In a few days, I will depart my post as the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania. I have had the honor and privilege of living in Lithuania for almost six years – three years as Deputy Chief of Mission from 2010-2013, and three rewarding years as Ambassador from 2016-2019. During this period, I not only traced my ancestry to the city of Kalvarija, but I also bore witness to the amazing accomplishments Lithuania has achieved since I first arrived almost a decade ago. And as I say my final goodbyes, I am reminded of the wonderful Lithuanian expression, “sena meilė nerūdyja (an old love does not rust).” To the Lithuanian people, I want to say that I am so grateful for all that you have given me. I will always remember not only your beautiful towns and countryside, but most of all your warmth and friendship. I know wholeheartedly that my love for your country will never fade.
During my time here, one of the things that has struck me most is Lithuanians’ love of homeland. I see this love in Lithuanians who are far from home, whether they are abroad or have moved from their village into a city. No matter where Lithuanians wander, their connection to home remains strong. I began to truly understand this sentiment when I traveled through the countryside and I smelled the pine needles in the vast forest of Dainava. Standing among these giant trees, I was transported to the white pine forests in Maine, my home state, fully realizing the way nature can transport you back “home.”
The more I connected here in Lithuania, the more I discovered about myself. One of the most amazing things I learned is that the strong sense of connection I have always felt to this wonderful country may be because my great-grandparents, Amelia and Karl Schultz, were married in the Lutheran Church in Kalvarija, before they immigrated to Boston in 1893. Through my own personal link here, I could better appreciate the connection between Lithuanians and their homeland, rooted in family and intimately intertwined with the rolling hills and winding rivers.
My pride in these personal ties is only surpassed by my pride in witnessing the growth of this great nation since my arrival here in 2010. Within a few short years, Lithuania has already achieved decades’ worth of positive change largely due to the good decisions of its leaders and the ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance of its people. Lithuanian talent, competence, and sheer determination have left me deeply inspired.
I also take great pride in the depth and breadth of the relations between our two countries. The United States has steadfastly supported Lithuania’s development in virtually every sphere, and we have worked to enhance the security of all Lithuanians through our expanding military cooperation, our joint work on energy security, and initiatives such as the AMBER alert program. Today, Lithuania is a true leader within NATO and a valued ally and partner worldwide. Lithuania’s contributions to the security and democratic development of the region are noteworthy, and I am sincerely grateful for the support Lithuania has provided in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas.
On the economic front, I have witnessed Lithuania’s rise in the rankings as a leading destination for direct investment. I am proud of the tremendous increase in the number of U.S. companies in Lithuania. They are generating new jobs and opportunities, as well as providing models of corporate responsibility. Meeting with university students throughout Lithuania has also left me confident that the next generation of Lithuanians will continue this amazing progress. And it has been a pleasure to contribute to the development of students’ potential through programs such as the Fulbright scholarship and FLEX program, as well as other exchange programs, which continue to strengthen the bonds between our peoples.
At the end of the day, however, the partnership between the United States and Lithuania is based on our shared values. Lithuanians cherish their freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, and value democracy. I also believe that both our peoples strive for tolerance and appreciate our distinctive ways of being human. Even now, I can see this appreciation through the pride in the Lithuanians I meet, each individual dedicated to cherishing and preserving the collective Lithuanian history. I also saw this clearly in the tremendous progress Lithuania has made in restoring its Jewish legacy by preserving sites, erecting monuments, and promoting educational projects. This encourages an open, honest dialogue about the past and shows Lithuania’s political and social maturity.
As I reflect on my time in Lithuania, I return to one of my fondest memories: the building of a bee hive at my residence. I learned that bee keeping is a cherished tradition in Lithuania, and I have learned to love the sound of the bees buzzing by the linden trees around my home. Through producing honey I once again felt the bond between Lithuanians and their homeland, as it manifested itself in the sweetness of a shared cup of mead and the laughter of friends. These moments reminded me of a saying from one of my favorite childhood characters, Winnie the Pooh, “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.” Thank you to all who have become my friends and shared your stories, traditions, dreams, and hopes with me.
Some people say that as each day passes, it becomes harder and harder to say goodbye. After six years, I can truly attest to this, but I am heartened because I am leaving this truly magnificent place filled with love, memories, and life-long friendships. Lithuania will always be a special place for me, and I will always remember my time here — especially as I eat cepelinai, šaltibarščiai, and kepta duona, and, of course, hear honey bees buzzing around linden trees.
Anne Hall, the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania