Vytautas Landsbergis, patriarch of Lithuanian politics: no throwing peels

  • 2010-10-21
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

“I am sorry to keep you waiting. A parliamentary sitting has just finished, so before this interview, I wanted to take a glimpse at the latest news headlines,“ 78-year-old Vytautas Landsbergis, Europarliamentarian, met me with his signature giggle. After a thoughtful pause, he, also professor, Chairman of the Restoration Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, honorary member of the Presidium of the Motherland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrat Party (MU-LCDP), brushed away a bunch of clippings. While in Brussels, the European Parliament bubbled with the news about the ongoing strike that threatened to cripple the life of the European Union’s capital. Though very busy, the patriarch of Lithuanian politics kindly agreed for this interview with The Baltic Times.

Belgians, protesting salary cuts as a part of austerity measures, flock to Brussels’ streets. However, the Lithuanian Government can scramble on the top of Lithuanians’ heads, and our compatriots will humbly drag the load. How do the Western and Lithuanian societies differ after 20 years since the proclamation of Lithuanian Independence?
Why the Westerners flock to the streets instead of otherwise solving their issues? The answer is that Westerners are still more pampered than we Lithuanians are. Speaking about Belgians, they have been given many privileges and bonuses throughout many years. Actually, the privileges exceed the real financial potential of the rich Western countries. Basking in lavish social guarantees and privileges, the Westerners cannot ever imagine a poorer life. That is why they rebel – go on strikes.

However, do you share the notion that Lithuanian PM, Andrius Kubilius, can implement all his austerity measures in a headache-free way, being aware that Lithuanian Trade Unions mockingly called pocket trade unions for their complacency, will likely put up with any of the Government’s decisions?
Maybe we should speak about the fact that people in Lithuania are smarter. Most Lithuanians conceive that the Lithuanian Government makes the cuts not because it desires to benefit somehow itself, but because it is trying to avoid the state’s bankruptcy and indebtedness of our grandchildren. Our purpose is to stand up firmly, living according to our income. Maybe Lithuanians, unlike the Westerners, are closer to the soil. In other words, the spirit of the peasant is still alive in us – to spend as much as you earn. Every farmer’s task is to survive in any severe condition – not to allow bankruptcy due to debts. Despite the propaganda that the Government is very bad and tortures its people, not all Lithuanians are likely to give into it.

The EU funds make up one-third of this year’s Lithuanian budget of 21 billion litas (6 billion euros). One and a half million litas of the EU funds have been allocated to the Lithuanian media to publicize the EU-financed projects in Lithuania. However, according to a recent survey, only a bit more than half of Lithuanians support our membership in the EU. Does our fear for any union lie within our nation’s genetic code?
Maybe the so-called conditional fear for this kind of union is attributive not only to Lithuanians. I have just spoken to a Finnish politician. He maintained that a good deal of Finns have a similar fear, though, frankly speaking, they do not need the EU as much as we do, as they entered the EU being a country of high wellbeing. Honestly speaking, I do not know whether there are many people, who would doubt the necessity of being an EU member. I think the EU‘s assistance would have been even more tangible if the downturn had not hit everyone. Nevertheless, even being crisis-stricken, we all see the assistance of the European Union. However, as Europarliamentarian, I would say that there is a good deal of skepticism regarding the EU. The biggest misconception of it is that it always overbears its members. Regrettably, our media often glows with hostile coverage of the EU. I often ask myself why it is so. Is the media trying to attract more readers that way? Maybe, that is what I suspect, is it executing somebody’s order? As with all negative phenomena, people at first are accustomed to negativity, and then all of sudden all start to say that the people think that way.

Do you believe that the EU will exist and Lithuania will still be its member 20 years from now? How will the EU look in 20 years – with Turkey and Ukraine having membership? Alternatively, maybe with Belarus and Azerbaijan’s inclusion? What are the biggest EU challenges?
I want to believe that the EU will really exist in 20 years from now. Moreover, I want to believe that Lithuania will still be its member. I believe the EU will be larger and stronger in the future. Ukraine’s EU membership to me seems to be the most possible from the countries you have mentioned. I have no doubt that Turkey’s membership in the EU will be a big challenge for all of us. There are two influential states, France and Germany, which resist its European aspirations. However, some day, the EU will have to make up its mind on the issue – whether to grant Turkey the membership and keep it with its millions of Muslims close or let it drift to the hostile world of Islam. So far, the issue has been put aside; however, it will not disappear anywhere. Speaking about Ukraine, much depends on the Ukrainian oligarchs – whether they want to seek integration to Europe or lean towards Russia. Oligarchs always seek benefits first. It seems to me that from that standpoint, they may benefit more with Ukraine’s EU membership. Until now, Ukraine has been rapidly gravitating towards the European Union. However, with Victor Janukovich elected as its president, much uncertainty has appeared.

Which way –confederation or federation - will the EU likely develop in the future? Will its future development diminish Lithuania’s identity?
This question is the problem of the further EU development. To tell the truth, the European Union’s future is not yet clearly seen. It will be shaped in the years to come. We, Lithuanians, should not frighten ourselves foreseeing one or another direction of its development and guess what will happen if…We should consider that we, as members of the EU, ourselves will shape its future. To answer your question, there are different opinions on the further development of the European Union. Some countries stand for a stronger federalism, while others, headed by the United Kingdom, are against it. In any case, Lithuania should not frighten itself.

Some Europarliamentarians dislike you for your outspoken warnings about Russia‘s possible threat to Lithuania and Europe. Do you really think that Russia still poses a danger to Lithuania?
I have said on many occasions that firstly Russia is dangerous to itself. Speaking of its threat, we should not confuse Russia as a nation with Russia as the authority. When one speaks about Russia, most of the time one bears in mind the Russia as the authority and its policies. Those policies are indeed worth critique. There are many bad things about the Russian authority and its policies - all agree about that. From that standpoint, I do not act anyhow differently in regards to Russia.

When Dalia Grybauskaite became president, she switched from Valdas Adamkus, her predecessor‘s pro-American stance in foreign affairs to a more rational political approach. You never voiced your opinion whether you support the change. Do you prefer to stay silent, which is something uncharacteristic of you, when it comes to the current president?
(Pause) It seems to me you have stated here a small, quite unsubstantiated statement rather than a real situation. The theme of the so-called “American interests and Lithuanian pro-American politics” is purely fictional and being clearly created.

By who?
I do not know exactly. Obviously, Grybauskaite’s political opponents juggle the theme. I know for sure that there are unsatisfied people out there about her domestic policy. Seemingly, certain groups feel to have been pushed away or wronged. People from those groups are trying to reckon with her through a certain media. Regrettably, some people, including you, take it as fact. I think this approach is not right.

However, President Valdas Adamkus in a recent TV interview said: “The twist in the Lithuanian foreign policy is unperceivable to him.” Soon after it, Grybauskaite said in an interview to another TV station, “Lithuania often was a hostage of the US geopolitical interests in the former Soviet Union.” Do you call it “a theme” that some of Grybauskaite’s enemies create?
If Adamkus really said it in that way, he just states what, for example, daily Lietuvos rytas always emphasizes. Do bear in mind that the daily has never been Adamkus’ friend. To me it seems like a weird coincidence when some newspapers, as if tuned on, reiterate: “A dramatic change has taken place in Lithuanian foreign policy.” I do not see the big change. However, I can acknowledge that there are some nuances or differences in the tactics.

If you ever feel that Grybauskaite should be criticized, will you do so or wisely refrain?
The president may be criticized for certain separate spontaneous statements. However, I do not feel like doing it and will not do so in the future. Why should I throw peels at her from behind the fence? I want to evaluate the actions of all politicians, including hers, according to a general political line, but not according to separate statements.

You are honorary chairman and patriarch of the MU-LCDP. The party unites people from such extreme wings of the political diapason that some media mockingly calls some MU-LCDP’s members in Lithuanian Seimas “the Talibs” on one extreme and “liberals” on the other. Does the situation not create a threat to the party’s schism?
You formulate your question very interestingly. Such so-called “extremes,” firstly I call the variety of opinions within the party. I would not like to use such terms as “Talibs” when it comes to describing a variety of opinions. I do not want to call anyone neither hawks, nor knitted berets or Talibs (chuckles).

Only four months are left until the election of the local municipalities. So far, the MU-LCDP lags well behind other major parties in the latest surveys. Is it not wise for the party, seeking good results in the election, to replace the exceedingly unpopular PM Andrius Kubilius with the electorate’s favored Chairwoman of Seimas, Irena Degutiene?
It would be an essential question if the party’s leadership agreed to deliberate on it. I do not consider the question. However, I agree that sometimes it is meaningful for a party to make a certain exchange. It is something countries of old democracy tend to do. Like in the United Kingdom, where unpopular Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair. Maybe laborists did not benefit a lot from it, but my point is another - the party had done it without intrigues, squabbles and fights. In the long term, the party, as well as British democracy has won.

Why is Estonia usually considered more advanced than Lithuania? Why is the Northern Baltic country a spearhead of Skype and high technologies while Lithuania is still working on its image programs?
Lithuania has lost a good deal of time, especially in the 1990s. Back then, Lithuania seemed very nice to the world and had many interesting proposals from abroad – to implement innovative technological and governing experiments. Alas, all the projects have collapsed, as the new government had no interest in them. It showed its interest only in the old order. Luckily, Estonia has got rid of its old nomenclature quite quickly and painlessly. That is why it is successfully plucking the fruits of its new leadership. Therefore, no one should wonder why others have overtaken Lithuania. In Lithuania, the old nomenclature was a very adverse force. To be honest, Lithuanian voters tended to trust it until recently. They still trust it, so, unsurprisingly, Lithuania‘s advancement is not as rapid as we wish it to be.