Laima Andrikiene, Europarliamentarian from the Motherland Union and Lithuanian Christian Democrat party (MU-LCDP), can boast of a perfect political career – so smooth and rewarding that it makes many wonder how the outspoken and straightforward Western-style female politician succeeded climbing up the political ladder, dodging all obstacles and setbacks. On this day in the European Parliament (EP), it was strikingly calm, as no parliamentary session was going on, enabling MEPs to devote much needed free time for the day’s informal discussions over Kashmir and the Black Sea developments, or to sneak away outside the Parliament for a peek at a grandiose, public awareness promoting venue on traffic safety. Despite being extremely busy, Andrikiene kindly agreed to squeeze in her schedule an interview with The Baltic Times.
You are Lithuania’s Independence Act Signatory, with huge parliamentary work experience in Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament). Now you have been sitting in your second tenure in the European Parliament. What is the biggest difference between the EP and Seimas?
The difference is huge. However, it is not in favor of Lithuania. The biggest difference is the political culture. What I mean is the view to your political opponent. The second thing that differs between the EP and Seimas is human virtues, as MEPs are much more good-natured and positive than most of Lithuanian parliamentarians. Let me put it straight – to find a common language in the 27-member EP, with over 20 official languages, is much easier than in Seimas. Regrettably, there are too many divides in the Lithuanian parliament. To be honest, it is a bit weird, as the sheer majority of Lithuanian parliamentarians are children of Lithuanian mothers and almost all graduated from Lithuanian schools.
Europarliamentarian Viktoras Uspaskichas, your counterpart and political foe, asserts that he would gladly swap his MEP seat for a Kaunas mayor position in the approaching municipal election. Do you, like him, miss more tangible, bread-and-butter economic activity on Lithuanian soil? Did you ever have any disappointments about your EP work throughout the years in Brussels?
I always miss Lithuania and work for it. When working in the EP, I am well aware about the parliamentary work differences in Brussels and Vilnius. Unfortunately, in Lithuania and its Seimas, there is quite a different vision of the world. I do not want to insult anyone or depreciate, but most of the time, thinking in Lithuania is of a very provincial level – the world for most ends with the Lithuanian borders. Well, maybe for some Lithuanian parliamentarians they go a bit beyond the Lithuanian borders – up to Latvian, Belarusian, and Russian or Estonian frontiers.
It is a shame to state that for many Lithuanian legislators the rest of the world is not of any concern, neither to Lithuania nor to them. However, when you work in Brussels, you see every day that the modern world due to modern technologies has diminished considerably. It is obvious to me that it is a big danger to fence off ourselves from the ongoing worldwide processes with the Great Wall of China. In Brussels, regardless of your approach to it, one understands that both Lithuanian and the EU interests encompass the whole world. Since Lithuania is a small country, it is essential for us to seek and find as many allies as possible. The allies that would be able to realize our interests.
What is my biggest disappointment in the European Parliament? Maybe it is Lithuania’s lack of a European agenda. I am disappointed that Lithuania often wastes its time and energy, focusing on small and unimportant problems. Regrettably, it sinks in scandals and useless arguments over who loves Lithuania more. Alas, in Lithuania, unlike in most of Europe, I do not see any constructive steps forward, as well as joint efforts for focused work.
However, with ongoing EP discussions about salmon spawning grounds in Norway or cod fishing quota limits in the Atlantic Ocean, how deep can you get involved in these kinds of discussions? Is it possible for a Europarliamentarian to be on the ball on all the developments in the entire Union?
To tell the truth, it is impossible to be matter-of-fact of all processes in the EU. No one should forget it is very huge, with over 500 million inhabitants. However, there exist common European interests, through which we, MEPs, see the European Union as one unit. Certainly, each state has its national interests, which I am aware of to the most extent. However, it is impossible to know all particularities of every country. When there is voting on issues I may not be very aware of, I let them through the same filter, which is all about the Lithuanian interests. In case the interest is absent, then I vote going by the doctor’s principle – do not harm.
Recently, in Delfi, there was announced a survey which revealed that Lithuanians relate issues of foreign politics with Europarliamentarian Vytautas Landsbergis mostly, as social issues are linked with another MEP, Vilija Blinkeviciute, in the EP. Surprisingly, compatriots do not relate any issues with you. Why did people not notice you?
Indeed, I saw the survey. However, to tell the truth, surveys have not surprised me in Lithuania for a long time. I am used to them. Frankly, there was a time when they resented me, as well as there were years when they kept surprising me. They do not surprise me anymore. Those kinds of surveys, quite lately, announced that the deceased or already bedridden Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas represents the interests of the Lithuanian people best. When I see this kind of survey, I shrug, as I cannot conceive this kind of people’s choice. No less weird is to see a survey maintaining that the controversial Viktoras Uspaskichas represents the people best.
What kind of our national character’s traits does it show?
It shows that people in Lithuania are more interested in a political show than in serious politics. Whoever singles himself or herself out in vociferous scandals, that person is more visible and likeable. Obviously, I do not have in mind professor Vytautas Landsbergis. Because of his political output, he is the most noticeable politician in the public dimension. Apparently, I can accuse only myself that I do know how to show people my political performance. Nevertheless, I accept that calmly – I know that I defend the Lithuanian interests will all my strength.
Those who follow politics are aware that one of the most important areas of your work in the EP is in human rights. As we speak, you are about to deliver a speech on the situation of human rights in the world. However, several Lithuanian human rights organizations made a statement asserting that Lithuanian MEPs contribute little to the improvement of human rights in Lithuania. Do you agree?
I do not feel like lambasting these kinds of estimations. The EP’s committee that solely focuses on human rights in the European Union includes three other Lithuanian Europarliamentarians. However, I belong to a sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs Committee that is in charge of human rights worldwide, not in the European Union. Therefore, I am obliged to take more interest in human rights elsewhere, let us say, in Belarus. I wish human rights were more respected in Lithuania. When I am reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the imperatives to guarantee noble senility or appropriate health care, I see that in that regard there are many flaws in the area of human rights in Lithuania. I remember when I went to observe an election in Ukraine, Ukrainians kept telling me, “You had occupied us during the ruling of Great Knight Vytautas. However, you had been very good occupants.” I do miss a tolerant, sensitive and loving Lithuania and a different view to a human being.
Did you imagine Lithuania’s future differently back in the 1990s, after the restoration of Lithuanian independence?
To be quite honest, I do not know how I foresaw Lithuania nineteen years ago. For some reason, it now pops up in my mind the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev (the last leader of the former USSR) to Lithuania back in the 1990s. In January 1990, while visiting Lithuania, he got out of his limousine in Gediminas Avenue and came up to a man holding a slogan saying that Lithuania must be a free country. Gorbi [diminutive for Gorbachev] asked him in Russian whether he wanted an independent Lithuania. After the man responded “yes,” Gorbachev exclaimed, “You will choke on your independence.” When hearing his words then, I thought that we have to manage our state affairs in such a way that his words would never be fulfilled.
Though the three Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia started their paths of independence simultaneously, all the countries have gone in slightly different ways, particularly Estonia. What determined the slightly different developments?
Various political, economic and cultural differences in the countries should be taken into consideration; however, here I want to stress one facet. When Valdis Dombrovskis, my former counterpart at the EP’s Budget Committee, stood at the wheel of the Latvian government, the Latvian state was practically bankrupt. Neither Estonia, nor Lithuania, was in such a miserable situation like Latvia. Frankly speaking, its deplorable status quo was a big surprise to me, particularly bearing in mind the country runs Ventspils seaport, producing huge revenue. To look at the larger picture, Latvia’s development has been largely determined by [its] big Russian ethnic minority. Though Lithuania is more even in this ethnic facet, I do not see any larger differences between Latvia and Lithuania. However, Estonia is quite different in many aspects, largely due to the fact it is in close proximity to Scandinavia, which has always affected Estonia, even during the Soviet era. Estonia’s relative minuteness has also played an important role.
Did you expect Dombrovskis’ party to win in such a land-slide in the Latvian parliamentary election?
Quite honestly, his victory has pleasantly surprised me. After the win, I called him and congratulated him with the victory, having acknowledged that I, considering the tumultuous situation in Latvia, had expected a worse electoral outcome. He responded that the situation after the election does not seem to be very simple. He predicted that the new government’s creation would not be an easy task.
Do you think that following Dombrovskis’ victory, his Lithuanian counterpart, the highly unpopular Andrius Kubilius, and his led Motherland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrat Party (MU-LCDP) could win the upcoming municipal elections? What is the main difference between Dombrovskis and Kubilius?
(Pause) It seems to me they are not that much different. Maybe Dombrovskis, who is an economist by profession, having the financial work experience in the EP’s Budget Committee, understands finance better than Kubilius. However, it is obvious that the specifics of the Latvian ethnic minorities played a very important role in the Latvian election. In Lithuania, of course, the issue of ethnic minorities is rather insignificant. It is hard to speak about the upcoming municipal election, but it seems to me that it will be very difficult for the MU-LCDP to win it. Nevertheless, I like to say that it is possible to experience one loss, but the most important thing is not to lose the battle. I am convinced that Kubilius is the most suitable man to lead the current government.
What does the MU-LCDP need to do in the months to come in order to show decent results in the election?
No one should forget what heritage this government has inherited. If you remember, before the Seimas election, Social Democrats increased pensions. However, it did not help them to win the election. Every party must think about the state’s long-term interest, exactly what the MU-LCDP does. We are the party of real statesmen. Regrettably, there are many political animals on the political stage, or willing to scramble onto it. They have just one purpose - to win any election without giving a thought on what will follow thereafter.