The only place that has a larger Lithuanian population than the Chicago area is Lithuania itself.
Dr. John Prunskis, born and raised in Chicago after his parents fled the former Soviet Union, wears two hats for the now independent democracy.
Prunskis is one of three Americans elected as a member of the World Lithuanian Community Commission of the Lithuania Parliament, in essence representing the U.S. Lithuanian population. He also is an honorary consul for Lithuania, acting as a diplomat at the appointment of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department.
Prunskis, medical director of the Illinois Pain Institute and past president of the McHenry County Medical Society, just returned from Lithuania, where he attended a conference for international honorary consuls. A month ago, he traveled there in his parliamentary function.
He flies to Lithuania every six months for parliament meetings, save for his first meeting in April 2010 in which he participated from his Barrington Hills home by Skype because the eruption of an Icelandic volcano interrupted air travel.
Senior Reporter Kevin Craver caught Prunskis
by phone in Lithuania after he met with the country’s leaders to talk about his roles.
Craver: What are you doing in Vilnius?
Prunskis: I’m having some ice cream right now.
Craver: I mean the reason.
Prunskis: I’m here for the International Lithuanian Honorary Consuls meeting, which they hold every two to three years.
Craver: What does that entail?
Prunskis: That means that the Lithuanian government has selected me as one of the people they feel comfortable with representing the country.
There’s an approval process where they require three letters of recommendation from the U.S. You get vetted by the Lithuanian Secret Service and Foreign Ministry, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Secret Service.
There are times I will have diplomatic immunity, and they’re very cautious of who they grant that to.
Craver: But you’re also an elected official?
Prunskis: Almost half of Lithuanians live outside of Lithuania.
The Lithuanian Parliament created 10 positions recognizing that fact, worldwide, for people who speak, read and write the language but who do not live in the country.
I am one of three in the U.S. It’s a separate section [of Parliament]. You don’t have full voting rights, and it’s advisory.
Craver: What’s your function here in the U.S. as an honorary consul?
Prunskis: The principal function is that you’re a representative of Lithuania in the U.S., and what you do with that title and that honor is flexible. You talk about Lithuania, answer questions, encourage investment and continue to tighten relations, which are already strong.
Craver: Our country has pretty firm allies in the former Iron Curtain and the Baltic states [after the fall of the Soviet Union].
Prunskis: Lithuania absolutely recognizes the value of having the U.S. as an ally because its eastern neighbor has historically not been friendly.
Craver: Were you involved with the NATO summit in Chicago?
Prunskis: We had a reception at our home just prior to the summit. We had all the consuls from North America, [U.S. Reps.] Peter Roskam, Joe Walsh, [Barrington] Mayor Karen Darch and both countries’ ambassadors.
Craver: What’s Lithuania like since independence?
Prunskis: It’s a full democracy. It’s definitely taking time to get rid of some of the culture the Soviets left behind. Since Lithuania joined the European Union, hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians have left for other EU countries for better opportunities, but because some parts of Europe are having their own economic difficulties, many are looking to get back.
Craver: How did you get involved with all this?
Prunskis: My family was very active in the Lithuanian community, and I started becoming active.
Craver: How long are the terms?
Prunskis: Both are three years. The next [Parliamentary] election is this fall, and
I have until September to decide whether I’ll run again.
The Prunskis lowdown
Who is he? Dr. John Prunskis, Lithuanian honorary consul and elected commission member of Lithuania Parliament
Family? Wife, Terri, and grown son and daughter
Hobbies? Snow skiing, exercise, reading
Favorite book genre? Self-improvement