Bound by sister languages, similar cultures and a shared history, Latvian-Lithuanian relations today are like a rapidly increasing brotherly friendship. These two countries together endured Soviet occupation before regaining their independence. Today Latvia and Lithuania are actively cooperating in all matters of trade, investment, culture and educative links. To discover current and future relations, The Baltic Times spoke with Dalia Kraulyte, charge d’affaires a.i. at the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Riga. Dalia is now the head of the Lithuanian Diplomatic Mission in Latvia, after the former ambassador, Antanas Valionis, resigned from his post.
Would you please introduce yourself. What were you doing before being appointed to the post as charge d’affaires a.i. in the Lithuanian embassy in Riga?
At this time I am the head of Lithuania’s diplomatic mission in Riga, at the embassy of the Republic of Lithuania. My responsibility is to represent the political, economic and social interests of the government, to protect Lithuanian citizens and to help them. I graduated from Vilnius University, where I studied economics. I have been working in Lithuania at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, and at the Multilateral Relations Department as a director of that departament. I have the rank of Envoy and Plenipotentiary Minister and am the Ambassador at Large.
In short, what would you say is the purpose of the Lithuanian Embassy in Riga?
First and foremost is to look after all Lithuanian citizens residing in the country of Latvia. Also, to develop good relations between the two neighboring countries. And to give consular services.
How would you describe recent international relations between Latvia and Lithaunia?
I would describe them in a good way. We are two Baltic nations; we have a very similar history; we have many things in comon. Our relations are open, friendly, sincere. The relations include many areas. For example, [they include] imports and exports. Lithuania is a very important and one of the biggest partners in the field of economics; Lithuanian imports are one of the biggest for the Latvian economy. Also, we cooperate in tourism and in cultural areas. Latvia is our neighbor and strategic partner. We combine and consult each other on different issues such as security, defense, energy, transport. Furthermore, we cooperate on a huge number of cultural projects.
Talking about the Lithuanian citizens in Latvia, what kind of circumstances led them to emigrate to their neighbor country?
There is a very simple answer. Many people live here for a long time because of the historical situation. A big part of Lithuanian citizens come to Latvia because they have found a job here, or they fall in love with a Latvian, [they] got married and settled here. Most of the young people who have emigrated or are emigrating to Latvia are here to study. At this time there are about 240 students who are studying in Latvia, many of them are studying in the Stockholm School of Ecomomics in Riga or at the University of Latvia or other schools.
How many Lithuanian citizens live in Latvia?
According to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs Board of the Population Register in 2010 data, right now there are nearly 30,000 Lithuanians living in Latvia, about 18,000 of them have Latvian citizenship, almost 9,000 are not a citizen of Latvia and more than 3,000 have Lithuanian citizeship. Lithuanians in Latvia are different from the Lithuanians who live in Lithuania; Latvian Lithuanians are trying to enshrine their nation’s ideals and traditions. They come together in different kinds of organizations and fellowships. The Latvian Lithuanian Community is the biggest and most important organization for them.
How do Lithuanians feel in Latvia? Maybe it is better for them to live in Latvia than in Lithuania?
Life in Latvia and Lithuania is similar. People there live almost the same as here; of course, you feel differently when you live in your own country than in another country; it is difficult to compare. Lithuania will always be a home country, but Latvia is a really nice country, too. People here live, work, go to school. Riga’s Lithuanian Secondary School this year will celebrate its 20th year anniversary. Also, there are seven Sunday schools in Latvia. So those who are here are trying not to lose ties with Lithuania.
The Lithuanians living in Latvia are active. What was the last event for them which took place in Latvia?
The last one was July 6 – King Mindaugas Coronation Day. On July 6, 1253, Grand Duke Mindaugas was crowned King of Lithuania. It is thought that the coronation took place in the newly built Cathedral in Vilnius, with attendance by the Livonian magistrate and high-ranking church officials. The coronation was a great achievement - Lithuania became a full-fledged European state. To mark this day, Latvian Lithuanians sang the national athem of the Republic of Lithuania at the embassy in Riga. The Lithuanian youth basketball team visited the embassy as well, and joined in the singing of the national hymn. It is the third time that this kind of event has taken place at the embassy. To add up, it is planned to erect a monument to King Mindaugas by 2013 in Aglona, Latvia. This date marks the 750th anniversary of King Mindaugas’ death. It is thought that King Mindaugas was killed in Aglona, and his wife Queen Morta’s ancestry comes from Latgale.
Latvians and Lithuanians are very close, but still they have some differences. Would you name some of them?
I have really noticed and I could say that Latvians are much more punctual and prompt than Lithuanians. If some event or meeting should take place at 9 o’clock, it will start [on time] and not later. Lithuanians are not so precise.
Former Ambassador Antanas Valionis stated that President Valdis Zatlers’ decision to dissolve parliament was a revolution. Valionis said that the president was acting not in a good way, that he is acting below what a president should do and that he should have more dignity. How would you regard this?
I think that former Ambassador Antanas Valionis considered all the facts and the past situation. He knew that his comment was not an appropriate one and he made the decision to resign from his post.
Is it known yet when a new Lithuanian ambassador will be appointed in Riga?
I don’t have this kind of information, but probably a new ambassador in Riga will be appointed this autumn.
Not long ago a presidential election was held in Latvia. What is your opinion about the new president, Andris Berzins?
I think that it is the people’s choice, that they have chosen their president. The newly appointed president of Latvia, Andris Berzins, was in Estonia. He had meetings scheduled with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, and the first deputy speaker of the Riigikogu Laine Randjarv. During the visit, Estonia-Latvia relations and opportunities for regional co-operation were discussed. Other topics are the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and energy and transport issues. Next week the President of Latvia will visit Lithuania. President Dalia Grybauskaite invited him to visit Lithuania. President Grybauskaite underlined that Latvia was Lithuania’s closest neighbor and a key partner in addressing issues of importance to the Baltic States.
Considering the history of Latvia, how would you say the country has changed during the last 20 years?
To my mind, the best answer to this question could be given by a Latvian. The people who have lived here all their lives know their country and they can feel the real situation. During [the last] 20 years Latvia has become a stronger country. After claiming de facto independence in 1991, people started to work for their country and to develop it in all the areas – economic, political and cultural life.
Lithuanians and Latvians call each other brothers. How would you say these brothers live? Do they have a good relationship, or do they sometimes fight? Maybe one of them is a big brother and another one is the smaller one?
As with all brothers, they live in a nice family together and they try to help each other, because as they help each other, the stronger they will become. It is very important to cooperate, because it is the main way to success.
What were your first impressions of the city of Riga?
Riga is a very lively and vibrant city. Riga has a really beautiful heritage of Art Nouveau architecture. It is a city which is very dynamic and rich with different kinds of events; there are many concerts. Riga has a rhythm. The festival Rigas Ritmi has just finished, but others are taking place. It is really impressive that the Baltic sea is so near the capital city. You can reach the sea wonderfully easily. In this city I feel really good.
You must surely work very hard at your position at the embassy. What do you do to relax? Do you have any hobbies?
I love to ski. I am keen on skiing. When I have some free time, I choose this activity; it helps me to relax and to free my mind. In Latvia I usually choose the ski trails at Sigulda. Sigulda’s downhill ski slopes are really good. In summer time I enjoy playing tennis. I like to spend my leisure time in an active way, in the open air.