Lithuania remains a pro-Western country

  • 2000-01-27
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Some Lithuanian politicians and observers speak about a rise in anti-Western feelings in the country. However, this talk seems to be more a political game and speculation about ghosts, say some Lithuanians.

Speculation about the rise in anti-Western feelings started with reaction to the controversial deal between the government and the American company Williams International over the purchase of the Lithuanian oil sector in October. Former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas resigned, stating the deal would be financially ruinous for Lithuania. At the same time, Paksas said he is in favor of close cooperation with the United States and the West. He said he is not against the arrival of Williams, just against the financial particulars of that arrangement.

"It is ironic that the deal with Williams can raise such anti-American feelings in Lithuania, the country which was always pro-American," Romualdas Ozolas, leader of the Center Union, said on the eve of signing this deal.

A students' demonstration against the deal was organized by Vilnius University Rector Rolandas Pavilionis near Parliament in October.

Philosopher Arvydas Juozaitis, one of the initiators of Lithuanian- wide, anti-Soviet movement in the late 1980s, spoke against the sellout of the Lithuanian economy to westerners at the gathering.

This demonstration provoked the immediate reaction of President Valdas Adamkus. He spoke against "anti-Western hysteria" in his televised address.

At the Jan. 7 meeting of leaders of regional branches of the ruling Conservative Party the conference a resolution was adopted condemning the rise of anti-Western moods.

"Do you feel responsible that during the rule of your Conservative Party, which declares so pro-Western an orientation, anti-Western moods arise for the first time in the country?" Audrius Siaurusevicius, moderator of the Lithuanian TV popular political talk show Spaudos klubas (Press Club), asked Conservative Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius. Kubilius expressed sorrow about such feelings in the society.

On Jan. 18, on the cultural TV program Zenklai, sociologist Natalija Kasatkina said that Lithuanians feel some disappointment towards the West. "Anti-Western moods became popular. People saw that the Western world is not so friendly towards us," Kasatkina said.

In Noveember, in the American Chamber of Commerce, Keith Smith, U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, asked his compatriot businessmen if they felt some anti-Western feelings. The answer was a resounding "No."

"I don't think that there is a rise in anti-Western feelings. Some politicians just try to exploit this theme because of Lithuania's future membership in the European Union," Rimantas Dagys, leader of left opposition Party Social Democracy 2000, said.

At the end of last year, the social research firm Vilmorus said that 30 percent of Lithuanians would vote in favor of membership in the EU, and 31 percent would vote against it if the referendum were held then. Rimantas Smetona, leader of the right opposition National Democratic Party and the only Eurosceptic MP, expressed joy at these results. Lithuanians want to live "in the family of Western Europe" but not EU, he said. However, he did not mention that an absolute majority of the Lithuanian population is in favor of their country's eventual membership in the EU, according to the same poll.

"Our people look to the West more pragmatically now. However, there are no anti-Western feelings in society. Our people haven't lost their historic memory," Dagys said, referring to Soviet occupation.

"Pro-Western orientation of our population can be proved by the fact that during the Kosovo crisis, polls showed that the majority of Lithuanians supported NATO action, although most of our mass media was very critical about the unnecessary casualties of the NATO bombardments and the action itself," Dagys said.

"I don't think there is a rise in anti-Western feelings. There has been some escalation of this theme in the newspapers because of the Williams deal. But it is just one company. Dislike of the deal with one company doesn't mean anti-Western feelings," Ovidijus Leveris, director of the Extraordinary Archives, said.

Dagys and Leveris, asked in separate interviews "towards whom does Lithuania have more sympathies, the West or the East?" both answered, "the West."

Natalija Klimanskiene, pensioner with Russian roots, on Lithuanians' anti-Western feelings answered with laugh. "Ha, ha, ha! Rise of anti-Western feelings? Never noticed such a thing! Well, I noticed that Russian music became popular recently, but it does not mean a rise in anti-Western feelings," Klimanskiene said.

According to Kasatkina, the popularity of Russian music is "a phenomenon of the last three years, and it shows tolerance of our society." Indeed, it is more a phenomenon of small towns. There are two places in Vilnius were Russian music can be heard - in the neighborhood of railway and bus stations and in many taxis. The rest of the city is ruled by Western and Lithuanian music.

Returning from music to political preferences, and what Lithuanians think about integration into Western structures this year, the Jan. 20 issue of the weekly Veidas included research on the issue by the polling firm Spinter. Respondents in the five biggest Lithuanian towns were asked,

"Do you think that Lithuania must hurry to Western economic and political structures?"

"Yes" said 39.7 percent, "no" - 34.5 percent, "I don't know" - 25.8 percent.

Still, the most influential poll is always the parliamentary elections. In the current Parliament, all 139 MPs of all political parties speak in favor of quick integration into NATO. This is the same view expressed by Lithuanian MPs, except Smetona, towards EU membership.

The Lithuanian constitution forbids the country to join any post-Soviet Eastern alliances. It further states that Lithuania "never, and in no form, can join political, military, economic or other unions and commonwealths of states based on the former USSR."

Lithuania has distanced itself further from the East also in an economic sense because of the Russian crisis. Export to Russia dropped to 7 percent of Lithuanian's total export in 1999 from 16.7 percent in 1998. Germany and the rest of the EU are Lithuania's main trading partners now.