Second-generation Lithuanian Rima Gungor gave a heartfelt and passionate speech at the Commemoration for Lithuanian Independence in Toronto on Saturday, February 21st. She spoke about how being Lithuanian has shaped her identity, and what it means to her personally.
She is working on a documentary film, “Game Changer: Lithuania’s Nonviolent Revolution” – a film set to tackle the greater aspects of Lithuania’s determination to be free; and to serve as a pillar of hope for other nations presently experiencing similar struggles.
Rima spoke of her childhood – growing up learning about Lithuania, and retaining Lithuanian culture by participating in Lithuanian folk dancing. She grew up to stories her grandmother would tell about a pre-war Lithuania, and then the devastation that followed Soviet occupation.
However, it wasn’t until her college years that Rima became more and more interested in her special heritage and Lithuania’s fight for freedom. She started to notice the general absence of any substantive discussion about Lithuania and the Baltics in her history courses and textbooks. She began to immerse herself in deeper research and was surprised to learn there was so much more to her Lithuanian ancestors’ past, that most of her generation knows nothing or little to nothing about.
Rima was especially amazed by Lithuania’s perpetual will to fight and endure for its freedom. In essence, this is what inspired her to embark on her bachelor’s thesis and preparation of her documentary film.
Through all of her research and reflection, Rima has come to an important conclusion, among many others: It’s not enough to just be Lithuanian – You have to personify the heritage. “It should be with you in everything you do, every day. The pride for your country should always be present and not just celebrated when Independence Days roll around. Our great-grandparents and grandparents went to extreme lengths to ensure that future generations would know where they came from and pass on that knowledge with great pride,” said Rima in her moving speech.
We should not take our freedom for granted, urged Rima, now more than ever, as Russia seems to be flexing its muscles, setting its sights on becoming an oppressor yet again.
“So how do we keep Lithuania free?” questioned Rima at the closing of her speech; “What does it mean to personify the heritage?”
It means to embrace and strive for those qualities that made Lithuania a great nation before 1795: moral strength and tolerance, courage, and unity. “In these modern times victory is not won on the battlefield. It is won in society, in the cities and towns, in the progress and advancement of a nation that allows it to offer its citizens thriving lives, and a future for their children…as a small nation it requires the active contribution and voice of every one of us, whether living outside or inside Lithuania.”
Rima ended her speech on a hopeful and courageous note – we stand tall and strong with our neighbors in Ukraine, who now find themselves in the throes of Russian oppression. We support their fight for self-determination and freedom, and will continue to do so “not just with words but with deeds.”
“We’ve had our freedom as a country now for 25 glorious years – here’s to many, many more.”
See a preview of Rima’s film below: