I had the pleasure to serve as Ambassador of Finland in Vilnius for four years, from the beginning of September 2016 to the end of August 2020. Together with my wife we were very happy to return to the city and the country for our last posting abroad. Why?
Because as a young couple we started our journey in the Foreign Service of Finland in Moscow in 1987 and had the possibility to observe the significant changes in the immediate neighbourhood of our native country on the spot. Our first trip out of Moscow occurred in April 1988, by train to Vilnius. Compared to Moscow it is a very different place indeed! - Later, when serving in Kyiv 2007-2011, we traveled through the country a few times every year. Vilnius changed, and yet it did not. One could see the achievements of a sounder economic system, which had led to fast growth, but also track the long history of Lithuania and Vilnius!
In diplomatic relations one way of measuring the achievements and results is through the number of visits, another the numbers of the economy, i.e. trade and investments. My colleagues and I in the Embassies of both countries had something to show: Presidential and Ministerial visits were organized regularly and trade and investment grew significantly. In Lithuania we, together with the Finnish-Lithuanian Chamber of Commerce in Vilnius and the Finnish-Lithuanian Trade Association in Helsinki, organized several business-related visits to the regions.
I am happy to note that companies, as well as individuals, have found Lithuania in increasing numbers. This is a good example of the Nordic-Baltic region growing together and it happens largely without the efforts of state actors, like Embassies. I sincerely hope that the growing together of our economies shall continue, as both environmental and economic reasons speak for this. The Embassies in Vilnius and Helsinki, together with Honorary Consuls and other actors, can make a difference here.
However, in western, democratic countries the role of Embassies is smaller than in countries and/or societies with a different system. Finland and Lithuania are now - voluntarily - members of the same clubs (for instance European Union, Council of Europe, OECD) and closely cooperating also in security and defence matters, as well as in regional organizations. Our politicians and high officials share mobile phone numbers and follow each other by twitter.
In such circumstances the role of diplomats has changed, but is still important. We can act as catalysts and help out when needed. A poignant example of the latter was the role of the Embassy in helping citizens, when the corona-virus pandemic broke out in the beginning of 2020. Our Consul worked very hard and with good results! Of other traditional roles of an Embassy many are also still important: the search for and sharing of vital information, lobbying our own point of view and, on the other hand, explaining to our authorities, why certain positions of the host country are as they are.
Certain specific occasions lead to increased efforts for the Embassy in 2016-2020:
The EU Presidency of Finland in 2019 was an obvious one.
The Centenaries of Independence in 2017-2018.
Finland celebrated its Centenary of declaring Independence the whole year of 2017. In Lithuania and for the Embassy this led to many cultural and/or societal occasions and actions, where the Embassy either could act by its own or, more often, support different actors in their endeavours.
An example of the first was to shed light on the importance of an equal start in life by organizing events around the “Baby Box”,
of the second the Embassy assisted the male choir “Muntra Musikanter” to come to Kaunas and Vilnius to perform. In addition to the concerts themselves, a lasting result of this visit was the requisition of a composition by well-known composer and conductor Vytautas Miškinis of a poem “Hand i hand” (Hand in hand) written in Kaunas in the interwar years by the young poet Henry Parland. Link
I was very proud, when the Flags of Finland and Lithuania were raised in Lukiškės Square on 6 December 2017, as well as with
the translation into Lithuanian of the book “History of Finland” by professor Henrik Meinander, which was published in 2017. As libraries and free access to information and knowledge have been paramount for the rapid ascent of Finland, the Embassy decided to in the beginning of 2018 donate in all 100 copies of the translation to more than 60 libraries in Lithuania.
The ground-breaking ceremony in May 2018 in Šeduva, where a holocaust-related memorial, the “Lost Shtetl-Museum”, designed by renowned architect Rainer Mahlamäki is being built.
These were just some examples, there were many other occasions as well.
On a personal level I shall never forget the funeral ceremony and reburial of the remains of Partisan leader Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas in Vilnius cathedral and the Cemetery in Antakalnis, with thousands of spectators on the streets of Vilnius. The admiration shown was very similar to the one towards Veterans of the II World War in Finland.
Another memorable and fun event for me was the video performance (with suitable congratulatory words) of the polka “Halitulijallaa” on Gedimino street with Mayor Remigijus Šimašius and co-singers on Independence Day 2017. A very nice way to congratulate!
Also unforgettable was the concert by well-known Sibelius-interpreter, Professor Erik T. Tawaststjerna, sponsored by Honorary Consul Krister Castrén (who also every year volunteered as Joulupukki/Santa Claus in the Christmas Bazaar, organized by the International Women’s Association of Vilnius). With Consul Castrén we also attended the 75 year anniversary of the school-ship “Meridianas” (delivered as part of the war reparations to the Soviet Union) in Klaipėda.
Lastly: The work of an Embassy is always a team effort. The Embassy in Vilnius had during my tenure the privilege of a dedicated and professional staff, whose skills and knowledge were essential for the successful work of the Embassy and made a huge difference. The co-operation with the Embassy of Lithuania in Helsinki was also smooth and productive.
Happy anniversary! Laimingos sukakties! Hyvää vuosipäivää! Trevlig årsdag!