Prof. H.C. Dr. Raoul Käuffler, Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Vienna
Well, this is quite a long story. It starts in the 1920’s, when my Grandfather, who was Lithuanian, came to Vienna for his studies, as a Veterinarian. And here, he met my Grandmother in Vienna; he took her after his studies back to Lithuania andthere my Mother was born during the Second World War. They were captured by the Russians and after the battle they woke up and they were in Austria again, this is because the troops were moving them from Lithuania down to the south-west where the were stationed in the Austria–Russian zone. My Grandfather was officially in the Lithuanian army so after the war he was freed by the Russians and he asked for political asylum. He just stayed in Austria because Lithuania was taken over by Russian troops. And all these years, when in the Eastern bloc occupied countries,like the Baltic countries; my Grandparents and my Mothersupported people in Lithuania, whenever people came Europe to Western Europe, they had the phone number of my Mother or my Grandparents in their pocket. And well, in these times 1956, I saw the result of the Hungarian Revolution because my Grandfather was veteran there in Adau, which is 2 km from the border. When my Mother died in 2004, I had some things to do in the Lithuanian embassy and when I was there, the Ambassador asked me if I wanted to be the Honorary Consul. I said yes, of course. Because some years ago, in 1991, when Lithuania was freed my Mother got the offer to be the first ambassador in Vienna, but for that reason she ould have changed her nationality and she was afraid about some things. She was afraid to do it for reason of the pension, which was not a case but she told me about that only after she has refused. So, maybe this was, in a way, a late thank you for my Mother.
Lithuania always was very, very concerned to keep her language, her traditions, their way of life and even the times, when Russian was the offi cial language; they always try to keep the Lithuanian values and pride.
Is it common in Lithuania that many people have fled during the occupation? Is there a numerous Lithuanian diaspora in the world?
There is a big diaspora around the world; there are of Lithuanians around the world. I think in United States, there is about 700,000 people, most of them around Chicago, where there is whole distinct occupied by Lithuanians, as I remember, this was in the 80’s when I came to Chicago and there was the bishop of the Jesuit congregation. I called him, because my Mother gave me the telephone number, unfortunately, she gave me the zip code instead of the telephone number, I tried to phone the zip code (postal code), but finally I could reach him and we passed one evening together and he showed me distant relatives of mine in Chicago that I never knew, not even my Mother knew that she was a relative of us. When I met these ladies, suddenly she said what is your name and the name of your Grandfathers, when I answer she said ohm, she started to write something and then she gave me the papers… it was an ancestors tree of mine.
After independence, how did the social life change in Lithuania? For instance, what was the relationship between the Russians and Lithuanians?
Well, I can tell you the number of Russians in Lithuania always compared to the other Baltic countries and was very low. Even now it is under 7% Russian. Let us say, the country is not facing problems, because the number of Russians is quite low. Well, of course we have to be careful, this is not a case of confrontation. And Lithuania always was very, very concerned to keep her language, her traditions, their way of life and even the times, when Russian was the official language; they always try to keep the Lithuanian values and pride.
From an economical approach, how does Lithuania look today?
From yesterday we know that Lithuania will be part of the euro zone, beginning next year, January 1 probably. I think they will, because they were working very, very hard to realize this goal, and they were very unhappy, when they missed it some years ago. It was 0.1% difference and they did not get the Euro, which maybe has been a certain advantage in the last years, because the Euro was a little bit stumbling, now it has recovered. Now, we hope, that slowly, very slowly, Europe will experience growth again. At least, we hope so.
What does the EU mean to the Lithuanian people? Above the economic and political nexus, is it a cultural belonging to Europe as well?
Well, Lithuania, first because of his very unique language, an absolutely unique language, with indo-German roots, which means, it is spoken for 2000 years without big changes. This is as if you would spoke Latin nowadays, so they have a very good understanding of themselves, a very unique understanding, because it is such a unique language, it is a unique culture. Lithuania was for long time, occupied, so the first thing, what makes them happy is to be free again. For sure, Europe gave them the possibility to do so within the European Community; they can form their own land, their own state, their own culture and return whatever was lost in the last centuries. Because Lithuania, on one hand, was historically a big country, some hundred years ago the Lithuanian country was so big that even the Crimea was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, let us say the Crimea was briefly part of the country and then they went back, they were taken by Russians, the Russians flattened the Palace, which was reconstructed for the cultural year. Some years ago, Vilnius and Linz was the cultural capital of Europe; and for this reason they reconstructed the Duke’s Palace in Vilnius. It is not quite finished but it is a huge project. I wondered quickly they could accomplish such a difficult project.
What did you know about Lithuania during your childhood, since there was no such country?
At school, when I was a school boy, if you ask that; nobody knew what Lithuania was. Because it was the Republic of the Soviet Union, it was not an official country. So, here in Austria, in school, Lithuania was unknown. No, they absolutely did not know anything about Lithuania and even I remember, when the Olympic games were in Rome, it was in the 1960’s, I remember there was 50km walk, and there was one of the first people, who reached the goal, he was from the Soviet Union, and he had a T-shirt from Soviet Union, but a hat in the colours red, green and yellow. And my Mother, she was screaming at the moment, said what this is a Lithuanian. And I sometimes wonder if people may have heard about him later. But Lithuanians are always fighting… They never gave up!
What is the main reason people have to see Lithuania?
First of all, it is an absolutely beautiful country with beautiful nature; with, let us say, a kind of nature, you hardly find in any other country in the middle part of Europe, like in Austria, for example. Because it has a very low population and they have large amounts of nature proportionally. In contrast, Vilnius is a beautiful, nice city that had the chance after coming to the European Union and Brussels was gave a lot of money to restore many of the ancient buildings. Is a beautiful country, if you go to the Baltics and you make the trip from Riga, which is quite common, more and more people make these beautiful trips to the Baltics. And the third thing is the music, Lithuania is quite addicted to music, even the youngest girls and boys know up to 180 or 200 Lithuanian, folk songs to sing with all the lyrics, so this is in their blood, the music and the Music University in Lithuania is quite well-known and have a high quality standard.
How does it feel to be a Lithuanian in Austria?
How does it feel? It is a little bit special, because there is not very many Lithuanians here. There are some, but, because I am also on the board of the Austrian-Lithuanian society I am in contact with many of them. As all over the world, if you have Lithuanian roots, you have, let us say, like a family. Lithuania is like… my family.