, implemented exemplary relations with neighboring countries, and consistently pursued a course of integration into the community of free and democratic nations by seeking membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and Whereas Lithuania, as a result of the progress of its political and economic reforms, has made, and continues to make, a significant contribution toward the maintenance of international peace and stability by, among other actions, its participation in NATO-led peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That Congress hereby-- (1) congratulates Lithuania on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the reestablishment of its independence and the leading role it played in the disintegration of the former Soviet Union; and (2) commends Lithuania for its success in implementing political and economic reforms, which may further speed the process of that country's integration into European and Western institutions.

Rep. Doug Ose

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Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) and the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Gejdenson) each will control 20 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman).

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

(Mr. GILMAN asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 91 congratulating Lithuania on its 10th anniversary of the reestablishment of its independence.

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to believe that 10 years have now passed since the Lithuanian nation took their courageous step of declaring independence from the Communist dictatorship of the former Soviet Union. And despite the passage of these last 10 years, many of us who served in the Congress at that time still vividly remember the struggle that Lithuania had to undertake in order to make that declaration a reality.

We recall the thousands of Soviet troops who were then garrisoned in Lithuania. We also recall the Soviet armored columns rolling through the capital of Vilnius in the dead of night some 10 years ago. We also remember the economic boycott that was imposed on Lithuania by the Soviet regime in Moscow. We remember too how Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev insisted that, if Lithuania were to secede from the Soviet Union, it would have to compensate the Soviet government for all its investments in Lithuania since 1940, the year when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied that country.

What an ironic demand that was, given the fact that Lithuania never asked to be part of the Soviet Union, and given the fact the Soviet Union's so-called legacy to Lithuania and to its neighbors, if not a curse, was a very questionable legacy at best.

In fact, it has taken all of the strength that the Lithuanian people could muster to overcome the so-called blessings of that legacy bestowed by the former Soviet regime, including all of the dilapidated industries, their environmental damage, and the lack of trading and preparation that was needed by the Lithuanians to succeed in any market-oriented economy.

Now, Mr. Speaker, some 10 years later, in spite of that so-called legacy, Lithuania is now looking to its future and building on the progress it has made in the decade since the Soviet Union broke up.

Today, thousands of Soviet troops are gone. Today, Lithuania is a member of NATO's alliance's Partnership For Peace program and is looking forward to the day when it may become a full member of that alliance. And, today, Lithuania is actively seeking membership in the European Union.

Lithuania has implemented market reforms despite the tremendous difficulties associated with the economic transformation from a Communist system of control of workers and resources to the system of private enterprise and free markets. In short, Lithuania is working to return to its rightful place in Europe and in the world.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that our Nation has played a strong role in helping Lithuania, not just since it gained its independence but during the many years when it refused to recognize the Soviet Union's illegal incorporation of that country into its Communist dictatorship.

The passage of this resolution, Mr. Speaker, congratulates Lithuania and its people on the 10th anniversary of their independence, recognizing the role that Lithuania played in the breakup of the Soviet Union, and noting the reforms that Lithuania has struggled to implement. Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, I urge the passage of this worthy resolution.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

(Mr. GEJDENSON asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Rep. Sam Gejdenson

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Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that, at the conclusion of my remarks, the remaining control of the time be yielded to the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee).

Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Connecticut?

There was no objection.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson

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Mr. Speaker, I join my colleague, the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman), and the distinguished Senator from Illinois, Mr. Durbin, who authored this resolution in the Senate, in recognition of a decade of great success and change by my mother's homeland, Lithuania.

This year, I had the opportunity to drive from my mother's Lithuania to my father's Belarus, and it exposes the incredible difference between the situation in Lithuania where they have engaged freedom and democracy. I had been to Vilnius in 1982, and what a change in these last 16, 17 years, from that time to my most recent trip. I could see it on the people's faces, the freedom, the opportunity to express themselves without fear of retribution or being followed by secret police. It is a thriving country, building strong relationships with its democratic and free neighbors. Sadly, in Belarus, the opposite is true. The economic situation continues to deteriorate and the people lose their freedom on a daily basis.

I am thrilled and privileged to be here in the United States Congress, having my mother and grandparents' on her side of the family, all having been born in Vilnius, being here today on the floor and, frankly, doing something that many of us thought might not happen in our lifetime, celebrating not just the first anniversary of freedom in Lithuania but a full decade; only the beginning of decades and centuries to come.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Shimkus), the cochairman of the Baltic caucus.

(Mr. SHIMKUS asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Rep. John Shimkus

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Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time, and I rise in support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 91.

As cochairman of the House Baltic caucus, I am delighted that the House is joining the Senate in recognizing the 10th anniversary of the reestablishment of Lithuania's independence. Yes, the reestablishment. The original independence celebration actually goes back 80 years, when they first had freedom, prior to the Soviet aggression.

I have been down on this floor many times talking about the turbulent histories of the Baltic nations. I am pleased that today we are recognizing accomplishments. Over the last 10 years, Lithuania has worked diligently to ensure the human rights of its citizens, develop a free market economy, and pursue a course of integration into the European Union and NATO.

Additionally, the stability and peace which Lithuania brings to the Baltic region as it develops into a free and democratic nation is something that we all should be thankful for. It is my hope that Members of this body realize that, while we are celebrating just Lithuania today, Latvia and Estonia are also on the right path. While they all have turbulent histories, we should focus on the strides they have made to correct past injustices within their own borders. These are countries we should be proud of and embrace their burgeoning democratic ideas.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time, and I thank the gentleman for his supporting remarks.

Rep. Barbara Lee

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume, and I rise in strong support of this resolution.

Mr. Speaker, the Lithuanian people have always been in the forefront of democracy. Ten years ago, the Lithuanian parliament defied the Soviet Union by proclaiming its independence.

Today, Lithuania continues to be the window of democracy for its neighbors. Lithuania has welcomed the exiled politicians from Belarus who fled the oppressive regime of President Lukashenka.

The Lithuanian people should be proud of the magnitude of the political transformation. Lithuania today is a European nation. This week, the Lithuanian delegation, headed by Professor Landsbergis, is in Washington to commemorate this historic transformation.

Lithuanian economic achievements are no less significant. Lithuania has successfully carried out economic reforms and is well on its way to developing a functioning market economy. Lithuania, together with other Baltic countries, is considered a success story.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support Senate Concurrent Resolution 91.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Rep. Sander M. Levin

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Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 91 which congratulates Lithuania on the tenth anniversary of the reestablishment of its independence.

After declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1918, Lithuania enjoyed two decades of self rule. During this period, Lithuanians were free to follow their cultural traditions and express their national identity. In 1940, Soviet troops invaded and occupied Lithuania and Lithuanians spent the next five decades under Soviet domination, forced to deny their heritage, language and traditions. At last, Lithuania regained its independence in 1990; indeed, I was pleased to visit Lithuania shortly thereafter and celebrate the regaining of its independence.

History is a crucible that melts away the extraneous to reveal the truly relevant events in human experience. One hundred years from now, when historians look back at the events of the 20th Century, I suspect they will marvel at the astonishing speed at which the barriers to freedom, which for so many years seemed so insurmountable, finally fell in Lithuania and throughout Eastern Europe. A century from now, the history books will say that freedom came to Lithuania as a result of the persistence and unbending spirit of the Lithuanian people.

It is altogether fitting that Congress recognize and congratulate Lithuania on the 10th anniversary of the reestablishment of independence. I urge all my colleagues to join me in voting for this important resolution.

Rep. Tom Lantos

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of S. Con. Res. 19 congratulating the Republic of Lithuania on the tenth anniversary of the reestablishment of its independence from the rule of the former Soviet Union. It is most appropriate that we are considering this resolution today, Mr. Speaker, because we have with us the most distinguished Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, Vytautas Landsbergis, who has played such a pivotal role in the renewal of the independence and sovereignty of Lithuania some ten years ago and who previously served as the President of Lithuania.

Mr. Speaker, I remember meeting with Speaker Landsbergis on a visit to Lithuania over ten years ago as the first stirrings of renewed independence were beginning to quicken life there. On that occasion, Speaker Landsbergis was a prominent musicologist and had not yet begun his political career. We walked together into one of Vilnius' outstanding Churches in order to get beyond earshot of the Soviet KGB officials who were directed to follow us. As we sat in one of the pews, we discussed his vision of the reestablishment of a sovereign and independent Lithuania. At that time, his vision appeared beyond any hope. Today, Mr. Speaker, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of Lithuania's independence.

I had the opportunity to visit Lithuania just two months ago, Mr. Speaker, where I again had the opportunity to see the progress that has come after a decade of freedom. Lithuania's extraordinary progress during the past decade should serve as a model for all young democracies. Its leaders and its people have shown a commitment to free markets, civil liberties, and fair and open government as they have worked with such devotion to build their great nation. Lithuania stands today as a respected member of the international community and one of America's strongest allies. It is my sincere hope that, sooner rather than later, Lithuania's extraordinary achievements will be recognized in the form of a well-deserved invitation to join the NATO.

Mr. Speaker, there is one matter of particular importance for which I would like to praise Speaker Landsbergis and the members of the Parliament (Seimas). Last month, by a vote of 54 to 6 the Seimas adopted amendments to the Lithuanian legal code which permit the conduct of war crimes trials in absentia if the accused is unable to be present for the trial because of medical reasons. This action will enable the Government of Lithuania to seek justice against some of the most notorious perpetrators of atrocities alive today.

This legislation, which was drafted by my friend Dr. Emanuelis Zingeris, the Chairman of the Seimas' Human Rights Committee, states that if a person charged with genocide ``cannot for reasons of his physical condition, according to the findings of experts, be present at the place of the hearing, the defendant shall be provided technical facilities at the place where he is staying to directly take part in the hearing by giving evidence to the court, putting questions to other participants of the hearing and taking part in the proceedings.'' This reform will allow defendants in war crimes trials the right to participate in their own defense, but it also will permit the victims of these horrendous crimes against humanity to see that justice is done.

As a survivor of the Holocaust and as the Chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, I applaud the Seimas and its leaders for their action, for reaffirming so strongly the commitment of the Lithuanian Government to justice. I hope--and expect--that this initiative will allow the cold-blooded killers who were responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust to be held accountable for their crimes. Genocide must never be forgotten.

Mr. Speaker, in 1941 Fruma Kaplan was only six years old when she and her mother, Gitta, were arrested by Lithuanian Security Police (Saugumas) in the capital city of Vilnius. Fruma's crime? She was born Jewish, an unpardonable sin in Nazi-occupied Lithuania. On December 22 of that year, Fruma and her mother were taken to the woods of Paneriai outside of Vilnius, stripped down to their underwear, lined up at the edge of pits, and viciously gunned down.

Fruma and Gitta Kaplan did not face their horrible fate along. Prior to 1941, Vilnius was home to one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe. It was called the ``Jerusalem of the North.'' Artists, scholars, philosophers, and religious leaders all lived there, men and women renowned for their intellectual and cultural talents. After the Nazi invasion, they were slaughtered--55,000 of Vilnius' 60,000 Jews perished during World War II.

The death warrants for Gitta and little Fruma were signed by Aleksandras Lileikis, the Chief of the Lithuanian Security Police for Vilnius Province. He supervised the slaughter of Vilnius' Jewish community with precision and zeal, sending Jews to Paneriai regardless of age and infirmity. The Kaplan documents make up only a small portion of the overwhelming evidence which establishes Lileikis' guilt. Our own Department of Justice calls this evidence in the Lileikis case a ``shockingly complete paper trail.''

Lileikis and his deputy, Kazys Gimzauskas, escaped Lithuania and came to the United States after World War II. They lived quite lives, Lileikis in Massachusetts and Gimzauskas in Florida, evading the consequences of their crimes. It wasn't until this past decade--after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of archives and other sources of information not available until that point--that the U.S. Department of Justice was able to accumulate the evidence which established the legal basis for stripping U.S. citizenship from these two individuals, who covered up their horrendous crimes. They were deported from the United States and ended up back in the newly independent Lithuania.

Since their return to Lithuania, Lileikis and Gimzauskas classified their wartime activities as the deeds of ``Lithuanian patriots,'' slandering the legacy of the untold thousands of courageous Lithuanians who fought to defend their national identity against Soviet might. Even so, these shameless men were never brought to trial, as their claims of medical and age-related infirmities stalled court proceedings indefinitely. The legal amendments passed by the Seimas promise to alter this status, because the Prosecutor-General of Lithuania can now initiate trials for Lileikis and Gimzauskas without further delay.

Lileikis and Gimzauskas are not alone. Several other Nazis have been denaturalized and deported by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the memory of the Holocaust demands that they be brought to justice as soon as possible. It is imperative that the Lithuanian Government send a firm and principled message that the murder of 240,000 of its Jewish citizens in the Holocaust will never be forgotten, not in this generation or in any generation to come. It is my hope that Lithuania will soon demonstrate this commitment by opening trials against Lileikis, Gimazuskas, and other Lithuanians who participated in Nazi atrocities.

Mr. Speaker, I applaud recent statements by President Valdas Adamkus, Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, and Speaker Landsbergis in support of the immediate prosecution of Nazi war criminals. As the Prime Minister eloquently noted at the January Holocaust conference in Stockholm, pursuing war criminals is ``a moral duty that must be fulfilled in the 21st century as well,'' and that ``forgiving and forgetting [the culprits] is out of the question.'' I could not agree more strongly with this sentiment.

The prosecution of Nazi war criminals will complement and strengthen the efforts of the question.'' I could not agree more strongly with this sentiment.

The prosecution of Nazi war criminals will complement and strengthen the efforts of the Lithuanian Government to promote Holocaust education. The Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Committed during the Nazi and Soviet Occupation of Lithuania, formed in 1998 and ably co-chaired by Dr. Zingeris, promises a thorough study of ``the role of Lithuanians and others in the local population as perpetrators and/or collaborators in the Holocaust.'' The most vital responsibility of the Commission is clearly stated in its mission statement: ``Support for the preparation of educational materials and curricula for school students at all levels, to promote study, discussion and understanding of Lithuanian history during the Nazi and Soviet occupations.'' Mr. Speaker, the true measure of the Commission's success rests in its ability to convey its findings to the children and grandchildren of today's Lithuanians. I am hopeful that it will achieve this goal.

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the changes that have taken place in Lithuania over the past decade. As I mentioned earlier, I had the opportunity this past January to visit Vilnius and see first-hand the changes. While there, I participated in the Lithuanian opening of ``The Last Days,'' a documentary produced by Steven Spielberg and the Shoah Foundation about the experiences of five Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust. I was one of those five survivors, Mr. Speaker. As I walked through the neighborhood formerly occupied by the Jewish Ghetto, I was reminded of a part of Lithuanian heritage that can never be replaced--the talents and gifts of a quarter million murdered citizens and their unborn descendants. The loss overwhelmed me.

Later that evening, at the movie premiere, I was joined in my emotion by President Adamkus, Prime Minister Kubilius, Speaker Landsbergis, and a host of other prominent Lithuanian leaders. They attended as representatives of modern Lithuania--a nation strengthened by perseverance, emboldened by freedom, and sensitive to the consequences of human rights denied. It is a nation that, I am confident, will continue to learn from the lessons of its past and will use them to shape its future. The passage of the amendments to allow war criminals to be tried in absentia, and the prospect that the cases of Aleksandras Lileikis and other Nazi murderers will soon move forward, further strengthens my faith in this conviction.

Mr. Speaker, it is in this spirit that I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting S. Con. Res. 19. The accomplishments of the Lithuanian people during the past decades are impressive, but they pale only in comparison to the promise of this great nation in the years to come.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks on Senate Concurrent Resolution 91, the pending measure.

Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New York?

There was no objection.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I yield back the balance of my time.

Rep. Barbara Lee

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Mr. Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I yield back the balance of my time.

The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) that the House suspend the rules and concur in the Senate concurrent resolution, Senate Concurrent Resolution 91.

The question was taken.

Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman

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Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.

Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX and the Chair's prior announcement, further proceedings on this motion will be postponed.