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Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is the center of two major international organizations: the European Union and NATO. Lithuania is a member of both organizations since 2004. The participation is threefold: Lithuanian politicians participate in the high institutions of these organizations as per their treaties, Lithuanian citizens also work in clerk and back office jobs, while the interests of Lithuania are additionally safeguarded by two diplomatic representative offices (equal to embassies in rank).

It is estimated that in total 10% (200 000) of Brussels population are expatriates with their work related to international organizations (their members, workers, journalists, advisors, etc. Lobbyists alone number 20 000). Furthermore, 50% of the population are immigrants with works not directly related to the international organizations.

Brussels capitalizes heavily on its "Capital of Europe" image. Various public places bear flagpoles with flags of every European Union member state, including Lithuanian. Words and placenames in various foreign languages (among them Lithuanian) are used for architectural decor in main locations. As this is created by workers who are not related to Lithuania anyhow mishaps happen, including upside-down flags and mistranslations into Lithuanian.

EU flags in a square in front of Brussels's Gare Du Midi railway station. Lithuanian tricolor (yellow-green-red) is hoisted upside down. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The most popular Europe-related attraction in Brussels is the Mini-Europe theme park which contains 1:25 miniatures of some 350 famous buildings from 80 cities all over EU. Lithuania is represented by a miniature of Vilnius University renaissance campus. It stands next to the Latvian (Riga Freedom Statue) and Estonian (fragment of Tallinn fortification) miniatures. All three are linked by a chain of miniature "people" symbolizing the Baltic Way, a protest against the Soviet occupation which took place in 1989. On that day some 2 million people from all three countries (equalling to 36% of their total ethnic population at the time) joined hand-in-hand from Vilnius to Riga to Tallinn. This was the first such protest in the world and it was later emulated in places such as Taiwan and Israel but the sheer number and percentage of participants were never matched.

A miniature of Vilnius UNiversity at the Mini-Europe park. Baltic Way is visible in lower left of the image. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

You may also listen to the Lithuanian anthem at the Mini Europe park and read some interesting facts on Lithuania in itsWhile the older EU members have up to 10 miniatures in the Mini-Europe park each Lithuania is unlikely to get new miniatures as the park expanded to its territorial limits.

Lithuanian representative office to the European Union is located in a turn-of-the-century house at Rue Belliard 41-43. Also housing the Lithuanian embassy to Belgium this is one of the largest Lithuanian governmental real estate properties outside Lithuania.

Lithuanian embassy at European Union and Belgium. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian representative office to NATO is located at the NATO HQ at Boulevard Leopold III en-route to the Brussels Zaventem international airport.

As per the European Union main treaties, Lithuania is also represented at the main institutions of the European Union. European Council and Council of European Union are the most important legislatures of the European Union where every country sends a single person (either minister or head of state) but they have unequal voting power based on the population of their countries. European Parliament, on the other hand, has a constant membership of elected members. 12 out of 785 members are elected in Lithuania. Lithuania also has 18 (out of 688) members of the Europe's Regional Committee and 9 (out of 344) of the Europe's Social Committee and has representation in smaller institutions. Politicians typically have their clerks and advisors. The job at European Parliament is popular among famous Lithuanian politicians who lost popularity or are controversial at home. Lithuanian media is not interested in the European institutions as much as the local politics and thus working in Brussels provides a shelter from unwanted attention.

The European Union also has its "government" known as the European Commission. It has 27 Commissioners, one from each country (including Lithuania), and these Commissioners each have their own portfolio and are obliged to serve the Union rather than their own countries.

As Lithuanian is one of the 23 official languages of the European Union the EU institutions also have their Lithuanian name written on their entrance plaques while many EU regulations and directives are translated into Lithuanian. This requires a strong - in the European Parliament alone there are at the busy times as many interpreters working as there are MPs (~750).

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