ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2008 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 54, No 1 - Spring 2008
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

The World Lithuanian Symposium on Arts and Sciences
– Forty Years of Success

Stasys Bačkaitis

Dr. Stasys Bačkaitis is principal engineer at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation and is author of numerous technical publications as well as articles dealing with cultural and sociotechnological issues. He serves as vice-president for academic affairs on the National Executive Committee of the Lithuanian-American community, is member of the Education commission of the World Lithuanian Community, and is co-chair of the organizing committee for the XIVth World Lithuanian Symposium on Arts and Sciences.

The Fourteenth World Lithuanian Symposium on Science and Creativity is planned for the 2008 Thanksgiving weekend at the World Lithuanian Center, in Lemont, Illinois. As in the past, the symposium will draw professionals from arts and sciences from throughout the world. Initiated by the Lithuanian American Community in 1968, the symposium grew from a very modest beginning to one of the largest and most successful scholarly and intellectual interaction events for individuals with Lithuanian roots, involving more than 300 participants. The symposium alternates every three years between Lithuania and the USA. 

The idea to organize the Symposium on Arts and Sciences was born among educated Lithuanians in the United States to allow Lithuanian scientists, scholars, medical doctors, engineers, architects and artists living outside Lithuania to share in their achievements and experiences in science, technology, education and culture among themselves and the public. After an article on this subject was published in 1968 in the Lithuanian-American journal Technikos Žodis(The Technical Word), the symposium concept became a topic of great interest and discussion in the Lithuanian-American news media. It found significant support from intellectuals within the Lithuanian-American community and particular enthusiasm from the post-World War II U.S. university graduates who were attaining significant professional accomplishments on their own. In time, the symposium gained momentum and success considerably beyond the vision of the initiators, both as a vehicle for cohesion and as a tool for opening the information door to freedom-searching intellectuals in Soviet occupied Lithuania. 

The First Lithuanian Symposium on Arts and Sciences was convened in Chicago on November 26-30, 1969 to mark the 400th anniversary of the establishment of higher education in Lithuania. The program chair for this historical event was Prof. Algirdas Avižienis, with Dr. Arvydas Kliorė as the program vice-chair, and Bronius Nainys as chair of the organizing committee. The symposium participants, who were active in a number of different scientific and arts disciplines, had an opportunity to share their knowledge and widen their professional horizons. They advocated the idea of intellectual freedom and independence for Lithuania. 

The call for the Second Symposium on Arts and Sciences stated: “With the increasing dispersal of Lithuanians throughout the Free World, there is a need for them to actively work together and to strengthen their ties, while sharing in their expertise and scientific achievements.” This symposium was held in Chicago on November 21- 25, 1973 and was intended to commemorate a century of vitality of Lithuanian-based organizations in the United States. The program chair was Prof. Vytautas Vardys and Jonas Jurkūnas – the chair of the organizing committee. Sponsors for this symposium and future symposia included the Institute of Lithuanian Studies, ALIAS (Lithuanian American Society of Engineers and Architects), the Lithuanian American Medical Society, and the Lithuanian American Community (the latter also being the patron of the Symposium).  

The Third Symposium on Arts and Sciences was again held in Chicago on November 24-27, 1977. The symposium was incorporated in Illinois as a nonprofit organization. Its program chairs were Dr. Kazys Ambrozaitis and Prof. Rimvydas Šilbajoris. Over 100 presentations were made by Lithuanian scientists, engineers, architects, medical doctors, and professionals engaged in the human and social sciences, as well as in the literary arts. 

On November 25-29, 1981, the Fourth Symposium on Arts and Sciences was held in Chicago. The chairman was Albertas Kerelis, the chair of the program committee was Dr. Pranas Zundė, and Juozas Rimkevičius chaired the organizing committee. Over 150 presentations were made by scholars and professionals in the arts and sciences and on topics on Lithuanian heritage; a number of related educational exhibits were displayed as well. 

The Fifth Symposium on Arts and Sciences was held on November 27 December 1, 1985 in Chicago. The symposium chairman was Juozas Rimkevičius, the program chair was Dr. Jonas Bilėnas, and the chair of the organizing committee was Ramojus Vaitys. The themes of the symposium, focusing on the scientific, cultural, and societal life of Lithuanians living outside the country who were seeking a closer relationship with Lithuania, were analyzed in three plenary sessions. The symposium consisted of 76 sections with 240 presentations. The Fifth Symposium proved that the concept was a success over the sixteen years since its inception. It grew substantially in size and received enthusiastic support from the Lithuanian-American community. 

On November 22-25, 1989 the Sixth Symposium was convened in Chicago. The chairman of the symposium council was Albertas Kerelis, the overall program chair was Dr. Rimas Vaičaitis. Dr. Stasys Bačkaitis was responsible for organizing the technical sessions, and Leonas Maskaliūnas was the chair of the organizing committee. This symposium was exceptional by the attendance for the first time of 114 scientists and scholars from Lithuania, which was still in the process of breaking away from the Soviet Union. The symposium hosted 300 presentations from academics, writers, philosophers, medical doctors, engineers and architects, researchers in history, literature, and social problems, as well as topics related to Lithuanian culture and heritage. Besides presentations related to their professional accomplishments, significant discussions took place in plenary sessions regarding the future of Lithuania emerging from occupation and isolation. The attendees voted to actively advocate and participate in the reestablishment of Vytautas Magnus University. Prof. Algirdas Avižienis presided over the election of symposium members who were nominated to the Senate of the University. 

Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of Sąjūdis, participated in the symposium and declared: “Lithuania is in the process of gaining its rights to be called a state, equal to its peers throughout the world, and Lithuania will be independent.” He urged everyone to join in efforts to secure independence and received thunderous applause coupled with tears of joy from those attending. Vytautas Landsbergis later became the chairman of the Taryba or Council of Lithuania, which accomplished the historic breakaway from the Soviet Union. The symposium was concluded with the expressed hope that the next symposium would be hosted in independent Lithuania. 

While the first five symposia sought to showcase the contributions of Lithuanians to the arts and sciences outside of Lithuania, the sixth symposium analyzed the integration of Lithuanian endeavors both in native Lithuania and the rest of the world. The hoped for miracle occurred; and soon thereafter, Lithuania gained de jure and de facto recognition as an independent country after a half century of Russian occupation. 

The Seventh Symposium was hosted on May 23-30, 1991 in Vilnius and Kaunas, Lithuania. It was chaired by Dr. Romualdas Ozolas, assisted by Dr. Juozas Šarkus. The program committee members included Prof. Vladislovas Domarkas and Prof. Rolandas Pavilionis. During the very festive opening ceremonies, Albertas Kerelis, the chairman of the U.S. symposium council, expressed an immense joy and pride in bringing this symposium to a free Lithuania and expressed hope that Lithuania would realize its full potential as an independent country. He noted the role that the symposia have played over the long years of occupation in keeping alive the spirit of freedom for the Lithuanian people and emphasized that science should serve the needs of the nation and the improvement of the quality of life. He presented the American flag, flown over the Capitol building in Washington, to Dr. Romualdas Ozolas, on behalf of all of the past and current symposia participants from the United States. This served as a symbolic reminder that the Symposium on Arts and Science, uniting all Lithuanians outside its home country, was born under that flag. The world-renowned mathematician Prof. Jonas Kubilius of Vilnius University noted in his keynote address that, “the totalitarian regime, which sought to ruin man, his national identity and his free creative mind, left its imprint on science as well. The Symposium on Arts and Sciences is one of the events that will help strengthen ties between those in Lithuania and those abroad.” 

On November 24-28, 1993 the Eighth Symposium was convened in Chicago. The chairman of the symposium council was Albertas Kerelis, the program chair was Dr. Kęstutis Keb-lys, and Albinas Karnius chaired the organizing committee. The honorary chair of the symposium was Ambassador Stasys Lozoraitis, and it carried the theme “The Émigré Contributions to Lithuania.” Over 100 presentations were made. 

The Ninth World Lithuanian Symposium on Arts and Sciences was organized in Lithuania on November 22- 25, 1995 through the joint effort of the Association of Lithuanian Scientists, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. The symposium, which convened at the Lithuanian Pedagogical University in Vilnius, was chaired by Prof. Vytautas Landsbergis. He welcomed the more than 700 participants and guests, many of whom were from the United States, Australia, Russia, Ukraine, and several West European countries. He stressed that the symposium strove to foster the exchange of our accomplishments, knowledge and ideas in the arts and sciences with a view to advancing Lithuania’s economy and saving it from recession and lackluster development. It was agreed that the symposia from then on be hosted alternatively between Lithuania and the United States. 

In that tradition, the Tenth Symposium on the Arts and Sciences was held on November 26-30, 1997 in Chicago. The chairman of the council was Albertas Kerelis, the program chair was Dr. Vytautas Narutis, and the head of the organizing committee was Bronius Juodelis. The tenth symposium was special in that it was attended with presentations by the rectors of all the major universities in Lithuania. 

The Eleventh World Lithuanian Symposium on Arts and Sciences was held on June 21-26, 2000 in Vilnius at Vilnius Pedagogical University, with presentations at Klaipėda University and Šiauliai University as well. Four plenary sessions focused on the role of science and the arts in rebuilding the country, the commemoration of introduction of Christianity in Lithuania in the fourteenth century, and the establishment of Lithuanian statehood. Over 300 presentations dealt with topics in many disciplines in the arts and sciences, and included wide-reaching discussions of those efforts in Lithuania in comparison to those in other parts of the world. On June 25, during science days in Klaipėda and Šiauliai, topics of regional and national importance were highlighted. The attendees had an opportunity to meet with students and members of the public and to discuss their educational plans and concerns. On June 26, the symposium participants (many from overseas) observed the interaction of students at The Erasmus Conference (theme: The Way to Science and Knowledge in Europe) held at Klaipėda University and sponsored by the European Community. Immediately upon conclusion of the symposium, two longtime symposium participants, Prof. Viktoras Sniečkus from Lithuania and Dr. Jonas Dunčia of the United States, together with their colleagues from Latvia and Estonia, organized the BOSS (Balticum Organicum Syntheticum) Conference. The meeting focused on synthetic chemistry. The speakers included noted chemists from throughout the world, amongst which were several Nobel Prize winners. The intent of the conference was to invigorate this specific field of scientific research in the three Baltic countries. 

The Twelfth Symposium was held on May 21-25, 2003, in Lemont, Illinois. Participants from Lithuania included nearly 100 researchers, scientists and academics and nearly an equal number from other parts of the world. The chair of the symposium council was Dr. Vytautas Narutis from the U.S., and the cochair Dr. Vygintas Gontis from Lithuania. The chair of the program committee was Dr. Marius Naris; and Leonas Narbutis headed the organizing committee. Inasmuch as the symposium included a large number of participants from many disciplines, the proceedings permitted exploration of issues vitally important to Lithuania, such as the brain drain, globalization, impact of emigration on the technical development of science and education, critical energy issues, environmental protection problems, health care, the effects of rapidly expanding information technologies, and the computer-aided transfer of knowledge. The symposium did not confine itself to the overview of science in Lithuania and its achievements, but also examined some practical questions, such as strategic directions for the expansion of the economy’s infrastructure. Special attention was given to the improvement of transportation infrastructures, strategies to upgrade Lithuania’s university and research systems, the sharing of scientific knowledge, and the possibility of participating in research topics of common interest with their counterparts. Plenary sessions dealt with such topics as “Competency of Teachers to Foster National Survival,” “The Cultural Heritage in Russia’s Occupied Lithuania Minor,” “The First Wave of Lithuania’s Emigrants,” and “Global Information Technologies and the Brain Drain Problem.” 

The Thirteenth Symposium on Arts and Sciences took place on June 30 July 4, 2003 in Vilnius. The primary event was hosted by Lithuania’s Academy of Sciences, with ancillary events at the Kaunas universities complex and at Šiauliai University. The chair of the symposium was the president of the Academy of Sciences, academician Zenonas Rudzikas. Dr. Dainius Numgaudis, State Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Education, was responsible for the organizing committee. The chair for the program committee in Lithuania was Dr. Vygintas Gontis and on the U.S. side Drs. Stasys Bačkaitis and Vytautas Narutis. The more than 300 presenters at the Symposium were made up of over 200 participants from Lithuania and nearly 100 from the rest of the world. 

Upon Lithuania restoring its independence, the need to hold these symposia outside of Lithuania is being questioned by some. It is said that Lithuania is in a much better position to organize such large events and has the needed resources and far more people for this purpose. While that may be true, it also needs to be noted, that the symposium was organized in 1969 primarily for the benefit of Lithuanian arts and science professionals living in the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world. It provided an opportunity for these professionals to share their accomplishments and experiences in an environment of common heritage, to discuss points of common interest and possible cooperation at professional and cultural levels, and to present their views with respect to events and developments in Lithuania. The symposium was also at that time the only viable instrument to share and exchange contacts with Soviet-occupied Lithuania at cultural, scientific, social, and heritage levels. 

The symposium was and still is a unique accomplishment and an on-going event that has few parallels in the history of national minorities living outside their home countries. Although these symposia have been jointly organized with Lithuania over the last eighteen years, with sincere expressions of support at the highest levels of its government, Lithuania, so far, has failed to form a permanent, parallel committee structure to facilitate Lithuania’s participation. As it is, Lithuania’s support is rather sporadic. It is only acted upon when one of the government ministers is reminded by the Lithuanian-American Symposium Council that it is time to organize. Without a permanent symposium structure in Lithuania, any discussion of Lithuania becoming the prime organizer could put the continuation of the symposia in jeopardy: at worst they might be discontinued 83 due to lack of focused attention or at best become a tool of political expediency. Discontinuance of the symposium would eliminate the opportunity for concentrated and significant interaction between scholars and professionals in Lithuania and those living outside Lithuania at their common heritage levels, as well as a potential loss of information exchange at both the scholarly and cultural levels. This is so much more important now, since a large segment of young, gifted and enterprising Lithuanian scientists and scholars have left Lithuania in the last decade for better opportunities in the West. The symposium provides them a forum not only to reestablish ties with their peers in Lithuania, but also to get acquainted with and become part of the community of Lithuanian scientists and scholars who are living abroad and searching for cohesion based on a common heritage. 

The upcoming Fourteenth Symposium will commemorate the forty year anniversary of the inauguration of the first symposium and 1,000 years since the establishment of Lithuania as a sovereign state. The symposium will again provide opportunities to share scientific know-how and research experiences as well as cultural accomplishments performed by individual Lithuanians within and outside Lithuania. It will also address many newly developing concerns, such as the massive out-migration of Lithuania’s young adults to the West; the very significant and damaging brain drain of Lithuania’s scientific community; the highly diversified means and benefits of communication technologies and their influence on learning and teaching methods in various Lithuanian diasporas throughout the world; the globalization threats to the national culture; and the views and attitudes among Lithuania and the various Lithuanian communities in the world. Of particular joint interest, in which scientists and researchers outside of Lithuania can contribute, are topics involving the threat of the rapidly approaching energy crisis in Lithuania; the need to build a new atomic power facility; the use of research and science in industry and commerce; developing methods dealing with traffic accidents, alcohol and drug abuse, and high rates of suicide; the effects of global warming; the prospects for and development of alternate energy sources; dealing with social problems, such as population health, and the effects of aging and depopulation; the educational systems of Lithuanians abroad, and the preservation of Lithuanian heritage. 

As in the past, the fourteenth symposium will also provide an opportunity for many scientists who left Lithuania in recent years and now reside in other parts of the world to meet with their counterparts in North America and Lithuania who are engaged in similar scientific, cultural, intellectual, and creative arts activities. It will permit everyone to share their accomplishments, discuss their concerns, and explore how outstanding problems can be dealt with in the rapidly expanding Lithuanian diasporas with people who have different perspectives and experiences. The fourteenth symposium will also provide a very timely opportunity to address these issues, as well as offer a concentrated and undistorted picture to Lithuania of the status of Lithuanian communities outside of the country. 

The organizers would like to alert the readers of Lituanus to this event and to extend an invitation to all individuals with Lithuanian roots in any part of the world to participate in and make a contribution in Lithuanian or English. Program details will be made available in a later issue of Lituanus and through other Lithuanian news media as well as the websites of the Lithuanian American Community ( and the Lithuanian World Community ( The addresses of a number of other worldwide Lithuanian communities may be found at these two websites.