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A virtual NATO member state

  • 2002-07-25
  • Geoffrey Vasilauskas
Should Lithuania be asked to join NATO this November in Prague, the country would become NATO's first virtual member state - virtually indefensible, with no geopolitical strategic significance to the security of other member states, virtually a democracy with a simulated free market and feigned respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Since NATO was formed, the organization has pretty much written the training manual for new recruits as it went along. When the Cold War wound down to an end, more or less every former Soviet satellite state began knocking on NATO's doors, and some even began inquiring what the price of admission and the dress code were in order to enter the exclusive club. In response, NATO instituted the Partnership for Peace program and laid down some guidelines for aspirants: respect for human rights, rule of law, democracy, a free press and a free market economy.

Lithuanians said, no problem, we can do that.

Lithuania had no choice in 1991 but to undertake awesome economic and political reforms. Along with the substantial and real reforms in the Lithuanian military over the last decade, economic reforms have become an end in and of themselves, serving to secure a new line of credit from the IMF or World Bank, or pushing Moody's to up the nation's credit rating a notch or two. Endless reforms have also proven profitable, while an end to reforms would mean foreign aid via a number of programs would simply dry up. So Lithuania has become an expert at simulating reforms.

Instead of economic shock therapy, Lithuania opted for the lobotomy.

In human rights Lithuania has done the same thing, putting on a good face for visiting experts from international organizations while doing nothing to improve practices inherited from the Soviet organs of repression. In some cases Lithuania has even done the Soviets one better, finding novel ways to violate human rights. Readers of The Baltic Times will remember the case of the anti-NATO protester thrown out of his job the next day after accusations from security personnel he was a secret agent of the Soviet military intelligence. and the case of Ashique Hamdani, long-time resident of Lithuania deported after exposing corruption in government and law enforcement, forced to leave his wife and daughter behind. Readers also remember how Lithuanian political leaders, busy preparing to send their political delegates to the Frankfurt Book Fair this October to tell the world about Lithuania's achievements in guaranteeing human rights and democratic rule, gave the orders to arrest protesters during the recent visit by the Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin to Vilnius.

While Lithuanian politicians attend Frankfurt to tell fairy tales to all comers, Lithuania's writers will brood at home about the mess they and their country find themselves in 12 years after formal independence.

Last year an EU delegation issued a report on Lithuanian justice, from treatment in the courts to conditions for prisoners. Delegates found Lithuanian prisoners were effectively being tortured by the way they were held and in certain cases were intentionally tortured by law enforcement.

They also found Lithuanians were arrested and held for unreasonably long periods of time before ever coming to trial, in many cases for months and years.

It took a full-scale HIV epidemic at a Lithuanian prison this spring to wake the public and politicians up to what the EU delegation plainly reported last year.

Respect for the rule of law is a strange proposition in a country where the president is in clear violation of the national constitution. The Lithuanian constitution does not allow political office for those who have sworn oaths of allegiance to a foreign power. As a naturalized U.S. citizen and a U.S. soldier and government employee, President Valdas Adamkus swore allegiance to the U.S.A.

Luckily, the wording of the Lithuanian lustration law was changed by MPs to allow such cases to forego the normal ritual for run-of-the-mill KGB agents.

The Lithuanian constitution makes all the right sounds in all the right places, but the auditorium is empty. That fact might be lost when Lithuanian politicians embark on their latest musical tours this autumn in Frankfurt and then Prague, to be followed by a gala performance in Brussels.