Opinion: City Airport’s nod to Lithuanian residents

East Ham MP Stephen Timms, welcomes the new flights to Lithuania from City Airport.

East Ham MP Stephen Timms, welcomes the new flights to Lithuania from City Airport. - Credit: Archant

Polish airline LOT is new at London City Airport, flying to Warsaw and Budapest. At the beginning of May, it added a new destination: Vilnius, capital of Lithuania.

The airport kindly invited me on one of the first flights, to speak at a ceremony in the Polish Embassy in Vilnius, and celebrate launch of the new route.

We have in Newham probably the UK's largest Lithuanian community, numbering over 10,000 people. But it's a community which keeps a low profile. The Lithuanian Ambassador in London invited me once to a basketball tournament, with teams made up of Lithuanians living in the UK. Apart from that, I have not met Lithuanian community groups. So I welcomed the chance of the visit to learn about this country, where so many of our fellow citizens have their roots.

At the ceremony in Vilnius, British Ambassador Clare Lawrence told me a startling fact: over 10 per cent of the three million population of Lithuania is now in the UK! Large numbers came to Britain after Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. So far, few are returning home. She suggested, to understand the country better, I could visit Vilnius's "Museum of the Occupation".

I took up her suggestion the next morning. The museum is housed in a building formerly occupied by the KGB. It's a grim place - the dungeons are on public view - and the exhibition makes clear why Lithuanians so prize the freedom and prosperity which EU membership has brought. It's no surprise Lithuania so strongly supported Britain's call for sanctions against Russia after the Salisbury poisonings.

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The old town is a very pleasant, relaxed and picturesque place to walk through. Anyone looking for a weekend away in an unusual location will find Vilnius has a lot to offer.

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