Lithuanian diplomacy in 2011

  • 2011-12-22
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

WORKING LIKE A DOG: The OSCE Ministerial Council in Vilnius on Dec. 6-7, 2011 - Lithuania’s chairmanship of the OSCE was the main business of Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis this year.

Lithuanian foreign policy is not boring, and it often shows no inferiority complex common to a small state, at least when the vital issues of security or human rights are in question. “She, according to a source in Brussels, ‘perfectly understands strategic and tactic games.’ She can show the middle finger to Moscow as well as to Washington and knock her fist on the table when she demands the NATO defense plan [the plan for the Baltics was adopted in 2010],” political observer Vaidas Saldziunas stated, writing about staunchly pro-EU Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who is the main Lithuanian foreign policy maker, in his column in Saturday’s supplement on foreign affairs of the daily Lietuvos Rytas of Dec. 17. On Dec 16, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry presented its annual report “The diplomatic service for Lithuania 2011.” It is the first such annual report presenting the work of this ministry and the main trends of Lithuanian foreign policy. Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis and the academic community took part in the discussion on the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry during the report’s presentation in the Institute of International Relations and Political Science in Vilnius.

“Dear Lithuanian citizen, […] the report’s intention is to inform you, to encourage further active interest in Lithuanian foreign policy, to allow you to check your doubts regarding the adopted political decisions, to enable you to criticize what you don’t like and, finally, to help you to make proposals on what is needed to be changed or made in any other way,” Azubalis wrote in the report. The report’s introduction states that Lithuanian diplomacy started 760 years ago when Lithuanian King Mindaugas was negotiating with Livonia and accents that the average age of the current Lithuanian Foreign Ministry official is 40 years old. The 35-page report presents the main achievements and priorities of Lithuanian diplomacy in 2011: NATO-based security, EU-based energy and economic security, the upcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2013, the relations with the 1 million-strong Lithuanian diaspora around the world, the promotion of Lithuanian business, the spread of democratic ideas eastwards, while the main chapter of the report is titled: “Northern direction: we awakened Baltoscandia.” Baltoscandia is the pre-WWII Lithuanian geopolitical strategist Kazys Pakstas-created term for the community of the three Baltic States and Scandinavia. “I will be frank: Baltoscandia is waking up and it is one of the core and most promising ambitions of Lithuania’s diplomacy,” Azubalis said in the Institute of International Relations and Political Science.

According to him, the Baltic-Scandinavian bloc has close ties with the U.S. (via the Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe, or e-PINE) and the UK. The bloc of the Nordic- Baltic 8 (or “NB8” as the report describes the bloc of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland) is the fifth largest economy in Europe after Germany, France, the UK and Italy, according to Azubalis. “We should become the center of investment, trade, transit and innovation of the Baltoscandia region,” the report states about Lithuania’s role in the NB8. The importance of relations with three other EU nations - France, Germany and Poland - are accented in the report. Only the description of relations with Poland includes one negative sentence: “It should be acknowledged that the dialogue about ethnic minorities is not constructive enough.” Indeed, on Dec. 7, the experts of the Council of Europe published a critical report on the situation with ethnic minorities in Poland and urged the Polish government to be more generous about the Lithuanian language’s rights and Lithuanian education in the ethnic Lithuanian lands of Poland.

On various occasions, the necessity for Lithuania to develop a closer partnership with Germany was accented by Azubalis as well as Gediminas Kirkilas, the influential MP of the Social Democrats, who are expected to return to power after the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2012. The report states that “democracy in Russia and Belarus is in recession” (interestingly, Moscow and Minsk were the only European capitals expressing no official condolences due to Vaclav Havel’s death on Dec. 18) and includes Lithuania’s promise to continue supporting pro-Western development in Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other Eastern countries.

“We are the cradle of support for the democratization and independence of Belarus,” states the report, emphasizing that Vilnius is stuffed with centers of organizations promoting Western values eastwards from Lithuania, such as Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, while yet another NGO from the U.S. – the National Democratic Institute – is planning to move its agency from Kiev to Vilnius at the end of this month. The report describes the desired Lithuanian relations with Russia in this way: “Dialogue with Russia: mutual benefit and goodwill without the sacrifice of self-respect.” Lithuania’s help for Georgia to come closer to NATO and the EU occupies a big space in the report.

Both the Georgian ruling elite as well as the Georgian opposition claim that they want Georgia to follow in the footsteps of Lithuania. On Dec. 18, Lithuanian TV3 showed its interview with Grybauskaite who, in her straightforward manner, described the main aspects of Lithuanian geopolitics. “The Poles are choosing Russia, not Lithuania, as their partner,” Grybauskaite said. Such a statement somehow corresponds with the words of Anna Fotyga, former Polish foreign minister and current MP of the opposition Law and Justice Party, who on Dec. 15 said with anger in the Polish parliament that “Poland became Russia’s spokesperson in the EU.” Grybauskaite also said the Kremlin’s attitude towards the Baltics can worsen, while the U.S. “is and will be” the main ally of Lithuania, though Lithuania will not be just a tool of Washington. Grybauskaite told TV3 that the American interest in Europe can grow because of the ongoing Russian fraudulent elections-related protest mood in Russia. On Dec. 15, Russian PM Vladimir Putin also spoke in favor of good relations with the EU, stating “We should stop frightening our neighbors,” but his words haven’t yet convinced Lithuanian political analysts. “The message for our society should show the real situation: the world beyond the Lithuanian borders is not colored in rose, and it consists not only of friendly hugs with all the neighbors.

Recently, the environment around Lithuania became less friendly, but that does not mean that it is the guilt of Lithuanian diplomacy or our policy,” Tomas Janeliunas, professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, said during the discussion of Dec. 16 about the Foreign Ministry’s report. During the discussion, Sarunas Liekis, the dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (he is known for his pro- Polish stance), pointed out with sadness the views of common Lithuanians, which correspond with the views of Jonas Basanavicius, ideologist of the Lithuanian national movement of the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century: the anti-Russian sentiment is low and the animosity to Poland is big.