THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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By Žygimantas Pavilionis,
Former Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States of America
I am deeply grateful for the exceptional honor and privilege to serve my country in Washington D.C. for five consecutive years (2010-2015). I guess it was the peak of my diplomatic career that inspired me to take my final step towards politics (I am now running for office in 2016 parliamentary elections), but most importantly, it was the period when I met and learned so much from my fellow Lithuanian Americans.
Why was this encounter so important for me personally?
First of all, I had an immediate connection to the strong and vibrant civil society of interwar independent Lithuania, preserved in Chicago and other great U.S. cities, strengthened by the great American spirit. The sense of human dignity, solidarity, Lithuanian heritage, our common mission was tremendous, inspiring, and breathtaking.
When I was invited by D.C. Lithuanians to join them in 2012 Boston folk dance festival with ten thousand Lithuanians proudly dancing and keeping their national flags so high in the American sky - I was so inspired that since then, all my major actions in the United States were formally or informally coordinated with my fellow brothers and sisters in America. Soviets did so much to destroy not only my state, but our human dignity, our humanity, our self-esteem, our hearts and minds and our civil society. It was preserved in the U.S. and I was so happy to have a chance to benefit from it during my long five years in there. Currently I am trying to transpose at least part of this spirit back to Lithuania, in a way to complete the mission of Lithuanian Americans - in good company of a lot of other Lithuanians who return and empower my country with our powerful spirit retained in the U.S.
Secondly, this vital link to the Lithuanian American community was very important professionally also: it was the period when Putin finally got mad in the region and we really needed American support and understanding, military included. I had the support of my Lithuanian community on every step in dealing with the U.S. Congress or administration. The powerful Lithuanian American community, U.S. citizens of Lithuanian descent were very clear what we needed from America - and we have got it, maybe not everything we wanted, but we are closing this gap every day. On the other hand, my Lithuanian community was very instrumental in convincing my own authorities to take the necessary measures in the defense and security of our own nation. The same happened in energy security or any other critical area of Lithuanian interest in the U.S.
Finally, the Lithuanian American community was key in creating new businesses and people-to-people links. I am so proud that the U.S. investors (led by such brave and strategic companies like Strategic Staffing Solutions) during my term have created thousands of new jobs in Lithuania - the U.S. is No1 today in Lithuania by jobs created out of all foreign direct investments. Most of these new investors are led by Lithuanian Americans or Litvaks who have been so friendly to me during my American stay. We have changed Lithuania into the hub of service centers, life-sciences and other industries of the XXI century. LNG terminal in Klaipeda and U.S. decision to release its shale for export is a shining example of what can be achieved if you dream big. Opening of U.S. markets to our meat exports - another important result of our joint endeavor. New Lithuanian Consulate General on the West Coast - another investment into the future of Lithuania. This is just the beginning as we see new opportunities opening with Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership under negotiations between the U.S. and the EU.
I truly believe that the community link we have with the United States is the backbone of our transatlantic unity. We have to do whatever we can to keep it strong and vibrant - including with sensitive but most important decisions on double citizenship we have to take for our citizens living inside the transatlantic family.
I truly believe that together we can do much more. We cannot afford to be just an average country. We have to be the best. On the eve of our 100 years anniversary we need to unite our hearts and minds for the sake of a new Lithuania, a better Lithuania, a global Lithuania that could share everything we learned together with the rest of the world, that could truly embrace the world and a new leading role amongst the most competitive and innovative nations in the world. That could be the point of return of all Lithuanians met, new generation of Lithuanian leaders that would finally invest into human dignity of all Lithuanians, make our citizen the primary aim (and not simply just the instrument) of our politics.
We need humanity back to the central place of our political life in Lithuania, we need to empower our citizen, reduce taxes and other bureaucratic or administrative burdens that are now enslaving them so much. We can do it, together.
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See also our previous interview with Ambassador Pavilionis
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