THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Vic Pakalnis here. I was born a Lithuanian – Canadian in a small northern mining town , Malartic , Quebec. My parents Vytautas Pakalniskis and my mother Elena Tamasauskas came to Canada after World War II. They met and married and I was born in 1950. My grandparents also came over at the same time: Simas and Elena Tamasauskas . They taught me Lithuanian at home ; I learnt French on the street from friends and English when I went to school . My grandparents told me of the glories of ancient Lithuania but also of the hard times under the Nazis and then the Bolsheviks. It was a sad tale they recounted – my grandfather’s brother was a priest that was sent off to Siberia never to return. I recall aunts and uncles that had settled in Detroit , Michigan sending packages back home and the stories of misery under Soviet rule . My parents and grandparents never did see Lithuania again and I certainly had misgivings about visiting but with my 60th birthday approaching, my “ Bucket List” beckoned , I decided to go to Vilnius with my 19 year old son, Peter . This was last summer: June 2010. The journey back home to a place I only imagined for many many years.
We only spent a week there – cost us less than $5k all in, but it was a priceless experience and one you might think of having if you haven’t been to Lithuania recently or haven’t been at all . My son Peter and I came away with a number of great friends and 3 projects that we’re working on.
Vic Pakalnis with his son Peter and the Lithuanian Ambassador to Canada, Ginte Damusis.
To prepare, we met with the Lithuanian Ambassador to Canada : Ginte Damusis , exceptionally helpful. She provided contacts with the Mykolas Romeris University (MRU), the Lithuanian Institute for Public Administration and briefings on current issues in Lithuania. The Embassy is quite helpful for business contacts and even tourist information . My background is in the mining industry and in the Ontario Public Service (32yrs with the Ontario Ministry of Labour ) and so I was interested in how the new democracy was unfolding . My son is studying Political Science at Queen’s University , Kingston , Ontario where I teach presently . So our first stop was at MRU ‘s School of Public Administration . I delivered a lecture on Canadian public services . they were particularly interested in how we evaluate leadership competencies in the public service . Ontario’s TRIC to Leadership evaluates 4 key competencies – ability to transform ( T) , manage change; deliver results ( R) , good ideas are not sufficient , you need to show results , to lead by inspiration (I) not command and control and finally C for connects , across private and public sectors , across ministries , across oceans . Every senior manager from Deputy Minister to Director is evaluated on these competencies.
MRU is a modern facility, a great learning environment and the faculty and graduate students attending the session were impressive – they knew exactly the issues facing a professional , non-partisan public service . There was an interest in establishing an institution relationship between MRU and Queen’s U. ( Project #1) . We’re hoping to deliver public executive leadership training that might attract interest from other Baltic countries . I found the public services in Lithuania to be less than they can be terms of customer satisfaction , efficiency and in how they serve the elected government of the day – the younger generation is ready to change that but there needs to be a renewal in the public service to make that happen .
Someone that has not an ounce of Lithuanian blood but has the soul of a Lithuanian is former Ontario deputy minister of tourism, Thomas Gibson . He visits Lithuania annual and always enjoys it. He advised me to meet up with VIC News editor, Aage Myhre when in Vilnius. And so I did and I met a kindred spirit . He showed off his town – the night clubs - 20 or 30 at last count , the restaurants , old Vilnius and new Vilnius and as we sat in the Square in front of the Presidential Palace sipping Courvoisier Cognac -watching the many brides and their bridesmaids touring the square ( picture of the bride et al) he turned to me and said – “ You know , Napoleon Bonaparte ( he enjoyed Cognac too) stood 20 feet from where you sit and on June 28th , 1812 addressed his troops before marching off to Moscow . “ Now every Canadian would know that 1812 is significant – it’s in the War of 1812 that we fought and won the battle against the Americans , in fact in burning down the White House we gave the Americans an opportunity to paint it white . So as the brandy flowed , the plan for a reunion in June 28th , 2012 took shape . Perhaps we could get a gathering of a few Canadian – Lithuanians , perhaps get that famous poet and singer and proud Lithuanian–Canadian Leonard Cohen to sing : first we take Vilnius and then we take Berlin ! By the way, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has the hat that Napoleon worn on that day in Vilnius June 28th 1812. Perhaps we get it and the Napoleon exhibit over for the occasion. (Project #2).
The Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas)
The trip to the Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas was momentous – its bright , well organized and unlike parliaments in Ottawa and Toronto , it has windows ! The party system is similar to Canada‘s. The conservatives are in power and two parties resembling the liberals and NDP are in opposition . Outside the Seimas is an exhibit with pictures , tank barriers and steel girders that stopped the Soviet tanks from occupying the Lithuanian parliament – Never take democracy for granted - Peter buried a rock we brought from Canada and that we buried near the exhibit . if you find it , read the message and re-bury it please.
And finally the discussion centered around Lithuania’s greatest need - a number of options emerged and then Egle , Aage‘s wife convinced me that that Lithuanian’s greatest need was ENERGY . As part of the requirements for entry into the EU, Lithuania had to de-commission its Russian built nuclear plant . It provided 80% of the country’s energy . It was replaced by an oil burning plant with oil piped in from Russia . Its expensive and not particularly reliable and a source of greenhouse emissions . So what about a Canadian CANDU reactor , the safest nuclear reactor in the world , doesn’t use enriched uranium , and that doesn’t contribute to climate changing greenhouse gasses . ( project #3 ) . It would be good for Canada , Lithuania and neighbouring Baltic countries.
The four amigos : Zilvenas , Aage , Vic and Peter committed to change Lithuania for the better.
So as I came back to my life in Canada, my time in Vilnius is still fresh in my mind, I‘ve recaptured my Lithuanian roots and more importantly my son has very much discovered his roots – he is working on opening a business in Vilnius and is working his political network in Ottawa to get that CANDU reactor into Lithuania . I’m working on the draft agreement with MRU and as for VILNUS 2012 - stay tuned !!!
Vic Pakalnis , P.Eng. , MBA , M.Eng.
Kinross Professorship in Mining & Sustainability
The Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining
Goodwin Hall - 25 Union st , Room 325B
Kingston , Ontario Canada K7L 3N6
My son Peter in Trakai, Lithuania’s Middle Age capital. Peter loved Lithuania so much, he has already returned once for business – last autumn – and will be again soon!
Summer in Vilnius is fantastic! The lively Rotuses (Town Hall) Square is the centre of it all, and Peter enjoyed very much moving around on a Segway (you see him on one in the street, to the right).
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