Editor’s note: This article is by Howard Weiss-Tisman of the Brattleboro Reformer in which it was first published June 7, 2014.
BRATTLEBORO — The ambassador of Lithuania to the United States thinks communication and trade between the two countries can improve one relationship at a time.
Ambassador Zygimantas Pavilionis was in Brattleboro Friday to announce that Brattleboro resident Kerry Secrest will serve as the Vermont Honorary Consul of Lithuania, a volunteer position.
Lithuania has 22 honorary consuls in the United States and Pavilionis said they serve in both large cities and smaller towns.
Pavilionis said for a small country like Lithuania the honorary consuls serve an important role in reaching out to local populations to spread Lithuanian culture, as well as to open up business opportunities and trade between the two countries.
“For a small country like ours, we rely on Lithuanian Americans to reach out. We don’t have the resources to have an office in every state, but the honorary consuls can make connections. I rely on them very much,” Pavilionis said. “Each consul brings something different and creates its own relationships. In a big city like New York or Los Angeles sometimes it is hard to break in. In a small state like Vermont you can make connections.”
Secrest is a fourth-generation Lithuanian American who grew up with some of the cultural traditions from the country.
She lived in Connecticut and traveled to Camp Neringa in Marlboro every summer, first as a camper and then as a counselor.
Camp Neringa was founded by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1969 to preserve Lithuanian heritage during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania that started after World War II.
Secrest first traveled to Lithuania during college, and lived in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, for two years after graduating from Villanova College in 1991.
She was in Lithuania in 1993 when the country broke free from the Soviet Union and declared independence for the first time since 1940.
“It was an exciting time to be in the country,” she said. “When I arrived it was occupied by the Soviets, and I remember the tanks going down the streets. People united around the independence movement, and I was there when the crowds were toppling the Lenin statues.”
After returning to the United States, Secrest joined the new Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, D.C., as the adviser for Educational and Cultural Affairs.
She left four years later to get her graduate degree at SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, and after working a few years in Washington, D.C., for the American Red Cross Secrest moved in 2003 to Brattleboro.
Last year Secrest invited members of the Lithuanian embassy, including Pavilionis, to Brattleboro to ski at Okemo Mountain.
Since then she has kept in contact and earlier this year Pavilionis invited her to be the honorary consul to Vermont.
Lithuania was one of the first countries to rebel against the former Soviet Union and Pavilionis said from what he has learned about Vermont’s rebellious spirit and history there are more similarities between Vermont and Lithuania than only cows and fields.
“We are like the Vermont of Europe,” he said.
Lithuania is northeast of Poland, on the Baltic sea, and it has a strong agricultural economy.
Secrest invited Pavilionis, and the attaché for Agriculture and Commerce, Vaidotas Asmonas, to open the honorary consulate during the Strolling of the Heifers weekend to recognize that connection between Lithuania and Vermont.
“We are hoping the information and friendship will flow both ways,” Asmonas said. “We want to help each other, and find each other.”
With a population of about 3 million, Lithuania is a relatively small country where Secrest said connections and relationships can be easily formed and strengthened to benefit the people of Lithuania and Vermont.
“I am fortunate to know a lot of people in Lithuania in a number of sectors and how to leverage those relationships to facilitate economic and cultural opportunities for both Lithuania and Vermont,” Secrest said. “Lithuania is situated at the geographic center of Europe. It could serve as a great connection to Europe for Vermont exports, and a gateway in particular to Eastern Europe for Vermont businesses.”
Secrest also said she wants to strengthen cultural ties between Lithuania and Vermont and is planning a a show at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center featuring Lithuanian graphic artist Joana Plikionyte-Bruziene.
“The world is small and there is no rulebook for being an honorary consul. I don’t know what will happen,” Secrest said. “But when you bring people together, and you help people to see the things they have in common, you never know what might happen.”
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at [email protected] or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.