Not many will remember, but in 1984, the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympic Games because of “anti-Soviet hysteria in the US”. Antanas Tony and Danutė Mažeika were one of the main people “to blame”: for the longest time they urged US Lithuanians to protest,actively submitted press releases about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States, and found powerful allies in the political structures of the US government – the Senate and the Congress. Before the Olympics, this whole campaign had already brewin become a huge media storm. Nowadays, Lithuanians living abroad are often asked: “Would you defend Lithuania?” Stories such as Danutė and Antanas, and hundreds of others, prove that sometimes Lithuania is best protected outside from beyond its borders. Jurgis Didžiulis and the ToBeLT team visited Danutė and Antanas Mažeika during a trip to the West Coast of the United States.
Danutė: Good day, I am Danutė Mažeikienė, and this is Tony Mazeika – or Antanas Mažeika. We are Lithuanians, but born in America. Antanas is born in New York, I was born in California, where is my parish and where I was baptized. His parents were born in Brooklyn, and mine were refugees. My grandfather was a signatory, a signatory of the Lithuanian Independence Act. But we are Lithuanian freedom activists, and Antanas especially in New York … Tell us about …
Antanas (looking at Danutė): November 13th?
Danutė (nodding having remembered): November 13th.
Antanas: Yes, in the year sixty five, on the thirteenth of November, we organized a major rally with other youth members. At that time, it was already twenty-five years that Lithuania was occupied, so it was already way overdue to publicly take action against the Soviet Union. Many people gathered, especially young people – we wanted to go public somehow. You can say we succeeded well, because on that weekend – the thirteenth of November – we collected more than fourteen thousand local Lithuanians.
Danutė: Also Latvians and Estonians…
Antanas: Latvian and Estonian, but most were Lithuanians. People came from different states: Pennsylvania, Illinois, and so on. There was a big gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York, a very significant sporting event. We were lucky enough to have American representatives in the US Congress and Senate, who supported Lithuania’s demand to restore the independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and declared that America never recognized the illegal Soviet occupation. We, as a group, share the American principles and mentality, and, as Americans, we had the right to demonstrate for Lithuania, using our opportunities. We stood and demonstrated with our demands publicly. At the same time, we worked with our representatives in Washington, this was a big deal.
Jurgis: I think that there is no doubt about the significance and efforts by American Lithuanians fighting for the Lithuania’s independence. That was their most important thing for them. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was it difficult for the community to find the cause of unity again? After all, having actively participated in such activities, it becomes a reason to protect the Lithuanian language. And afterwards perhaps the community may have lost its direction?
Danutė: I do not think so. Even though, those organizations did not ‘tie down‘ the youth (both laughing) and did not set a new goal, so it was inevitable that they began to dissipate. That said, as the pot was still tumbling it was very nice during the first year after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now the times are different, there are many new Lithuanian migrants with whom we have a very beautiful relationship. At the same time, we would like to return more often to Lithuania, to give some kind of contribution, which they would accept. We do not want to simply unload our values onto them, we want to adapt and bring our share to Lithuania.
Jurgis: What do you think is the biggest challenge in the current global context? If in the past it was a struggle against the Soviet Union for freedom, what could be a significant cause that would engage people in activities for Lithuania, now?
Danutė: I think that the global connection with our own land (Antanas, nodding to show strong support ) is a very important thing. In the past, we had local regions of Lithuania – Aukštaitija, Žemaitija – and now we are from the largest ethnic region of the country, the diaspora. We feel that we are part of Lithuania. My grandfather, Professor Mykolas Biržiška, signed the Lithuanian Independence Act in 1918. When I was small, he explained to me the Lithuanian anthem – by the way Lithuania has now replaced one word in the anthem: “Let the sun of Lithuania” is changed to “Let the Sun in Lithuania”. I think with that small change we reduce Lithuania – if there is a “Sun of Lithuania”, then let it touch me here in California, touch others in Australia, touch all Lithuanians, all over the world – since we are one people. That is, we just have to find those significant ties that connect us.
Antanas: We believe that the greatest fight in Lithuania is not only against Putin, but also the struggle for the identity of its own nation, in order to remain as a sovereign nation within the framework of the European Union.
Jurgis: I like the idea of ’the Sun of Lithuania’ – and that it burns wherever the Lithuanian heart is. I’m going to give you a hint, it’s just not a question, it’s just like a point of reference: Lithuania is not a state but a vibrant global community.
Danutė: That’s right.
Antanas: We understand, that’s correct.
Jurgis: Do you feel it.
Antanas: Yes, That’s what we feel, absolutely.