WASHINGTON -- This weekend, top Lithuanian diplomats posted in the U.S., Canada and Mexico meet in Oak Brook -- because the Chicago area has the most Lithuanian Americans in the U.S.
Discussing the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago is just one of several purposes for the gathering, which will include Lithuanian consul generals and honorary consul generals in North America, Lithuania's ambassador to the U.S., Zygimantas Pavilionis, told me when we chatted on Friday.
Lithuania is ramping up for the May NATO summit in Chicago. Lithuania joined NATO in 2004. It seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991. While much of the attention of the Chicago meetings at McCormick Place will be on the Afghanistan conflict, Lithuania wants to make sure NATO fighter jets continue to patrol the airspace of the Baltic Nations: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
On Saturday, the Lithuanian diplomats also will mark the 50th anniversary of the Lemont-based Lithuanian Foundation, which helps keep alive Lithuanian culture in the U.S.
And on Sunday, the Lithuanian embassy and the Consulate General of Lithuania in Chicago are part of a program seeking improved relations with Lithuanian Jews and their descendants.
Most of the Jewish population in Lithuania was wiped out by the Nazis in the Holocaust. The nation has been coming to terms with its past.
Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, told me, "With the leadership of Lithuania's Prime Minister, Andrius Kubilius, many things have happened recently in Lithuania that have been important steps towards historical justice and reconciliation."
In the U.S. a reconciliation effort is being led by the Sunflower Project, founded by Harley Felstein, 65, who lives in a Washington suburb -- and who has Lithuanian-Jewish roots.
Besides the Lithuanian diplomats, local participants at the Oak Brook session will include Michael Kotzin, senior counselor to the president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago; Steve Dishler, director of international affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago; Dan Elbaum, director of the Chicago office of the American Jewish Committee; Eugene Steingold, a Chicago lawyer born in Vilnius; Alexander Domanskis, active in the Lithuanian Foundation, and Stanley Balzekas Jr., president and founder of the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago.