'Time to move beyond the barking and biting'

  • 2005-03-23
  • Interview by Milda Seputyte
President Valdas Adamkus' decision to skip the World War II anniversary hoopla in Moscow has sparked fears of a resurgent chill in Lithuanian-Russian relations. Others believe that the rejection will soon be forgotten. For an expert opinion on the matter, The Baltic Times met with Justinas Karosas, a Social Democrat who heads the foreign affairs committee in Lithuania's Parliament. In his opinion, the fallout will be minimal, and the episode will quickly blow over.

Are bilateral relations with Russia worsening, and what impact could President Valdas Adamkus' decision [not to go to Moscow on May 9] have for future developments?

In general, the situation does not change our bilateral relations with Russia, which, despite emotional eruptions provoked by the May 9 celebrations, are rather normal. These good relations will not change dramatically in the future, although on the psychological level some impact could remain on both sides. In specific cases for some businessmen, for instance, the situation could bring disadvantages because the psychological factors could impact some people's behavior. But the general political orientation 's both ours and Russia's 's obviously cannot change. If this happened, it would mean that Russia was changing its political aims in pan-EU relations.

Changing relations with Lithuania today means altering relations with the EU. Keeping this in mind, I realize that no radical changes can occur. As for the long-term perspective, relations with Russia depend highly on [the latter's] democratic developments. If autocratic tendencies continue squeezing democracy, then, of course, Lithuanian-Russian relations might change.

How do you regard the decision by President Adamkus to reject the invitation to Moscow?

The decision of the president was primarily based on historical arguments and emotions, not the assessments of present reality. But politicians are hostage to citizens, and we have to take into consideration the opinion of our electorate.

On the other hand, slightly more people favored Adamkus' trip to Moscow. But the interesting thing here is that the people supporting the trip were predominantly simple people who do not know political nuances. But the smaller part of society against the trip overwhelmed the majority, which did not have major support among intellectuals who have a voice in society. The intellectual minority was so loud that its opinion reverberated here. Obviously, the noise resounded in the president's headquarters and had an effect.

Moreover, the president was personally harmed during World War II and has bitter memories of the period, just like many other Lithuanians. Therefore, it's understandable why he gave this particular answer.

In the Lithuanian mindset, the occupation often overwhelms the other related historical fact 's the defeat of Nazism 's and so some foreigners regard us as a bit uncivilized. This is why I argued that we shouldn't be so egocentric, and we should also see the other side of the problem. I think it's a strange way of attracting the world's attention to the problems of our history.

Some people fear that Russia could implement some kind of economic measures in response. Does this have any grounds?

Economics has its own rules of existence, and benefit stands in the first place. Politics can influence the developments of an economy, but not to [such great extents]. In general, politics should not change the present commercial situation. But for some period of time, while the emotions are still high, in some specific cases a certain head of an enterprise might decide to bite back. But such incidents are usually quickly forgotten.

In general, what would be the best strategy in Lithuanian 's Russian relations? Some argue that one ought to smile and act diplomatically. Others argue that only baring one's teeth will get Lithuania anything.

I don't support either position. Neither bowing down nor assuming the stance of a barking dog in a corner; they're not good styles of diplomacy. I favor civilized politics, when emotions do not overshadow rationality and obviously include pragmatism. When speaking about our stance with Russia, the later style of politics, however, is still very rare. The explanation for the lack of balance could be the historical context, and obviously our psychological reaction to Russian matters is very sensitive.

However, it's justifiable when simple people react sensitively, but politicians, I believe, should be different from other people in terms of ability to control this emotional constraint and to push rationality and the perception of reality into the first place.

Today some of our politicians forget that they are members of EU and NATO, that we have a common policy with member states. We have to hold onto common policy and should not revert back to the language of 10 years ago, when we were lonesome and no one in the world understood us. We must learn to regard ourselves as a state of a new quality. Keeping that in mind would help us behave more courageously in certain situations and would help us in controlling historical emotions.

Russian Ambassador Boris Cepov was the first ever diplomat in Lithuania to publicly attack the independent media. How should the ambassador's actions against Lietuvos Rytas be regarded?

The publication itself wasn't sound 's to put it nicely. But in our political tradition we are used to criticism, and such an article would not surprise us as such. The ambassador has been here for quite some time now, and he should have realized what our media tradition here is. But the tone of his letter clearly reveals that he is a person used to different practices. The manner of the writing is hardly understandable. Perhaps it would have been better if he approached the issue with humor, but he chose the style of a dictator instead. This reveals the somewhat specific standard of mentality and perception of what democracy is about.

Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis last week was shocked to encounter that Russian diplomacy was implementing dual standards in interpretation of Lithuanian-Russian relations. Do you also have the same impression?

It is true that Russia does provide one product for the domestic market and another on the international level. After a phone conversation, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a press release that dramatically differed from the Lithuanian version of the conversation. Of course, this is unacceptable practice when the content of a conversation is distorted. I guess it happens sometimes in diplomacy, but of course this isn't very good when two sides regard the same issue completely differently.