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‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ – this is the optimistic and hopeful theme of the world EXPO 2020, which will start on 20 October 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and take place for the entire half of a year.

More than 170 states have confirmed their participation and signed agreements. The exhibition, situated in a territory of more than four square kilometres, will feature an individual pavilion for each participating state and is expected to be attended by 25 million visitors.

Lithuania has been participating at these exhibitions since 1900 with a particularly successful introduction to the world during the Interwar period in 1937 in Paris and 1939 in New York, has not missed a single EXPO since 1992, has ratified the Convention on International Exhibitions, is a member of the Bureau of International Exhibitions since 2009 and continues this consistent and important international activity.

JŪRA MOPE SEA magazine focused a lot of attention on the three-month international EXPO 2017, which took place in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and revolved around the theme of the‘Future Energy’. During the preparations for the EXPO in Dubai, we are planning to update our readers on various preparation stages and processes, focusing special attention on Lithuania’s participation and appropriate introduction at this important global parade of minds and spirit, science and creativity, innovation and technology.

The guest of this issue of the magazine is Romas JANKAUSKAS, Chief Ministerial Adviser of the Ministry of Environment, who has conducted the Lithuanian team in preparations and during the participation for already six international and global EXPO events.

Mr Jankauskas, your experience in this multifaceted scope work is huge. Does this experience and accumulated knowledge make the preparations for a new EXPO easier? When do these preparations begin and what are the first steps?

After being granted the right to organise the international EXPO (the United Arab Emirates succeeded back in autumn of 2013), the organising country takes some time to continue the preparations and then officially invites the governments of the other states of the world to make their decision regarding the participation. Lithuania received the invitation in April 2016, but neither the previous, nor the current government made haste to make the decision. At first the participation was included into the action plan of the new government programme and later discussed during one of the meetings. The successful visit of the President of the Republic of Lithuania to the UAE last November was a good incentive to make the decision. The resolution regarding Lithuania’s participation at EXPO 2020 was made right after the visit, appointing the Ministry of Environment to organise Lithuania’s introduction jointly with the Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Ministry of Economy. The decision was communicated to the UAE Government through the diplomatic channels at the beginning of this year. In order to participate at the exhibition, we must develop the concept of the pavilion, organise the tender for the architectural project and begin the preparations for the construction already this year – this is what we have actually been recently doing.

My personal experience, as well as the institutional memory (the Ministry of Environment has been responsible for Lithuania’s introduction at eight EXPOs over the past 20 years) are very useful, but each case brings the same external issues – we take too much time to make the decision regarding the participation, looking at our stalling neighbours, then there is the dispute over the concept of who should organise our country’s introduction at the EXPO, then delays in funding and finally racing to have everything done on time – complex public procurement procedures are certainly not helping here.

What makes the future EXPO in Dubai special?

The main theme of the exhibition is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ with subtopics of ‘Sustainable Development’, ‘Mobility’, ‘Opportunities’. The EXPO will take place for a half of a year from 20 October 2020 to 20 April 2021. The winter season was chosen due to climatic conditions (immense heat during the summer season), plus, in 2021 the UAE will be celebrating the golden anniversary of 50 years as a state (UAE was established on 2 December 1971). The event is expected to attract the absolute majority of the states of the world and approximately 25 million visitors.

This will be one of the most ambitious international projects of the 21st century. This is the first time for the EXPO to take place in this interesting region, located between Africa, Asia and Europe. The presumably private Arab world will host probably one of the most open EXPOs throughout the entire history with as many as three quarters of all visitors of the event coming from other states of the world. This is also the first time for all participating countries to have their own individual pavilions.

Lithuania has been allocated a plot of 1 550 m2, the participation contract has been already prepared and negotiated, and the tender for the project of the pavilion has already begun. Our plot is located in the central Sustainability zone, which is very versatile, covering any theme (renewable energy, transport, tourism, life sciences, etc.), with the neighbouring pavilions of Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, Sweden and Poland. The construction of the pavilion should be completed the next year with 2020 at the latest.

Being a global hub for transport, tourism and trade, as well as a priority target market for Lithuanian exports, UAE should attract our businessmen and encourage them to contribute to Lithuania’s participation at the EXPO by private funds, but it is very important to secure state funds as well. We already know some of the budgets of the other countries: Germany – 50, Luxembourg – 25, Switzerland – 19, Czech Republic – 10 million euros. Lithuania and Latvia have calculated that their successful participation at the EXPO requires at least 6.5 million euros each.

The beginning of the EXPO 2017 in Astana brought negative reactions regarding allegedly wasted money and rebuke regarding the concept of the pavilion, etc. These opinions mostly came from people, who have never been to the Lithuanian pavilion or Kazakhstan. However, when Lithuania’s participation was highly acknowledged by professionals, earned a prestigious award – the main prize of the Exhibitor Magazine in the category of ‘Elements and Details’ and when Romas Jankauskas, Commissioner of Lithuanian section, elected as the Chairperson of the College of Commissioners and Steering Committee, received a golden medal for the successful participation on behalf of all the official participants, these facts were taken for granted. Does this show an example of the Lithuanian mentality or is it common to all countries participating at the EXPO?

Negative reactions usually come from companies that have lost the tender and can’t make peace with the fact that the creative offer implemented or the implementation services rendered weren’t theirs. Once they’re out in public, these negative reactions help the EXPO sceptics to delay the funding, which results in possible problems in the future. Meanwhile, success is often taken for granted, no matter that it was achieved at the price ten times smaller and the minimum resources – the preparations for several of the recent events were completed with a couple of young helpers, while other teams have a dozen or even several dozens of people.

Meanwhile, success is often taken for granted, no matter that it was achieved at the price ten times smaller and the minimum resources – the preparations for several of the recent events were completed with a couple of young helpers, while other teams have a dozen or even several dozens of people.

What are the greatest challenges, faced by the countries preparing for the EXPO, how do they manage to overcome them and what are the best ways to avoid them to be able to use the preparation time for creative ideas and constructive activity?

World EXPO is a rather complex project, posing challenges both for the participants and organisers, who often do it for the first time (just like the United Arab Emirates, by the way). The UAE team is very smart and good-natured. Their representatives (including even the highest governmental officials) have visited previous world EXPOs numerous times – Yeosu (South Korea), Milan (Italy), Astana (Kazakhstan) – carefully examining these processes, looking for ways to avoid possible mistakes and make their event the best EXPO ever. Hopefully, they will succeed. Talking about the participants, the majority of the states are well-aware of the excellent perspectives and huge potential, offered by the region hosting this event, which made it quite easy for them to make the decision regarding the participation and now they allocate huge funds for this cause. Of course, participation at such events is the easiest for the developing countries, which get mandatory financial support from the organisers, and the richest countries. Introducing yourself to the world being a smaller country or having fewer possibilities (like us, for example) is a complex challenge.

What about Lithuania’s preparation for EXPO 2020? What decisions and works does it involve? Can you already see the vision of Lithuania’s introduction based on the theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’?

Early this year we created a coordinating commission of representatives from various ministries, business associations, science, culture and selfgovernment institutions. It has already discussed various directions of the concept of participation several times. The initiative for the preparations of the thematic plan belongs to the Ministry of Economy. There were also meetings with representatives of Saulėtekis and Santaka valleys, Vilnius Tech Park, BOD Group, producing solar panels, as well as members of the Lithuanian Association of Resorts, Tourism Council and other interested groups. Everyone is showing great interest in going to the EXPO to introduce the products that they develop and produce. Of course, that is, if nothing changes and Lithuania does indeed take part at the EXPO.

We want to introduce Lithuania as a state that is modern, unique and open to the world. Lithuania is indeed a modern country from all perspectives. The basis of our success in business and country’s leadership is the achievements in the fields of information technology, life sciences and lasers. Lithuania can truly be proud of the real values – nature that is almost untouched by the human hand and the unique landscape, the Curonian Spit, Vilnius Old Town, Interwar architecture in Kaunas and many other unique aspects. Lithuania is open to the world. Our geographic location and multiculturalism is attractive for foreign capital investors. In three decades (Lithuania will celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Independence) we have firmly integrated into the European Union, NATO and OECD, actively participating at various global projects.

The Lithuanian pavilion at the World EXPO 2020 in Dubai will be located on an individual 15.5 are plot near Germany, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Brazil and other states of the world. The 800–1200 m2 pavilion will introduce Lithuania and its achievements in the fields of sustainable development, high technology and scientific innovations using traditional materials and high-end technology, holograms, visual materials and artistic installations. We hope that the building of the pavilion will be distinguished by its original architecture and built using materials and technology, developed in Lithuania.

Just like at the previous EXPO events, we are planning to organise business visits, scientific conferences, tourism presentations and other events that focus on the theme of the EXPO throughout the entire event. We are hoping to celebrate Lithuania’s National Day on 16 February – the Restoration of Lithuanian Statehood, or the 11 March – Restoration of Lithuania’s Independence. During various cultural events Lithuania will introduce modern and traditional art and promote Kaunas as the European Capital of Culture of 2022. It would be very symbolic to exhibit one or several paintings of M. K. Čiurlionis at the Lithuanian pavilion during EXPO 2020. It could become a checkpoint of our genius’ works between the exhibition of Symbolism in the Baltic States at Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the recently-opened art museum, daringly called Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Lithuania has not made any official embassy connections with the United Arab Emirates so far. There is a feeling that the upcoming world EXPO in Dubai could become a pretense for making them now. Would the presence of the UAE embassy in Vilnius or Lithuania’s embassy in Abu Dhabi make any cardinal changes in the direction, scope or forms of Lithuania’s participation at the EXPO in Dubai?

Lithuania and UAE are in very good terms despite the fact that the Lithuanian Ambassador for UAE is currently residing in the Egyptian capital of Cairo and the UAE Ambassador for Lithuania is working in Warsaw. Dr Yousif Eisa Hassan Al Sabri, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates for Lithuania, has visited Lithuania with various delegations or business missions numerous times and is constantly showing his attention to Lithuania’s preparations for the EXPO 2020.

UAE, ranked as one of the Top 10 of the richest states in the world, is a global hub for transport, tourism and trade, as well as a priority market for Lithuanian exports. Our food companies, furniture and technological equipment producers are already successfully exporting their goods to UAE. Lithuania sees great potential for cooperation in the fields of information and financial technology, renewable energy (especially solar panels), health and life sciences.

The visit of the President of the Republic of Lithuania to the UAE last November was a great breakthrough in the development of the relations between the two states. The visit involved signing a memorandum of understanding between Lithuania and the UAE regarding cooperation in the fields of renewable energy and energy saving, which will become the basis for promoting investments in renewable energy, the development of energy saving technology and implementation of scientific research and joint projects. Thus, we can already see wide opportunities for the strong industry of Lithuanian solar energy, which has already firmly established in global markets and can offer the UAE market a new generation of solar modules that are known for their high efficiency, longevity and are adapted for the UAE climate.

Increasing bilateral cooperation, growing business interests and active Lithuanian community, which is largest in the region, gives premise to hope that the Lithuanian embassy for the UAE will soon open its door in Abu Dhabi, with direct flights connecting Vilnius and Dubai. The two countries getting closer on the eve of the event make Lithuania’s participation at EXPO 2020 even more important.

Thank you for the conversation. 
Interviewed by Zita Tallat-Kelpšaitė