Lithuania has just celebrated its 31st anniversary of independence restoration. The day of March 11 1990 permeated with anxiety and jubilation throughout has carved out eternally a distinguished chapter in the history books of independent Lithuania, as well as the Act signatories, some of whom perhaps stand out among the others, still alive, for their life-long devotion for the sake of the nation, international recognition and insightfulness into the future. The Baltic Times sat down to speak with Laima Liucija Andrikiene, a signatory of the March 11 1990 Independence Restoration Act and now a Homeland Union-LCD MP.
You’re a signatory of the March 11 1990 independence restoration act. If you were to think back, what do you believe was the formula for it? What ingredients were crucial?
I am a signatory of the Act of the restoration of Lithuanian independence, Act of 11th March. That is the topmost peak that I attained in my lifetime. Then, in 1990, I was 32. The miracle that occurred during my life and the greatest trust that I, as a young politician, received from my nation – to vote for the restoration of an independent Lithuanian state according to my electors’ will, and then to devote my entire life to the achievement of the proclaimed goals. This March we shall celebrate 31 years since Lithuania restored its statehood, is a free and democratic country, deserving its recognition in the world.
The formula for the reinstatement of statehood is clear: first, the 16th February 1918 Act of the Lithuanian Council proclaiming the restitution of the Lithuanian state with its capital in Vilnius, then the following 22 years of the independent Republic of Lithuania until the 1940 Soviet occupation, the policy of non-recognition by the world’s democratic countries; second, even after fifty years of occupation the nations’ lasting desire for a democratic state, kept alive by post-war armed resistance, then – of Soviet era dissidents; third, the economic and moral collapse of the USSR empire of evil, forcing Mikhail Gorbachev to seek pathways to the West and to instigate “perestroika”; fourth, we, taking advantage of that window of opportunity, the slightly lighter regime, escaping from the prison of nations, announcing the reinstatement of an independent state, appealing to the free world for recognition and support, and receiving it; fifth, the will of the Lithuanian people to resist all provocations, the USSR’s violence in January 1991 and the subsequent economic blockade, seeking our goals by peaceful means. Those who thought that the singing revolution of unarmed people was weak and powerless, were proved wrong: having faith in being in the right, wishing ill to nobody, a community of people peacefully fighting for freedom is more powerful than armored vehicles and tanks, than the entire USSR military armada. Lithuania being first to speak up and leave the USSR, not only that, but dealing a strong blow to the Soviet Union, which slightly more than a year later fell with a crash, the waves of its fall strongly echoing in the most unlikely parts of the globe far from Lithuania.
What do you believe are the nation’s biggest accomplishments over the independent course? And the biggest setbacks?
Our greatest achievement is our people and the Lithuania in which we live: a modern, dynamic European country, with the goals of which its fathers, the signatories of the 16th February Act, could only dream, accomplished. Lithuania was never, at any time, this strong and noticed in Europe and in the world in general. Our membership in NATO and the EU, the United Nations and the prestigious OECD club – are giant achievements, particularly if we recall from where and in what condition we reached the 11th March 1990.
But the greatest problems of our time, answers to which we must and shall find, are the demographic situation and emigration, in other words a shrinking Lithuania. As well as the challenges we face by being part of a global world. Global competition not only forces us not to stay still, to constantly feel a hunger for innovation, new technologies, but also to find ways to advance and preserve our national identity and language.
We live in a boring world, fast losing its distinguishing features: in whatever country in the world we may find ourselves, everywhere the same shops, the same clothing brands, the same hotels and cars, the same banks and universally valid bank cards, the same office “glass boxes”, restaurants serving much the same drinks and food… In such a unisex (not in respect of gender but in its wider meaning) standpoint-promoting world, a no less important challenge is the goal of remaining oneself, it is perseverance, preserving one’s identity in all it aspects, on a state level – to remain Lithuanians and safeguard Lithuania. For those who will come after us. And then this earth and the Lithuanian nation will be their responsibility.
There are now new attempts to bestow the title of President to Vytautas Landsbergis, the architect of Lithuania’s 1990 independence restoration, who was the chairman of Lithuania’s Re-Constituent Seimas (Parliament) in 1990. Some, however, believe that revisiting the issue and its forceable pushing forward, this time from the Homeland Union, which orchestrates the new Lithuanian government and the legislature, Seimas, and behind which stands Vytautas Landsbergis himself, cast a shadow on his legacy. What do you make of that?
Vytautas Landsbergis was the first leader of the Lithuanian state that was restored by the Act of 11th March 1990. That is an unarguable fact, both historically and legally. According to Lithuanian laws of the time there was no such post as President, the highest government official was the Chairman – or what was very common for English speakers, the President – of parliament, and parliament was called the Supreme Council. Based on that, we may and should call V Landsbergis Chairman or President of the Supreme Council, the highest official of the Lithuanian state between March 1990 and October 1992. Until the time when, following the elections to Seimas, Algirdas Brazauskas was elected Chairman on 25th November 1992 and, following the enactment of the new Constitution, assumed the duties of Acting President of the Republic of Lithuania. Later, he won the presidential elections on 14th February 1993 and was inaugurated President on 25th February of the same year.
It was my good fortune to work hand in hand with professor Vytautas Landsbergis for twenty years: in Seimas from 1990-2000, and in the European Parliament from 2004-2014. Working together enabled me to get to know this man well, as a human being, as a politician and artist, a real humanist. I saw him too during the fateful days and nights of January 1991. Together we went on a number of foreign missions.
Whatever may be, I will not stop saying and testifying: for the first two and a half years of the restored Lithuania Vytautas Landsbergis was the leader of the country, de jure and de facto. Not only that, he was courageous, reliable, wise, sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, a grand master of high politics – one of whom we should be proud, and pleased to possess.
One of the leaders of the Lithuanian partisan movement during 1944-1953, Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas, has been bestowed the title of Lithuanian President by Lithuanian parliamentarians for his exceptional role in combatting the Soviets. Do you believe there can be more candidacies to claim the title post-mortem in having their heroism acknowledged?
I will be open: I disagree with such practices. History should be left to historians, while today’s politicians, elected by the people, should deal with today’s life. That is the essence of representative democracy. Otherwise we may find that, after a change in the balance of power in the parliament, for example, the critical mass being achieved by populists of one or another stripe, we shall find other people from the past being “reappraised”, being awarded impressive titles, which we may not like at all.
We have many ways to express our love, respect, recognition to Lithuanian freedom fighters. Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas – an inter-war Lithuanian officer, famous partisan leader, general, chief of the Lithuanian partisan armed forces, Chairman of the Council of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters, coordinator of the resistance to the Soviet occupation. Already seriously ill, he was betrayed in 1953, executed in Moscow’s Butyrky prison at the end of 1954. The history of a brave man, inspirational, teaching us how to love one’s country, democracy, freedom. This brave Lithuanian’s name and achievements are known to all Lithuanians and highly valued. Lithuania remembers, loves and respects partisan leader Vytautas. His memory and legacy are alive. A Seimas decision changes nothing, nor can it do so. I think that the Seimas decision arose from a desire to strengthen a historical identity of the state of Lithuania, and that is all.
Having ended an over-decade long service in the European Parliament, surprisingly to many, you entered the parliamentary race last year and won resoundingly in a single-member constituency in Telšiai district. Why did you decide to wade into a river that many thought you’d crossed already without looking back?
Many things can happen in life, often what you never planned. Not only that, but what you never even dreamt. But it happens, exactly after a gap of 20 years, after three terms at the European Parliament you return to Lithuania’s Seimas. I left in November 2000, returned in November 2020. And there you have Alexandre Dumas’ “Twenty Years After” in Lithuanian politics and my personal life :-)
The Seimas elections of 2020 were not in my personal plans: after completing my third term in the European Parliament in 2019 I returned to Lithuania, lived quietly, but could not stop being interested in politics. Politics is in my blood, in my genes: after all, I am the daughter of a deportee and political prisoner, all of mother’s family were deported to Siberia. It was just that my interest in politics, more accurately – activity, took a different form: I accepted an invitation from a Brussels-based international fund to join their board, I won the OSCE/ODIHR selection process to lead ODIHR’s election observation mission to the North Macedonian parliamentary elections. I worked in North Macedonia during June and July of last year, led an international team, operating under Covid-19 pandemic conditions, so, no shortage of adrenalin… But before departing to Skopje, unable to resist my party’s members’ insistence, flood of proposals and pleas, I signed an agreement to stand for election to Seimas. The result – I was elected to Seimas, not in the Telšiai single-member constituency, but on the party list: I received much trust, more than enough first-choice ballots, to be elected. I began my four-year term in Seimas last November.
Today’s Seimas is not the same as the one I left twenty years ago. It is dominated by the young generation, children in comparison to me. So, I waded into a river, but this river is completely different, of a different quality. And I returned a changed person: having learned many things, bringing European viewpoints and standards with me, ready to share my experience, to expand today’s Seimas’ political horizon. Hopefully I shall be successful.
Aren’t you too over-qualified for the MP’s job in the national legislature, Seimas?
Do you really think so, or are you trying to provoke me? To serve Lithuania is an honour and a pleasure for me – for whom else could I work if not for Lithuania, my motherland? Where to work, in Seimas, Government, European Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (of which I am Vice President) – what is the difference where? The only differences are the surroundings, colleagues and instruments, but the purpose, the mission remains the same: strenghthenning Lithuanian statehood, defending Lithuania’s interests, searching for allies and collaboration with them, seeking the achievement of results relevant to Lithuania.
However, coming back with European Parliamentary experience, smile-provoking situations arise when one notices politicians thinking that Lithuania is the center of the world, forgive the expression – the navel of the world. But we are not the center of the world, we are not the sun around which other countries rotate like planets. We are a small state on the edge of the European Union, although in our genes we apparently still exist from sea to sea.
National politics is not the same as working at the EU level. But what matters is that priorities and aims should coincide, means may and should differ.
Can you answer honestly, please: hasn’t the HU-LCD moved 180 degrees from the right to the left, to a Western-style Conservative party? Is that good or bad? Does the word “Christian” in the party’s name make sense now?
Every word of the party’s name is meaningful, from first to last. Motherland, union, Lithuania, Christians and democrats. They are the party’s “key” words, not losing their meanings but clarifying them, embodied in their realization, real accomplishments. Your words surprise me: surely you do not think that a western style conservative party is a left wing one? That would be impossible! Are you trying to say that TS-LKD is a party of the left? I cannot agree with that: we are a center-right party, a member of the European Peoples’ Party family. Of course, if you are looking for precise equivalents to hundred-year old definitions, you will not find them, they do not and will not exist.
I am surprised that some people believe that ideologies are defined once and for all time. I do not think so. In a quickly changing world everything is changing, society is also a part of those changes, so why should ideologies stay in the permafrost zone? Ideologies change too, gaining new distinguishing features and expressions.
On the other hand, one can see that when no single party wins a majority of votes in an election and a coalition government is formed and rules, in the process of seeking points of contact and making joint decisions the boundaries between ideologies can appear to be erased. Then it does look as though there is no Christian democratic or conservative stream. That is a deceptive impression, it is merely the search for consensus, which has its price. Most often such consensuses do not last long: the civil society corrects its evaluation and sympathies at the next elections. That is how democracy works, and it is not worth looking for the renunciation of any principles.
What do you make of the new Conservative/Liberal government? Where do you see its upsides and downsides?
It was not an easy task to form a coalition, the differences among the parties, particularly between our TS-LKD and the two liberal parties are clear. The coalition’s work began slightly more than a hundred days ago, and it is hard to say what will come of it. It is, however, obvious that nobody else was there to form a center-right coalition, there were no options to choose from. So far we are progressing without major problems: we approved the 2021 budget, we jointly battle with the Covid-19 pandemic, and we prepare for essential reforms. The spring session of Seimas will open in March, socially sensitive issues are foreseen on the agenda, ones like the legalization of same-sex partnerships, ratification of the Istanbul Convention and others. These decisions will be hard tests for all of Seimas and the ruling coalition. What is important is that the coalition is united on issues such as foreign policy, economics and business regulation, environment, Green policies, health care and education.
It is always important to remember and remind others that when disagreements and problems arise, that there are many more things that unite than separate us.
Do you see Belarus without Lukashenko and Russia without Putin?
Without any problem, definitely yes. The reason for this – trivial: they are mortal. The day will come, when they will be no more.
We, like the whole democratic world, are well aware that elections in which they were proclaimed winners, have been rigged, consequently, neither V. Putin, nor A. Lukashenka are legitimate presidents. EU and Russia relations have never ever been so bad. This applies to EU–Belarus relations also. For the benefit of the people of Russia and Belarus these two should go.
I believe that if they had any sense they would resign from their posts at the earliest opportunity. Because how do “leaders” of this sort end their career and life? There are numerous examples from earlier times and the more recent past, everywhere in the world they end sadly.
The longer they stay in power, the longer becomes the list of their problems and bad deeds, while their popularity steadily declines. It is replaced by people’s dissatisfaction and anger. There really is no need to wait for people’s love and tolerance to reach complete lowliness. Any authority, whose expression of “love” for the nation is “banana balls”, coercion and violence, fabricated accusations and politically motivated imprisonment sentences, signs the death sentence for itself.
How did you personally make it through the lockdown? What was the hardest and the easiest for you?
A difficult, unpleasant time. Living space limited to home and garden, whereas the heart yearns for the ocean, or at least the sea, woods and dunes, all those things that most refresh the heart and mind. For some reason I cannot read books at the moment, even though I could find the time and like doing so.
So, three computers – one is not enough – have become irreplaceable parts of my existence through an entire year of restrictions, my days, weeks and months. There is no shortage of activity: Seimas, its committees and commissions work remotely, consequently entire days go by in front of computer screens, video cameras and microphones.
On top of that, there is unceasing unease about the health of my nearest and dearest and myself, about Covid-19 in general, and what is happening in the world: millions of deaths due to the pandemic, the worrying political situation in the USA, China’s and Russia’s aggressive behavior, events in Belarus and, of course, everything related to the European Union. I am a person of the world, and what is happening in the world is important to me, touches me.