Alma Adamkienė is the dignified and composed influence in our President’s life, and we were very grateful of the opportunity to talk about her considerable charity work, and of her second term as the First Lady.
What were your greatest joys of returning to Lithuania, as well as any disappointments?
I thought I remembered everything about Lithuania, but when I first arrived here in 1997 I remember I was shocked that the winter days were so short, but now I am used to it. I am the kind of person that adapts easily to changes in circumstance. I know that the main thing is that we have a home and my husband and I are together.
When I was growing up we moved from one country to another and that’s when I learned that being with family was the most important thing. And my husband had dreamed of returning to Lithuania for such a long time, so it was just good to see him happy.
Are you now regarded as an American or Lithuanian?
You don’t think about it when you are living here, but when I returned to the US once and the customs officer said “welcome home”, that’s when it hit me that I wasn’t sure where I belong. There was a time I didn’t know, but now I am sure that it is here in Lithuania.
It is a tragedy to be displaced, but that’s what war does, it teaches you to appreciate the important things in life; when you are healthy, happy and alive.
What is the most enjoyable part of your life as First Lady of Lithuania?
There is so much involved in the job of being the first lady. Life is very interesting, it is a complete change from any other job or position I have held, there is no comparison at all. I enjoy it, I really do. You meet a lot of interesting people that I wouldn’t have met if I was an ordinary citizen, and it is a position that gives me a lot of opportunity to help people as well.
What are the achievements to date of the charitable foundation which bears your name and what are its main goals?
I’m really very happy I started the foundation. When I started travelling around Lithuania with my husband when he first ran for President I got to see a lot of the country and many of the rural areas of Lithuania, and I saw exactly what I wanted to do.
There were already other charitable organisations helping orphans, the disabled and other needy people, but I wanted to especially help rural schools, so that they would have the same opportunities as city children. I don’t know if it is the same all over the world, but rural children always seem to be second in line, and I wanted them to have the same opportunities to fulfil their dreams and desires.
Sometimes they don’t even realise what they are capable of. And I’m very happy that I decided to help them. We started with five schools and now we are up to 40.
Do you still get a lot of support from the US?
In my foundation there is not that much support from the US these days, now it is almost all from Lithuania, and I am proud of that. Lithuanians have seen the need to help and they have responded to help their brothers and sisters that are not as well off as themselves.
When I first started doing charity work it was quite new in Lithuania, though I wasn’t the first as Mrs Landsbergis had done some charity work as well, but people didn’t really know about it or how to take it.
Now people realise that if they have a little more then they should help others. Before that the government had always told people what to do and no-one ever thought about it.
How do you see the future of Lithuania?
I see a very bright future. The young people are eager to learn and achieve, and with enthusiasm like that I believe we can overcome all our problems and that we can only go ahead.
In 15 years we have done a great job considering we started from ground zero, and it will only get better as we go along. Even now as our people go all over the world for better money and conditions, I believe they will return and help build our country like they did in Ireland.
If we survived 60 years of occupation and still knew what we wanted and how much we wanted it, then I think we can do anything.
Do you get to travel around Lithuania with your husband?
I try to go with my husband whenever I can. It depends on how busy he is and what he is doing. I like to go and see people in their own environment, and to meet them in their own surroundings.
Sometimes you can’t be sure of what is really happening if you just rely on the media. When you speak with people when there is no-one around they are different and you get to hear their wishes and what they feel. Sometimes it is the opposite of what you read in the papers.
Do you discuss state affairs with your husband and are you one of his unofficial advisors?
No! We talk about things generally because you can’t help but be aware of what is going on as it is all over the papers and the television, but we never discuss affairs of state, that is strictly off limits.
Do you have many close friends in Lithuania?
It is hard. We have a lot of friends, but it is hard to make really close friends because of my husband’s position. I believe that once you make a friend it is for life, and we enjoy the company of others, but it is hard over here because of his position.
If we are lonely it is because we have to have security whenever we go out, and even if we are having a good time he worries about the security and keeping them out late, I tell him not to worry, but he is like that and we can’t change it.
What is your greatest wish for Lithuania and its future?
I’m just hoping that Lithuania will be as beautiful as we always dreamed it would be, and that everyone can have a good life with all the opportunities, and that we can take care of all our own people. And I hope to see that day in my own lifetime.