The handful of Lithuanians living in Taiwan are suddenly in vogue among the nation’s residents after their small Baltic state did something Taipei has long staked its identity on: Stand up to China.
In the months since Taiwan opened a de facto embassy in Vilnius, Richard Sedinkinas said he has started to receive applause in restaurants once staff realize where he is from.
It does not matter that the 41-year-old boxing instructor, as well as about two dozen other Lithuanians living in Taiwan, had nothing to do with their country’s decision.
Photo: Sam Yeh, AFP Warning: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health
“People like to show appreciation — they treasure that somebody supports Taiwan in the face of this giant country” next door, Sedinkinas told reporters.
Lithuania took the step last year to allow Taipei to open a representative office under the name of Taiwan, a significant diplomatic departure that incurred Beijing’s wrath — downgrading Vilnius’ relations and blocking its exports.
However, in Taiwan, Lithuanians say that they have been greeted with toasts, handshakes from strangers and free taxi rides.
“Feels like we are now celebrities,” Sedinkinas said. “We receive so much love.”
Other public displays of affection include a drone show last month, when a massive yellow, green and red heart was formed in Kaohsiung’s night sky — the colors of Lithuania’s flag.
When asked which country she would most like to visit, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) did not hesitate.
“I think Lithuania is a very brave country,” Tsai said in November last year. “I would like very much to go there.”
Despite the vast distance and cultural differences, illustrator Mangirdas Riesuta said that Taiwan and Lithuania share the experience of living under the shadow of a communist superpower.
Now a tiny member of the EU, Lithuania was the first nation to declare its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Since then “we have Russia by our side, always bullying us,” the 34-year-old told reporters.
“Lithuania sees Taiwan as a sister,” Riesuta said. “We are going to set an example that we can actually [fight back] against bullying.”
No stranger to pressure from Beijing, Taiwan has in the past few years lost several allies to China — the latest being Nicaragua, which in December last year switched allegiance.
On the other hand, several Western democracies have made moves to bolster ties with Taiwan.
In 2019, Prague threw out a sister-city agreement with Beijing and signed one with Taipei.
In January, Slovenia announced plans to exchange representatives with Taiwan.
“They should support democracy and that’s why they should stand up for Taiwan, too,” said Ausra Andriuskaite, head of the Lithuanian Community in Taiwan Association.
In a Lithuania-themed bar near the Tamsui River (淡水河) in Taipei’s Datong District (大同), people clink glasses of Voruta blackcurrant wine as Lithuania’s national anthem blares out of the speakers.
Bottles of Gira beer, Ozone vodka and Propeller dark rum — none of which would appear out of place in a pub in Vilnius — line the shelves.
Owner David Yeh said that his Little-one Bar — a homophone to Lithuania’s Mandarin name Litaowan (立陶宛) — started getting more attention last year after Vilnius became the first EU government to donate vaccines to Taiwan.
“A Lithuania mania has swept among Taiwanese people who want to know about the country,” Yeh said.
The wave of goodwill also meant 20,000 bottles of Lithuanian rum, snapped up by Taiwan’s state-run liquor company when it was blocked by China, sold out quickly in Taiwan.
Irena Marazaite-Lin, a German-Mandarin translator, said that growing interest in her homeland means she is now getting interpreting jobs using her native language for the first time, with a government agency and a local company mulling Lithuanian food imports.
“It’s easy for China to bully a small country like Lithuania, but it won’t be so easy if all democratic countries can stand united,” she said.
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