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Lithuanians Prepare To Welcome Their President To Chicago

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(Credit: CBS)

(Credit: CBS)

Jim Williams (CBS) Jim Williams
Jim Williams, a native Chicagoan, co-anchors the CBS 2 Chicago Wee...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – The whole NATO summit experience is giving Chicago an opportunity to learn about the city’s many rich ethnic communities.

For example, did you know a half million Lithuanian-Americans call the Chicago area home? They’ll welcome their president to Chicago during the summit.

Lithuania is a country of 3 million people. CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports they once looked to NATO for help during decades of domination by the Soviet Union.

The Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture attracts 35,000 visitors a year.

This weekend, museum founder Stanley Balzekas hopes to attract one more guest: Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who will be in Chicago for the NATO summit.

“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’ll be the first time she’s in Chicago,” Balzekas said.

He doesn’t know whether Grybauskaitė will stop by the museum, but she’ll visit a city that has the largest Lithuanian population outside of Lithuania itself.

Lithuania Consul General Skaiste Aniuliene said, “actually, Chicago is the second capital of Lithuania.”

She hopes the Lithuanian delegation will see what she’s come to love about the city since arriving here four years ago.

“I hope they have enough time to drive around the city and see the impressive architecture, to see the beautiful Lake Michigan, to see how friendly people are in the city,” Aniuliene.

While thousands of protestors this weekend will demonstrate their opposition to NATO, Aniuliene said Lithuanians view NATO differently, because for decades it represented hope when the country was occupied by the Soviet Union.

“Actually, without NATO, I don’t think we’d have our independence,” she said.

Now, Lithuania is part of NATO, and its president will find a warm welcome in Chicago’s large Lithuanian-American community.

“I think it goes close to your heart – the fact that one of us is going to be here,” Balzekas said.

Lithuania’s president would no doubt be very proud of the museum here. It’s the largest Lithuanian-American museum in the U.S. It documents the long history of Lithuania, from many centuries ago, through the Soviet occupation, to this current era, when the country is a member of NATO.

Grybauskaite has been Lithuania’s president since 2009. And you don’t want to mess with her when she’s here. She has a black belt in karate. She’s also known as the Lithuanian Iron Lady, or the Steel Magnolia, for her outspoken demeanor.

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