“RECALLING THE HISTORIC EVENTS OF 30 YEARS AGO”.
Ambassador Vygaudas Usackas, former Minister of Foreign Relations of Lithuania
at the Conference dedicated to “100 Years of Diplomatic Relations between Denmark & Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania”. 4th of June, 2021. Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen.
Thank you so much for the kind invitation to celebrate a centenary of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Denmark and the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It has been a special honor to be hosted yesterday and addressed today by His Highness Crown Prince Frederik. Some of you may know that our friendship dates back to 1991, when we both were students of Political Science and International Economics at Aarhus University. His interest in the Baltic States is illustrated by numerous visits to our countries, including, at least three times, to Lithuania. I don’t know any other Crown Prince in the World who has devoted so much attention to study and even to write his University thesis about the Baltic states. Would be good, though to review what the Crown Prince has thought back in 1992 J
I know that Crown Prince Frederik remembers with fondness the first time he met 10 strangers – students from the Baltic states – in Aarhus about this time 30 years ago. At that time we had a very interesting exchange not only about how the Constitutional monarchy and democracy works in Denmark, but also about the challenging political and economic developments in the Baltic States, who were struggling to obtain Western recognition of their recently proclaimed restorations of Independence.
I am particularly pleased to speak today just after Uffe Ellemann Jensen. He has been a role model and a mentor to me personally as a committed Leader for freedom, free market and individual dignity. And of course, a great champion of European integration and Euro-Atlantic solidarity!
I met Uffe for the first time soon after the 28th of February, 1991 when the Joint Protocol on Cooperation between the Kingdom of Denmark and the Republic of Lithuania was signed, making your country the first EU and second NATO member state to recognize the reestablishment of Lithuania’s Independence.
With a number of Aarhus University students, I attended his re-election campaign rally in his constituency near Aarhus, where he spoke passionately as he explained to the Danish audience why it is in his country’s national interest to support the Baltic States on their path to a fully restored independence, sovereignty, democracy and free market. He argued very simply: “Denmark’s security will improve by having secure, stable, democratic and prosperous neighbors on the Eastern shore of the Baltic Sea.”
I was privileged to speak after Uffe and to make a presentation of photography (there were no power points at that time) about our strive to restore Independence, the bloodshed events in Vilnius on the 13th of January and a reminder of the long and rich history of statehood of Lithuania dating back to the coronation our only King, Mindaugas in 1253. I was particularly moved when, as a small sign of appreciation at the end of the meeting, Uffe presented me with a bottle of red Bordeaux, which I kept and preserved for almost 10 years.
In the course of the subsequent months in 1991, I had traveled across many of the counties and communities of Denmark with presentations about the Baltic States, Soviet occupation in 1941, the massive deportations to Siberia that followed and the armed anti-Soviet resistance movement that was active between 1944 and 1953. I also spoke about civic movements for Independence. Wherever we went: from auditoriums of Universities to the farmer’s field and from credit unions to “Nordic Society” events, we enjoyed a wholehearted warmth along with genuine sympathy and support.
The Danish Government support for the Baltic States was particularly vocal and highly appreciated by us all, even if it was not exactly welcomed in Moscow. During the 5th and 6th of June visit by M. Gorbachev to the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden, he demonstrated no interest at all in making a stop in Copenhagen as a sign of displeasure with respect to the position of Denmark vis-à-vis Baltic Independence. I still keep a copy of the newspaper that included a quote from Uffe Ellemann -Jensen regarding this abrupt diplomatic statement by Gorbachev. Uffe said the following: “Someone has to be in the lead to support the Baltic States. Denmark has assumed this role. We can do it easier than larger Western states. I know that we may need to pay a certain price. However, we are ready for that. Neither us, nor the part of the World we live, shall give up the principle of living in freedom”.
In 2000, Uffe came to Lithuania to congratulate us on the start of accession talks to join the EU. As the Chief Negotiator on behalf of Lithuania, I had a little reciprocity speech to make at the Danish ambassador’s residence. I had also used that occasion to bring and open that particular bottle of Bordeaux, which nine years before Uffe had presented to me. VIP guests present at the reception did not need to wait long, when Uffe in his compassionate and sincere manner said “what a pleasure to raise a glass of the ‘Wine of Freedom’!” This was probably the very best wine I have tasted in my entire life.
Denmark’s support for the Baltic States has been multifaceted and enduring. From helping to open the doors to EU and NATO membership, to expanding investment and trade as well as promoting good governance and accountability in our countries. Many Danish experts and consultants via PHARE and other EU sponsored programs have helped to promote reform in various sectors of our economy and public administration. It was not a surprise that the first EC Representative to Lithuania was also a Dane, Henrik Schmiegelow, who later in retirement joined my team of foreign advisors during the Accession Negotiations with the EU.
When in February 1992, I arrived to assume my first foreign posting in Brussels as a second secretary at the Lithuanian Mission to both the EEC (at that time) and NATO, it was not by coincidence that I made my first courtesy calls to the Danish Permanent Representations to both organizations.
In fact, the very first visit to NATO HQ by the then first Head of State of an Independent Lithuania, Prof. Vytautas Landsbergis, was literally made via the Danish Permanent Representation entrance on the 31st of May, 1991. It was a significant moment and it meant an awful lot.
During the Madrid NATO Summit in 1997, Danish diplomats along with the Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, personally pushed hard throughout the night of negotiations to achieve consensus on the following acknowledgement in the Madrid declaration: “the progress achieved towards greater stability and cooperation by the States in the Baltic region which are aspiring members”. Additionally, an important agreement was reached with implicit meaning for the Baltic States; that the NATO Enlargement criteria will “continue to apply with regard to future aspirants, regardless of their geographic location”.
Politically, this meant that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were recognized in Madrid as possible candidates for the next round of NATO enlargement.
Throughout my diplomatic carrier, I have always enjoyed a cast-iron level of support from Danish diplomats across the World. Whether it is on a trade mission to South Korea or Japan, a posting in Brussels, Washington D.C. or London, or later as the Foreign Minister, Ambassador of the EU to Afghanistan and Russia, I always knew I could rely on the Danish shoulder and enjoyed the support of my Danish colleagues.
Probably some of you were also glad to see in me a “second Ambassador of Denmark”…J
Back in 1994, while the EU Copenhagen Summit was still in preparation (little is known to the public), it was indeed senior diplomats from both the Danish and German Permanent representations to the EU, who called me to gently share the clear message to “hurry up” if we wish to be included in the list of “perspective members of the EU”. That required an immediate act to officially communicate our desire to join the EU. Otherwise, we may have missed the opportunity as the Vishegrad countries were successfully lobbying for the road map towards EU membership, while the voices of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn were not sufficiently loud and clear.
Ultimately, late on that Friday night at the Estonian Embassy in Brussels, Ambassador Clyde Kull, Honorary Consul of Latvia, Niels Dahlmann and me as the Charge d‘Affairs, drafted a single telegram to send to our three Presidents with an urgent recommendation to issue a common letter to the EU Leadership expressing the joint aspiration of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to join the European Union. Within just 24 hours, following a personal and emotional push from President Lennart Meri, all three Presidents signed a letter to the EU. Consequently, and thanks to the support of the Danish Presidency, the “Copenhagen Accession criteria” were also extended to the Baltic States.
Danish support for the Baltic States has continued throughout the last three decades and I want to mention just a few examples of this
The Danish Defense Ministry, under the leadership of the late Hans Haekerrup, played a critical role in the establishment of the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion and Baltic Defense College in Tartu. The Danish Air Force and Army continue to rotate in Lithuania and other Baltic states demonstrating their commitment to Article 5 of NATO and reinforcing deterrence against potential violators of territorial integrity and independence. Another friend of the Baltics, the late Amb. Per Carlsen, had harvested the interest of the RAND Corporation and accompanied experts to the Baltics in order to make a political case for membership of NATO.
The 2002 Danish Presidency of the EU was critical to steer the finalization of accession negotiations of 10 applicant Central and Eastern European countries, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Your diplomats and Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, personally were very helpful in negotiating two additional protocols for Lithuania’s accession negotiations. One was on the decommissioning of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, and a “separate line” relating to the financial package in support of it. The Second Protocol tackled the more complicated geopolitical issue of the Kaliningrad transit scheme – the so called “facilitated visa regime” for citizens of the Russian Federation travelling by transit to and from the Kaliningrad region.
Last, but not certainly not least, our nations are tied by our significant and intense economic relations. Danish businesses have not only brought much desired foreign investment in financial, transport, agriculture and other sectors, but have also promoted the strong Nordic business culture leading to sound corporate, environmental, social and governance standards.
Having worked closely with my Danish colleagues in various diplomatic postings around the world for almost 30 years, I have recently changed the gear myself and moved into international business. Among a number of responsibilities I currently hold at the global multiservice aviation provider Avia Solutions Group, I am particularly proud to Chair the Board of Directors of our Scandinavian ground-handling subsidiary – Aviator Airport Alliance. We serve various airlines, including our strategic partner SAS, in 17 airports around Scandinavia, including of course here at Kastrup.
During the last year or so, we have weathered the storm of the deepest crisis in aviation history. But now, we are ready to take the recovery flight and continue with our ambitious growth and expansion plans. For me personally, it symbolizes a rejuvenating journey from Aarhus back to Kastrup, this time as a Lithuanian investor contributing to mutually beneficial business activities and engagement with Denmark.
Whenever you travel from Kastrup or Billund airports, Aviator is here to serve, including in the business lounges of “Carlsberg” and “Aviator”, which I had the distinct pleasure to officially re-open for passengers just two days ago.
This current rejuvenating journey is just the latest opportunity for me to play my continuing role in cementing the already unbreakable ties that exist between our two countries. On a personal level, it reminds me of the significance of the friendships that exist and the enormity of the role played by Denmark in helping my country on its journey to become the thriving independent state I see today.
Friends will always be there for one another – whether on a State or personal level. Whenever I think of the Kingdom of Denmark, I will always be reminded of this and the many fond memories I have of the country, the politics, the tremendous support and most importantly, the people. There is no doubt at all that your country holds a very special place in my heart.