At the Debate, Questions of Ukraine and Old Russia

Apr 27, 2014

Arnoldas Pranckeviciys addressing a student's question
Arnoldas Pranckeviciys addressing a student's question
Credit Helen Ward

I spent most of today in classrooms judging debate rounds. Topics varied from the serious like should governments allow completely unfettered free speech to more social topics like should marijuana be legalized? It was a long day with 9 rounds of debates. By 4pm everyone was exhausted. The agenda, however, called for mandatory appearance in the assembly hall to hear Arnoldas Pranckeviciys speak. (I have to say, pronunciation of these multi-voweled Lithuanian names and words is a real art  - one I have not mastered)  An avid debater throughout High School and College he was made adviser to the President of Lithuania at age 25. It was not hard to understand why. He held us enthralled for 2 hours. He now serves as diplomatic advisor to the president of the EU Martin Schultz. Mr. Pranckeviciys started by giving us his brief modern history of "his tiny brave country". His father grew up in a Russian gulag in Siberia during the years when 5% of the population was exiled by Stalin. In 1989 as a teenager he participated in the 2 million person human chain that stretched across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to call attention to the plight of their countries.  Lithuania was the first to declare independence from the Soviet Union in March of 1990 and the first to achieve independence after standing down Soviet tanks  in 1991. They have so much to be proud of and so much fear as they realize how easily it could be lost.

Some of the Countries Represented
Some of the Countries Represented
Credit Helen Ward

I have not wanted to write about this before as there were strange and intermittent connections -- or disconnections I should say-- from internet when we tried to use it in Russia, but you can certainly see why the people in Lithuania are terrified and angry about what is happening in the Ukraine. More interesting in many ways though is that the Russians who would talk with us feel the same. They want peace, they have enjoyed the past few years of prosperity, they could care less about re-establishing control over former Soviet Bloc countries. The big looming question is will they stand up to Putin. Mr. Pranckeviciys hopes the slow moving NATO alliance and the US government will finally focus on what is happening and be forceful enough to prove that Putin's short term tactical "win" of illegally annexing Crimea has lost him the bigger strategic gain of bringing the former Soviet Bloc countries back under Russia's control by so angering his own citizens and the West that he will lose support and be thrown out of office. There is no doubt in anyone's mind over here that he has his sights set on more than a few ports on the Crimean Peninsula. He also made the point that in one swift move Putin has totally eviscerated our negotiations with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear ambitions by showing that negotiations between international powers in exchange for decommissioning nuclear capability is a complete hoax. Russia promised Ukraine sovereignty with the promise that they would ship the arsenal of nuclear weapons in their jurisdiction back to Russia for dismantling. At the time their stash of nuclear weapons was the third largest in the world, larger than Britain, France and China combined. They did and now that promise has been brushed aside and Putin has marched right in and taken back what he apparently never thought was not his. Tough guy-beware !

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Helen Ward Obermeyer

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

I share a love of travel with my husband Wally and daughters Kyra and Catherine. I believe It is only through meeting people and sharing common interests that we can break down barriers and prevent fascism. I grew up in New York in the country and the city,  have lived in London and currently embrace Colorado as home. There is nothing more important than learning both through formal education and experiences. When I can't be on the road I travel through books and journalism which is why I am such a big supporter of public radio. Through its unbiased reporting and global reach it reminds us everyday to look beyond our small self interests and be aware of all the world has to offer.