Extraordinary (non) liberal who calls herself a “national nugget”

  • 2013-10-03
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

When a couple of years ago she brazenly called herself “a national nugget of Lithuania,” she had become the trolls’ tastiest titbit, a figure of never-ending sneers and jabs, but she did not relent. When soon thereafter the Lithuanian LGBT Web site nominated her as “lesbians’ little strawberry of the year” for making homophobic slurs, she did not balk either, but accepted it with grace and humility. Perhaps elsewhere the gaffes would have derailed a politician’s career, but not hers in Lithuania, where the brassiness has perhaps helped her underline her authenticity and character. “I’d hate to think I’m not unique in the world, because I truly am!” This national nugget is Dalia Teiserskyte, a liberal MP, poet and prominent social life figure. She agreed to speak with The Baltic Times..

Which of the three: being a famous poet, politician or social activist, matters the most to you?
None of the three activities marvels me as much as being a loving and caring grandmother. I have four grandchildren and this matters to me most. The littlest, one-and-a-half year old Vejas, and the eldest, 21-year-old Kotryna, along with the two others who are in the middle, are my darlings whom I exude my biggest love and adoration and to whom I empty my purse when pampering them. When it comes to politics, I’m trying to be as sincere and honest in it as I am in my own family. Therefore, my biggest preoccupation is not to disappoint people who trust me and who support me.

I understandably won’t use the catchphrase on being “a national nugget” again, but having so few MPs like you, representing arts in the parliament, makes your career pretty unique. Especially for you, with a second tenure in Seimas.
Oh, reminding me of these words does not dismay me at all, darling! I have never backed off from them, as the juicy character I have truly supports them. Well, there’s Vytautas Juozapaitis [a prominent baritone singer] beside me in the parliament. But he is what I call “hard” in the politics.

And you?
Well, as some MP colleague called me, I am a dreamer politician. I’m proud of the name. I really believe that being a dreamer lawmaker is lots better than being a stagnant politician or an authoritarian politician.
Dreaming is a good thing in politics as it moves one forward and incites discussions. Trust me, sinful and stagnant lawmakers do not seek any changes, as that can put an end to their careers.

Why don’t you harness the dreamer’s skills and tell us how the country’s future will look 20 years from now?
I reckon Lithuania will be fine if it reverses its course, to those who sow and reap. In a word, if we heed the village. Our rural areas have never been in such a deplorable state as they are now. Unfortunately, in Lithuania, we pay most attention to those who go bankrupt, to our financial and industrial sectors. But not to the needs of folks who today milk the cow and sow the wheat kernels, as well as to the hundreds of middle-rank talented managers in urban areas. They need a whole lot more state attention than they get now. If Lithuania doesn’t do this swiftly, detrimental fallout of our inability to act can be precarious.

But don’t you think that some of the high-ranking Lithuanian politicians who have already gotten into the history books for their contribution to independent Lithuania did everything that they could to destroy the old-fashioned village of the early 1990s? As a matter of fact, even nowadays, I’ve never heard a lawmaker yearning for Lithuania to be a land of agriculture?
Well, in fact, this is our biggest flaw, not having a clear-cut direction as far as the development of the state is concerned. When I see so many lawmakers around who perhaps themselves have no idea what the IT thing is, [but talking] about the necessity to pursue this direction, it irks me to the core. I guess only the Estonians with their Skype have managed to gain swift IT prominence all over the world. It would make sense for many Lithuanian politicians to get their boots on the ground, instead of just raving, non-stop, about high technology. I just don’t see any bombshell to be dropped in the Lithuanian IT horizon soon. As a matter of fact, the IT train is far ahead, and perhaps it is just too late to catch up. This is not the jabber of an old crazed woman. Being in the parliamentary Committee of Society of Knowledge and Information, I’m well aware of what I’m talking about. Though we’ve achieved some remarkable things in the IT field, only a small part of the intellectuals will be able to lick the cream off the gains, not most of the population. Some crafts, like wheat and rye growing and bread baking or honey picking, are in a sense more important and, obviously, eternal - withstanding any change.

You hardly sound like a liberal, but in another tinge to your vivid personality, you are one.
Yes, indeed, I am a member of the Liberal Movement faction in the parliament and I am grateful for the trust it has shown to me. I perhaps would call myself a moderate liberal, as my whole upbringing was based on traditional values which gyrate around the axis of the traditional family, with the husband being the caretaker of the family and the wife being the nurturer of the family fireplace. Sure, with some children around twitching their flaps. As you know, modern liberals praise other forms of family, including partnerships and even same-sex marriages. Frankly, I oppose that, but I don’t get scolded for it. This is obviously what I value most about liberalism – having a truly wide variety of opinions and views.

Sure, you stand up against abortion as well, don’t you? Don’t you think the disagreement on a range of social issues pushes you out of liberalism and shoves you into the realm of conservatism?
As I said, apart from some social issues, I consider myself being liberal. To answer your question on abortion, it’s a tough one… I really believe we have to bring more education on family values as well as on the birds and bees. If we did it, I believe the issue of abortion would not weigh on us all so dramatically and painfully as now. Although at the bottom of my heart I’m against abortion, the reality is, if we ban them, women will start streaming out for abortions in nearby countries. Yes, I am a staunch supporter of women’s rights, but again, perhaps due to my traditional upbringing, I deem abortion a sin.

Are you pious?
I’d say I am a believer. But, frankly, I rarely attend the Catholic Church. Although I pray often, I rather believe in an almighty universal intellect.

Can you pinpoint your liberal side?
I’m pro-women’s rights on a range of the issues. For example, I’ve vociferously stood for a law against violence against women. Some MPs, in fact, even on the left, voted against the law, citing their traditional understanding of the roles of the sexes in a family, which, sure, is not about raising a hand against women.
Nevertheless, when speaking of women’s rights, I’d like to remember what one of my best friends, a female painter, said once: “In fighting for women’s rights, we are losing the privileges we have enjoyed until now.”

What are they?
The biggest privilege is being revered for being a woman. Among the other privileges is being carried in a man’s hands just because you are woman, the life giver. Having doors opened in front of you because you are a woman… Being helped with carrying your bag, because you are woman, like in the old days…
Sadly, women nowadays are not revered for the most sacred act in the world - giving birth to a new life.

The approach also marks you off to the conservatives. No need to remind liberals that want women to have the same entitlements as men. Is there anything bad about this?
Well, I’d rather not put on labels… In fact, I’m very emancipated and independent, but I really do not want this kind of liberalism to strip me of what makes the gist of me being a woman. If a woman today sticks to the old-fashioned division of roles in family, loves kids and wants them, I believe she is a pillar of our society and state. For God’s sake, there’s nothing wrong with being that sort of woman!

But you have to admit the traditional family structure has been shaken. I really would not like to delve into a discussion whether this is for good or bad. But how would you suggest bolstering the traditional family, with high unemployment out there, record-high emigration, social disparity and mistrust in the state?
Before I answer your question, do you really believe that only the lawmakers are to blame? Why not the media which you represent, as most of the media out there focuses on what is bad?

Look, you well know that any news on murders, bankruptcies, robberies, etc. and looting sells. Not the news on what is nice and positive, not the news on hard-working families cherishing traditional values. This is sad. I really believe we have sufficient legislation when it comes to boosting the will of being mother and father. Just think of this: in most EU countries, the average maternity leave lasts a mere two months, while in Lithuania, an entire two years! What a difference! In fact, my younger son now is on a parenthood leave, meaning that his wife is the bread and butter of the family. I am very proud of him.

Wow, so liberalism has penetrated even your traditional family!
(Laughs) It did, in a very nice way though!

You tend to go touring the country speaking out on major issues and reading poetry. What concerns you most in the sticks?
Indeed, when I have some free time, I always love making trips in the country. I visit not only bigger towns and settlements, buts also tiny villages. And as a matter of fact, I tend to see a lot of them being revived by dozens of very hard-working and upbeat locals who do not succumb to the overwhelming pessimism in the country.
This is something that really heartens me. As I said before, as long as we have these kinds of people in the countryside, the prospects for our state are good. In fact, we have a lot of enlightened intellectuals out there in the hinterlands - teachers, doctors and village [intellects].

Didn’t you notice there the deserted huts and houses that once were full of life? Don’t you know the alarming rate of alcohol abuse and suicides in countryside?
Sure, there are these things. But first we ought to focus on what is good in the provinces. In fact, some small villages boast an increased number of residents. I think only those who do not love Lithuania leave it nowadays, so let it be… Statistically, the percentage of returnees recently is bigger than that of departures. And this is very good news. I am just hoping the trend will pick up, and our people, especially the educated and wealthier youth, will return to their Motherland and start businesses.

Wouldn’t it be another gaffe to say that only those who do not love Lithuania leave it now?
No, I didn’t mean quite exactly that. I believe, when it comes to leaving the country, every case is very individual and cannot be generalized. Again, I’d rather point out the positive things - here are over three hundred Lithuanians working in middle and higher managerial positions in most of the EU institutions. And they are valued for their professionalism and personal qualities. They really make me proud. Unfortunately, we have a considerable number of compatriots who, like a spoon of tar in a barrel of honey, spoil the image of Lithuania and all hard-working Lithuanians abroad.

How many expats do you have in your family?
Thank God, none in our family has chosen the life of an emigrant. I am very happy and proud of that. I am also proud of myself for having been able to instill into my children the feeling of happiness and love for the Motherland.