Lithuania can regain regional leadership – foreign minister
18 Mar 04
Lithuania is capable of regaining its status as regional leader
despite its continuing domestic political problems, the Lithuanian
foreign minister, Antanas Valionis, has told the magazine
Veidas. Valionis said that Lithuania’s mission was to serve as a model
for other post-Soviet countries, and that it would be helping these
countries in the future. The following is an excerpt from an interview
with Valionis, conducted by Audrius Baciulis, entitled “We have to
prove first that our democracy is strong” and published on 18 March;
subheadings inserted editorially:
Lithuania’s political isolation continues
Lithuania has been living in mild isolation for some time
already. Leaders of neighbouring countries pass Lithuania and
agreements normally signed by the presidents are signed by foreign
ministers. Estonia is aiming at taking over the position of the
region’s front-runner. The magazine Veidas discussed with the foreign
minister, Antanas Valionis, whether it was possible to regain the lost
Question More than six months ago, there was talk that, after the
completion of the second round of NATO expansion, a summit of the
Vilnius Ten group of countries which are joining NATO or seek its
membership will be held in Lithuania. Is the summit still on the
Valionis No, it isn’t. The initiative was suspended in spite of some
support we received from several countries. Unfortunately, bearing in
mind the current internal political situation, this is not
realistic. The initiative was taken over by Slovakia. The summit of
the Vilnius Ten and the leaders of several other countries will be
held in Bratislava on 19 March . The Lithuanian prime minister will go
to the summit.
Question Is this not an example of how the presidential scandal
impedes Lithuania’s foreign policy?
Valionis You see, it is difficult to present this as an example
because the whole initiative to organize a conference of the Vilnius
Ten was abandoned at the stage of discussions. This is not an
initiative which was fully agreed and then recalled.
However, it can be seen in that light as well. Until the impeachment
process has not been completed, we will be treated differently from
Neighbours benefit from political turmoil
Question Perhaps this is why the Estonian foreign minister told his
Ukrainian counterpart, arrived in Estonia from Vilnius, that Estonia
would be Ukraine’s advocate in its aspirations to join the EU. If am
not mistaken, Lithuania was engaged in this for several years until
Valionis The most important instrument in our foreign policy, the
heavy artillery of sorts, has not worked in Lithuania for some months
already. Thus, understandably, Lithuania’s possibilities decreased
accordingly. The fate of Ukraine is one of the most important European
geopolitical factors, and I think that Ukraine must become a member of
the European Union and NATO. Lithuania will be Ukraine’s advocate in
Question The former president, Valdas Adamkus, said that it was
possible to regain Lithuania’s leadership in the region if we try hard
Valionis It is certainly possible. And, undoubtedly, we shall have to
make efforts. First of all, we will have to prove to ourselves and to
our partners abroad that democracy in our country is strong enough and
capable of coping with such serious challenges as the presidential
Our regional leadership will materialize through our strategic
partnership with Poland, and through our active policy on Kaliningrad
Region, and this will enhance our role in the European Union.
Question How long could this take?
Valionis It is difficult to say. The task of the Foreign Ministry is
to do everything in order to make this happen as soon as possible. It
should not take too long because we are showing initiative and we are
Lithuania’s presence in Transcaucasus justified
Question In spite of all the scandals, Lithuania decided to open its
embassy in Georgia. Who needs that?
Valionis There are reasons for this. This is a matter of Lithuania’s
strategic decision. The Caucasus is a very sensitive and a very
important region and, until now, we did not have an embassy there. A
resident ambassador in Georgia can represent Lithuania in Armenia and
What our partners in Europe and the United States have been saying is
true – Lithuania can be a good expert on former Soviet countries. The
contacts we have maintained until now have shown that we are capable
of carrying out this task successfully. This is consistent with
Lithuania’s interests because, apart from the EU market of 450m
people, we are also interested in the markets of Ukraine, Moldova,
Russia and the Transcaucasus countries. The more so that Lithuania has
long-standing cultural links with these countries.
Finally, having established strong democracy in this country (the test
of impeachment will prove this), we could be a model for the
Transcaucasus countries. We feel it is our moral duty to help them as
the European Union helped us some time ago.
Having liberated ourselves from the Soviet Union we all started on the
same level. But our actions, which were more efficient, helped us to
achieve such results that these countries look at Lithuania with
admiration. Therefore, our objective now is to help them by showing
how we did it.
Political crises last long
Question Do our diplomats explain to our partners abroad what is
currently going on in Lithuania and, most importantly, why this is
taking such a long time?
Valionis We can recall the Watergate scandal – the process until the
resignation of the US president, Richard Nixon, lasted for seven
months. The impeachment process against Bill Clinton also lasted for
several months. The drawback of democracy is that all procedures take
a long time. However, there is no other way out. Otherwise, Lithuania
could hardly be described as a democratic country.
Question Journalists of neighbouring Poland wonder what will happen if
Lithuania accedes to NATO and the European Union with a “lame-duck”
Valionis Not only Polish journalists ask me this question. I do not
know either how the European Union and NATO would treat a president
who has been handed down a ruling by the Lithuanian Constitutional
Question However, a certain international isolation does exist. It
will be the prime minister and not the president who will go to the
ceremony of signing NATO entry documents.
Valionis There will be no signing of documents. The Seimas parliament
has ratified the North Atlantic Treaty and it will be deposited at the
US State Department on 29 March. From that moment, Lithuania will be a
member of NATO and the prime minister, Algirdas Brazauskas, will
attend the festive membership inauguration ceremony, which will bear a
symbolic rather than legal significance. Like hoisting the Lithuanian
flag at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on 2 April. Passage omitted
Agreement on EU constitution to be reached soon
Question What is the situation with regard to the EU constitution? As
of 1 May Lithuania will be an EU member, yet the internal rules
regulating the EU’s internal life still do not exist.
Valionis This only demonstrates the existence of internal democracy in
the European Union. This is not the first or the last case when EU
members failed to agree . This proves that there is no diktat in the
EU, and that each member state has its voice and its point of
view. Moreover, this demonstrates the importance of the search for
compromise in the EU.
I think that the matters related to the EU constitution will start
moving forward in the near future. In principle, all the issues have
been resolved, except the issue of defining the qualified majority
voting. Germany has tabled a new proposal which is similar to
Lithuania’s proposal and we discussed it at the conference of foreign
ministers in Naples. The proposal concerns linking the percentage of
votes given to countries and their population. It is beneficial to
Lithuania. The reaction of Spain is not known yet because of the
recent elections there after which a new government came to power ,
and it is not yet clear how France will react to the proposal. Poland
was a strong opponent of the new voting procedure as defined in the
draft EU constitution and it is still not known how it will react to
the new proposal.
In any event, this is a step towards a compromise. I think that the
agreement will be reached.
NATO security guarantees in real terms
Question And what about the split inside NATO that surfaced last year?
It has been patched up by smooth talk so far.
Valionis I would not say it was patched up by words. We must recall
the history of NATO – many things happened in the past. We must not
forget that some time ago NATO’s headquarters had to be moved from
France to Brussels. However, the willingness to talk and to reach
agreement prevailed. What is important for us is what is taking place
now. After Lithuania ratified the North Atlantic Treaty, political
security guarantees stipulated in its paragraph five will evidently
turn into defence guarantees in real terms.
Question Military bases were also mentioned.
Valionis The talks about military bases are some kind of
misunderstanding which stems from our mentality problems. We have been
saying “We and NATO”, as if some sort of a military base is moving
from NATO to Lithuania. NATO does not have military bases outside its
territory that would not be subject to the laws of the country on the
territory of which they are set up. Lithuania is NATO. If we are
talking about airspace policing, the aircraft will be deployed at
Lithuanian military bases. This must be understood. Therefore, talks
about amending some article in the constitution presumably to allow
NATO bases is some kind of misunderstanding.
Apart from this, there are no reasons to think that we live in a
conflict region. On the contrary, our NATO membership will further
increase stability in the region.
Russia does not pose military threat
Question Is it possible to live peacefully in Russia’s neighbourhood
when we see that not much democracy is left in that country?
Valionis We watch closely the processes in Russia because we cannot be
indifferent to them. We are prepared to cooperate and we have proved
this more than once, and the example of this can be the solution of
the Kaliningrad transit issue or discussing the issues of the transit
of goods and delivering supplies to Kaliningrad Region after we join
Concerning the political situation in Russia, it is better to leave
this to political analysts to discuss. Ministers should be rather
careful about what they say. However, we do not see any signals
indicating a military threat. Passage omitted
As a member state of NATO and the European Union, we will feel more
secure and will be therefore able to be more open in cooperation with