On December 12 and 13 the World Lithuanian Youth Association held an intercontinental conference for Lithuanian youth associations to discuss relations with Lithuania. In all there were 130 participants from 10 countries: Argentina, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela and others. On the first day, representatives shared news about their activities. An important topic was the 16th World Lithuanian Youth Congress to be held in summer, 2021, and organized by PLJS (World Lithuanian Youth Association). It will also be a virtual meeting, based in Punsk, Poland, an ethnically Lithuanian and still very important region. The discussion included setting goals for the congress, its program and various organizational issues.
The conference continued on December 13, with several Lithuanian diplomats as guests – Foreign Ministry Ambassador for Special Projects Egidijus Meilūnas; Agnė Gurevičienė, Second Secretary of the US General Consulate in Los Angeles; Lara Tupe, from the Foreign Ministry, former Consul-General for Lithuania in Sao Paulo, Brazil; current Consul-General Vytautas Umbrasas – as well as PLJS board members Skaistė Aleksandravišiūtė (Oxford, GB), and Kovas Kulbis (Cleveland, USA), who chaired the meeting. Another visitor was MP Dalia Asanavičiūtė, who had been a candidate for the Diaspora constituency in the parliamentary elections in October.
The diplomats shared their experiences with Lithuanian communities in various countries where they had served, and were very hopeful about the future of the new constituency in communicating with and serving the needs of the diaspora. A new chief is assigned to the Foreign Ministry‘s Department of the Diaspora (ULD), and new ambassadors and consuls will follow shortly.
Ambassador Meilūnas noted several areas requiring attention that would strengthen the diaspora‘s ties to Lithuania: the retention of citizenship, preparation for the second referendum, and Lithuanian language-learning. Although there seem to be many clubs and Lithuanian classes for children, only about 5% of the roughly 150,000 children in the diaspora actually participate in them. The language is essential in maintaining a personal bond with the country.
For youth interested in studying, living or working in Lithuania, the ambassador said that many answers are available on the multilingual website www.renkuosilietuva.lt, and an agency called Returning to Lithuania is being planned. Lithuanian embassies are able to provide substantial information, and post-secondary educational institutions in Lithuania are most interested in attracting students from abroad.
According to Dalia Asanavičiūtė, the Lithuanian government is planning to provide more support for Lithuanian language-learning in the diaspora through teaching and evaluation programs as well as educational materials. For those studying in Lithuania, language requirements will be modified, and immigration processes streamlined. New programs are being planned, such as the already successful Create Lithuania (kurklt.lt/eng).
Guest speakers encouraged youth associations to continue developing closer ties with Lithuania through exchange programs, investments and start-ups as well as promoting tourism. According to the ambassador, there could be 5 million of us throughout the world, if everyone acknowledged their Lithuanian roots! Most importantly – Lithuania is the link.