'Continuity no less important than stability'

  • 2004-10-06
  • By Milda Seputyte
He is the grandfather of Lithuanian politics. In contrast to President Valdas Adamkus, who spent most of his life in America, Algirdas Brazauskas survived the gamut of life's experiences in pre-war, wartime and occupied Lithuania. He was instrumental in the nation's struggle for independence, first by forging the split of Lithuania's communists from the central party in Moscow and then by renaming the Communist Party of Lithuania to the Democratic Labor Party in 1990. He occupied key positions in the formative years of the republic's rebirth and as president helped facilitate the removal of Soviet troops in 1993.

No less importantly, however, Brazauskas, who has been prime minister since June 2001, has instilled an unprecedented degree of stability in Lithuanian politics. After the tumultuous years of 1999 - 2001, there could be no finer political contribution to the country's development. Thanks to the Brazauskas government's steady course, even the five-month long impeachment scandal failed to shake Lithuania's economy, the fastest growing in Europe. In an interview with The Baltic Times on Oct. 1, Prime Minister Brazauskas spoke of his government's accomplishments, the Oct. 10 elections, the legacy of the recent impeachment and Baltic cooperation.

The Social Democratic/Social Liberal Cabinet under your leadership has broken the national record for the longest-standing government. In your opinion, what is the government's biggest accomplishment over the past three years?

(picks up a document with the results of the latest opinion poll) Our biggest accomplishment is testified in this piece of paper, which affirms that the biggest accomplishment in our three years of work is an improved economy. Thirty-six percent of respondents say that the country's economic situation during the last year has improved. No one in the previous governments would have heard this. Nineteen percent of respondents believe that the economic situation is worse, and 42 [percent] say that the country's situation has not changed over the year.

Another good indicator shows that consumer confidence in Lithuania is far better than that in neighboring countries and outperforms the European average by several times. While confidence in our country was minus two, in Estonia it was minus seven and minus 18 in Latvia - what's more, minus 24 in Poland. The EU average is minus 11.

Do you realize what this means - this confidence index? It means that the proportion of those who have a good opinion in Lithuania and of those having a bad one is about the same.

I think these numbers characterize our government and our work in the social, economic and investment sectors during the past years.

Even your political opponents, the conservatives, praise your government for its political stability. How can the country maintain such stability after the Oct. 10 elections? Will you take the initiative yourself, or is there a new shift in generations that could continue the steady governance?

A new shift will come. Whether I take the responsibility or not is impossible to answer. Elections are meant to purify the political situation in the country, to find out who people trust, and whom they don't. If our coalition with [Chairman of Parliament and Chairman of the Social Liberal/New Union] Arturas Paulauskas gathers a majority of mandates, well, in that case I wouldn't object to continuing this job. I don't sense a great enthusiasm if I were to do that, but apparently there is no other solution.

And of course, during the three years our government has undergone a process of maturity, and now there are a few other ministers who are experienced enough to replace me in the position of prime minister.

However, the question of continuity is one of the most important issues facing the country right now. The words "stability" and "continuity" are very similar and have similar definitions. Therefore, I am a big advocate for stability and continuity - otherwise, we could never establish order in the state. We have been independent for 12 years, and I was appointed the 12th prime minister. An annual change of prime minister harms the economy and the people. Countries with presidents or prime ministers working for two or three terms achieve the highest level of growth. The prime minister in Slovenia worked for eight - 10 years, and now he is the president. We would find similar cases in Sweden, Finland and other prosperous countries.

But the fact that nothing is timeless is indisputable. Little by little my time is also coming. A new generation is under the process of formation.

However, the most important thing is to maintain the continuity and to keep out of revolutions. While observing the election campaign I often hear, "We need reforms, reforms." But how many times can we reform? It is time to live and work honestly, to pay taxes to the budget, social security and to have a sense of social responsibility. Businessmen especially must learn working without cheating - and everything will be very good (smiles).

Do you have any one particular candidate on your mind? Anyone whom you refer as suitable candidate to replace you?

No. I cannot say. It would be undiplomatic if I named people. But I would certainly have someone to propose.

Despite the government's social democratic core, some economists say the government demonstrates more of a right-wing orientation. This would include provisions involving business climate, tax policies or rigid national debt. How could you explain the Social Democrats' implementation of these liberalistic politics?

We implement social democratic politics, but some elements of liberalism are not alien. I'd like them to be more precise. This is a generalized claim. But how would you stimulate business without liberalizing its procedures? The main goal should be the stimulation of business activities. And one of the social democratic principles is to foster business while filling up the budget, enlarging the redistribution part of the national budget so that it reaches people who are incapable of supporting themselves.

[Lithuania was] recognized as having the most liberal business climate for investment among 116 countries. Yet I don't think the liberal elements of our politics should be used as an accusation.

Which party would you want to make political compromises with, and with whom would who want to work after the elections?

The ideal situation would be without anyone - then we would be stronger and would have more opportunities to choose from. However, it is too early to say anything. At the very least we must observe how the first round of elections pans out and see how our lists do. So I truly cannot yet say anything.

Certainly, the principal demand from [potential] partners would be to support our policies. We cannot form a coalition with someone who disagrees with our tax and land ownership policies. They would have to support our political program - the one we've demonstrated during the past three years. It will depend on how tolerant they are to our program and how flexible they would be in forming a government.

We have a very strong position on what kind of minister there should be these days. I emphasize "these days" because we are a member of the EU and do not live in some European backwoods. It is very different living in the backwoods from the requirements for current EU ministers, who have to demonstrate a good general knowledge, as well as good foreign language skills.

Some have discussed about a "rainbow" coalition. Would you think it could be a possibility?

Hardly. I doubt that.

What is your opinion about the new political party - the Labor Party - which is after a majority of the mandates?

It is difficult for me to assess [the party] because it hasn't showed a thing yet. No other personality has emerged during the campaign except the [party's] leader. Other individuals did not stand out in the discussions, or polemics or while clarifying their positions. I know 10 people at the most who belong to the party, but that is it. A new party has to work at least for 10 years, to show itself to society so that the electorate can trust it. It's a shame that while getting started some parties give people a lot of hope, but later on they just end up at the same point they started from - zero percent support.

While looking back at the country's scandalous political shakedowns this year, what lesson do you think Lithuania has learned from the presidential impeachment and parliamentary scandals?

I would say that Lithuania has certainly learned a lesson. The country witnessed the execution of laws, especially those that don't function in everyday life. That includes the presidential institution, the president's powers, the status of advisers - which, unfortunately, was undefined for 15 years.

When I was president, my adviser was my adviser. Yet now some people want to transform the president's adviser into the national adviser. If we were to joke, it would be just like during the czarist years. Therefore, the status of adviser must be strictly fixed. The main problem with [impeached President Rolandas] Paksas was not related to him but, more importantly, with his advisers.

So we have learned a lot. The Seimas [Lithuania's parliament] has learned a lot due to the impeachment process, which went all the way to the end in accordance to all regulations. We have learned a lesson of democracy and how the principles of democracy are applied in a state.

I don't think the impeachment harmed the country much. If we were to take the government, for instance, then not a bit. We continued working, even though some tend to blame Brazauskas for failing to interfere in this political venture. But I couldn't interfere; I have my own duties to do. As a result, we have maintained the same rhythm in an important stage with EU enlargement and the last negotiations with NATO.

All in all, I don't think it harmed the country itself.

How do you regard somewhat aggressive statements of the Russian media during the past month? How should Lithuania react?

If we were to speak about Kaliningrad transit, I think the EU institutions with the European Commission should negotiate with Russia more actively. This is not a matter of Lithuania and Russia but of EU and Russia. Our territory belongs to the general space of the EU, and we must obey to the appropriate laws. No one has the right to blame us for following them - Russian officials including. I have openly told [the Russians]: "You have to readjust to the current situation. You might not like it, but then, you have to negotiate intensively with the EU, and Lithuania as a participant."

That's it. I don't see any grounds for political conflict. Lithuania and Russia have had good relations during the entire independence period. And I believe that the Lithuanian government intends to prolong the era of good bilateral relations. I don't think there are grounds to politicize the issue; one has to understand current situation. We don't build additional barriers - we follow the general requirement applied to all EU members.

What is your judgment on the two Russian television programs, one of them blaming Lithuania for alleged collaboration with international terrorism and the other with spurious interpretations of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact?

Regarding the alleged involvement in terrorism, we've taken some steps. The pro-Chechen independence bureau has been terminated, and I believe the state will continue taking measures in fighting in similar situations.

The primary principle of Lithuania's foreign policy is Russia's integrity. We don't question its integrity and do not sympathize with the separatists. Without a doubt, we regard Russia as one federal state. Therefore, there are no grounds to blame us for that.

As far as the historical interpretations - I absolutely do not support this propagandist material that was engineered 60 years ago. Lithuania was occupied using the most brutal methods, and I can certainly affirm that to everyone. The rest is just ungrounded propaganda. Using the propaganda material after so many years and trying to prove somewhat different is desperate and improper behavior.

Should Lithuania react to the statements on the international level?

What does it mean to react to every program? I think it would be too honorable for them. It's enough to say one sentence. Should we go to polemics with some radio or television channel? [We have] too much honor.

On Oct. 4 a meeting of the Baltic Council of Ministers was scheduled. What are the main priorities for the meeting, and how would you describe the main goals and the importance of Baltic cooperation?

There are general matters that we've discussed more than once. These issues concern all three Baltic states and are particularly related to creating wider access to EU territory. Right now we seem like an island or a peninsula united with Poland by just 100 kilometers. So we have to make effective decisions in the peninsula to unite us with the rest of Europe.

This is very important for us strategically. And our goal is to enlarge this narrow segment of 100 kilometers with electricity connections, road networks, European railway systems reaching Tallinn and Finland. These are three primary goals. And certainly we're interested in enlarging our ports and big infrastructure projects. And finally, relations of the three Baltic countries with Russia and Belarus are of the greatest importance due to the extensive economic relations with these countries. These are the main issues we always discuss. Interview by Milda Seputyte