Early this summer, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius officially opened a new Lithuanian Consulate General for the Republic of Lithuania in Los Angeles, California. He combined his trip to the West Coast with time at the United Nations in New York City, where Lithuania served as President of the Security Council during the month of May.
This is Lithuania’s first Consulate General on the West Coast, and it is intended not only to serve California but also the entire West Coast of the United States from San Diego to Alaska. In addition, the Los Angeles Consulate General will serve the states of Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii. New Consul General Darius Gaidys took up his Los Angeles post on June 1, 2015.
This will be Lithuania’s fourth formal diplomatic presence in the United States following the establishment of the embassy in Washington, D.C., and Consulates General in New York and Chicago. The formalization of a Lithuanian presence on the West Coast will enhance the delivery of consular services and help promote cooperation with the regional Lithuanian community. It will also serve to promote tourism and cultural exchanges and contribute significantly to the promotion of trade and investment opportunities.
Outside of Washington, D.C., the locus of federal government in the United States, and New York City, the home of multinational diplomacy centered around the United Nations, Los Angeles has become a key site for international representation. With more than 60 Consulates General functioning there, Los Angeles ranks behind only New York and Hong Kong in the world for the number of countries that have established consulates within its boundaries. Los Angeles has become an international crossroads bringing together North and South America with Asia Pacific.
In addition, Los Angeles is home to a significant Lithuanian-American community, estimated at 100,000, and a prominent Jewish community that sees its heritage in the once vibrant Lithuanian Jewish community that thrived before the Holocaust.
During his West Coast stop, Foreign Minister Linkevičius met with the European Consuls General in Los Angeles to discuss issues of common concern and report on the work of the United Nations Security Council under Lithuania’s presidency. He also made time in his schedule to meet with members of the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles and noted that he felt “at home” because many of them had Lithuanian roots. With this group he discussed Lithuania’s many achievements in the 25 years since regaining independence in 1990 and engaged in a wide-ranging question and answer session that touched on everything from business opportunities to energy issues to Middle East politics.
The opening of the Consulate General was celebrated by a formal ribbon cutting ceremony at the new offices on Wiltshire Boulevard and with a gala reception at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The Reagan Library site was chosen because of President Reagan’s role in confronting the Soviet Union leading up to Lithuania’s declaration of independence. Foreign Minister Linkevičius expressed his thanks for the assistance of the United States in gaining Lithuania’s freedom and noted his country’s successful transformation to democracy and economic prosperity.
Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States Å½ygimantas Pavilionis expressed pleasure at seeing his “brainchild” open for business. This new location, he noted, will help to raise Lithuania’s profile across the United States, increase cultural and diplomatic cooperation, and encourage new business and investment opportunities. New Consul General Darius Gaidys expressed his hope that the new Lithuanian Consulate will effectively serve the Lithuanian community far into the future.
Lithuania has long been represented by an Honorary Consul in Los Angeles. Vytautas Čekanauskas, an American citizen of Lithuanian origin, served as Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Los Angeles for more than 30 years after the position was established in 1977 by the Chief of the Lithuanian Diplomatic Service (in exile). He continued in office to see Lithuania declare its independence in 1990 following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Soviet occupation of his country. He proudly served Lithuania’s new government up until his death.
Following her father’s death, Daiva Čekanauskas-Navarrette was appointed Lithuania’s Honorary Consul for California. Trained in economics and international business at UCLA, she is a securities trader and investment adviser. She remains in a similar position as Honorary Consul in Santa Barbara, California, following the opening of the new Consulate General.
In many ways, the opening of a new Consulate General is routine diplomatic business. But, in this case, the opening of the Los Angeles Consulate General is a reminder of Lithuania’s unique history as a captive Baltic state, along with Latvia and Estonia, under Imperial Russian, Nazi German and later Soviet domination. Lithuanians remember the Interwar Period, from 1919 – 1940, as a brief era of independence and economic prosperity. They do not want their current 25 years of independence, democracy and economic growth to be similarly short-lived.
The opening of the new Consulate General offered a poignant moment with Foreign Minister Linkevičius, Ambassador Pavilionus, and Consul General Gaidys gathered around a sign depicting the Great Seal of Lithuania — a knight in armor astride his horse ready to protect his heritage and his country’s identity. That imagery remembers Lithuania’s past, but it is also a cautionary tale about protecting Lithuania’s current independence.
Lithuania is deeply concerned about Russia’s revisionist approach to history under President Putin, whose current assertiveness seems to regard the post-1991 world order of a reunified Germany and sovereign democracies in Eastern Europe as essentially unsatisfactory. As Foreign Minister Linkevičius noted in a recent op-ed piece, “The Russian people are not our enemies.” But even as Europe and the United States seek reengagement with Russia, cautions Linkevičius, “There are some major differences with Europe’s situation today. The ideological divide during the Cold War was real. Today it is just a Kremlin construct, invented by modern Russia to cover failures of reform. It is not a serious alternative to Western liberal democracy.”
Consular diplomacy is often seen as the workaday stuff, the routine bureaucratic necessities of international relations. Lithuania’s opening of its new Consulate General in Los Angeles suggests that nothing could be farther from the truth. It is simultaneously an important extension of Lithuania’s political and economic diplomacy in the United States and one small point of light reminding the United States, NATO and the European Union that, in Foreign Minister Linkevičius’s words, “We do not and will not accept outdated thinking about spheres of influence and a zero-sum mentality [regarding European security]. We should not falter on NATO’s open door policy and our ultimate goal of a Europe whole, free and at peace.”From small gestures such as the opening of a new Consulate General, important policy initiatives grow.