Forum throws spotlight on Lithuania

  • 2001-11-22
  • Bryan Bradley
VILNIUS - Investors turned out in droves and paid big money for a chance to talk off-the-record with Lithuanian Cabinet members and other top leaders during a conference organized by The Economist Group in Vilnius on Nov. 15 and 16.

Participants attributed the event's success to two factors. They spoke of a widespread desire for more clarity about the reforms planned by the new government that took office in July. They also cited signs of new life in the Lithuanian economy accompanied by solid strides toward membership in the European Union and NATO.

"Even the organizers were surprised at the high turnout - some 80 investors - despite a registration fee of $2,000 for foreign companies and $1,000 for locals," Lithuanian Development Agency Director Vytas Gruodis told The Baltic Times. "People are beginning to discover that things are happening in Lithuania, not just in Estonia."

Speeches by Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and President Valdas Adamkus were open to the press, though other sessions with Lithuanian ministers of finance, economy and foreign affairs, as well as with the country's chief EU negotiator and central bank governor all took place behind closed doors.

"Keeping things off-the-record added value by encouraging more open and spontaneous interaction," said Gintaras Rimselis, head of Baltic operations for U.S. food giant Kraft Foods.

He said that in discussing policies and problems, officials had generally left a good impression even if they sometimes seemed to frame the same issues in rather different ways.

President Adamkus was especially upbeat about Lithuania's NATO and EU prospects in his address to the forum. "At this point, the surprise would be if we were not invited to join NATO next year," Adamkus told the investors. "And I can assure you we will not be the beggars of Europe," he added. "People now speak of Ireland as the Celtic tiger, and in the future they will say the same of Lithuania. We will be a strong competitive nation in Europe, contributing to the development and application of new technologies," the president said.

But Jeremy Kourdi, a writer and researcher who chaired the conference, toned down the enthusiasm. Kourdi told journalists at the end of the two-day event that despite Lithuania's evident progress, it would probably not be included in the first group of new EU members in 2004. Like Latvia, Slovakia and Malta, it was more likely to be included in a second wave of enlargement that The Economist Group was predicting for 2005, he said.