Did the heads of foreign countries lose their interest in Kaunas? The answer is unexpected

Kaunas Town Hall
R. Tenio nuotr.

A year ago, Kaunas was waiting for one of the most influential people in the world – Pope Francis. This year it seems like the heads of foreign countries have lost their interest in the city. The visit of Pope Francis in Kaunas, which happened last year on August 23rd, was one of the most important and challenging events to host in last couple of decades. It can only be compared with the visit of Pope John Paul II in Kaunas in 1993, when Lithuania was counting its first years of independence, Arūnas Karaliūnas wrote in lrytas.lt .

After that, many people who are known around the world have visited Kaunas – monarchs, heirs to the throne, Presidents, famous community leaders.

Last year was special for Kaunas based on the number of exceptional guests. Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe, who inspected the museum of a legendary diplomat Chiune Sugihara, also the king of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander, who participated in the inauguration of a monument for diplomat Jan Zwartendijk, visited the city.

Visited the “Santakos Slėnis”

A week ago, the Vice President of India Venkaiah Naidu visited the city – he is one of the most famous people who spent some of his time in Kaunas as well. In front of the Town Hall, there was a red carpet where the guest was walking to a meeting with the Mayor of Kaunas Visvaldas Matijošaitis.

From the Town Hall, he went to the Kaunas Technology University’s (KTU) “Santakos Slėnis”, where the guests were received by the rector of this higher education establishment, professor Eugenijus Valatka.

An educative excursion around the KTU’s Institute of Materials Science and Ultrasound Research Institute was given, as well as information about Kruonis hydropower plant, which is the only one of its kind in the Baltic countries.

The most important areas that the Vice President of India is interested in are city infrastructure, urbanistic and energetics. Moreover, the members of the delegation had the main Kaunas development projects presented to them.

It is not the first year that Kaunas is a hotspot for students from India. Last year only in KTU 300 students from this country had been studying and the numbers keep growing.

They see and value the changes

The municipality’s head of the Department of Foreign Relations Emilija Šakalienė says, that after around 8-10 years of desolation, an increase in high profile visits is finally felt since the last year.

The wrong impression can arise only for one reason.

20 and more years ago, when Lithuania had just gotten its independence, many official visits had been made in a short period and many guests also visited Kaunas.

“Specialists of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognise that the city is changing and especially achievements such as status of European Capital of Culture, recognition of mid-war architecture by UNESCO and similar are making Kaunas attractive for foreign guests” – E. Šakalienė was thinking.

For these reasons, a special promotion of Kaunas is not needed, since the Protocol department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and employees of embassies see Kaunas as an attractive place for visits.

What is the practical use of these visits?

“High position officials and guests are often accompanied by a business delegation, special programs are made for them and thus local business may benefit. If the program of the visit is more for education or culture, people from these areas can expect some favours” – said E. Šakalienė.

Made a long guest list

Kaunas master of ceremonies Kęstutis Ignatavičius has contributed to hosting almost all the most honourable guests and assured he is able to make a long list of them.

Kaunas was seen by the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Norway Harald V, King of Belgium Albert II, Queen of the Netherlands Beatrix and her son who inherited the throne, and Prince Andrew, son of Elizabeth II, monarch of the United Kingdom.

K. Ignatavičius thinks that Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama should be put on the list of the most important guests of Kaunas too.

However, the most memorable event for K. Ignatavičius was the visit of John Paul II. At that time, he was assigned as the coordinator of the Pope’s visit in Kaunas.

According to K. Ignatavičius, John Paul II, who is a Polish native, was showing Lithuania his sympathy and that could be felt both in his speech and the manner of talking with people. Eventually, K. Ignatavičius was able to talk to the Pope too and he claims he would never forget this meeting.

“The scale of this event and the number of people who expressed a wish to meet the Pope was really memorable” – Kaunas master of ceremonies was saying.

The visit of Pope Francis last year in September and the Mass held in the park of Santaka was a no less spectacular event.

The lack of time does not let to know the country

Neilas Tankevičius, Ministry of Foreign Affairs National and Diplomatic Protocol Department director:

“When arranging the programs of foreign visits with the guests we always try to show them as many different places in Lithuania as possible, not only Vilnius.

Different options are coordinated with arriving guests according to the duration of the stay, interests of the arriving delegation, the ability of the locations to facilitate the visitors and show interesting objects.

The high-level visits are often quite short, so there are no possibilities to get anywhere further than Vilnius.

Vice President of India arrived for a longer visit, thus there was a possibility to get to Kaunas and Trakai and after finding the ties of visitable objects with India, interest to develop cooperation and logistical issues.

At all times the program of the visit is coordinated thoroughly with various groups of interest and the arriving guests. The team of the arriving visitor is coming in advance and is showed potential places to visit and the plan of the event is arranged fully.

High-level guests’ visit programs’ arrangement takes a few months”.

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