Remembering Lithuanian ambassador Stasys Lozoraitis

Stasys Lozoraitis Photo MFA graphic adaption Ludo Segers

It must have been an amazing experience for that elderly woman, carrying a bucket of paint back to her house in the depth of a Lithuanian winter in 1993. There was an energetic and slender man offering a helping hand and little did she realise, at first, that this was Stasys Lozoraitis, one of the presidential candidates. However, by the time she reached her door, Mr. Lozoraitis had convinced her to vote for him. He was fighting for every single vote just the way he had been fighting his entire life for a free, democratic, and independent Lithuania. Like his grandfather and father before him, he had represented Lithuania abroad. In addition, like his father before him, he had spent most of his adult life trying to achieve the return to independence for his home country.

In spite of his status as Ambassador of Lithuania to the USA, Mr. Lozoraitis maintained a simple life, always dressed fashionable, but with a sense for understatement. Although he felt very safe in Lithuania during the election campaign, Mr. Lozoraitis was a bit puzzled that the authorities insisted on him having a bodyguard. Vitas Tomkus, the editor in chief of the newspaper ‘Respublika’, had offered Stasys Lozoraitis a car to campaign properly. Nonetheless, he insisted on driving in a local car and not a fancy import, whilst campaigning on this first presidential election in a free Lithuania. “Someone had also suggested that the presidential candidate’s image would be better without wearing glasses and turtleneck sweaters,” recalls Danele Vidutis, who had worked with him as a Special Assistant back in Washington, DC. Mr. Lozoraitis insisted on campaigning enthusiastically with a focus on ideas for the hope of a better future, rather than on his image. Often walking tirelessly through mud on these cold winter days, the warmth of the people kept Lozoraitis going. Eventually, he would end up second in the presidential campaign, gathering close to 40 percent of the vote.

All of this was a remarkable achievement for a man that had been born as son of a Lithuanian diplomat in Berlin on 2 August 1924. Following Lozoraitis Sr.’s posting to the embassy in Rome in 1929, the 5-year-old Stasys Lozoraitis and his family moved to Rome. Young Stasys could not have possibly realised that Italy would eventually become almost like his second home, where he would spend more than half of his life. In 1932, Lozoraitis Sr. became the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The whole family moved to Kaunas, then the capital of Lithuania.

During the turbulent years leading up to the Second World War, the ground floor of the Lozoraitis home on K. Donelaičio gatvė in Kaunas housed the Ministry and it became a meeting place for the pre-war political elite. Young Stasys attended Kaunas Pečkauskaitė gymnasium. Stasys engaged in cultural activities ranging from music to literature and he participated in a countrywide French language essay contest. His fellow students described him as a quiet and calm youngster. The names of some of those fellow young gymnasium students and their families would eventually read like a who’s who of Lithuania’s post war years.

After less than 5 years in Kaunas, Lozoraitis Sr. was appointed senior diplomat to the Lithuanian embassy in the Italian capital. The whole family returned to Rome. To ensure that their young boys would maintain their Lithuanian language skills, the Lozoraitis family hired Mr. Eduardas Budreika. Mr. Budreika would teach them Lithuanian language, mathematics, and other subjects of interest to the young teenagers. Meanwhile Mr. Budreika also continued his own studies at the University of Rome. The three blond Northern boys also drew a lot of attention driving their Lithuanian tri-coloured bicycles through the streets of Rome. Just prior to the start of WWII hostilities, their young teacher returned to Lithuania and the two young boys began attending the German Gymnasium in Rome. In 1944, 20-year-old Stasys Lozoraitis entered the University of Rome’s law faculty where he would graduate in 1948.

Following the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in August 1940, the Russians also took over the Lithuanian embassy building in Rome. The Lozoraitis family was forced to move to the Vatican as the Holy See still recognized Lithuania. Stasys Girdvainis, Ambassador to the Vatican, was able to maintain a little piece of Lithuanian territory and providing all occupants with Lithuanian citizenship and passports. Although travelling abroad required exit and entry visas, this represented only a minor inconvenience. Meanwhile the Lithuanian diplomacy worked in a demanding environment helping thousands of displaced Lithuanians.

After his graduation in 1948 Stasys Lozoraitis Jr. became Secretary at the Lithuanian Legacy (Embassy) to the Holy See, eventually becoming First Secretary in 1954. In 1950, Lozoraitis Jr., in his capacity as Substitute Envoy, attended the jubilee celebrations of Pope Pius XII. Ambassador Lozoraitis Jr. would write later about these years: “Being a Lithuanian diplomat was extremely difficult. After all, no one believed that Lithuania would be free again.” Most countries had to balance their need to maintain good business and security relations with the USSR against their support for the Baltic States, often in an environment of substantial bullying by the Soviets.

Life became substantially more complicated in 1958 after John XXIII was elected the new Pope. Diplomatic tradition requires the re-acceptance of the diplomatic credentials of all foreign diplomats. The stateless Lithuanian Envoy had neither officially signed letters, nor an official seal. In 1970, the situation became even more complex when ambassador to the Vatican, Stanislovas Girdvainis, died. Lozoraitis Jr. became the Chargé d’affaires of Lithuanian Legation to the Holy See (Officially – Gerente gli Affari della Legazione). Meanwhile funding had become increasingly more difficult. Nevertheless, the Lithuanian Legacy was able to remain open during the entire period of Soviet occupation of Lithuania, mainly through financial and moral support of the Lithuanian Diaspora.

There should not be too much illusion about life of diplomats in the Lithuanian Embassy to the Vatican. Many of the tasks in Rome did not have a very pleasant character. Mr. Lozoraitis would write later about this tumultuous time: “There were just 2 persons, father and I and no administrative staff. We had to do representative work, write articles and take care of hundreds of little tasks.” The staff kept their spirit going by fighting and speaking out for the liberation of Lithuania, whilst forming ties with peers and colleagues. It was during a week of Lithuanian Studies, held in London that Stasys Lozoraitis spoke out on the subject of politics and exile. He praised the noble and moral character of Lithuanians in their quest for freedom and independence. Lozoraitis also participated in cross-Atlantic meetings with Lithuanian intellectuals and influencers in the United States.

It was in Rome that Stasys Lozoraitis met Daniela D’Ercole. His beloved Daniela would stay always by his side and she was always there for him. Danute Vaiciulaityte Nourse, who was a Special Assistant to the Ambassador in Washington, says, “His wife Daniela, joined him in his tireless and selfless efforts to keep the idea of a free Lithuania alive throughout his life. These efforts helped to pave the way for Lithuania’s independence.”

In 1983, shortly before his father passed away, Stays Lozoraitis was appointed as an advisor to the embassy in Washington, DC. He moved to the USA capital working with Stasys Antanas Bačkys, Lithuanian’s Chief of the Diplomatic Service. It had been a bit of an unusual procedure, due to lack of funds and candidates. With his hands-on experience, Lozoraitis would work to maintain the remaining diplomatic ties. This was an important task in preparation for the day that Lithuania would regain independence. Already too many perceived Lithuania already as a vanished country. Lozoraitis would eventually spend ten years in Washington. And what a memorable 10 years it would be!

In 1987, Mr. Lozoraitis became the leader of the Lithuanian diplomatic service in exile. In the autumn of 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. A few months later, on 11 March 1990, the whole world was watching as Lithuania broke away from the USSR. Lithuania, the first Soviet republic leaving, set off the disintegration of the Soviet empire.

Lithuania was independent again! After many years of struggling for democracy and freedom, Mr. Lozoraitis’ home country was finally free. It certainly felt like a reward for Mr. Lozoraitis after all these years of efforts and service. Stasys Lozoraitis had succeeded in building many bridges between the U.S. and Lithuanian authorities and those became crucial in the memorable 1989-1991 period. In those fragile early days of the independence, above all these ties with the United States were of the highest politically importance. By 1991, the now officially appointed, ambassador Lozoraitis reflected upon these transforming years with a sense of humour. His work had involved a whole lot less paperwork and traditional diplomacy to meet the many diplomatic challenges. He had successfully relied on improvisation and leeway to achieve non-traditional diplomatic solutions. After Lithuania regained statehood, Mr. Lozoraitis would increasingly appear on US television and radio. The polyglot Lozoraitis gave interviews to the foreign press in English, French, German, Polish, and Italian. With the benefit of hindsight, Stasys Lozoraitis’ presence in Washington was arguably one of the best diplomatic connections Lithuania could have had.

Throughout it all ambassador Lozoraitis maintained a very simple way of life. He often prepared coffee for his guests. His wife, Daniela would be seen washing the tablecloths and vacuum clean the embassy’s carpets. To keep expenses to a minimum Mr. Lozoraitis walked the 3 miles (4.8 km) from the Lithuanian Embassy to the State Department and back on foot in almost any type of weather. He would use taxis in exceptional situations, and then only when protocol required him to do so. Most visitors to the embassy and his staff remember Mr. Lozoraitis as a simple, honest, and open man who with a charming and charismatic personality that build bridges between people of all ages and cultures. His arrival in Washington had also been a bit of a breath of fresh air, not only for the mission, but also for the local Lithuanian community. Lithuanians in the US capital consisted more of white-collar intellectuals whilst the largest Lithuanian community then and now, was living in Chicago. Danute Vaiciulaityte Nourse says, “There is no doubt that he was an enlightened leader and a fighter for Lithuanian freedom.”

Mr. Lozoraitis was finally able to return home to Lithuania, a country he had left almost half a century earlier. With distant memories as a young boy in Kaunas, he arrived on a cold wintery day in Lithuania, warmly welcomed by the people he had been fighting for most of his adult life. In 1992, Ambassador Lozoraitis was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. The trip was one of a man with a mission, not touristy visit. The new political elite had invited him to discuss the possibilities of running as a candidate for the country’s first presidential election. Early 1993 Mr. Lozoraitis found himself in a complete new role. With the slogan ‘President of Hope’, he set out to provide a new vision and new approach to the leadership of his country. His campaign would be independent of any political party or movement. Just as his diplomatic career had been filled with the hope for a free and independent Lithuania, his campaign focused on a desire for a better future, with a human touch and one that would move Lithuania forward.

As man of the people, Stasys Lozoraitis insisted sitting next to the driver during the long drives on the campaign trail. It was only when Daniela came to keep company that they both sat on the back seat of the car, speaking together in Italian. To the driver’s ears, the Italian language sounded more like singing. The long days started at eight in the morning, meeting voters 3 or 4 times a day, often in factories and unheated meeting halls. The days finished late at night with meetings and discussions with the Chief of Staff. Angele Baily, special assistant for Humanitarian issues and Education at the Embassy during the early 1990s recalls how candidate Lozoraitis would reach out to his audience with an invitation to come closer and debate so that he could hear their views. The election campaign lasted about one month and a half. That is perhaps a bit of a surprise to US readers that are used to presidential campaigns often lasting longer than a year. Nevertheless, in a few weeks time Mr. Lozoraitis managed to gather 38.9 per cent of the vote! There was plenty of speculation about the electoral defeat and the aftermath. Possibly, with the benefit of hindsight, many political observers saw Lozoraitis’ loss as a missed opportunity for Lithuania.

After the presidential election, Mr. Lozoraitis returned to Washington, but not for long. In May 1993, the newly elected Lithuanian President Brazauskas, (a former communist leader), recalled Lozoraitis as ambassador. A few months later in late 1993, Stasys Lozoraitis was appointed ambassador to Rome. This move was seen by many as a demotion and politically motivated. Rome was like a second home, he had spent there more than 40 years after all, but his thoughts and life had always revolved around Lithuania.

It was on a return visit to Washington that Mr. Lozoraitis died in Georgetown University Hospital on 13 June 1994, just a weeks shy from his 70th birthday. Although initially buried in Putnam, CT, his last wish had been to return to his home country. Kaunas became is final resting place in 1999 and his beloved Daniela put an amber heart in the pocket of his suit to accompany him on his last trip.

The legacy of Ambassador Lozoraitis is very much alive. In 1996 Vytautas Landsbergis Jr., the son of the prominent Lithuanian independence leader, produced a short movie ‘The President of Hope’, focusing on Mr. Lozoraitis’ 1993 election campaign. In 1996, the Lithuanian composer Osvaldas Balakauskas wrote an intimate ‘Requiem in Memoriam of Stasys Lozoraitis’ combining mediaeval melodies with a modern feel and some contemporary instrumentation.

The present Lithuanian ambassador to the USA, Žygimantas Pavilionis, reminds his audience often of his pride to serve in the embassy where Mr. Lozoraitis contributed a very important part to the struggle for Lithuanian freedom. In addition, numerous philanthropic projects keep the memory of Stasys and Daniela Lozoraitis alive. There is an initiation and ongoing support for a graduate degree program in diplomacy and international relations at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania.  The programme has produced over 160 diplomatic and international relations professionals. Many of these graduates represent, a now free and democratic, Lithuania throughout the world. It is an enduring legacy of a man who fought and devoted most of professional life against the Soviet oppression and aggression of his home country.


Ludo Segers in Washington, D.C., with thanks to Asta Petraitytė – Briedienė, PhD of Vytautas Magnus University. Asta Petraitytė – Briedienė will soon publish a book in Lithuanian about Ambassador Lozoraitis entitled: “Gyvenimas – Lietuva. Stasys ir Daniela Lozoraičiai”.

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