Lamenting Europe’s waning spiritual values

  • 2012-07-11
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Vytautas Landsbergis, europarliamentarian and patriarch of both Lithuania’s modern politics and the Motherland Union-Lithuanian Christian Party (MU-LCP), has always been famous for his blunt, candid and deeply-thought observations that combine with the extraordinary personality of the still agile and soon-to-be octogenarian. His signature wit, outspokenness and the ability to engage others single him out among all other contemporary politicians. His often ominous predictions may not always come true, but they always offer something to think about on the issues. The Baltic Times sat down with Landsbergis for this interview in his Brussels office.

You are one of the most seasoned Lithuanian politicians and, with nearly 8 years spent in the European Parliament, one of Lithuania’s veteran MEPs. Have you become a more avid EU supporter over the years? Or a skeptic?
Quite honestly, I went to Brussels believing that the European Union, as a free democratic structure, is the counterbalance against the East. However, it has turned out that the European Union is far from being a perfect structure. I’d say more than that: the EU is being strongly influenced by the East. In other words, democracy doesn’t work the way it should, and often it is of a manipulative kind.

Who manipulates it?
It is manipulated by the elite of the European Parliament. To be more precise, MEPs from France and Germany, two of Europe’s most influential European states. Maybe not all always speak of the influence openly. In fact, you’d hear these kinds of talks in private, off-the-record conversations, but the power axis of Paris and Berlin in Brussels is very powerful. Especially so Berlin’s, through which Russia’s influence, through Gazprom, reaches the EU. I’d say the influence is being conveyed not only through the gas giant, but also through personal friendships of the country leaders. To be terse, pragmatism prevails in politics to a great extent.

A part of the eurozone is in turmoil and euro uncertainty spreads to more euro and EU member states. Does the currency crisis not pertain to a deepening crisis in the EU itself?
Indeed, the two are much linked. In fact, for many years, and particularly since the economic crunch in 2008, I’ve been speaking of the euro crisis as a fallout of the EU crisis. The problem is that not everyone wants to acknowledge this. As a matter of fact, Europe’s problems are much deeper than the euro crisis as the continent is being shaken by a huge spiritual and value crisis. Europe suffers from deeply encroached materialism everywhere. Not all want to admit that, as materialism has been worshiped, cherished and promoted as Europe’s principle value. To me, it reminds [me of] Marxism, to a big extent. Whatever you look at in Europe, the bottom line is the same – production of material goods, their sales and marketing. In a word, we see a large-scale touting of consumerism, which is being portrayed as a core value and objective for everyone. And what are we seeing in the wake of such an approach?

Many bad things, including maybe the worst one: European women do not want to procreate, as they are focusing on their careers and making money. Europe is going crazy over all minority rights, but the minorities are becoming majorities with all the consequences thereafter. I’ve been talking for the last 8 years of Europe’s sunset, and it may be a lot nearer than we may think. I really believe in it, as much in Europe is gradually degenerating. Because of the change in its population structure, large emigration, devaluation of family values, humiliation of Christianity and putting other so-called values on top. No other continent in the world sees such a dramatic decline in its population size as Europe. It should be a major concern for the Western powerhouses, but instead of worrying about the process, they trumpet that the loss will be made up with newcomers from other countries, perhaps Arab countries.

Why does immigrant integration fail?
You cannot expect newcomers to integrate successfully very fast, as each bird keeps looking back at its nest. In other words, the cultural and other differences are just too large to reconcile. When recently German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the integration process doesn’t go well, or sometimes fails, it didn’t surprise me at all. I believe even Western leaders come to an understanding that many current policies, in terms of immigration and integration, should be thoroughly reviewed, as comparably only an insignificant part of Europe’s newcomers have successfully integrated into Europe. What is very alarming is that many second or even third generation immigrants, who seemingly appear to have integrated into Europe, bristle upon a possibility against their new Motherland. We saw this happening in France and, more recently, in the UK. Not only they bristle, but rebel and urge for impossible things. And when the new Motherland cannot then provide the things, the people rebel and cause havoc. On the other hand, Europe hardly has a way out from the situation, as it, in pursuit of a better well-being for everyone, needs more of a relatively cheap labor workforce, i.e. the immigrants. Paradoxically, for all the immigrants, Europe remains a country of their dreams, but they often give into the radical Islam ideas and influence. Many of them even start preaching anti-Christian views, and Europe has nothing in its hands to put up against the radicalism, and radicalization itself. There are sometimes parallels being drawn between the EU and the United States, but the EU lags way behind the U.S. in [assimilating] the variety of ethnic minorities.

How do Lithuania’s perspectives appear to you in such a Europe?
If Lithuania were to protect and follow the values it possesses, I’d say that the state of Lithuania will [last] longer than other nations. But I’ve got to add one “if” to this: if Europe, or the European Union, regains its common sense and turns back to its foundations made up of the history, the culture and Christianity it now often ignores. Even with Europe getting back to its real foundations, there is another critical question we all have to answer: does Lithuania possess the necessary will and determination to pursue that objective? Won’t it change its land and values to the shiny wrappers? No doubt, we’re facing big issues. Especially, considering the reality:  the huge impact from the processes in the EU. In any case, Lithuania has to show a lot of sobriety in focusing on true values that can carry us longer than the rest.

What are you mostly concerned about in Lithuania?
I am particularly concerned about the fast disintegration process that has gripped and tears apart our society. Our society remains less consolidated and unified and is governed by consumerism. That is what makes me feel very uneasy.

However, can you blame anyone for the will to live better and earn as much as a German or Swiss?
There should be drawn a clear line here. Lithuanians don’t live as bad, [along with] some of our closest neighbors, as we portray the life ourselves. Our problem is we cannot calm down if our neighbor over the fence lives better. Therefore, when the neighbor’s barn burns to ashes, most Lithuanians say gladly: “It’s not a big thing, but a pleasant one, nevertheless.” Unfortunately, many people apply such an approach to life, letting jealousy poison life.

Since the economic crunch in 2008, the focus was austerity, and Lithuania was exemplified in making cuts. What happened that today the EU is repudiating the policy of cuts and instead is focusing on growth, which requires spending? Is it due only to the new French president, who emphasized this?
Austerity has proved to be crucial in many EU countries in staving off the Greek scenario. Unfortunately, it seems that saving has been rather an alien term for many EU member states, and some of them are willing to go on a spending spree.

Do you have in mind Greece? Do you think it should be kicked out of the euro club?
It’s obvious that Greece was splurging excessively, and even today, with the loud talk of its being kicked out  from the euro club, it still wants to lavish [spending]. Sure, not its own money, as its accounts are dry, but others. Indeed, the EU is facing a big dilemma: to pull Greece, which can blame only itself for the mess, from the abyss, or save it, pumping into the country billions of richer countries’ money. I am fortunate that I don’t have to make the decisions.

Austerity has already swept away several European leaders, not to speak of pro- austerity governments. You have to agree voters may turn their backs on the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Party in the parliamentary elections this fall. Are you, the party’s honorable chairman and chairman of its Politics Committee, worried?
Those leaders and governments were swept away because they have accustomed their voters to promises of giving out something and which they often cannot meet. For these kinds of leaders, it doesn’t matter that there’s nothing to give out. In that sense, Lithuania is not an exception: people tend to like those who promise a lot. It is quite plausible that the Motherland Union will pay the price in the election for asking all to live more economically. On the other hand, Lithuanian people are more responsible than, for example, the Greeks. Let’s imagine what would have happened in Greece if it had applied the same austerity measures like Lithuania. Not only parliament windows would have been smashed; a lot more would have gone into the debris… But, having taken on austerity, Greeks might not have been on the brink of bankruptcy today.

Aren’t you surprised by the Labor Party’s and its leader Viktor Uspaskich’s high rankings in the polls, despite the ongoing court battle over the party’s shadow bookkeeping?
Unfortunately, there still is a good deal of a serf’s mentality in Lithuania. That is the case with Uspaskich: many people believe he will come to power and provide them with a better life, like in serfdom. Those who follow his political career know well his favorite slogan for an election: “I’ve made money for the rest of my life, and now it’s time I can make money for all of you…” Who, with the serf’s mentality, wouldn’t like that?
The party’s management, I have to admit, works very well and its mechanism is focused on brainwashing. Speaking of the Labor Party leader, I’ve been mulling this idea for a long time: there’s a big possibility that behind him and his party, in one form or another, lingers the Kremlin. In other words, Uspaskich might be Russia’s special project for Lithuania. When he was hiding in Russia following the disclosure of his party’s shadow accounts, many thought he may be gone as a politician. But it turned out those people were wrong, as he is already measuring publicly the to-be prime minister’s crown.

Maybe it would be in the interest of the HU-LCD to replace the unpopular Andrius Kubilius with the popular Irena Degutiene, parliament chairwoman, to be better off in the parliamentary elections?
And what would be use of the move? Journalists only instigate various intrigues in bringing up the issue. No one changes its leader with less than 5 months till the election. People should give credit to our party for organizing a very open and democratic party leader election.