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Honorary Consulate for Lithuania opens in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO—His Excellency Žygimantas Pavilionis, Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States of America and Mexico, and Vaidotas Ašmonas, Attaché for Agriculture and Commerce, introduce themselves with a quick bow and handshake.

Behind them, the Marlboro Graduate Center’s Glass Room fills with the mouthwatering odors of Lithuanian foods. Although appealing, the food, and Lithuanian beer, are for guests attending the opening reception for the honorary consul of Lithuania.

Pavilionis and Ašmonas visited Brattleboro for the opening of an honorary consulate on June 6. They also were here to honor Kerry Secrest, recently appointed Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania to the state of Vermont.

In Vermont, people farm because it’s in their soul, said Ašmonas.

In Lithuania and elsewhere in Europe, farmers practice sustainable agriculture and produce quality products, he added. But the structure of farming by comparison is top-down, with the government making many of the decisions.

Vermont agriculture appears to Ašmonas as more grassroots.

Pavilionis nods. A government can create good policy and fund agriculture but if those policies don’t align with what exists in the farmers’ hearts, then the policy and funding may have limited reach.

Yes, said Ašmonas, “the results of the heart can be different.”

As Honorary Consul, Secrest said her primary aim is to create a conversation between Vermont and Lithuania.

Secrest owns Watershed Coaching, which coaches individuals and organizations on leadership. She recently lectured on leadership development at the Baltic Management Institute, which bills itself as a premier executive education institution in Eastern Europe.

According to a recent press release, Secrest is a fourth-generation Lithuanian-American who camped every summer, and returned as a counselor, at Camp Neringa in Marlboro. The camp was founded in the 1960s to preserve Lithuanian heritage and culture through the period of Soviet occupation that started after World War II.

According to Secrest, Pavilionis, and Ašmonas, Lithuania’s agricultural industry is strong and produces quality products. The farming also tends toward large-scale, specialized farms. Vermont, in contrast, tends toward small, diversified farms. Both entities could learn from one another, they agreed.

For 50 years, the Soviet government dictated Lithuanian agriculture, said Ašmonas.

He added that Lithuania once had many small farms. Under the Soviet Union, which occupied the country until Lithuania became the first Soviet satellite state to declare its independence in March 1990, most of these small farms were broken apart and replaced with state-controlled collective farms.

In the post-Soviet era, Ašmonas said, farmers guard their independence and private control. The cooperation between Vermont farmers and their balancing of independence with state policy struck Ašmonas during his visit.

Pavilionis and Secrest met more than 20 years ago, when the Soviet Union still claimed Lithuania.

He said that Secrest, who worked for the Lithuanian embassy, was one of many people who helped Lithuania reintegrate into Europe as a sovereign nation after regaining its independence.

Pavilionis describes the ties between Lithuania and the United States as “a freedom link.” The two nations have always stood together and always fought for freedom, he said.

Pavilionis said that the immigrant community in the United States helped save Lithuanian culture. Without organizations such as Camp Neringa preserving Lithuanian heritage, the Soviet occupation could have undone the culture and its traditions.

According to Pavilionis, the United States and Vatican City were the only states that continued recognizing a sovereign Lithuania under Soviet rule. The United States has long hosted a Lithuanian embassy.

Pavilionis said that this “freedom link” between the United States and Lithuania stretches back centuries. Lithuania in 1791 adopted language and ideas from the Constitution of the United States, then new.

In a statement, Secrest wrote that Lithuania, northeast of Poland on the Baltic Sea, is comparable in area to Vermont and has a population of three million in a largely rural country of lakes and forest.

“Lithuania is situated at the geographic center of Europe,” said Secrest. “It could serve as a great connection to Europe for Vermont exports — and a gateway in particular to Eastern Europe for Vermont businesses. And, because it’s a small country, it can be easier to access the right people to get things done quickly.”

According to Secrest, Lithuania is a growing and promising market for American business in many areas. As a member of the European Union and NATO, the country has a stable political environment, enjoys strong ties with the United States, and is a modern economy with a well-educated workforce.

“The Lithuanian officials I’ve been speaking with are very interested in Vermont’s local food movement and socially responsible businesses, where Vermont is really at the forefront. That’s why we chose to have the opening of the Consulate coincide with the Strolling of the Heifers weekend and the Slow Living Summit,” said Secrest.

The government of Lithuania is actively promoting the country as a great place for locating businesses.

According to marketing materials provided by Pavilionis, the county boasts a talented and highly educated workforce; competitive overhead costs such as rents; very fast Internet speeds; tax breaks; and a high standard of living.

Pavilionis noted that the European Union has also spent many years negotiating trade agreements in agriculture, which could open the possibility of more trade to Vermont.

Pavilionis and Ašmonas felt Vermont and Lithuania could find a lot of common ground and do big things.

Ašmonas added that he and Pavilionis wanted to visit as many American states as they could. Neither felt interested in watching the nation from their offices in Washington, D.C.

Pavilionis admires Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden.” He said he used principles in Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience during resistance actions during the years of Soviet occupation.

Even though Thoreau lived in Massachusetts while writing “Walden,” Pavilionis connects the author’s love of nature and the Vermont landscape that Pavilionis describes as beautiful. Of the region’s springtime mountains, he said, “My God. This is why Thoreau lived in the woods for one year.”

Secrest said that Vermont and Lithuania are “two great places with heart — and through our ties there’s a lot of possibility.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #259 (Wednesday, June 18, 2014). This story appeared on page A6.

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