Lithuanians will be surprised of their legacy in Sri Lanka – Lithuanian envoy | Sunday Observer

Lithuanians will be surprised of their legacy in Sri Lanka – Lithuanian envoy

8 May, 2022

Endowed with a glorious green cover and breathtaking landscapes, Lithuania is in Eastern Europe. A country spanning over 65, 200 square kilometres is similar to the size of Sri Lanka. This idyllic country, which is fondly known by the visitors as a ‘land full of surprises’, is an abode to about two million people. Lithuania and Sri Lanka boast of a century-old historic relationship dating back to 1800s. The arrival of a Lithuanian ecclesiastic named Ladislaus Michael Zaleski to Sri Lanka and his stay in the central hills and the setting up of Sri Lanka’s first-ever papal seminary is a remarkable testimony of Lithuanian influence and trace in Sri Lanka.

At a time when Sri Lanka is in a dire need of forex, tourism is one of the surefire means to resolve the ongoing crisis. The Lithuanian Ambassador to India and Sri Lanka Julius Pranevičiusis hopeful that Lithuanian tourists would find Sri Lanka to be one of the irresistible destinations in South East Asia. “Since Lithuanians have a legacy in Sri Lanka, this country is one of the important destinations for our people to visit and feel proud of our ancestors”, said the Ambassador.

Extending a friendly hand to Sri Lanka’s tourism industry during times of hardship and affliction, Lithuanian Embassy has plans to promote Sri Lanka as a preferred tourism destination in South Asia for Lithuanian tourists.

The Ambassador is confident that Sri Lanka can explore international market possibilities with the help of Lithuania. “Lithuania is a proud member state of the European Union. Hence, the international market possibilities are enormous for us”, he said.

Excerpts of the interview, the Sunday Observer had with the Ambassador of Lithuania.

Q: Regardless of the fact that you are the Ambassador of Lithuania to our country, which places in Sri Lanka have attracted you as a tourist?

A: I have been to Sri Lanka only about four times. Since the Embassy of Lithuania is in New Delhi, India I am mostly required to be in India than in Sri Lanka. Lithuania has a consulate in Sri Lanka. I have visited Sri Lanka only as the Ambassador of Lithuania and not as a tourist. I am hoping to extensively travel in this beautiful island one day as a tourist.

I am attracted to the natural beauty of this country. There are wonderful beaches and mountains. As a traveller, I am enthralled by nature. I enjoy hiking too. Sri Lanka has many places to hike.

I can see many similarities between my country, Lithuania and Sri Lanka. The sizes of the two countries are similar. Both countries are splendidly green. In my country, there are beautiful rivers and lakes and extended forests with rich biodiversity. Fresh air, natural food, and serenity are common aspects shared by the two countries. I grew up in a less cluttered, calm, serene, and green environment. Hence, I always like to travel to such destinations.

I would like to engage in trekking in the forests, hiking, and canoeing in the lakes when I visit Sri Lanka next time. I do not like to spend my holidays in a lethargic manner but want to be active and travel to places with natural beauty. Sri Lanka is one of the best destinations in South East Asia to experience the beauty of nature.

Q: Do you recommend Sri Lanka to Lithuanian tourists?

A: Yes of course! It is easy to attract tourists from all corners of the world to Sri Lanka because the country has a scenic beauty. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka is sure to hold any tourist in her thrall. It is ideal for a relaxed holiday on the beach. Sri Lanka has many places of archaeological and ecological importance. Sri Lankans are renowned for their exemplary hospitality.

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry faced a downturn after the Easter Sunday attack. When it was slowly recovering, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the industry once again. However, with the ebbing of the pandemic, the tourism industry in the world began to bloom. Prior to erupting the crisis in the country, the tourism industry saw a satisfactory headway.

Q: Since Lithuanians have a legacy in Sri Lanka, don’t you think it would be an added advantage for Sri Lanka to promote tourism for Lithuanians?

A: Yes, it is. the Ampitiya Seminary in Kandy was founded by a Lithuanian Archbishop named Ladislaus Michael Zaleski. I learnt that this is the alma mater for many highprofile Catholic priests in Sri Lanka such as the present Cardinal of Sri Lanka, Malcolm Ranjith, and many more venerated and acclaimed Catholic ecclesiastics such as Rev. Oswald Gomis and Rev. Rayappu Joseph.

Messenger Zaleski, being a fervent lover of nature, had preferred the landscape in Ampitiya, which is a calm area with a picturesque, natural outlook. I think Zaleski would had been inspired by the natural beauty of Lithuania which is his land of birth.

During my visit I came to know that Zalesky had been held in high esteem by the poor in the surroundings of Ampitiya. He had often visited the poor in the area and especially, the children had been very fond of him.

Apart from its theological significance, the Ampitiya seminary is visually striking and without disturbing the students there, the place can be promoted as a tourism destination for Lithuanians.

There is an ancient painting in St. Mary’s chapel in the premises of the Ampitiya seminary. The surprising fact is that there is a similar painting in Lithuania.

I want Lithuanians to come to Sri Lanka and visit the Ampitiya seminary and experience the breathtaking environment there which had once attracted one of our ancestors. Similarly, the Ampitiya seminary will be a pleasant surprise to modern Lithuanians.

Zaleski, one of the ecclesiastic ancestors of Lithuanian people, not only made a journey to Sri Lanka, but also travelled extensively across the island, witnessing the natural beauty that the country is bestowed with. Hence, Lithuanians can follow suit their progenitor Zaleski in exploring and loving this amazing island nation.

Q: How has the bilateral relationship between the two countries been and how Lithuania can help Sri Lanka recover from the crisis?

A: During my visits to Sri Lanka a couple of years ago, I could observe the interest of Sri Lankan business community in establishing economic ties with Lithuania, and the Lithuanian business community too had shown the same interest. The two countries had many mutually beneficial ventures which enhanced trade and commerce engagements.

Pic: Saliya Rupasinghe

Lithuania is a member state of the European Union. Hence, the international market possibilities are enormous for us now. We can invite Sri Lanka to discover Lithuania as a gateway to entering the European market once the situation in the country improves.

Q: Lithuania is not a popular destination among Sri Lankan tourists. Could you shed some light on the tourist attractions of your country?

A: Lithuania is popular among international tourists as a land full of surprises. Lithuania has a lot to offer the travellers. It is one of the most graceful countries in Europe. Like Sri Lanka, Lithuania is also held in high esteem by tourists for its hospitality.

The old town of Vilnius which is also the capital of Lithuania is one of the most captivating and largest surviving medieval old towns in Europe. Due to its exceptional illustration as a medieval historic site, it has become a favourite destination for movie-makers.

Many historic buildings stand magnificently in the city representing classical, Gothic and Renaissance styles of architecture. This historic centre in Vilnius has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also the cultural and higher education centres of Lithuania. Many theatres and museums can also be found. There is an art gallery in the former town hall belonging to 18th century. Many tourists refer to Vilnius as a postcard-perfect city.

Encompassed with the historic grandeur, the present-day capital of Lithuania is an important industrial hub. Since we have environmentally friendly modes of transportation such as bicycles, pollution is minimal in the city in comparison to other metropolitan cities in the world. So, it is a healthy place to visit.

We experience four seasons and the most delightful season is the winter as the country gets shrouded with snow. I like to go back to Lithuania during Christmas to experience the ‘white Christmas’.

During spring, flowers blossom and the country becomes a colourful destination. Wild foods and fruits are abundantly available during spring. The country’s infrastructure makes easy access as well as convenient stay in the country.

Lithuanian foods are tourist-friendly. Tourists have a plethora of foods to choose as per their preference. Lithuanians prepare nutritious, tasty, simple, and filling food that anyone can enjoy. There are modern, traditional, and fusion foods.

Q: How has the economy of Lithuania transformed over the past decade? And how did the Covid-19 pandemic affect the economy?

A: The economy of Lithuania underwent significant transformations during the past decades. Innovation, technology, and life science became the lifeblood of Lithuania’s economy. Our country’s capital Vilnius has become one of the fastest-growing innovation hubs in Europe. The life science sector has gained momentum. In 2019, the World Economic Forum announced Lithuania as the best place for Research and Development in Central and Eastern Europe.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic affected Lithuania, the economy did not collapse. Our life science sector could bailout the Covid-19 hit economy.