ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2006 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 52, No 3 - Fall 2006
Editor of this issue: Mykolas Drunga

Forms of Political Expression in the Lithuanian Community of Canada (1973–1990)

Giedrius Janauskas

Giedrius Janauskas is currently finishing his doctoral dissertation at Vytautas Magnus University’s History Department. His specialty is the political activism of Lithuanian–Americans and Lithuanian–Canadians from the 1960s to the late 1980s.

After 1990, when Lithuania became an independent state, the attention of Lithuania’s history researchers turned to émigré history. They analyzed problems of the émigré community’s self-consciousness as well as of its relations with occupied Lithuania. The breath of freedom in Lithuania and the process of liberation weren’t imaginable without the help and political action of Lithuanian émigrés in the eighth and ninth decades of the twentieth century.

In Canada at the beginning of the 1980s, the switch from bicultural to multicultural policy at the political leadership level allowed the Lithuanian community to start working together with the Latvian and Estonian communities. Beginning in 1973, representatives of the three communities organized annual Baltic Evenings in the Parliament of Canada, and also took part in active demonstrations for human rights in the Soviet Union. The opportunity provided by the Conferences on Security and Co-operation in Europe induced Lithuanians to put pressure on Canadian politicians to demand that the Soviet Union observe human rights in Lithuania. Canadian parliamentarians, particularly during the period of the Conservative government, realized the political advantages of pressing the case for Baltic freedom, and together with émigré communities they tried to make Lithuanian political action successful. In this article, we will desccribe the forms of political expression available to Lithuanians in Canada for seeking the independence of Lithuania. We will look at the relations between Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians in Canada and review the forms of activity of the Lithuanian community in the political sphere. Under the heading of “forms of political expression” we include both (1) forms of the Lithuanian community’s political activity and (2) attempts by the community’s leaders to make foreign countries aware of the situation in the Baltic States.

In 1949, the three Baltic émigré communities in Canada established a united organization. The Baltic Federation in Canada was an alliance of the following national organizations: the Estonian Central Council in Canada, the Latvian National Federation in Canada, and the Lithuanian Community of Canada. So if we restrict our attention to émigré attempts at influencing political actions in Canada, the Lithuanian community as an independently functioning unit almost didn’t exist in the 1980s and 1990s, for after 1973 it worked closely with two or even three other Canadian ethnic groups: the Estonians, the Latvians, and the Ukrainians.

Much of the material used in this research comes from the archival materials of Juozas V. Danys, who was one of the leaders of the Lithuanian community in Canada throughout most of the period in question. His archive is now housed at the Lithuanian Emigration Institute of Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas.

Forms of Political Activity of the Lithuanian Community in Canada

Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian, and Ukrainian ethnic groups in Canada had their “political enemy” in the guise of the Soviet Union. As Murray Edelman points out, political enemies are defined according to certain innate characteristics that single them out from other people as evil, immoral, deviant, or pathological creatures.”1 The Soviet Union with all these characteristics filled the role of “political enemy” for the four ethnic groups mentioned here. It is very important to emphasize that according to Murray Edelman, “enemies present a permanent danger quite irrespective of what they do, and of whether they win or lose this or that battle; and they present a danger even if they don’t take any political actions whatsoever.”2 Such a vision of the Soviet Union, as it existed in Canada in the 1980s, was the cause of nonstop political activity against this state.

The construction of the Soviet Union as the “political enemy” confirmed the beliefs of émigrés and helped to mobilize allies.3 In this case, the allies were some Canadian parliamentarians who backed the plan to irritate the Soviets. The biggest action project in Canada, which we consider to be a form of political expression, was the organization of Baltic Evenings, a development that considerably alarmed the Soviet embassy in Canada. At the initiative of senator Paul Yuzyk, Baltic Evenings in Canada started in 1973, and just few years later the Joint Sponsoring Committee of the Parliamentarians for the Baltic Evenings already had 19 members. The number of parliamentarians in the sponsoring committee grew annually, and by 1990 it had reached 49. Every year, one of the ministers of the government of Canada spoke at the Baltic Evenings. The minister could choose the topic himself, though it was always expected that in his speech he would mention the fact that Canada does not recognize the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union. To organize these Baltic Evenings in the confederation room of the Canadian Parliament and to put the parliamentarians at ease in socializing with one another and with the leaders of the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian communities, was sometimes a quite demanding task, as can readily be seen from the Danys archival materials. Understanding that these three ethnic groups in Canada were strongly devoted to their convictions about the Soviet Union, we can add that under those conditions “there is no space for contradictory perceptions, although most people have more ambivalent attitudes.”4 That’s precisely why all three communities worked to demonstrate a steadfast and unchanging émigré position. The Baltic Evening as a form of political expression thus can be regarded as a unique phenomenon on Canada’s political scene.

The Baltic and Ukrainian communities in Canada also worked together with local politicians in organizing commemorations of the June 15th deportations of 1941 and the Ukrainian Famine of 1932–1933. The aim of these commemorations was to recall events that left an indelible impression of terror; thus they had fewer political aspects, but were still related to the Soviet Union. We would say that these commemorations had two aims (1) to honor all the people who were affected by the Soviet system; and (2) to make clear that in the Soviet Union no one can feel safe without guaranteed human rights. They were also a way to show that nothing has changed. Émigré communities found a second form of political expression in informing as many Canadians as possible about the Soviet terror. Despite Edelman’s view that “when all attention is focused on enemies generally the emphasis is on defense,”5 in Canada these ethnic groups were thinking much more about offense than about defense.

In this context, the most incredible changes began with perestroika in the Soviet Union; because of these sociocultural changes, every year from 1985 onwards the Lithuanians, Estonians, and Latvians became more and more interesting to the countries of the Western world.

Organizing an annual celebration of Lithuanian Independence Day on the 16th of February was another task set for itself by the Lithuanian community. This was a way in which Lithuanians in Canada and elsewhere in the world, including certain locations in the Soviet Union, could impress upon others that it is impossible to force a nation to forget its history.

As examples of forms of political expression that made an impact on Canadian parliamentarians, we would point to demonstrations for freedom, against religious persecution and for human rights in the Soviet Union, and in commemoration of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Even though a demonstration is a short-lived form of political expression, it can have a big effect on politicians and on the formation of public opinion. It is certainly true that demonstrations are a part of daily life in Canada, and the Lithuanians were only one of the ethnic groups (not the biggest) in multicultural Canada wanting to implement their goals, but the process of perestroika in the Soviet Union put demonstrating Lithuanians onto the front pages of the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the Ottawa Citizen. In the words of Juozas V. Danys, “in Ottawa for two decades we, together with other Balts and the Ukrainians, have been developing contacts with Canadian journalists. Quite a few of them are sympathetic to us.”6 This was part of the job that the Lithuanians took upon themselves to do throughout the Cold War period. Lastly, we want to mention an almost invisible but very useful function that the Lithuanians in Canada carried out. We have in mind the working papers and informational bulletins that they prepared for the Canadian government and other institutions regarding the situation in the Soviet Union. When the Conservative Party got a majority in 1984, some space appeared in the field of Canadian foreign policy for ethnic groups to act. This is shown by such details of Conservative Party activity as, for example, the following: “the Conservatives initiated an annual consultation with officials traveling to Toronto to meet Baltic community leaders.”7 Toward the end of the 1980s, the External Affairs minister, Joe Clark, in informal meetings with activists of the Baltic communities in Canada, obtained information material about the situation in the Baltic States from a crisis center established by the Canadian Balts in 1989.8 After 1989, in the words of Roy Norton, “the expectations of Eastern European communities in Canada increased considerably.”9 At that time, actions behind the Iron Curtain compelled everyone’s attention.

Attempts to Exert Foreign Influence on Events in the Baltic States

Another aspect of political action was the attempts of Lithuanian community leaders to act in settings of international policy in an effort to turn the attention of foreign governments to the situation in the Baltic States.

With the beginning, in 1973, of the Conferences on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Lithuanians in Canada changed their policy with respect to the Soviet Union. The leaders of the Lithuanian community understood that there were several ways of acting against the Soviet Union. One way was to deemphasize the pursuit of independence, especially its sharp rhetorical expression, without giving it up in fact. To this end, the struggle for human rights was chosen as an appropriate new way of political expression. Here the aims of the Baltic Federation dovetailed with the attitudes of many Western countries. No doubt the Lithuanian community in Canada, as a member of the Baltic Federation, put a lot of effort into international action. Attempts by Lithuanians to influence the Conferences on Security and Co-operation in Europe by putting pressure on both sides could be assessed in two ways.

First, after the signing of the Helsinki Act in 1975, the Lithuanian community in Canada hoped that Western politicians would attempt to blow new winds of change into the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the eighth decade of the twentieth century wasn’t successful for Western countries in that respect. At the Belgrade conference (from September 10, 1977 to March 3, 1978) the Soviets were very rigid, and the participating states left the conference without having reached any important agreements. All they agreed on was that the next conference would be held in Madrid in the 1980s.

We are interested in the Madrid conference (1980–1983) from one point of view. In this conference, politicians talked about possibilities for non governmental organizations to work in the field of human rights. At that time, some Lithuanians were members of Amnesty International, the worldwide volunteer organization that acted on behalf of human rights. Participation in nongovernmental structures on the international as well as national levels showed the readiness of Lithuanians to help organize support for people suffering without rights.

Secondly, when the conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe was held in Ottawa in 1985, Lithuanians put more pressure on both the Western countries and the Soviet Union. Leaders of the Lithuanian community in Canada prepared a memorandum about the situation in Lithuania and distributed copies of it to many participants from all the attending countries. This conference signals the beginning of new forms of political expression. In Ottawa the Lithuanians started to organize exhibitions, arranged interviews with Lithuanians who had escaped from the Soviet Union, and founded an information center for those who were interested in events in Lithuania.10 In 1986, at the Vienna Conferences on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lithuanians used the same model invented by them a year earlier. The system began to work without bigger changes until the independence of Lithuania.

Finally, the Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, and Ukrainian ethnic communities in Canada can be defined as a single interest group,11 which had one overriding goal: to insure that Canada’s government never recognized the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union and to advance the cause of Baltic independence by any means possible. The main idea behind Lithuanian political action in North America has remained pretty much the same since the 1917 political campaign for an independent Lithuania. According to Gary Hartman, “[the] public relations campaign ... was aimed at educating the public and policy makers about Lithuanian nationalist aspirations, and by convincing Americans” (in this case, Canadians) “that supporting Lithuanian independence was an important first step toward securing a democratic ... world order.”12 Nevertheless, the political situation in the world has changed a great deal. In 1977, the Baltic Federation declared it a goal “to draw to the attention of the Canadian government and the people of Canada to the injustices inflicted upon the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as a result of Soviet occupation during the course of, and subsequent to, the Second World War.”13 After some years, in the middle of the 1980s, the formulation of the goal changed considerably. At that point, one of the objectives was formulated this way: “to strive to reestablish the independence of the Baltic States.”14 As we can see, there was a great change of position in less than one decade. In our opinion, the biggest change in international policy that led to speaking directly of “independence for the Baltic States” was the perestroika reform of Mikhail Gorbachev and the foreign policy of the USA. Over and over again these developments elicited positive statements from Canadian parliamentarians, as for example, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s words that “Canada is not a superpower, nor are we neutral in the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism.”15 This consolidated the faith of Lithuanians in the victory of democracy against the Soviet Union.

Although Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, and Ukrainian ethnic groups in Canada had limited opportunities to provide their input through the political sphere, we would like to tie the success of political action, particularly in the 1980s, to the image of a permanent “political enemy,” which led the Lithuanian community, both as a unit and as part of the Baltic Federation, to look for ever new forms of political expression, and to the changing international situation that determined the biggest political alterations in the actions of the Lithuanian community.

Actually, these words are our retranslation into English of the translation, into Lithuanian, of Murray Edelman’s Constructing the Political Spectacle, which appeared as Politinio spektalio konstravimas. Vilnius: Eugrimas, 2002, 74.
2. Ibid., 74–75.
3. Ibid., 73.
4. Ibid., 78.
5. Ibid., 82.
6. Danys, 1989, 3.
7. Michaud and Nossal, 2001, 243.
8. Interview with Algis Juzukonis conducted on September 6, 2004. G. Janauskas’s personal archive.
9. Michaud and Nossal, 2001, 245.
10. J.V. Danys’s remarks on the CSCE, Lithuanian Emigration Institute Archive, J.V. Danys Collection.
11. Ch. Lindblom and E. Woodhouse define the action of an interest group as the interaction through which individuals and private groups without state power try to influence public policy. Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, and Ukrainians who were looking for possibilities to bias Canadian parliamentarians and to act against the Soviet Union could be defined as an interest group. 1999, 118.
12. Hartman, 2002, 139.
13. “1977.03.09 Baltų Fondo sudėtis ir tikslas,” Lithuanian Emigration Institute Archive, J.V. Danys Collection.
14. “1984 metų Kanados Baltų Federacijos ir Kanados lietuvių bendruomenės aprašymai,” Lithuanian Emigration Institute Archive, J.V. Danys Collection; “1986 m. Kanados Baltų Federacijos įstatai,” Lithuanian Emigration Institute Archive, J.V. Danys Collection.
15. “Speech by Canadian Finance Minister M.H. Wilson at the 13th Baltic Evening,” February 27, 1985, Lithuanian Emigration Institute Archive, J.V. Danys Collection.


Danys, J.V. “Lietuvos Įvykiai Otavos spaudoje,” Tėviškės Žiburiai, No. 4, January 24, 1989.

Edelman, Murray. Politinio spektaklio konstravimas (Constructing the Political Spectacle), Vilnius: Eugrimas, 2002.

Hartman, Gary. The Immigrant as Diplomat: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and the Shaping of Foreign Policy in the Lithuanian-American Community 1870–1922. Chicago: Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, 2002.

Lindblom, Charles E. and Woodhouse, Edward J. Politikos formavimo procesas. (The Policy-making Process). Vilnius: Algarvė, 1999.

Michaud, Nelson and Nossal, Kim Richard, eds., Diplomatic Departures: The Conservative Era in Canadian Foreign Policy, 1984–1993. Toronto: UBC Press, 2001.