Ruutel defends Soviet past on visit to Lithuania

  • 2002-01-24
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Departing from the line taken by other Estonian politicians - notably outgoing Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves - President Arnold Ruutel emphasized during his first official visit to Vilnius that Estonia is a Baltic country and that Balts should cooperate in achieving European Union and NATO membership.

Ruutel had meetings Jan. 18 with Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. He was originally scheduled to meet his Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus but did so at an earlier meeting of the three Baltic presidents in Riga, prior to Adamkus' departure for the United States to meet U.S. President George W. Bush.

At a news conference after his meeting with Paulauskas, Ruutel emphasized the economic and political ties between both countries. "There are more than 800 Lithuanian-Estonian joint ventures," he said.

Estonia is the third biggest investor in Lithuania, with only Denmark and Sweden investing more. Estonian investments here have reached 1 billion litas ($250 million). But the fact remains that most of this money is of Scandinavian origin, prompting many to see it as Scandinavian capital spreading southwards.

Washington considers Lithuania a leader among NATO candidate countries, a fact not lost on Ruutel, who promised more cooperation in the military sphere.

"Both our countries seek NATO membership. Both our countries have decided to allocate 2 percent of GDP to defense spending. We could reach these goals better and more quickly if we cooperated, for example, in making joint military purchases," Ruutel said.

Later, in an interview on Lithuanian television, Ruutel emphasized that Estonia is a Baltic country and ridiculed those Estonian politicians who describe his fatherland as being part of Scandinavia.

"You can't cut some country out of a map and put it in another region."

However, Ruutel emphasized that after joining the EU, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will form a united front with Denmark, Sweden and Finland to defend and promote the interests of the northern region in Brussels.

The Estonian president was also grilled about his communist past as head of Soviet Estonia's puppet Parliament for a decade in the 80s.

He responded that Brazauskas was himself secretary for economics in the Lithuanian Communist Party Central Committee before the "singing revolution" of 1988. He added that if Balts had not joined the Communist Party, Moscow would have sent its own people who would have blindly obeyed all the Kremlin's orders.

In this event, Ruutel said, silent resistance would have been impossible and the Baltic states might never have become independent.

He quoted U.S. political analyst Zbigniew Brzezinski, who said that the West had no intention of invading Soviet-dominated areas, and that communism could be toppled only from the inside.

Good jokes

Asked about popular jokes in Lithuania portraying Estonians as arrogant, Ruutel conceded, "Well, jokes help people to relax."

However, he himself was not able to recall any joke about Estonians, when put to the test by political analyst Audrius Siaurusevicius.

Although Ruutel's visit demonstrated that political and economic relations between both countries are good, this cannot be found at all levels of society. Recently, the Lithuanian-British social research firm Baltijos Tyrimai investigated which foreign countries Lithuanians had visited during the last five years. Estonia came way down the list.

Over the last five years, 46 percent of Lithuanians visited Poland, 36 percent Germany, 24 percent Russia (mostly Kaliningrad), 14 percent Latvia, 11 percent France, 10 percent the Czech Republic and 7 percent Great Britain. Only 3 percent visited Estonia - even less than those who journeyed to such far-off locations as Spain and Norway.

And politicians have not been leading the way in promoting Estonian-Lithuanian goodwill.

Like other parliaments around the world, Lithuania's has committees to promote relations with 40 countries. But Estonia is not one of them.