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Embassy of Finland
K. Kalinausko g. 24
LT-03107 VILNIUS
LITHUANIA
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Embassy of Lithuania
Pohjoisranta 4 A 15
00170 HELSINKI
FINLAND
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Valdemaras Sarapinas, Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to the Republic of Finland in 2016-2020, and Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland

When the possibility of diplomatic service in Finland presented itself in the spring of 2016, the first thoughts, which immediately entered my mind, were related to Mannerheim, Sibelius, ice hockey, sauna, Santa Clause, and the question of why Finland, being one of the closest NATO partners, is still not part of this strongest defence alliance in the world. When I started to work in the country, which by the way, has most lakes in the world and most forests in Europe, I realized rather soon that my first thoughts were correct. And I did find quite a lot of similarities. Just as we are proud of our Čiurlionis, the Finns are proud of their Sibelius. We praise our basketball players, they praise their ice hockey players. The sauna, which is inseparable part of the Finnish culture, really did prove its name in reality (a country with a population of 5.5 million has over 2 million of them). Just as the fact that Finland is the true homeland of Santa Clause proved to be right. I will never forget the shining eyes of our Lithuanian children (orphans, from multi-children families) when they met in Finland the most real Santa Clause of all and rode the sledges dragged by huskies and reindeer, which they have only heard of in fairy tales before (we should be thankful to our President Dalia Grybauskaitė, “Delfi” and “Norfa” for this mission). When I think about it today, I can state that only this made it worth working in Finland.

Nevertheless - and here my intuition, again, did not deceive me - the greatest pride of this country is related to its defence, the assurance of its security and the capability to defend the homeland when there is a need. The victory in the well-known Winter war made one Finnish word - sisu - very famous. This word represents the concept described as undefeatable determination, resilience and the desire to defeat the enemy. It’s great to see how the feeling of respect for the hero of the nation, the legendary marshal Mannerheim, is being passed on from generation to generation (and there is a good reason why I always tried to take my guests from Lithuania to the marshal Mannerheim’s house, which is now a museum).

Especially since the context once again became very relevant today when aggressor Russia is loudly playing with guns. I worked in Finland during the time when the geopolitical situation once again became very tense. Russia was continuously testing our solidarity, and that was the reason why as part of my daily tasks I tried to strengthen the solidarity of our region as well as our bilateral cooperation in the defence area. Lithuanian and Finnish troops were constantly participating in common military exercises, Finnish fighters F-18, together with NATO air police mission fighters, were regularly taking part in the Baltic regional training events, both countries were constantly exchanging information in surveillance of the air and sea space, the Lithuanian Navy was intercepting Finland’s experience in creating and improving an integrated sea surveillance system in Lithuania. Our efforts in convincing Finland to join the activity of NATO Energy Security Center, operating in our country, were successful. We were also able to achieve that Lithuania would become one of the establishers of the European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki. I am especially happy about the fact that my country sent a young, but at the same time very bright and experienced expert Jonas Keršanskas to work there. Yes, Lithuania has been a member of NATO for more than 17 years. However, Finland serves as an excellent example that first of all we, ourselves, are responsible for the defence of our own country. All of this became even more relevant after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, where I came to work right after Finland.

Perhaps my memories are too much military-related (this is most likely influenced by the years, which I spent working in Lithuanian defence system). Especially since there have been many accomplishments during those four years in various other areas - economy and business, tourism, culture, education and others. We were very glad about the investments by “Fortum”, “Neste Oil”, “Kesko”, “Hesburger”, “Peikko Group”, “Paroc”, “Fazer”, etc. I am especially happy about the fact that during my assignment in Finland our common efforts resulted in attracting to Lithuania one of the global leader of stainless steel market – “Outokumpu”.

By the way, I am also thankful to the Minister Cabinet of that time for recognizing Finland as one of the priority markets for Lithuania and establishing the position of commercial attaché in Finland. Especially since both commercial attaches, with whom I had the pleasure of working - Aleksandras Laurinavičius as well as Audrius Masiulionis – have greatly exceeded my expectations. I remember dedicating quite a lot of time for the development of common energy and transport projects, for increasing cooperation in the areas of innovation and technology. We were doing our best seeking to intercept the good practice of Finland, learning how to consolidate most effectively the efforts of education, science, business and culture (and for this a big thanks first of all goes to our wonderful ex-ministers Gintaras Steponavičius and Arūnas Gelūnas and current vice-minister Mantas Adomėnas). We were all very happy about constantly increasing number of Finnish tourists and together implemented many wonderful and meaningful things. Let me also add that the firm foundation for strong future bilateral cooperation was laid down by the big bunch of high-ranking officer visits, such as the visits of Presidents Dalia Grybauskaitė and Gitanas Nausėda, Chairman of the Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, various ministers and members of Parliament. I was also very lucky to celebrate together with our Finnish friends the anniversaries of 100 years of independence, which were just several months apart. For all of this and many other things I am greatly thankful to my wonderful small, but extremely strong team: my deputies Ingrida Darašaitė, followed by Rimas Kungys, and, of course, last but not least – the terrific Agnė Andriekutė, who has been faithfully holding all corners of the Embassy and whom I rightly named to be the good spirit of our Lithuanian island in Helsinki.

Nevertheless, I am sure that the most important part connecting our countries is close cooperation in the areas of security and defence. So as paradoxical as it may seem, Russia‘s targeted aggressive policy serves as a new impulse for a closer Lithuanian and Finnish military cooperation and the assurance of security and stability in the region. And the experience of our Nordic Finnish neighbours will serve as an example of how freedom and independence of own homeland should be guarded and defended. May this topic never be forgotten by the current and future staff of Lithuanian Embassy in Finland. Happy 100th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between our countries, dear colleagues and friends!