2022 World Affairs Council of the Year
Network of Independent World Affairs Councils of America

Webinar | The Lithuanian Perspective on Russian Aggression in Ukraine | June 19, 2024

The Tennessee World Affairs Council

is proud to present

The Lithuanian Perspective on Russian Aggression in Ukraine

via Zoom

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m. CT

Lithuania’s political past and borders have been anything but stable since the 13th century when the semblance of a cohesive state began. Now, with Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is less than 800 miles southeast of Lithuania, it seems that instability in Central Europe is rearing its head again and could threaten Lithuania and other nations in the Baltic region. In 1940 after a short 22 years of independence, Lithuania was invaded by the Soviet Union which absorbed this small, proud country the size of West Virginia. It remained occupied by Soviet forces until 1991 when the Soviet Union finally recognized Lithuania’s independence. Though facing plenty of political turmoil after its past occupations by both Nazi and Soviet forces, Lithuania’s reconstruction and independence seemed more certain to a now westward-leaning state in the early 2000s. Lithuania joined the UN, NATO, and the EU. But, in 2014, Russia, now led by Vladimir Putin, invaded the Crimean Peninsula, and on February 24, 2022, began its invasion of Ukraine. What do Lithuanians think about their past and the recent years of independence from Russian control and influence? What do they think now about the war in Ukraine and their own future as an independent nation with a neighbor like Russia? Why does history have a way of repeating itself in this region of the world?

Register Now


Linas Zabaliunas

My name is Linas Zabaliunas born in 1979 in Lithuania, I graduated my primary school still under the Soviet occupation. At the age of 10, my school year were the first generation in school to refuse to join the Soviet Pioneer organization, as the Lithuanian Freedom movement was catching speed.
In 1993, with my family, I lived in England for 9 months. My dad was a University teacher in Lithuania and was taking a qualification course at the University of Plymouth. During this time, we lived in Devon, we saw all the busy B&Bs and got the idea of developing one in Lithuania. Individual, private hospitality existed only on the Lithuanian coast at that time.
So, upon return to Lithuania, we bought a half-built house in the suburbs of Kaunas (second largest city in Lithuania) and we set about converting it into a guesthouse with 9 double ensuite rooms for the guests. Our neighbors could not understand why the Zabaliunas family are building a house with 14 toilets, and they were visiting the building site as the attraction!
While building work continued, we opened a grocery shop in the ground floor of the building, for the community to shop. I was responsible for the deliveries, going to cash and carry, before my lectures at university started. These were big steps for us, as we left Soviet life behind and opened up to private business.
We welcomed our first guests (mostly family friends from UK) in 1999. My favorite year was 2004 when my parents retired from the university and went to the USA visiting friends and relatives. Me and Jurga (girlfriend then, wife now!) were running the whole show at Nemunas Tour Guest House and after the successful marketing campaign in Finnish newspaper we had an invasion of Finnish guests that year!
Our guesthouse joined the Lithuanian Countryside Tourism Association the same year. Off season, I started spending more time at Lithuanian Countryside Tourism Association. In 2005 was elected the head of Kaunas region, in 2007 elected as member of the Board of the Association, in 2009 was elected as the Chairman of the Board and in 2011 started in the position of President of Lithuanian Countryside Tourism Association – uniting over 300 members and having around 10,000 beds. Together with 9 other tourism associations in 2014 we have established The Chamber of Tourism of the Republic of Lithuania and we have rotated the Presidency every 2 years.
During all this time I was already working for Lithuanian Holidays (a UK based specialist tour operator) and they were expanding to become Baltic Holidays (www.balticholidays.com) to cover the 3 Baltic States. I hosted British and international guests and guided them in Lithuania during their tour. Jurga and I also got married and had daughters Ema and Kamile. And, seeing a niche in the domestic and international market for good quality camping facilities, Jurga and I opened our first campsite in 2012 in Kaunas (www.campinn.lt).
In 2014, Jurga and I, along with our business partner Sally Chambers, bought out our old friend Baltic Holidays. Sally had been at Baltic Holidays from the very early days and managed its growth to become the leading specialist tour operator for tailor-made private tours to the Baltic States and surrounding countries. Sally is British and based in the Lake District, UK, but previously lived in Lithuania and has immense knowledge and experience of the Baltic tourism industry after more than 20 years expert involvement. Linas, Jurga, Sally & our small sales team are highly regarded in the regions tourism industry.
For me, in 2020 I have resigned from the role of President of the Countryside Tourism Association but remain as Chairman of the Board. 2020 also saw us open our second campsite in the pretty spa town of Birštonas in Lithuania (www.naturcamp.lt). Of course, Baltic Holidays and the Campsite has been quiet during the pandemic and have ready for action when our guests return in post Covid life! But….
As our old wisdom says – no one can choose his neighbors and 2022 02 24 has proven it well.
During my activities in tourism have been involved in many initiatives and one of them has a really strong connection with Nashville, TN. Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville and LSMU gymnasium in Kaunas, Lithuania has come a long, nice way since the first visit of MBA teachers to from Lithuania following in the footsteps of world renown writer from Nashville – Rūta Sepetys. Have been involved in bridging this partnership sine the first day with a great help of good friend Emmett Russell and Rūta Sepetys as well as active communities of teachers and students in both schools.
It will be a great pleasure for me to visit Nashville next week and have a great reunion with since the pre covid days!


Emmett Russell

A native Nashvillian, Emmett Russell attended Montgomery Bell Academy for high school. He graduated from Rhodes College with BA in English in 1992 and from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English with an MA in Literature in 2004. At Rhodes he fell in love with literature, history, and travel while attending the British and European Studies summer programs in Oxford, England. In the fall of 1992, he began his teaching and coaching career at Memphis University School. Later, he worked in the admissions office of the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in northeast Georgia before returning to teach and coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in 1996. He has been there for 28 years and began leading trips with teachers and students to Lithuania in 2014.



THE MISSION of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tennessee World Affairs Council is to promote international awareness, understanding and connections to enhance the region’s global stature and to prepare Tennesseans to thrive in our increasingly complex and connected world.

THE VISION of  the Tennessee World Affairs Council is a well-informed community that thinks critically about the world and the impact of global events.