Hardly any other 31-year-old male heir wears a nobler family crest than Gabrielius Landsbergis, the grandson of the patriarch of modern Lithuania history, 81-year-old Vytautas Zemkalnis Landsbergis, himself about to end his stint as a Europarliamentarian. The grandfather’s prominence and reverence has skyrocketed the junior Landsbergis’ political career to dizzying heights – to the 3rd slot on the Lithuanian Conservatives’ electoral list to the European Parliament (EP). But the young man, determined to extend his kin’s best traditions, has much to offer besides his youth and manly charm. The advisor of Foreign and EU Affairs at the government Chancellery eagerly agreed to speak to The Baltic Times.
Your political career has been off to a dazzling start. How much of it do you attribute to the prominence of your grandfather, your personal traits and the circumstances?
Well, this year is the first for me when I am making a stride into the vast waters of international politics. I am very eagerly looking forward to participating in the EP election. I am really happy that most of my party fellows have found the ideas I am cherishing and the striving to get all the young generation together for a better future worth big and meaningful support. I came to the decision to enter politics believing that my 10-years of experience as a professional politician, and the fresh energy I have, as well as the ideas I preach are important both to the party [the Conservatives are officially known as Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD)] and Lithuanian society. Bearing the family name, known perhaps to every household, definitely also plays in my favor.
What are your earliest memories of the encounters with your grandfather as a prominent politician?
His political activity has always interested me and encouraged me to get involved in discussions and deliberations. I remember still in my childhood - perhaps I was an 8-year-boy - when I stepped over the threshold of the then-Lithuanian re-constituent Seimas - Supreme Council. Sure, being aware who held the helm of it, such a visit should have not been a surprise to anyone. For me, it was very natural thing. And I am still very happy of having done that then. I am really very proud of my family and kin’s traditions, but I regard them as a very big obligation. They make me feel that I have to exert twice more effort to make people around me believe that can I stand up to the family name and obligation it weighs on. Bearing the name of the Landsbergis family, no need to say, is a big responsibility, also. However, I want to underscore one thing: I have always tried to achieve everything in my life working hard myself. And the EP election is not an exception.
Still, many readers out there perhaps yearn for more vivid memories about your granddaddy. What are they? How would he surprise, encourage or scold you years ago?
I recall him as very human, warm and sincere. However, at the same time, I recall him always mulling the state’s affairs and problems, considering their solutions and outcome. Already in my teenage years, I remember the discussions we would have about Lithuania’s modern politics. Now I really find it astounding that my grandfather then, being so deeply involved in state affairs, would always find time for me. The conversations we had then have been the best lessons in political science I can imagine. When it comes to scolding, he would never do that. Perhaps for a single reason: grandparents always look at their grandchildren in another light than their parents [do]. I am really grateful to my grandfather for the knowledge he has given me. If he would ever notice any gaps in it, he would always nudge me to pull out a certain book from his huge library. And then, after having read the book, we would continue the discussions on the subject, often on a deeper tier. My grandfather has been for me not only a major source of the political and life experience, but also a source of knowledge.
How can you describe yourself, in five words?
I deem myself a big patriot of Lithuania, a professional diplomat, a devoted husband and father of four great children. And on top of that - an idealist.
Are there any traits and habits you would like to get rid of? What are they, if you can name them?
I really believe that it would be a whole lot better to ask other people around me. For example, my wife Austeja. But personally, I believe that sometimes I get too much into details and analysis when I have to assess all the alternatives when finding a solution. Perhaps I should more often rely on my intuition sometimes.
You are third on the HU-LCD EP election list. No doubt, your eyes are focused on a coveted seat in Brussels. However, don’t you think that the current political situation, i.e the ruling Social Democrats’ popularity and the pretty low ratings in the polls of the Conservatives play against your hopes?
What I can say is that I am an optimist and I believe that the Lithuanian voters will cross over the names of the right candidates in the ballot booth. Against the backdrop of the Russian belligerence, I believe that the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, among other parties, have very distinguished politics and strategies when it comes to Lithuania’s defense, energy, cyber-security and some other key issues. We have a very clear program, as well as a very strong and professional team, and I believe that the voters will evaluate that appropriately.
What are the issues you are intending to bring up once in the European Parliament?
If this happens, I would like to heed these things first of all: the enhancement of Europe’s energy security and external energy policies; tackling the threats Russia is posing, especially the issues of cyber and information security. Also, I am ready to address the subjects of innovation encouragement, the creation of a modern knowledge-based economy and preparation of necessary EU legislation for that.
Laima Liucija Andrikiene, euro-parliamentarian and one of the HU-LCD Party stalwarts, perhaps was the first one to speak out on the necessity to significantly renew the party. Do you share her observation? And what direction should the renewal take?
I really believe that the party over the last couple of years has been successfully heading that way. I mean, we have a lot of academic youth who joined it recently. Also, I see more young professional politicians taking over the reins of local party branches. That is a very good thing. What makes me especially happy are the poll results exhibiting the youth’s big support for the Conservatives. I really believe that the party is on the way of renewal and is getting there smoothly and consistently. And, finally, last but not least: there are two young Conservative candidates on top of the party’s EU election list, and this means a lot.
What do you make of the idea of same-sex partnerships and marriage? Also, abortion and contraception?
All these issues are so different that each of them would require as much length as the entire interview, so I’d better refrain from giving any comment [on these subjects] for now.
The UK Tories (UK’s center-right Conservative Party) have radically changed their stance on the aforementioned issues over the last 20 years. Do you see that change eventually happening within your party?
I won’t comment on that.
You have to admit that there are a lot of, even controversial, notions about the long-standing leader of your party, Andrius Kubilius. Have you always been his supporter? Is there anything you disagree with him? On what issues?
I remember when Kubilius was heading the 2008-2012 Lithuanian government; he invited me to lead the Regional Politics Department at his Office. I really hold the warmest memories about that work. I was able to participate in the government work and decision-making, which has been a great experience for me. I really think that Kubilius is a European-class politician who, during the deep recession in 2008-2010, found and passed the right decisions. In fact, they have triggered speedy economy growth, even on the scale of the European Union. I also credit Kubilius for the breakthrough in reforming and upgrading Lithuania’s energy and economic sectors. On the other hand, I tend to say only that a person who does not work, never makes mistakes. So from that standpoint, things perhaps could have done better in some cases. But in general, the directions he had taken at the helm of the Liberal-Conservative government, I really reckon to have been right and timely.
Don’t you think that, nevertheless, the Social Democrats’ leader, Algirdas Butkevicius, is a whole lot more charismatic and is better in dealing with the public than the often frown-faced Kubilius?
I do not like the comparison the way you put it. I believe that Butkevicius is a different type of politician, and the current situation of state does not require the hard and unpopular decisions Kubilius had taken. Therefore, it is hard to compare both leaders from that standpoint.
There is strong public opinion that the Conservatives, unlike the Social Democrats, are lacking high caliber leaders. Do you share it?
It is hard to say. I really consider the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats to be the most democratic party in Lithuania. As you know, we are the only party that picks its leader in a direct election, in which each party member’s vote is equally valuable. Such a democratic and open election environment allows natural nurturing of party leaders and induces a democratic competition in which the leader who accrues the biggest trust wins the ballot.
It seems that lately both parties - the HU-LCD and Social Democrats - have befriended each other to the point where their coalition after the presidential and EU election seems quite possible. Do you believe this is going to happen?
I really cannot assume the position of political analyst. Therefore, I cannot predict anything in that regard. However, I see certain signs that on some issues, like the introduction of the euro and meeting EU obligations, the positions of the two parties concur more often than with the other parties [in the ruling coalition].
How are you campaigning to reach out to the electorate?
Travelling extensively across Lithuania, I get involved in discussions with the voters. I find the travels very useful as they allow me to better grasp the locals’ needs and expectations, increase the trust in politicians and get acquainted with the people.
Are you married? How is your family life going?
Yes, I am. I’ve been married happily for the last 14 years. With my beloved wife Austeja, we are raising four children: two sons and two daughters.