THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Letter from Krister Castren, Finland’s Honorary Consul in Klaipeda
Krister Castren, painted by Žygimantas Augustinas.
The roots of the relationship between Finland and the Klaipeda region are hundreds of years old. The Baltic Sea, with its naval and fishery activities have been of mutual interest in the old ages and will probably be in the future as well. Even during the dark Soviet times, sometimes Finnish cargo was unloaded at the port of Klaipeda. Especially Aland Island, well known for its long maritime history, still being a big factor in the branch, had an exchange of captains and other crew with colleagues in Klaipeda. Part of that history will be found in the National Sea Museum in Klaipeda.
One of the symbols of the City is the sailing ship now standing with visible commercial sails in the river Dane. The origin of the ship is interesting. It was built in Turku, Finland after WW2 as part of the compensation for war damages to Soviet Union. It had dozens of sister ships of which only three are left, Klaipeda’s “Meridianas” being the best, but not in very good shape. Its history is well known having last served as a Soviet sailors’ training ship in Kaliningrad from where it was taken to Klaipeda and put in the river with the idea of preventing it from sinking. Although it is now in private hands, we hope that this old lady still has got another 60 years in her to decorate Klaipeda’s old town.
Finnish business activities in the Klaipeda region are not very remarkable. The most visible Finnish trade marks are, as everywhere in Lithuania, Neste Oil and of course the giant Nokia. The other Finnish giant, Fortum, is a minority share-holder of Klaipeda Energija and plans to make some huge investments in the energy production field in the near future. Kuusakoski, a recycler of metal waste, has its Lithuanian head office in Klaipeda. Another well known company holding its office here is Lemminkainen, having been working for years to improve the quality of Lithuanian roads.
But, Klaipeda is still on the waiting list to achieve Finnish investments and the reasons for that are partly pretty well known. The first question is how to reach the city in a reasonable amount of time. This means in modern business terms, one day. There are no flexible flight connections to the Palanga airport from Finland. The closest place to land is Kaunas, but first you must manage to drive to Tampere, 200 kilometers away from Helsinki and then there is another 220 km drive to Klaipeda. Or try your chances flying to Vilnius with a 300 kilometers drive one way to Klaipeda. Not so comfortable. It doesn’t matter how attractive the local objects are if you cannot check your investments in a reasonable time - Put your money elsewhere!
Also Klaipeda is really far for Finnish tourism. No scheduled ferries, even in summer time, to ease your 650 kilometers drive from Tallinn. The network and services of camping are still weak on the way down there and from what I have heard, the promotion of the extraordinary possibilities to have a Mediterranean type of beech holiday with a really low budget is not marketed enough to the Finnish consumers. Those Finns with a passion for sailing still are waiting for a chance to safely come to the Curonian Sea with their boats and find proper facilities for their needs.
In spite of the absence of Finns and their money in the Klaipeda region, the good reputation of Finland as one of the best countries in the world to live has made the youngsters of Klaipeda interested in the Finnish language. Every autumn more than twenty students start their studies of the language. Many of them have an opportunity to continue their studies in Finland supported by international student exchange programs. Those who return to Klaipeda, not finding their fortune in Finland, have tried to find a work place to use their knowledge. Unfortunately only a few have managed.
The exchange of cultural has been more successful than financial or educational have been. Many Finnish exhibitions have been erected in the art halls of Klaipeda. There have been Finnish sauna, flags and posters exhibitions just a few to mention. Scanorama, the Scandinavian film show, is presenting many Finnish movies. Musical and dancing groups are taking part in international events in Klaipeda. The traffic is not only one-way, artists from the Klaipeda region have had successful exhibitions in many Finnish cities.
Not only the students are interested in Finland but also the elderly Klaipeda inhabitants. In the 90s Klaipeda senior citizens created a Finnish-Lithuanian association to commemorate the friendship and cultural exchange between their home-ground and Finland. The oldest and best known Finn, Santa Claus, in Finnish “Joulupukki”, visited Klaipeda a few years ago with a huge audience never forgetting where Santa comes from – Finnish Lapland.
Krister Castren and his son Markus.
- Age 62 nat. Finnish, a son from 1st marriage, Markus 32
- Married now to Rita who is Lithuanian
- Moved to Lithuania in 1996
- Honorary Consul of Finland to Klaipeda region since 2003
- Owner of UAB Castrade, energy technology, construction projects, housing services
- Hobby, bird-watching since 1962
- Consulate located in Juodkrante, Neringa.
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