Dear President Nausėda,
Friends and distinguished guests.
This past year, Kaunas has been “one big stage for Europe”.
A European Capital of Culture!
A stage bustling with creativity, diversity and positive energy. Your programme included over 4000 artists, 60 exhibitions and over 250 concerts.
You have opened a creative space which gives shelter to Ukrainian artists and families. You have opened the door, not just to art, but to people, their free ideas, and to healing. At a time when war has sadly returned to our continent. Kaunas has welcomed over 13,000 Ukrainians refugees.
So with all my heart, I can only say: thank you.
Thank you for sharing with us your community’s deep roots and resilience. And for inspiring solidarity across our Union.
For this was not a European Capital of Culture year like any other. You understand better than most the value and power of art. Modernism helped Kaunas reimagine the identity of a newly independent Lithuania 100 years ago.
And your city has again shown how art can be used in the fight for freedom. While Putin’s war has closed the door to cultural venues in Ukraine, you opened CulturEUkraine, a centre for public debate, cultural exchange and art therapy. It protects and projects Ukrainian voices. So together, we can re-affirm what it means to be European today.
That is the main topic of your symposium: the idea of Europe.
An idea that was born roughly 25 centuries ago in Greece. For ancient Greeks, Europe wasn’t just a geographic term. It meant freedom, democracy, and power in the hands of free citizens. The absence of autocracy. Today, the idea of Europe has gone back to its origins. And “joining Europe” has become synonymous with reclaiming your country’s sovereignty against foreign oppression. Yes, Russia is trying to take us back in time. But those who have struggled to be free will not accept the bondages of an uglier past. The EU and our Member States have already supported Ukraine with almost 20 billion euros, and this does not include our military assistance.
Lithuania is the world’s second largest humanitarian donor to Ukraine, per capita. From a small country like yours comes a great example for our entire Union. We are grateful for this.
We will continue to stand by Ukraine. Because Ukrainians are fighting for hope in a better future – a European future. The same way your city, and your nation, have struggled to be free.
I wish you a wonderful discussion.
Long live Europe.