Paul Berman was recently appointed as the Honorary Consul of The Republic of Lithuania in Cape Town. The CJC spoke to him about his new position.
How did you come to be connected to the Lithuanian consulate?
For the last 10 years the Lithuanian Embassy in Israel was also responsible for relations with South Africa. The Lithuanian Ambassador in Israel is officially accredited to South Africa as a non-resident ambassador. The decision was taken by the Lithuanian Government as a result of the large Lithuanian Jewish community in South Africa; approximately 90% of South African Jewry has roots in Lithuania. I was approached by Ambassador Darius Degutis who was looking for an Honorary Consul in Cape Town. I am delighted to jointwo other Lithuanian Honorary Consuls; Mr. Ivor Feinberg in Pretoria and Mr. Raymond Joffe in Johannesburg.
What does an Honorary Consul (“HC”) do?
An HC coordinates relations with Lithuania on various levels and spheres: business, culture and tourism.
Lithuania plans to open a permanent Embassy in Pretoria in the coming months and this confirms the seriousness of the Lithuanian Government to develop relations with South Africa, especially with its Litvak community. At the same time Lithuania actively investigates new emerging markets in Africa and my experience in business could be helpful in this regard. Lithuania, as a member of the European Union, also has access to EU funding programmes which could be successfully used in developing joint investment projects in South Africa.
Another important issue where the HC could be of assistance is the restoration of Lithuanian citizenship for South African Litvaks. When the permanent Embassy is opened later this year in Pretoria, one of the main functions of the Embassy will be to assist the Litvak community with their inquiries for Lithuanian citizenship restoration.
The HC is also responsible for assisting visiting Lithuanian delegations to organise official diplomatic receptions on the National Day of Lithuania.
We are expected to provide consular assistance for Lithuanian citizens who might need it — usually these are situations related to helping citizens in case of accidents, serious illnesses and criminal matters.
The HC, if requested by the Lithuanian Government or the Ambassador, could perform various official duties by attending official functions and meetings. Most importantly, the HC is expected to be part of the team assisting the Ambassador in performing his duties.
What strengths and knowledge base is useful for being an Honorary Consul?
In this particular case my Lithuanian roots are of significance. Belonging to the Litvak community by having ancestors who came from Lithuania creates a historic opportunity to rebuild the connection with Lithuania. Despite being so far apart there is a huge interest among the South African Litvak community as well as in Lithuania to develop widespread cooperation.
Today Lithuania is one of the strongest supporters of Israel and the Jewish people on the international arena. The Lithuanian Government pays very special attention to relations with the Jewish community both in Lithuania and abroad. The Lithuania of today knows and remembers the tragic history of its Jewish community and it takes special effort in rebuilding the trust between our communities.
I do also expect that my business background will be a very important asset in performing my duties as Honorary Consul of Lithuania.