On the eve of the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the re-establishment of the State of Lithuania the Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to Azerbaijan, Valdas Lastauskas speaks about Lithuania-Azerbaijan cooperation, making a particular accent on the ways to develop bilateral cooperation, tourism and cultural ties.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, what can you tell us about the current state of bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Lithuania? What were the major achievements between the two countries over 25 years of diplomatic relations?
Answer: Azerbaijan and Lithuania both faced a number of challenges throughout the 20th century, fortunately, now, in the 21st century, both our countries are fast growing, well developing. So are our relations – this year our countries celebrate the centennial anniversary of the establishment of the democratic state. In 2018, we also mark 99 years since we have first established diplomatic relations and 27 years since the re-establishment of our diplomatic ties. In mid-war period, there was a consular section of the Republic of Lithuania in Baku, headed by the famous Lithuanian writer Vincas Mickevičius-Krėvė, who was well known among the contemporary erudite of Lithuania and Azerbaijan. Moreover, historic sources witness that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had intensive relations with its southeast neighbours.
All those years Azerbaijan had been and continues to be Lithuania's important partner. In recent 27 years, our countries have signed many bilateral agreements, which currently serve as an excellent framework for expanding cooperation in all relevant areas. Lithuania and Azerbaijan maintain close cooperation on cultural, political and security issues, develop mutually beneficial transport and logistic projects and continue deepening partnership in trade. We enjoy regular exchange of the high-level visits – the Heads of our states and the ministers of foreign affairs meet regularly bilaterally and at multilateral fora, recently the Presidents had met last November at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels. Last year Vilnius also welcomed the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Mr. E. Mammadyarov for the bilateral visit and hosted the meeting of the Inter-governmental committee, and the vice-chairperson of Seimas – Parliament of Lithuania – visited Baku. We particularly welcome the intensifying contacts between local municipalities, which put additional impetus to business contacts, exchange of sports and culture events. Above all, anyhow, Lithuania cherishes the long lasting and ever growing people-to-people ties between our two nations as the base for mutual friendship and trust.
Q.: What is your vision of the future cooperation in the economic field between the two countries? What steps can be taken to increase the trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Lithuania? Azerbaijan increasingly attracts foreign investments. What spheres do you believe to be perspective for doing business with Azerbaijan?
A.: Let us start with the obvious – the strategic location of both Azerbaijan and Lithuania, being on the crossroad between the East and West, North and South, allowing good outreach towards neighboring markets, naturally suggests a strong focus of respective governments on infrastructure and logistics system. Azerbaijan recently had launched impressive infrastructure projects, like Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway or New International Baku Sea and Trade Port, and many other projects are on the way. Lithuania have impressive achievements as well - 25,800 truck fleet, the largest in the Baltic States - Klaipeda ice-free seaport, handling up to 60 million tons of cargo annually, intercrossing standard EU and Russian-type railway gauge systems, cost efficient and high quality freight services. Moreover, Azerbaijan’s participation in the Viking train project - a joint project of Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Railways, stevedore companies and ports of Klaipeda, Illichiovsk and Odessa - allows creation of effective alternative corridor between European and Asian countries. All that makes Azerbaijan and Lithuania natural partners in the transport sector.
Other potential areas to develop bilateral economic cooperation could be ICT, engineering, agriculture and farming, R&D.
Lithuania can be righteously called one of Europe’s most tech-savvy countries. We have industry with fast developing start-ups and global names as Nasdaq, Uber, Wix, Revel Systems, etc. and some of the fastest and most affordable internet connections in Europe and the world. It is one of the most growing economic sectors in Lithuania and having in mind the attention that Azerbaijan’s government attaches to innovations no doubt there is a lot of room for innovative, mutually beneficial projects. The range of ICT solutions offered by Lithuanian companies is quite wide – cyber security, e-government and e-business, fintech, smart city and smart society. Lithuania is also well known for expertise in fields of mechanical engineering and electronics, biotechnologies. We have a successful record of servicing the oil & gas, including the environmental solutions, robotics, aviation and automotive industries, laser technologies, renewable energy technologies, medical devices. All of those fields are very relevant in Azerbaijan and surely may find lucrative adaptation.
When it comes to agriculture, Lithuanian and Azerbaijani consumers do not need advertising or introduction to traditionally produced products – the country of origins stands as a brand by itself. Most Lithuanians know the rich taste of Azerbaijani fresh and dried fruits, tea, and most Azerbaijanis, I am sure, are fond of Lithuanian dairy products, confectioneries or liqueurs.
Q.: What work is done to expand cultural aspect of relations?
A.: Cultural cooperation is undoubtedly the gateway towards successful cooperation in all other areas. As I mentioned earlier, Lithuanian and Azerbaijani relations are deep and comprehensive, more that century old. A landmark figure in their development is Lithuanian writer and diplomat Vincas Krėvė–Mickevičius, who was a teacher in Baku for some time, studied Azerbaijani culture and introduced Lithuanian public to a legend about Azerbaijan - „Country of Azerstan“. Another writer, Antanas Vienuolis–Žukauskas, who was working as a pharmacist in Tbilisi, published a selection in Lithuanian of Caucasian legends, including Azerbaijani legend „Mountain of Beauty Lala“. The Embassy of Lithuania in Baku encourages academic research of and discussions on these and other segments of our common heritage.
Nowadays, Lithuanian - Azerbaijani cultural interaction is more diverse and coherent. For example, former Heads of State of Lithuania Vytautas Landsbergis and Valdas Adamkus visited Azerbaijan on several occasions to participate in Baku international humanitarian forum. Another unique event took place in 2010, when Vilnius, then European capital of culture, and Baku, capital of Islamic culture, held a joint concert by the means of video conference. Lithuanian music fans were able to listen to mugam performed by Abgul Mirzaliyev, Rivana Arabova, Ehtiram Huseynov, Sahib Pashazade and others. The concert also featured Leyli and Majnun and Don Quixote symphonic poems by outstanding Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev, which were performed by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra.
The Embassy of Lithuania in Baku regularly organises exhibitions about our country, Lithuanian film screenings. Last year we were particularly pleased to exhibit the photo exhibition, made by Azerbaijani students during their studies in Lithuanian universities. The exhibition was displayed not only in Baku, but also in Sheki, Ismayilli, Gakh and Zagatala. Later this year we are planning to organize a unique photo exhibition by Antanas Sutkus about the visit of J.P.Sartre and S.Beauvoir to Lithuania back in 1965. If you would like to see modern Lithuanian films, you may want to visit European film festivals, which take place annually in Baku. All the film screenings are free. Last year, we had screened two documentaries by Audrius Stonys, „Gates of the Lamb” and „Woman and the Glacier“ and a feature film „Garden of Eden“ by Algimantas Puipa. We are still able to enjoy the famous romantic Nizami‘s epic „Seven Beauties” directed by Lithuanian director Jonas Vaitkus in Russian Drama Theatres of Lithuania and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani artists had also regularly performed in Lithuania – the memorable tours of famous Azerbaijani pianist M. Adigezalzade with Lithuanian orchestra “Trimitas”, performances of Azerbaijani folklore groups during popular folk festival Skamba skamba kankliai and folk festivals in Klaipėda and Šiauliai.
Finally, as this year we are celebrating the centenary of the Establishment of the Republic of Lithuania, a lot of events, solemn and entertaining, will take place in Lithuania, which will be open to all the friends of our country. All are welcome. You may find the programme of the main celebrations here: http://www.lietuva.lt/100/en
Q.: Do you regard the current state of tourism business between the two countries as successful? What are the current plans on culture sphere to bring the two nations closer?
A.: Lithuania is well known in Azerbaijan for its unique nature, mineral water, excellent medical and wellness services. Azerbaijani tourists each year enjoy natural riches of Lithuanian resorts Birštonas and Druskininkai: fusion of abundant mineral water springs, therapeutic mud, clean air, innovative medical and wellness services, advanced technologies and deep-rooted traditions are appreciated by Azerbaijani tourists. We have quite a number of visitors from Azerbaijan – we call them “best friends of Lithuania”, who visit Lithuanian resorts every year, and we regard it as the highest appreciation and best reward.
As I have already mentioned – we see a great potential through cooperation at municipality level. Nothing works better than genuine friendship between people and municipalities of both Lithuania and Azerbaijan are working devotedly to that end. For instance only in 2017, municipalities of both countries organized four fact-finding visits. Delegation from Birštonas visited Ganja city and the municipality of Agstafa and it is expected that a cooperation agreement between municipalities of Birštonas and Agstafa District will be signed in the near future. Druskininkai Municipality also intends to sign the Cooperation agreement with one of municipalities. During the visit of the representatives from Druskininkai Municipality in Azerbaijan, the investment possibilities in tourism, business and cultural spheres were discussed with few municipalities. Few delegations from Azerbaijan have visited Druskininkai as well. It is worth mentioning, that during traditional Druskininkai Resort festival this year the Azerbaijani national band will perform. It will not only be a possibility for the participants of the festival to enjoy the show but also a chance to get acquainted with the culture of Azerbaijan.
Currently, the biggest challenge for expanding tourism is the connection between Azerbaijan and Lithuania, nevertheless, we anticipate that with the conclusion of the negotiations on the Common Aviation Area Agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan more itineraries emerge and we will witness an increase in the number of Lithuanian tourists visiting Azerbaijan and vice versa. I am confident that many Lithuanians will gladly rediscover the natural beauty of nature and the heartfelt hospitality of people of Azerbaijan.