Lithuanian political parties waltz with NATO

  • 2000-02-10
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - 2000 is the year of elections in Lithuania. Municipal elections will take place on March 19, and parliamentary elections are scheduled for late fall. Many issues, including Lithuania's future membership in NATO, are generating election campaign speculations.

On Jan. 28, a communiqué on Lithuania's NATO membership was signed by Vytautas Landsbergis, Zigmas Zinkevicius, Romualdas Ozolas, Ceslovas Jursenas and Vytenis Andriukaitis. The five men are, respectively, leaders of ruling Conservative and Christian Democratic parties and opposition Center Union, Democratic Labor (LDDP) and Social Democratic parties. Conservative Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius initiated the signing.

The document holds the determination to "spare no effort in ensuring Lithuania's NATO entry at the next round of the alliance's expansion." NATO's leaders pledged in Washington in 1999 to announce a decision of the further expansion of the alliance by no later than 2002.

"Lithuania's membership in NATO is very close. The Lithuanian nation is too small to afford the luxury of disagreeing on the security of its state and citizens," said Conservative MP Rasa Jukneviciene, noting the importance of this communique.

At the same time, she voiced doubts about the pro-NATO position of the Liberal Union led by Rolandas Paksas and the New Union (Social Liberals) led by Arturas Paulauskas. Both parties have one MP each in Parliament, but social research polls show they can expect many more seats after the parliamentary elections in the fall.

"Paksas, by not signing the deal with Williams, had given rise to anti-Western feelings in Lithuania. Maybe he didn't want to elicit such feelings, but it is a fact. It can harm the country's NATO aspirations," Jukneviciene said.

During pre-election meetings with members of the Conservative Party's regional branches, Landsbergis said that he has doubts about the Liberal Union's position on NATO. The Conservative Party leader also expressed his concern over the New Union's stance on NATO.

In January, the New Union started collecting signatures of Lithuanian citizens on a petition demanding diversion of 148 million litas ($37 million) from the defense budget to finance the country's education system. The New Union reports that several thousand people signed this petition.

"This party [New Union] will do all it can to thwart Lithuania's NATO membership bid," Landsbergis said in a meeting of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee on Jan. 31.

The Liberal Union and the New Union reacted immediately to these accusations. Both parties issued statements supporting the pro-NATO communiqué signed by the five biggest parliamentary parties. The Liberal Union and the New Union stated that they would sign this communiqué too in case they would be invited to join.

"Joining Western economic and security structures conforms to the national interests of Lithuania and facilitates ensuring the independence of our state and no doubt is beneficial for all of us," reads the statement of Liberal Union.

The New Union statement reads that its demands to stop increasing military budget "are not aimed against Lithuania's NATO aspirations, or the defense sector in general."

Jursenas accused Landsbergis of "searching for not existing pro-Russian forces." The LDDP leader said that the Conservatives started the election campaign by trying to monopolize love for NATO.

On Jan. 31 Jursenas had a meeting with Keith Smith, the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania. Jursenas said after this meeting that Lithuania is very close to membership in NATO.