Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark to Lithuania Hans Brask and co-editor of Denmark and Lithuania Through 100 Years of Bilateral Relations – From Neighbours to Allies, discusses the newly published book, Lithuanian and Danish relations, political issues, and other thought-provoking ideas in an exclusive interview for the EN15min.lt/the Lithuania Tribune with Jurgis Vedrickas.
Different perspectives and new stories
Denmark officially recognized Lithuania on September 28, 1921. The two countries resumed diplomatic relations on August 24, 1991. To celebrate the occasion, Ambassador Brask and Niels Bo Poulsen asked their friends and former colleagues to share information and write articles describing different perspectives on bilateral relations.
“There are three articles on bilateral military cooperation because it has been quite significant over the years and still is today. We have Danish fighter jets in Šiauliai today as part of the NATO mission Baltic Air Police. This is the eighth time they have been here. So, it is something that has been very important for our relations over the last 30 years,” Ambassador Brask notes, adding that Denmark and Lithuania also have energy-based business links, as well as connections in education and culture.
Other articles in the book deal with a historical perspective going back many years. “It was wonderful to find some of these different stories that can give insight into our relationships over 100 years. One that I was delighted to bring to light is the story of Danish traveller and writer Meyer Benedictsen. He came to Lithuania in 1893 and stayed for many months to explore the Lithuanian language, culture and folklore. After this experience, he wrote a book in 1924 entitled Lithuania: The Awakening of a Nation.
Ambassador Brask notes that the book brings out different stories on our bilateral relations during current times. “The book has very many perspectives, and we asked a couple of Lithuanians, one being Linas Linkevičius, the former minister of defence and foreign affairs, to also share insights. He told me a story when I came to Lithuania two years ago. The story of the “helicopter agreement”, which we try to present on the cover of this book because it symbolizes the strong military cooperation between Denmark and Lithuania and specifically in this case the peacekeeping mission to Croatia. The story is that Defence Minister Linas Linkevičius and his Danish colleague at the time, Hans Haekkerup were travelling in a very noisy Soviet helicopter, and they could not talk to each other. So, they just exchanged writing on a napkin about a possible joint peacekeeping mission to Croatia, and they reached an agreement in the helicopter based on the few words on the napkin. And I think that symbolizes that two nations do not have to sit around a table and negotiate detailed pieces of legislation for a long time. Instead, if you trust your partner, you can easily agree on such important and far-reaching matters as sending people on dangerous peacekeeping missions in conflict zones. And that’s why we put it on the cover of this book because it symbolizes the generally good relations between Denmark and Lithuania: we trust each other. The young man standing among the Lithuanian soldiers on the book cover photo is Linas Linkevicius. The Lithuanian soldiers are just about to leave for training on the Danish island of Bornholm, before eventually going together on the peacekeeping mission to Croatia. So, there is a reason why this is the cover.”
Relations between Lithuania and Denmark
Since the early 1990s, there has been close cooperation between Denmark and Lithuania at all levels. “When I look at it today, it is impressive the amount of money spent on technical assistance and support for government institutions, for the development of the army and for people to establish contacts for education and training. That early phase was very close and intense. And the Danish involvement was not only due to Lithuania’s own faith; we – the Danes – also had an interest in the Baltic Sea area. We wanted to create a region of viable, sustainable democracies here on the other side of the Baltic Sea, because we knew it would contribute to our own prosperity and security and create a peaceful neighbourhood. So, it was also about our own interests.
Today, we are in a different phase, being equal partners of the EU and Nato. We do not have to do so much on a bilateral level anymore as thirty years ago. Instead, we need to cooperate within these international organizations and coordinate our positions and align our views as much as possible in order to influence the agenda. So bilateral cooperation waned somewhat after 2004. The funding dried up. Yes, that’s true. Compared to other countries, we did not have as much money for bilateral projects anymore. But we still have a Danish Cultural Institute here in the Baltic States, and we have worked hard to stimulate the private business sectors to create further results. We have also a Nordic Council of Ministers office in Lithuania that can do a lot. So we try to do as much as we can. In the military field, however, we still cooperate bilaterally.”
The need to send a clear signal
The Ambassador notes that the current situation regarding Belarus and immigrants is far from ideal. “I think the message of the Danish minister for immigration and integration that just recently visited Lithuania focused exclusively on solidarity with Lithuania in handling the challenges. The last, as they say, dictator of Europe is instrumentalizing immigrants, and it is necessary to send a clear signal and understand that this is not a migration route that we will accept. We also favour building a physical barrier at the current EU border – which is also a NATO border. So, we need to be able to secure this part of our Union. But, of course, we say to you and to everyone else that we must respect all international conventions on human rights. And we should allow people the opportunity to seek asylum – and tell them that they can do so through the embassy in Minsk, as the Lithuanian government is doing. It should not be happening in the middle of the night, quietly crossing the border illegally.”
Ambassador Brask concludes that everything is related to the ability to cooperate and that no problem should be ignored or dismissed as unimportant or as another country’s problem because the European Union is, after all, one Union.