Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania Laimonas TalatKelpša studied International Relations and Political Science at the University of Vilnius. Before being posted in India, he was Ambassador-at-large, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Pacific Department in his country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he held several other posts for eight years. In 2011- 2012, he worked as Adviser to the Prime Minister of Lithuania. He is proficient in seven languages including Russian, Norwegian, French, and Polish.
In this interview with Sarah Berry, he hopes that India will ‘rediscover’ the Baltic region. Excerpts:
India and Lithuania established diplomatic relations in 1992. What have the two countries achieved during the last 25 years?
First, we have established a legal framework for our cooperation. All major treaties regulating our trade and investment have been signed. Our governments agreed to open diplomatic missions, which Lithuania did in 2008. Our relations in science, education and culture have expanded significantly. In a nutshell, we have developed both an institutional platform and an amicable atmosphere for a major leap forward, and it is up to us to decide when and how this leap would happen.
How do you see the relationship developing?
Lithuania wants a strong and powerful partner in India, one we can trust and lean on in an increasingly turbulent global environment. A democratic and economically strong India is an asset for all. So if India grows, if she continues to reform, Lithuania will benefit too. We also believe that in the years to come, India will rediscover the Baltic region, where Lithuania is located, as this region is the most dynamically growing part of the European Union.
Does Lithuania support India’s candidature for a permanent seat on the UNSC?
Lithuania supports the reform of the UN Security Council, which would include the expansion of its both permanent and non-permanent membership. It is hard to imagine this major revamp taking place without considering India’s application. We also underscore that any reform should bring more efficiency to the Council’s proceedings, not less.
Lithuania is a member of the European Union (EU).How do you look at the future of the grouping and why do you think a Free Trade Agreement between India and EU has not materialised even after a decade of negotiations?
As a representative of a country which ranks among the most enthusiastic supporters of the EU (65 per cent according to the latest Eurobarometer Survey), I am optimistic about its future.The EU has been into many crises before, and has always come out stronger and more consolidated. This time we see the EU regaining confidence and starting debating options of even closer integration. The EU’s ranks may shrink, but its importance will not. And a Free Trade Agreement between India and EU is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Yes, we have been negotiating this treaty for over a decade now, but some other agreements, like the bilateral IndiaLithuania Extradition Treaty, have been in the pipeline even longer. If we both agree that is taking too long, let’s get back to the table and get the job done.
Lithuania is emerging as an attractive country for higher studies.What is the reason and how are you promoting it?
In 2012, we had 53 Indian students in Lithuania. Last year, the number reached 800. In our universities, Indian students find good-quality education at a reasonable cost. One-year tuition fee varies from 3,000 to 8,000 euro. And the cost of living is 3-4 times less than, say, London. So there is a good package deal for those who seek a graduation certificate from a European university. Lithuania has developed a special website, www.studyinlithuania.lt, to promote these opportunities. Our universities also participate in education fairs.
What is the level of bilateral trade between India and Lithuania and what are the major exports from Lithuania to India?
Last year, our trade volume crossed 130 million euro. It has more than doubled since 2014. Lithuania massively exports wheat and green peas to India ~ in fact, almost 20 per cent of all peas India last year bought in foreign markets were purchased from Lithuania. So whenever you are having your matar paneer, think that every fifth pea in your plate is of Lithuanian origin. India also buys our lasers and other sophisticated technologies.
What, according to you, are the commonalities between India and Lithuania?
Lithuanian is the closest surviving sister of Sanskrit. We have so many common words that a dictionary of such words was compiled. Because of Sanskrit, India has always had a special place in our hearts. For generations, it has inspired our scholars, travelers and artistic community. Today, this positive energy may play a significant role in facilitating our political and economic cooperation, thus it is our duty to tap into it.
Is there any high-level exchange between the two countries in the offing?
Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar visited Lithuania recently. We expect Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius to pay a return visit in October, when Lithuanian National Symphonic Orchestra will be performing in Mumbai. It will be an important part of the centenary celebrations of the Republic of Lithuania.