Paulauskas takes Brussels

  • 2000-09-21
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Arturas Paulauskas, leader of the New Union (Social Liberals), traveled to Brussels to brief European Union and NATO officials on the foreign policy priorities of his party, a move political observers say is pre-election posturing by the New Union, which has been accused of having ties to Moscow.

Elections in Lithuania are scheduled for Oct. 8.

During the visit in Brussels on Sept. 13-14, Paulauskas met with George Robert-son, NATO secretary general, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Alexander Vershbow and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, as well as other NATO and EU officials.

Paulauskas informed them about his party's determination to seek full membership for Lithuania in NATO and EU, according to the New Union's information center.

Paulauskas held a press conference in Vilnius upon his return where he voiced his conviction that Lithuania will receive an invitation to join the 19-member alliance during the 2002 NATO summit. He described his meetings with Robertson and Verheugen as "very friendly."

Paulauskas also discussed Lithuanian defense spending with NATO officials. Earlier, the Lithuanian Parliament, which is dominated by the Conservative Party, adopted a law on defense funding, which suggests increasing defense expenditure to 2 percent of GDP in 2001, a benchmark set by NATO for aspiring members. NATO officials praised this commitment.

"I expressed some doubts about Lithuania's possibilities to reach this figure in 2001. I think, we can spend 2 percent of GDP only in 2002 because of the current economic situation," Paulauskas said.

He added that NATO officials agree with this possible minor change.

Political analysts see Paulauskas' visit as the answer to the election propaganda of the ruling Conservative Party and its leader Vytautas Landsbergis. During election campaign meetings, Landsbergis said that the New Union has pro-Moscow leanings and will slow down Lithuania's integration into western structures if the Conservatives lose the elections.

President Valdas Adamkus, a non-party man as defined in the Lithuanian constitution, found the need to express his disgust with the Conservatives' campaign rhetoric. On June 23 he accused the Conservatives of "lack of national self respect."

On Sept. 11 Adamkus held a meeting with Landsbergis, Paulauskas, Social Democratic coalition leader Algirdas Brazauskas, and the Liberal Union leader Rolandas Paksas. Adamkus urged them not to use foreign policy for campaign gains.

Brazauskas, Paulauskas and Paksas spoke about their determination to seek membership in NATO and the EU. "I'm not sure if they have a strong enough backbone," Landsbergis commented on the opposition leaders' assurances after the meeting.

Opposition leaders are eager to demonstrate that Landsbergis' fears about a change in foreign policy are groundless election propaganda. Lithuanian public radio constantly broadcasts an election ad of the Social Democratic coalition. "There are no alternatives for Lithuania's membership in NATO and the EU," Brazauskas says in the ad.

Paksas said that he would visit Brussels with the same intentions as Paulauskas after the parliamentary elections.

Kestutis Petrauskis, a columnist in the magazine Veidas, wrote that Landsbergis' accusations remind him of the behavior of right-wing politicians eight years ago.

In 1992 the Democratic Labor Party won parliamentary elections and Landsbergis' followers spoke about the return of pro-Moscow "communists." However, the Democratic Labor Party government was the first Baltic country that announced NATO membership as the main goal of Lithuanian foreign policy despite the anger of the Kremlin, Petrauskis wrote.

Petrauskis went on to write that Landsbergis' predictions about a future pro-Russian government might create a wrong impression in the West and slow down Lithuania's integration into NATO and the EU.

However, Landsbergis' statements seem not to have made an impression on westerners living in the Baltics.

"I would advise to vote for the Liberal Union if some Lithuanian asks me how he can help to his country and its accession into the EU and NATO," said Man-fred Wichmann, a representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the Baltic countries.

All 133 candidates in the election list of the Liberal Union are graduates from universities and their average age is 37 years.

According to a social poll by the research firm Vil-morus, the center-left New Union is the most popular party now. The Social Democratic coalition, the Liberal Union, the Conservatives and the Center Union follow it. Paulauskas is the most popular candidate to Parliament, according to the poll. It was conducted throughout Lithuania on Sept. 7 - 11 and published in the daily Lietuvos Rytas. On Sept. 1 - 4, the social research firm Spinter asked residents of the five biggest Lithuanian cities about their favorite candidate to Parliament. Paksas, the leader of the center-right Liberal Union, got the biggest support while Paulauskas finished second.