By Julianne Maila
February 6 marked the first official visit of Zygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuanian Ambassador to the US and Mexico, to the city of Seattle. With a packed agenda, in three short days, Ambassador Pavilionis participated in a variety of events at UW and within the Seattle community. As one of the most distant American cities from Europe, Seattle is not often thought of as a center of Baltic culture. Considering immigration trends to the US, East Coast cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston first come to mind, while Chicago takes precedence as the historic heart of Lithuanian-American activity where Lithuanian immigrants settled en masse at the beginning of the 20th century. Pavilionis said he was thrilled and surprised to find such a dynamic and extensive Baltic Studies program at UW, and was delighted at the highly active and engaged Lithuanian community in Seattle.
The ambassador’s on-campus events included attending two UW classes: Professor Arista Cirtautas’s task force course on security in the EU, and visiting lecturer Ausra Valanciauskiene’s Lithuanian literary and cultural history class. Pavilionis toured UW’s extensive Baltic Studies library collection, met with faculty and students from the Jackson School and the department of Baltic and Scandinavian Studies, and served as the keynote speaker at the Opening Plenary Session at the 2014 West Coast Model EU (sponsored by the European Union Center of Excellence, the Center for West European Studies and the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies).
Through his work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the past 20 years, Pavilionis has been greatly instrumental in many of Lithuania’s foreign policy achievements, including its accession to NATO and the EU. During his visit, Pavilionis drew parallels between Lithuania’s drive for independence in the early 1990s and the current political struggles in the Ukraine. The ambassador encouraged American support for Ukraine and the strengthening of the country’s alliances with the EU. Pavilionis stressed the importance of a larger European Union inclusive of more former Soviet republics (such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia and others) as necessary for the future of these countries and for the security of Europe as a whole. The ambassador also discussed the importance of business development in the former Soviet republics and the relationship between economics and national security. In particular, Pavilionis mentioned Lithuania’s plan to partner with Korea in bringing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal to Lithuania’s main seaport, Klaipeda. Energy independence is of strategic importance for countries like Lithuania, as Russia’s control of such resources in the region is still considered a threat.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, Ambassador Pavilionis joined the Lithuanian-American Community of Seattle in celebrating the 96th anniversary of the signing of the 1918 declaration of Lithuanian independence at the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church and Cultural Center. The festivities included a performance by Lietutis, Seattle’s Lithuanian folk dance ensemble, and the community’s choral group, which will be singing at the quadrennial Lithuanian Song Festival in Vilnius this summer.
Ambassador Pavilionis said his visit left him energized by the vibrancy of the people studying and celebrating Lithuania in Seattle. He expressed his desire to open a consulate on the West Coast, and to encourage greater awareness of the UW Baltic Studies program. Here in Seattle and at the University of Washington, Lithuanian culture and Baltic studies are certainly alive and flourishing.
Follow Ambassador Pavilionis on Twitter: @LTembassyUS @ZygisPavilionis
Lithuanian Embassy Website: usaa.mfa.lt
Julianne is a 2015 REECAS MAIS and Foster MBA student.