People in Lithuania are well-versed with Omani hospitality and often indulge in warm cultural exchanges to highlight the cordial relations between both countries
It is a tradition in Lithuania’s capital – Vilnius – to witness dozens of guests arriving for a celebration on November 18, Oman’s National Day. This year, the gathering took place at the St Elisabeth Chapel, a spectacular location in the heart of the old part of Vilnius.
The host of the celebration, popular businessman Nicolas Ortiz, declared to the gathering his resolve to bring the Lithuanian public to celebrate Oman’s National day for many years to come. Invited guests included representatives of the national government, diplomats residing in Lithuania, distinguished business people, and artists as well as top managers of the nation’s leading tour operators.
Ladies dressed in traditional Omani gowns welcomed the guests who entered the Baroque chapel to the accompaniment of drums, with the scent of frankincense filling the air. They were offered dates and halwa as the popular part of Oman’s hospitality tradition.
Speaking on the occasion, H E Boleta Senkiene, the Honorary Consul of the Sultanate of Oman in Lithuania, disclosed that, back in 2013, Lithuania was the first of the three Baltic nations to launch a representative office of an Arab country. The bilateral ties have developed considerably since, with areas of cooperation ranging from tourism and medicine to trade and student exchanges, she added.
An ‘A la fourchette’ party followed to give quests an opportunity to taste Omani cuisine. The venue also featured an exhibition of traditional Omani jewellery and photographs.
This autumn sees the continuation of a well-established initiative that allows young people studying Arabic at Vilnius University to go to Oman for a few months to improve their language skills and get to know the culture more closely.
The Sultan Qaboos College for Teaching Arabic Language to Non Native Speakers covers the travel, living and study expenses for the Lithuanian students. The project was initiated a couple of years ago by H E Senkiene
“The most interesting thing is that this programme is carried out without contracts, purely on the basis of goodwill,” said H E Senkiene. “It just goes to show that sometimes you don’t even need ‘papers’ to cooperate.”
Nearly 10 years of rapprochement
This is just one concrete example illustrating the significant intensification of bilateral relations between Oman and Lithuania over the last decade. Cooperation started to intensify less than a decade ago, after the opening of the Honorary Consulate of the Sultanate of Oman in Vilnius at the end of 2013.
Since then, Lithuania and Oman have exchanged official visits by government delegations, with high-ranking Lithuanian officials visiting Oman and representatives of the Omani government visiting Lithuania. In mid-September, the Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications, Marius Skuodis, visited Oman.
In meetings with the Omani Minister of Transport, Communications and IT, as well as with the heads of ports and logistics companies, the development plans and possible joint projects in these areas were discussed in detail. Bilateral ministerial consultations continue after the visit, and the Port of Klaipeda and Oman’s major ports are looking for cooperation opportunities.
H E Sayyid Badr al Busaidi, Foreign Minister, visited Vilnius in summer of this year. He received the Commander’s Cross of the Order for Merit for Lithuania from President Gitanas Nausėda for the successful development of bilateral relations.
Oman is also of interest to Lithuanian businessmen. Over the past decade, Lithuanian chocolate, juice, mineral water, water meters have been exported to Oman and other countries of the Arabian Peninsula, and several Lithuanian companies are considering investment in Oman, interested in the information technology and tourism sectors.
Ten years ago, Oman was almost unheard of for Lithuanians. Now, almost all serious travel agencies operating in Lithuania have included Oman in their catalogues as a recommended tourist destination. At least several hundred tourists from Lithuania visit Oman every year.
“A few months ago in the capital city of Muscat, I was quite surprised to meet a group of Lithuanians having lunch in a hotel restaurant,” said H E Senkiene. Ten years ago, this would have been absolutely unimaginable.”
In October, a group of business people from Lithuania had visited Oman to explore the opportunities of investing into the nation’s tourism sector. Lead by H E Senkiene, they met with H E Salem bin Mohammed al Mahrooqi, Minister of Heritage and Tourism and Hashil Bin Obaid al Mahrouqi, head of Oman Tourism Development Company. Nicolas Ortiz very well-known businessman from Lithuania and his team were introduced to ambitious plans of Oman attracting visitors from across the planet with its stunning landscape, diverse natural resources and UNESCO protected sights.
The two sides discussed business areas and concrete projects in tourism open to foreign investment. The delegation from Lithuania had a wonderful chance to visit some of Oman’s most treasured tourist landmarks. Ortiz expressed his will to invest in one of the forts of Oman, to convert it to a tourist attraction by building a boutique hotel there. The aim is not only to invest but create more job opportunities for the local people.
Arabic culture in Lithuania
At the initiative of H E Senkiene, various cultural events have been organised in Vilnius and other cities of the country in recent years to showcase Arabic traditions. Vilnius St Christopher Chamber Orchestra held a concert with performers from Oman. Arab Culture Days have been held several times while calligraphy and photography exhibitions have also been organised. Oman has also been participating in the Vilnius International Book Fair for several years.
Such events are almost always accompanied by a few traditional Omani symbols – Omani coffee, dates, halwa, and frankincense – when Lithuanians enjoy sharing the culture of Oman with great interest.
The relationship between both countries are now poised for a fillip as, in 2023, the Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of Lithuania celebrate the 30th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.