Ambassador Gilchrist’s Remarks at the U.S. Embassy Independence Day Reception


U.S. Ambassador Robert Gilchrist
Remarks at the U.S. Embassy Independence Day Reception,
Vilnius, Lithuania
June 7, 2023

Madame Speaker, Ministers, fellow Ambassadors, Mayors, Members of Seimas, friends from so many places,

It is an honor for me to be with you all today to celebrate the 247th Anniversary of Independence of the United States of America.

I would like to start by saying to you Madam Speaker, thank you for joining us and saying a few words.  The idea of representative government, with strong legislatures, is at the heart of our shared democratic principles.

Many have asked me why my embassy is celebrating July 4th on June 7th in Vilnius this year.  My response is two-fold:

First is a reason I think you all know.  Just as during our Revolutionary War, American patriots overwhelmed the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Siege of Boston, and the Surrender at Yorktown…

Many, many Americans will soon be descending upon Lithuania to prepare for the historic NATO Summit that will take place here on July 11th and 12th.

So we are holding today’s reception to thank you — our Lithuanian friends — in advance for the substantial efforts that I am certain will ensure this Summit is a great success.  At the same time, I would also like to apologize for the closed streets, traffic jams, and many other inconveniences that the residents of Vilnius will experience.  I know that, with over 30 other heads of state or government expected to come, it will not be just the Americans who cause these challenges.  But I also know that we — by a longshot — will be the biggest contributor.

But beyond the Summit, there is second reason for celebrating July 4th on June 7th – a reason that is far less known, even by many American school children who spend countless hours studying the American Revolution.  On June 7th, 1776, Richard Henry Lee – a delegate to our Second Continental Congress who is now far less famous than fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson – proposed and submitted a “Resolution for Independence.”

This document came to be known as the Lee Resolution and was eventually passed on July 2nd.  This Resolution stated (with my apologies to British Ambassador Brian Olley):

That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

The Lee Resolution set the course for adoption of the actual Declaration of Independence on July 4th, the date on which U.S. independence is now widely celebrated.  But there were many at that time who thought the Lee Resolution – initiated on June 7th — would actually be remembered as our founding document.  So, Happy June 7th!

As I approach the end of my tenure as U.S. Ambassador, I have reflected on the spirit – on the fire — of democracy of the early founders of my country that I have also seen in Lithuania.

I have seen this fire in the pride in the events of 1989, 90, and 91, when Lithuanians at all levels – including many who are here today – stood up bravely against Soviet tyranny to re-establish your independence based on the fundamental tenets of democracy, freedom, and human rights.

I have seen it in the support Lithuanians across this country have given to a free and democratic Ukraine, not just through government and official defense channels, but also through countless private initiatives to assist the Ukrainian military and to help Ukrainians withstand the heinous daily assaults inflicted by an anti-democratic and imperialistic Russia.  And countless Lithuanians have so generously opened their hearts and their homes to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

I have seen the fire of democracy in the way this country has become a haven for democratic forces of neighboring Belarus and Russia, providing hope — and I believe laying the groundwork – for a democratic future for those two countries.

I have seen it in the halls of government and in the Seimas, where despite the rancor typical in a free republic, Members of Parliament consistently come together in support of democracy around the globe; and recognize that defending democracy in this day-and-age also requires a well-funded and strong defense.

I have seen this fire in the commitment of mayors and local leaders to ensuring their communities are places where citizens can feel safe, thrive, and raise families.  I am proud to say, by the end of this month, I will have visited all 60 municipalities in Lithuania.

And I have seen the fire of democracy among those seeking to make Lithuania, itself, more free, equal, accepting, and inclusive.  Change can be difficult.  But to move forward, change must happen.

As I prepare to leave Lithuania in a month and a half, there are a number of folks I would like to recognize and thank today.

First, U.S. Charge d’ Affaires to Belarus Ruben Harutunian.  Ruben arrived in Belarus a little over two years ago on the same day Ryan Air Flight 4978 was diverted by the Belarusian regime to Minsk.  Then in February 2022, he relocated with his American staff to our Embassy in Vilnius, where he has provided vision for our Belarus Affairs Unit and focus to U.S. efforts towards a free and democratic Belarus.  His family has supported him through separation and uncertainty.  Ruben will be leaving soon to become Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.  He has been an outstanding colleague and represents the best of American diplomacy.  Ruben, you will be missed.

Next, I would like to recognize the members of the U.S. Military deployed in Lithuania.  In the crowd we have roughly 50 of the more than 1000 U.S. military forces currently in this country.  Please join me in welcoming U.S. Army leadership and soldiers from the one-eight cavalry battalion, the three-sixteen field artillery battalion, the fourth security forces assistance brigade, and the civil affairs team.

Moving on, I would like to thank my counterparts in the foreign diplomatic community in Vilnius — the ambassadors and others.  A lot has happened in the past three and a half years.  I greatly appreciate the strong collegiality we have had and your friendship.

In a very profound way, I would also like to thank my embassy team.  My deputy, Tamir Waser, has been my valued co-pilot and trusted top advisor, and a highly committed and effective leader during an inordinately busy and complicated time.  Thank you, Tamir.  I have been so fortunate.

We have also been fortunate at the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania to attract some of the strongest public servants in the U.S. government as well as highly skilled Lithuanian staff members, many who have stayed with our embassy for years.

The United States’ ability to understand Lithuania, to support this valued ally, and to have a positive impact relies on the commitment, ingenuity, and hard work of the full U.S. Embassy team.  I still have several weeks to go and a NATO Summit to get through, but from the bottom I my heart I can say to colleagues at my Embassy that I will miss you all … a lot.

And of course, thank you Lithuania — to the many Lithuanians I’ve had the opportunity to work with, to get to know, and to learn from, across this country, both inside and outside of government, from the grassroots level to the top.  I have had the privilege of serving as U.S. Ambassador during the most eventful and challenging period in this region since the fall of the Soviet Union.  And I am proud to say that the relationship between our two countries is closer than ever.

And with that, I would like to propose a toast:

To a successful NATO Summit, which I am certain it will be

To the Lee Proclamation, which makes June 7 a special day for U.S. independence

To the fire of democracy, which burns bright and strong

And to friendship, both between the U.S. and Lithuania, and among us all here

Į sveikatą! (Cheers)