THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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17 – 24 July was our week with 'Focus on Klaipeda’. Below we bring a selection of comments and perceptions we were presented to from people who responded to us during the week.
Mayor of Klaipeda,
A few days ago I interviewed the new Mayor of Klaipeda, Vytautas Grubliauskas. and I am in the following repeating three of the questions and his answers.
- Aage Myhre, Editor-in-Chief
Lawmakers in Lithuania's Committee on Legal Affairs, under the leadership of MP Petras Gražulis, voted recently to make even more stringent censorship legislation against homosexuals in this country, saying that they should be able to fine people for the "propagation of homosexual relations" in public. This has earned condemnation from EU groups who say this is just another step in furthering an ultra conservative agenda in Lithuania. How gay hostile can Lithuania become before someone starts appealing to normal common sense?
THE MAYOR’S ANSWER:
Opposite to any former mayors of Vilnius and Petras Gražulis himself, Klaipėda, and I personally, welcomes gay prides and gay communities. The whole idea of censorship is based on ridiculous logics, as psychologist O. Tapinas said once correctly “if you observe birds for a while you will become bird yourself”. I think we are talking about so called “10% society” and the rest 90% can’t be “persuaded” into homosexuality. Denial will only increase frustration in society.
Klaipeda Coat of Arms
I have heard said that if Lithuania’s politicians and bureaucrats were half as interested in the country they are supposed to serve as in their own pockets, this would already have been a fine, prosperous country. Fraud, corruption, briberies, lack of teamwork and transparency have all too often become terms used while describing the way Lithuania is managed. Do you have any clean-up plans ready?
THE MAYOR’S ANSWER:
Clear bureaucratic rules, short deadlines, e-government, well managed outsourced functions and motivated workforce is a key to more transparent municipal services. I see lots of space for improvement in Klaipėda. Biggest expectations I have towards introduction of electronic tender system and HR department.
The Mayor has background as a professional jazz trumpet player and singer.
Finally, please let our huge, international VilNews readership know what are your visions and plans for Klaipeda and the Baltic Sea region over the years to come?
THE MAYOR’S ANSWER:
I will strive for Klaipėda to become an Eastern European avant-garde city in life quality and culture. For many years we had wrong priorities. Now it is time for pure living and jazzy souls.
James A. Clarke,
Managing Director of BNTP (Baltic Real-Estate Developments).
James was only 21 years old when he came to Klaipeda and Lithuania for the first time. The building engineer who had grown up at an Irish family farm had come here to buy horses on behalf of his uncle, Ireland's largest horse-farmer.
Something out here at the Lithuanian coast must have caught James' interest and curiosity even then, so after having travelled around and seen more of the world, he came back in 2003. And now the business got serious.
That very same year, BNTP (Baltic Real-Estate Developments) was established in Klaipeda, where it successfully developed the first modern business park in Lithuania - Klaipeda Business Park. Since then BNTP has expanded its portfolio through developments and acquisitions to include commercial centres and land plots in Lithuania and Latvia.
James has been very active and successful in his real estate endeavours since the start-up eight years ago.
Clifford Lont, Chairman of Klaipeda International Business Club, has moved the long way from Suriname in South America to a much colder climate here at the Lithuanian coast.
At the end of my interview with Clifford Lont, I said to him:
"Clifford, I have two remaining questions for you this Sunday afternoon here at the river edge in Klaipeda."
Question number 1: "Do you have something to say to all the young people who are about to leave Lithuania in an emigration flow that seems to have no end?"
Question number 2: "Have you experienced racism here in Lithuania, and what is in case your normal reaction?"
It should be noted that Clifford does not seem to be much hampered by his dark skin colour, even here where so few stand just as much out as he does. He flirts lightly with the waitress in the outdoor restaurant where we sit. He smiles and nods to people passing by. He has obviously become a familiar face to many over the years he has lived here. Then he answers my questions:
To question 1: "Do not run away. Because by doing that you contribute to emptying your home country for dynamic young people and good workers. Stay here. Those who dare to stay behind will be the winners in the end!"
To question 2: “Well, let me first say that many do not know that there are black people also in South America. And to those with racist tendencies I would simply say: Get rid of your taboos. We are all just human beings..."
Arnold Šileika, General Director of Klaipeda’s Western Shipyard
Arnold Šileika has been working in Klaipeda’s Western Shipyard since 1989, first as foreman, then as the company’s General Director for the last ten years.
The company has now 2.000 employees, plus 1.000 more working on the territory for the shipyard on contract basis, totally 3.000 persons.
"You have, in other words, seen the whole transition from having been Soviet-ruled to becoming a Western company," I state.
And the director responds, still just as open and straight forward, that the biggest challenge has been to get workers to change their mentality from eastern to western ways of thinking.
"But now, today, the biggest challenge is actually to find people who want to work here," he says. "This despite the fact that we pay almost twice as high wages as what the labour market in Lithuania in general offers. We actually have had to start to bring in workers from Bulgaria and Romania to fulfill our obligations," he says.
Gunnvald Laukhammer, General Director of Lido Marine
Gunnvald Laukhammer is not exactly thrilled with the way the Lithuanian authorities often are acting.
"Sometimes I feel they are more eager to create problems than to help out," he says. "Take as an example that our company Baltic Marine Furniture now for a long period of time has tried to get permission to extend the furniture workshop building in Kretinga. But instead of welcoming new jobs and investments with open arms, the local authorities seem to do what they can to thwart us, and we still have not received a building permit for a rather simple building extension, on our own land, after about two years of waiting. Now another winter may come before we can start building," he says.
Gunnvald is not overexcited when he talks about the many bureaucrats and politicians he thinks Lithuania has too many of.
"I simply no longer allow myself to get annoyed at how poorly the systems in this country often works," he says in his laconic, Western-Norwegian, manner.
"It is, however, strange to see," he says, "that an investor and export company like ours is getting no support or help from the local Lithuanian authorities. I feel, on the contrary, that they sometimes are attempting to cheat and take unfair advantage of us and other foreign companies here."
“For a company like ours, maybe not so large but still engaged in important export-oriented industry, bringing value to the country in terms of wages, taxes, purchase of equipment /materials and trade with other local business, etc., etc., the authorities should exercise benevolence to give us best possible conditions to ensure that companies like ours can evolve as quickly as possible. They should not create unnecessary delays and obstacles. We all loose on that.”
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Rokas Masiulis, General Manager of Klaipedos Nafta
“Klaipedos Nafta plans the new LNG terminal to have a capacity of 2-3 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and that it will cost some EUR 200-300 million to build. Can you elucidate more on these figures? Maybe also exemplify a bit on how many gas tankers (ships) that will represent per year, etc.? And what about the environmental risks, pollution etc. having the LNG terminal located so close to Klaipeda city?”
“The main parameters are so far preliminary, so this is not the time to speculate. In 3-4 months, with Fluor advice, we will determine the main parameters and then we will have a vision of the business plan.
Environmental impact assessment will determine any existing environmental risk, pollution and other risks. It is planned to have EIA report ready by the end of 2012. At the first glance it shouldn’t be a negative risk. There are several examples in the world where terminals are located very close to a city, i.e. Barcelona (Enagas).”
General Manager Tobias Ammon at Radisson Blu Hotel in Klaipeda.
The Radisson Blu Hotel in Klaipeda has just celebrated its first ten years as the only truly international luxury hotel at Lithuania’s beautiful seacoast.
Two months ago the hotel got a new General Manager, German Tobias Ammon (35), and I am sitting down with him in the hotel’s breakfast room this early July morning to let him explain to you, dear readers, why you should visit Klaipeda and his hotel – this summer as well as when the autumn winds already make the endless Baltic Sea waves powerfully roll in towards the port city shores.
“I must admit that I had to ask where Klaipeda is when I was offered this position, but I was astonished to see what a nice area this is, when I first came here,” tells the young manager, who now has moved here with wife and little daughter. He and his little family are now in full swing “testing Klaipeda as travel destination”, and they are using their bicycles to do exactly that!
“This area is really ideal for bikes, and we are now using our weekends to bike to the fantastic beaches in the outskirts of the city, riding through beautiful coastal pine tree forests, villages and over the wavy, green landscapes that characterise this area,” he tells.
From Krister Castren, Honorary Consul of Finland 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 trademarks 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!
Mayor of Klaipeda,
What can you tell our readers about today's situation and the outlooks for the economy of Klaipeda?
Recession in Klaipeda lasted much shorter than in other cities. Thus it's still present in real estate sector, we bounced quickly back in other sectors. We kept quite stable consumer demand due to Klaipeda's large workforce share (appr. 40%) employed in harbour related activities that hardly experienced recession.
Positive economical outlook for local companies continued city economy running in difficult times. For future, I see much unused capacity in harbour and free economical zone activities that are already best performers in whole Baltics. On the other hand I watch with uncertainty demographic decline as most difficult macroeconomic challenge for municipal budget and consumer demand. We have to cope with a shrinking city scenario.
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