York University UNESCO Chair Charles Hopkins was awarded the Lithuanian State Award on July 6 by the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda.
Lithuanian and foreign citizens were presented with state orders and medals for their services to the Republic of Lithuania.
Nausėda recognized Hopkins for making a significant contribution to the preservation and free transfer of unique documents of the history of Lithuanian diplomacy to the Lithuanian Museum of Canada.
Among the 60 individuals who were awarded for helping to build sustainable international ties of peace, friendship and cultural exchange, Hopkins’ work in rescuing and safeguarding documents representing international treaties proving the Lithuanian independence during the period of 1918 to 1940 was recognized as important work to public service and life.
“I am humbled by this recognition by the government of the Republic of Lithuania. I share the respect for these tangible documents as proof of the existence of the Lithuanian state as an independent nation, especially during times when ground truth and facts are questioned,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins found the documents on a rainy morning in the 1980s when he noticed a pile of books and documents abandoned on a neighbour’s driveway after the home was being put up for sale. He had known that his neighbour, the late wife of the former Lithuanian Ambassador to Canada, had several formal government documents stored in the house from her late husband’s years of diplomatic service, and so Hopkins decided to retrieve the boxes, knowing he would ensure they were taken care of properly.
Hopkins discovered documents signed by Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Russian leader Vladimir Lenin, Pope Pius XI, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, King George V and many more, including a large, detailed map outlining the border with Russia and other neighbouring countries.
After several attempts working to return the documents to the Lithuanian community, the documents sat in Hopkin's basement for up to 40 years until 2021. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hopkins came upon the Lithuanian Museum-Archives of Canada located in Mississauga, Ontario during one of his walks with his wife.
When Hopkins spoke to the exhibition curator, they recognized the items Hopkins had owned and understood the value of the documents. The items were then handed over to the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius.
“I was relieved when we finally turned the documents over to Lithuanian authorities. I had tried before but with no luck. While I did not see their eventual significance, I took them in. I always knew that my neighbours had gone to great lengths to get these boxes to safety and felt I needed to protect them. I knew it was the right thing to do, and I am glad I was able to return these documents to their rightful owners, ending their 80-plus years in hiding,” said Hopkins.
Since April 2021, the documents have been returned to the government of the Republic of Lithuania in Vilnius. They have been restored and are now available to the public to view at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.
For his efforts in keeping the long-sought documents safe and returning them, Hopkins was also awarded the honour of the National Archive at a ceremony in Toronto in November 2021.
In addition to travelling to Lithuania to receive his award, Hopkins is adding further value to his travels to Europe in support of the Sustainable on the Go initiative. He has held meetings with the National Education Agency in Lithuania with university network partners to discuss perspectives on recent United Nations developments in education and initiated new projects for future teachers in Lithuania. During this trip, he is also spending time at the Global Citizenship Alliance in Salzburg, Austria, working with a new generation of higher education faculty and administrators from the United States to engage in the global pursuit of sustainability.
For more information and to view a virtual exhibition of the Lithuanian international treaties, visit https://www.lithuanianheritage.ca/gylys-virtual-exhibition/.
Article originally published in the July 14, 2022 issue of Yfile.