Gytis Tereikis: "The damage, that has not been done"
New Religions Research and Information Center (NRTIC) together with the Lithuanian Journalists' Union (LJU) is implementing the project "Religious diversity awareness and dissemination of Lithuania. Project goal - to promote the values of democracy and human rights as well as the dissemination of knowledge about religious diversity in the field of cooperation with the media and providing information to the public in Lithuania.
We interwieved Gytis Tereikis, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses religious community, in order to understand what benefits this group received from our Project activities. This community was chosen because during the project a group of journalists got a chance to visit Jehovah's Witnesses office in Kaunas, to look around and a have a chat with members.
Briefly introduce your community, please.
Jehovah's Witnesses is a Christian community guided by the Bible teachings.
This community emerged in the second half of XIX century in the United States. Jehovah‘s Witnesses started its activities in Lithuania a hundred years ago. This community is one of the biggest among the so-called new religions in Lithuania, the number of active members is about three thousands. We differ from other Christian communities because we don‘t believe in dogma of the trinity, we believe that the soul is mortal, etc.
What are public attitudes toward Jehovah‘s Witnesses in Lithuania, what are your experiences?
Ten years ago Lithuanian media exaggerated the fear of „sects“ and there were many negative articles about both - Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious minorities. These articles didn‘t explore what the real situation was, in fact, they were largely based on the stereotypes.
We did not expect that media had only very positive writing about us. We are a small group of people, and not meant to be the center of attention, but we reasonably expected, that things which were completely wrong would not be written. Because it‘s poisoning the lives of the people, makes them outcasts, puts them in opposition with the people they have to deal in their everyday lives. We were fighting this kind of situation as much as we could and also when the New Religions Research and Information Center was established we noticed that it started to bring more objectivity. Currently the public attitudes are better than it was 15 years ago. However, some people are still looking at us with caution, some think that we have bad intentions, that our goals are not sincere, that we may seek some monetary goals. However, I would say that the trend is for the better, as more and more people know us, who we really are.
Do you think the current NRTIC project "Religious diversity awareness and dissemination in Lithuania" gives you some kind of benefits?
During one activity of the Project, journalists arrived to our community office in Kaunas. I could see that at the very beginning of the visit they had a lot of questions. However, the fact that they came to us, showed their willingness, the desire to see, learn, and this in itself was welcomed. They asked us many questions and we answered them as fully as possible. We told about Jehovah's Witnesses 100 years history in Lithuania, for example, how they experienced the repression of the Nazi regime in Klaipeda region, as well as the Soviet regime repressions. Some of the Jehovah's Witnesses community key individuals, even managing this community at the moment, were in prison during the Soviet era for expressing their belief.
After the journalists' visit, which lasted a couple of hours, the farewell was really warm. One of them, a long-time experienced journalist, even admitted what he was thinking before his visit and what he thinks now. He said: "You know, before I came here, I thought that you were simply the criminal element, but now I see that it was not true." Although he was experienced journalist, he did not have enough information about us. Later I saw that some of the journalists wrote comments on the website of Lithuanian Journalists’ Union. These comments were not specific about our community, but they considered thoughts about religion, some of them were saying that freedom of religijon should be more respected, that this freedom and the right to have not only large religions but also small ones. I think that all of this is very positive.
Would you like that such projects would be continued?
I think that any activity that reconciles people, reduces miscommunication is always welcomed and needed. Benefits of NRTIC activities would be difficult to quantify, but I do appreciate it as - damage that has not been done. NRTIC consists of people from the competent institutions, research institutes, so their voice and weight of a word reaches society more smoothly. Their comments to the media, projects, information on the website religija.lt, seminars contribute to improvement of the situation.