I am pleased to join my colleagues for this, the Helsinki Commission’s first hearing of the 112th Congress. Like Chairman Smith, I recall vividly my first visit to Lithuania 20 years ago this month. We arrived at a time of great promise and potential peril, with the outcome of the moves to reestablish the country’s independence far from guaranteed. Indeed, Soviet troops continued to occupy some key buildings in Vilnius. Most memorable was our visit to the radio and television tower, the scene of bloodshed just weeks before. The people of Lithuania have made tremendous strides in the years since, and I was pleased to visit your country in 2009 for the Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
Mr. Minister, as I think you know, during that visit one of the issues I discussed with the President, the Speaker, and the Foreign Minister was the need for Lithuania to enact laws to resolve long-standing claims regarding wrongfully confiscated property. Unfortunately, notwithstanding some movement on this issue last year, legislation has not yet been passed. I know that there are difficult political and economic factors, but these difficulties should not be an excuse for inaction -- every effort must be made now to overcome them and ensure that just compensation legislation is passed, prompted action is essential.
Minister, as you assume the chairmanship of the OSCE amid a full range of challenges, especially in the human dimension. Given the mandate of the Helsinki Commission, we are particularly focused on this aspect of the OSCE’s work. At the same time, it is important to recognize that many of the challenges we face are multidimensional in nature, issues such as trafficking in humans and combating corruption. In this regard, I would mention an initiative that deserves support, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
I echo Chairman Smith’s remarks regarding the important work of the OSCE in combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. As you may be aware, the Helsinki Commission was the first to raise concerns over the spike of anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region back in 2002. We continue to closely monitor this issue and urge you to so as well.
Thank you, and I look forward to your remarks.