In Lithuania, there is a well-known place called the Hill of Crosses. The verdant setting outside of Siauliai, a small city of 100,000 near the Latvian border, seems more favorable to sheep grazing than to cross placing. But crosses there are, numerous and varied. The Hill is both humble and startling, according to Dave Seminara in Spectator. Seminara wishes President Joe Biden had taken the time to visit the Hill of Crosses. Alas, the president didn’t make the time for the Hill of Crosses, where estimates range from 100,000 crosses on the site to one-half million.
On a recent visit, Seminara, his wife with their two sons learned to appreciate this Baltic country, often lumped tightly with Estonia and Latvia.
Russians may have been able to rule Lithuanians, but it couldn’t destroy this Baltic country’s faith, culture, or spirit. History is not settled on why the crosses were left, but Mr. Seminara agrees with historians guessing that it might have been to mourn loved ones killed in uprisings against czarist rule in 1831 and 1863.
Each time, the authorities removed the crosses, only to see them go right back up. In April 1961, Soviet authorities attempted to bulldoze the hill; they burned thousands of wooden crosses and used the metal and stone ones for scrap. Many who were caught planting crosses were fined or incarcerated. But in the dead of night, others continued to restock the hill with crosses each time the Soviets ransacked it. The site was bulldozed twice more, in 1973 and 1975, but eventually the Soviets realized that their attempts were futile as the crosses multiplied regardless.
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were dominated for centuries by outside powers — Germany, Sweden, Poland, and Russia. The Soviet Union consumed Lithuania. Lithuania was the first of 15 Soviet republics, however, to regain independence (1990-91). Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia are linked to one another through customs and locale. The three countries embraced the West by joining the EU and NATO. Today’s Lithuania, the last state in Europe to adopt Christianity, is the only one of the three with a devout religious population.
All three countries embraced the West, joining the EU and NATO. But of the three, largely Catholic Lithuania, the last state in Europe to adopt Christianity, is the only one with a devout population today.
The Hill of Crosses is not vast or imposing, but crosses of all kinds blanket the area. Located near the Latvian border, the Hill illustrates that while the Russians may have been able to rule the Lithuanians, they couldn’t destroy their faith, culture, or spirit.
The Baltics – a Little Gray and Depressing
When Dick and I were in Lithuania about six years ago, we, like Biden, did not visit the Hill of Crosses. We did, however, tour the Deportation Museum in Lithuania, which was even more sobering than it sounds. Look it up if you must. It might have been the highlight of our trip, but not for reasons featured in a PR brochure. The troubled region today still fears the “rugged” Russian Bear.
Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust is not necessarily a Goldilocks yarn for wee ones, or even ones not so wee. Like the region, its people are tough. Perhaps that’s why they fortify themselves with potatoes. Greetings ring out: “Welcome to the land of potatoes.” Lithuanians eat an estimated 112 pounds of potatoes, less than Belarus, its biggest competitor, at 401 pounds per person per year. Our travel guide at Spectator ate one every day, he confesses, although no mention from him of weight gain. Cepelinai, delicious potato dumplings filled with mushrooms, cheese, or ground meat, are named for “zeppelins because of their shape and heft.” Some are even sprinkled with cracklings.
Russia Tested Lithuania Too
Mr. Seminara’s excellent tour guide outlined the city’s history, before introducing him to “marvelous Vilnius Baroque architecture, including a magnificent church, St. Casimir, that the Soviets turned into a Museum of Atheism.” When he commented on the proliferation of Ukrainian flags all over town, his guide responded, “We’ve been through what they’re going through because the Russians tried to take away our freedom, too.”
The guide noted that her country of fewer than three million people raised 10 million euros for Ukraine in three days in a crowd-funding appeal earlier this year. Why? Despite being one of the world’s most pro-Ukraine countries, tourism is down in part because of the country’s proximity to Russia, another unkind scourge after the pandemic.
Dick and I missed the museum at Kaunas. Kaunas had been part of East Prussia. After WWI, Germany lost the territory to the newly independent Lithuania.
After World War Two, the German-occupied northern half of the peninsula was incorporated into Lithuania, while the southern half became part of Russian Kaliningrad. German visitors who appreciate the town’s charms and its nude beach still flock to the city each summer.
“Greater U.S. involvement in the Russo‐Ukraine war could further deepen America’s political divisions, too,” Doug Bandow warns at Cato. Do not doubt “the bitterness of American politics today.”
The situation is likely to worsen as the country heads toward a replay of the 2020 presidential election. Consider the effects of the French Revolution, which, it was said, “drew a red‐hot ploughshare through the history of America.” With Americans increasingly unable or unwilling to talk to one another, Washington shouldn’t add more fuel to the partisan fire.
Mr. Bandow would like to see policymakers use this war to advance broader U.S. objectives, such as “shifting responsibility for Europe’s defense to Europe.”
For too long, Mr. Bandow continues, Europeans have relied on Washington’s military welfare.
Despite abundant promises last year to change their behavior, European governments’ performances remain lackluster. Yet some of the continent’s weakest military powers are beating the war drums the loudest knowing that the principal burden of combat would fall onto America. Washington should make clear that any future guarantees for Kiev’s security will be on them, not (on) the U.S.
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