Russia puts Europe to a test of morality

  • 2006-01-11
  • Interview by Sven Becker
Vytautas Landsbergis is one of the few Baltic politicians whose reputation stretches far beyond the region's borders. Having led Lithuania to independence in 1990, he has remained an influential voice in national 's and now international 's politics ever since. In June 2004, he was elected to the European Parliament as a member of the Christian Democrats. During his year-and-a-half in the EU legislature, Landsbergis wasted no time promoting the integration of other former Soviet republics, and ever true to his personal style, never missed an opportunity to lash out at Russia.

In an interview with The Baltic Times, Landsbergis talks about Lithuania's brief experience in the European Union and the union's policy of "appeasement" toward Russia. He also manages to excoriate the ruling coalition at home in Vilnius.

Mr. Landsbergis, as a member of European Parliament since 2004, you have had the chance to observe and influence Lithuania's performance in the union from the beginning. Has Lithuania found its voice in Brussels yet?

It has been most important for Lithuania to participate in all matters of the European Union. By now we have proved that we are not just listeners on the sideline. We have succeeded in becoming active members through our contribution of mind and ideas. Lithuania has corrected solutions, as recently in the budget, and also prior to that.

So Lithuania is finding its place within the EU, and we are not secondary or unimportant at all. We're just normal members.

You mentioned the EU budget for 2007 to 2013. The Baltic states and Poland could negotiate some extra money for structural assistance. Was that an example of Lithuania's ability to assert itself?

The financial support for Lithuania is less than originally promised, but better than we had recently planned. As always, a compromise needs to be seen relatively. The budget is not bad for Lithuania or other new member countries. However, our position should be taken seriously. New countries deserve more attention and even more solidarity. That is the truth. Not only new member countries will benefit from this understanding, but the entire European idea.

You are vice chairman of the EU delegation to the Caucasus states of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Georgia went through a revolution in 2003 and is now striving toward European Union membership. Does it have a realistic chance?

Yes, it is possible; it will just take a longer time.

At first, the main task is to preserve democracy in Georgia. We have just recently approved a special aid program for Georgia in the European Parliament. We must give them a chance to continue. Georgia wants more than mere cooperation with the EU. They are seeking to become a consolidating part of the European Union and NATO.

If the European Union supports Georgia and prevents them from falling again under Russian domination, the neighboring countries Armenia and Azerbaijan will look over jealously at that good example - even though there have been terrible clashes between both countries. But keeping those confrontations in mind, the only possible solution is the European Union.

Russia plays a crucial role in most of the conflicts in the Caucasus and other former Soviet republics. Its president, Vladimir Putin, is trying to maintain Russia's influence in the region. How should the European Union respond to that behavior as it interferes with Western integration?

The European Union has been too appeasing with Russia 's even in very concrete and specific wrongdoings. Some European leaders excused Russia's behavior through their traditional and different understanding of democracy, and asked to give Russia more time. Those statements sometimes sound very similar to Putin's slogans.

The EU was waiving its old principles. By now, the situation is moving toward some self-determination of the EU.

Have you targeted the Russian-German gas pipeline agreement?

Of course, Russia has succeeded in supplying some member countries with gas and by doing so has hoped to gain leverage in the union. It is now an exam for the European Union. If its members do not pass, the situation will be worse, and Russia's dictatorship will get stronger and stronger, while Europe will become more and more silent.

Even some Russian newspapers proclaimed that, after the agreement on the gas pipeline, Germany would keep silent from now on.

Couldn't you understand former German Chancellor Schroeder's decision to sign the treaty with Russia over the gas-pipeline? After all, at least he was able to secure gas supplies for his country.

Schroeder had become an appointee of Russia. What he did is against the law in Lithuania. If a politician in power prepares future benefits for the time after leaving office, he is a criminal. I talked about Schroeder's behavior with my German colleagues in the [European] Parliament, and they said: "Yes, we have a lack [of this] in our legislation."

That's because nobody thought that behavior like this is possible.

Can you foresee any consequences for Germany's foreign policy toward Russia and the European Union in general?

Germany is now in two ways dependent on Russia 's in matters of gas and morality. If they want to be moral, they will pay more [for the gas]. It will be an essential challenge for all European leaders to withstand Russia's effort to demoralize all of Europe.

Finally, let's discuss an issue within Lithuania. Your country is facing a fierce coalition crisis and is racked by several corruption-scandals within the government. What's going on?

(laughs) My God! What should I say? The basis of the crisis lies at the very beginning [of the coalition in 2004]. It was a deal between leaders of political groups, on a primitive level of thinking about extracting benefits while being in power. Any considerations about the future of our country focused on the question of who is getting which ministries and what amount of money 's for example, from the European Union.

These are harsh allegations against the ruling coalition. Can you give us any examples of bad governance?

We have already talked for three years about the only possible future for Lithuania 's which is to become a modern economy of the newest technologies, an economy of knowledge. We need to invest our money into education and the modernization of our old scientific infrastructure. The government is not going to. They are talking about 1 percent [of the budget] for education, not 10.

Students were on the streets of Vilnius to demonstrate against the bad conditions at university and in their dormitories.

Yes, but their efforts were too little to be effective. It is a bad and fragile government. Their appetites compete with each other, not their ideas.