NEW PRIME MINISTER: On Oct. 29, Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius found out that his seat was already occupied by a dog named Alsis.
VILNIUS - On Oct. 29, Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, after entering the hall of Lithuanian government meetings, found out that his seat was already occupied by a dog named Alsis, who was a participant in the Lithuanian expedition to the Black Sea. On Sept. 8, a team of 10 enthusiastic Lithuanians of various professions started their 38-day, 2,000 kilometer-long ride on Lithuanian breed Zemaitukas horses from the ancient Lithuanian capital town of Trakai to the Black Sea, to pay tribute to the former Lithuanian empire, the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, which for centuries also included contemporary Belarus and Ukraine. On Oct. 29, the riders and their dog were honored by Kubilius in the Lithuanian government office.
Actually, the shores of the Black Sea in Ukraine were reached by seven men and two women riders. One man started to feel an old illness coming back during the ride and returned home, not able to make it to the Black Sea. A stray dog decided to join the ride near the Belarusian town of Halshany, which Lithuanians call Alsenai. This is why the dog was named Alsis. Recently, Alsis suffered from a dog tick and Kubilius kept asking about the dog’s health. The fact that the dog enjoyed occupying the prime minister’s chair provoked a big amount of Internet comments. Some commentators were happy about such a rotation of prime ministers, while others were stating that dogs feel the smell of good people.
During the journey, the riders were dressed in clothes somewhat reminiscent of the clothes of the army of Grand Duke Vytautas, which were in fashion 600 years ago, though the material for the costumes was lighter – flax instead of iron. Although historians used to laugh at the legend that Vytautas’ horses drank the water of the Black Sea, when the Lithuanian riders of 2010 rode with their horses into the Black Sea, the horses drank sea water eagerly. The explanation could be as follows: the water of rivers flowing into the Black Sea dominate in lagoons, and the water of those lagoons is not very salty.
The initiator of the expedition was businessman Giedrius Klimkevicius. He owns the ancient castle of Norviliskes near the Lithuanian-Belarusian border and lives on the Lithuanian side there. Klimkevicius organizes annual international rock festivals in the field in front of his castle. He said Lithuanian riders were greeted all the way to the Black Sea by the locals in Belarus and Ukraine. “Those iron curtains should not exist between our countries,” Klimkevicius said.
Kubilius was reminded of his own experience visiting the Lithuanian heritage in present day Belarus. In the summer, Kubilius, his wife, Economy Minister Dainius Kreivys, Social Care Minister Donatas Jankauskas and several of their friends (some MPs of the ruling Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats) went on a 700 kilometer-long bicycle trip to Belarus. They visited the Lithuanian Grand Duchy’s castles and met with Belarusian Prime Minister Sergey Sidorsky.
“I told Prime Minister Sidorsky that this area was our common area for centuries, and all the borders have no historic perspective,” Kubilius said.
“More and more Lithuanians travel, looking at the Lithuanian Grand Duchy-related sites in Belarus and Ukraine. The route can become a pan-European or world-scale attraction because the Lithuanian Grand Duchy played an extremely important role in Europe’s history,” Vilnius Vice Mayor Gintautas Babravicius said. He was taking care of practical issues on the ride, such as dealing with customs officials of Belarus and Ukraine.
The ride’s participants also paid tribute to their horses, of the Zemaitukas breed. One horse died during the ride. The expedition had several extra horses, which ran with them, ready for substitutions. Some 400 of Zemaitukas are left in the world – actually in Lithuania only. The Zemaitukas is an historic Lithuanian breed of short horses (they are just slightly bigger than a pony). They are known from the sixth-seventh centuries as horses of Lithuanian warriors. Although they are short, only Arabian horses are stronger on a long-distance journey. One of the goals of the ride towards the Black Sea was to popularize the breed, which is close to extinction.