Insightful decisions allow Lithuania to celebrate today – president

  • 2024-03-29
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Lithuania "would not be celebrating today" if it weren't for the "insightful and far-reaching" decisions it made after regaining independence, President Gitanas Nauseda said on Friday as the nation marks 20 years since it became a full-fledged member of NATO. 

"We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of NATO membership at a challenging time. Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine reminds us that peace in Europe is not a given. Every day, we see how difficult it is to defend freedom and human dignity," Nauseda said at a flag-raising ceremony in Daukanto Square in front of the Presidential Palace in Vilnius at noon. 

"We would not be celebrating today if it were not for the insightful and far-reaching decisions made at the beginning of Independence," he said. 

For Lithuania, history has always been and still is "like an open, unhealing wound", according to the president.

"That is why, immediately after restoring an independent democratic state, we moved to ensure its security. We felt that the source of yesterday’s threats – Russian imperialism – had not disappeared. We knew that one day it could resurge with renewed force," he said.

Nauseda thanked the US and other Western countries for their support to Lithuania in achieving NATO membership two decades ago and for ensuring its security now.

"Today, Lithuania is a resilient and strong nation, preparing for total defense. Today, we are more secure than ever," the president said.

"However, history serves as a constant reminder that we must stand ready. We must continue to steadily increase defense spending. To invest in our security. To support Ukraine," he added.

Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said in a statement on Friday that NATO membership is as "a privilege".

"Lithuania's 20th anniversary of NATO membership is a tremendous achievement and a privilege for our country to build prosperity on the foundation of freedom, peace, and security," the prime minister said. "It is only under a secure sky that democracy can thrive, civil society grow and prosper, and a nation share its individuality with the world."

"This privilege, unfortunately absent in the besieged Ukraine defending itself, the free world, and its values, still doesn't turn security into a given, reminding us that we ourselves bear the duty for a secure tomorrow," she added.

Several hundred people, including government officials, MPs and the military, watched the flag-hoisting ceremony in the capital.

Dainius Norkevicius, a 32-year-old construction project manager, told BNS that NATO membership not only gives Lithuania security, but also self-confidence and a voice on the global stage. 

Vygantas, a 50-year-old economist, said, "If we weren't in NATO, we'd be in Ukraine's position." 

"I always thought that we should join NATO and the EU. Absolutely. Thank God the government had the foresight to join these organizations," he told BNS.