The speech of one of the founders of Helsinki group in Lithuania, which was presented in the International conference in Vilnius “Totalitarianism and Tolerance. The Challenge to Freedom.”
The appearance of the Helsinki group in 1976 was possible due to the atmosphere of tolerance among the dissidents of Lithuania. At that time the dissidents living in Lithuania tried to keep in touch with other dissidents living in Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia etc. Then, the position that a totalitarian regime can only be opposed by acting unanimously prevailed. The academic, A. Sakharov, who visited Lithuania to communicate with local dissidents in 1995, contributed a lot to its prevalence .
The Lithuanian Helsinki group united people of different nationalities, world outlooks, and characters. Yet, despite all the differences, solidarity and mutual respect dominated. The Soviet government dealt with the activists of the group rather quickly and ruthlessly. We may say that the group operated really actively only a few years, but I’m deeply convinced that it made a big impact on the precipitation of the collapse of the Soviet Union and contributed to the fact that Lithuania quite easily broke free from the empire, joined the European community, as well as to the fact that the most radical changes happened peacefully, having a unifying effect on the society rather that antagonizing it.
History continues and we keep facing new challenges. The most important process today is globalization. It makes the world similar to a big village. Former boundaries and identities are disappearing, and very different people or groups find themselves living side by side.
In this situation, political as well as personal tolerance is even more crucial. In order for a society to be successful it has to manage to forget the grievances of the past, and unite; its political power must not be separate from the society, and the differences between the rich and the poor must gradually decrease.
Moreover, it must respect and foster its national and religious minorities. Tolerance has always been an expression of strength rather than weakness.
I wish Lithuania to acquire this strength, so that it can step into the future with confidence.