• 2007-03-14

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHEKSTERS

Quite simply, Lithuanian foreign policy has become unglued. Over the past month a series of contradictory statements by high ranking officials, played out in the media, has struck a strident tone in Lithuanian society and cast a shadow on the country's image. Debate on all the issues concerned 's from troop presence in Iraq to cooperation on a new nuclear power plant 's is necessary and welcome, but when a country's leaders start putting out feelers in the media, only to have the president snap back, then there's trouble in the house that needs tending to.

The first instance occurred on Feb. 21, when the Defense Ministry announced that it was "seriously considering" pulling Lithuania's four dozen or so soldiers out of Iraq and leaving only a few officers behind to help train Iraqi troops. The statement came the same day Great Britain and Denmark made similar announcements, but it enraged Lithuania's head of state, who chastised Defense Minister Juozas Olekas for making rash decisions. The sentiment was summed up in President Valdas Adamkus' famous words: "I wouldn't be proud if Lithuania withdraws from Iraq."

The second uproar occurred on Feb. 22, when Zygimantas Pavilionis, a deputy foreign minister, said Lithuania could join in Poland's defiance of an EU-Russia agreement if Brussels wasn't more pro-active in helping Vilnius resolve the oil supply problem with Moscow. "We can become another Poland," said Pavilionis, offering a new foreign policy postulate for the Baltic state. Once again, Adamkus found himself plugging a leaking dam. "There's no sense in solving things by confrontation," he said. Tiny Lithuania would not veto any cooperation deal between the EU and Russia.

The latest policy imbroglio took place in the beginning of the month, when Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas and his Polish counterpart, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, unbeknownst to the colleagues from Latvia and Estonia, signed an agreement giving Lithuania 34 percent in the proposed atomic power plant and the other three countries 22 each. Latvia's Aigars Kalvitis slammed the deal as amateur, as the country was not informed about the agreement. Officials from Latvia and Estonia's state-owned utilities both said they too had been uninformed.

Kirkilas and Kaczynski's decision was, to say the least, wildly unprofessional. But that didn't stop a Lithuanian politician from suggesting that Estonia and Latvia should be dumped from the project. Though Adamkus didn't feel the need to interject here, he probably should have. By going behind the back of his Baltic brethren, Kirkilas essentially soiled the "spirit of Trakai" that gave birth to the nuclear plant project.
Perhaps by that time Adamkus had said all he could on the subject. "Lithuania's foreign policy cannot be shaped by presenting different opinions or view in the media," he said on Feb. 28. "We must be consistent, professional and collegial in shaping and executing Lithuania's foreign policy to attain our goal."

Wise words, spoken by a wise man. It's just too bad they've fallen on deaf ears.