In 1990, the year before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence.
More than two decades later, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Audronius Azubalis and the Chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of Canada to Lithuania, Mr. Kevin Hamilton, co-hosted a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of restored diplomatic relations between Canada and Lithuania. At the outdoor ceremony held at the Botanical Gardens of Vilnius University, Minister Azubalis and Mr. Hamilton planted a young sugar maple, a national symbol of Canada, to signify the enduring bonds of friendship between our two countries.
In his welcoming speech, Mr. Hamilton explained that "for millions around the world, the maple leaf has been a symbol about the values of democracy, freedom, prosperity, tolerance and respect for human dignity -- not least for tens of thousands of Lithuanians who in past decades, fleeing war and oppression, made their homes in Canada."
He added that Canadians had drawn inspiration from Lithuanians who had, during those years of occupation, "endured with a kind of quiet pride and resilience that we, in Canada, knew about, if only by anecdote, or from those who managed to get their stories heard in the West."
"I want assure you," he added, "that, for as far away and as inaccessible as Canada might have seemed during those dark years, we were always with you."
Minister Azubalis spoke of how Canada's policy of non-recognition of the Soviet annexation of Lithuania was vital to the Lithuanian people, who took consolation in the hope that, even in very difficult times, their cherished goal of re-establishing Lithuanian statehood could be achieved. He added his hope that like the young maple tree, Canada-Lithuania relations would grow and thrive in the years ahead.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, Mr. Hamilton presented the Minister with two commemorative gifts: first, the press release issued by Canada on August 26th, 1991 formally announcing Canada’s intention to re-establish diplomatic relations with Lithuania; and second, a framed copy of the Memorandum of Understanding signed a few weeks later between the two governments, which provides the legal basis for the restoration of ties between Lithuania and Canada.
Canada and Lithuania restored full diplomatic relations on September 2nd, 1991.