A Fully Fledged Member
The country wins its spurs, but there is much still to be done
This spring is a time of great change. Lithuania became a member of Nato on 29 March, and is joining the European Union on 1 May.
People are cheering and raising glasses of champagne to celebrate. There have been speeches of congratulation and sighs of relief that the country has finally reached its destination, after a long and arduous journey. Now it can rely on help from its partners.
Although the economy has been one of the fastest growing in all Europe, not all the goals have been achieved yet. A safe and stable country is still to be created. The faster development of democracy and the market economy in neighbouring countries also concerns Lithuania.
Returning to the fold
Like any other, this country has had painful moments in its history. Its traditions of statehood date from the middle of the 13th century. Grand Duke Mindaugas was baptised a Christian in 1251, and crowned king two years later.
The assassination of Mindaugas in 1263 was a great tragedy. It took more than 120 years of wars with Western Europe, energetic efforts in diplomacy by Grand Duke Gediminas and a power struggle between Vytautas and Jogaila before the nation could get back on its course towards European civilisation. Its conversion to Christianity in 1387 brought it back into the orbit of European culture, but a lot had already been lost.
Centuries later, on 16 February 1918, Lithuania proclaimed its independence, only to be occupied by the Red Army in 1940. The modern state had lasted only 22 years.
The democratic republic in the period between the two world wars faced many problems and challenges too. Engaged in constant conflicts with its neighbours, and swinging back and forth between Russia and Germany, the two big powers, as a sovereign state it was fragile and very susceptible to outside pressures.
Despite declarations of adherence to Western values and ideas in the inter-war period, its closer integration into the West was hampered by the permanent state of hostilities with Poland over the Vilnius region, tensions between the political parties, and pro-communist forces active in the country.
Thus the question arises: is Lithuania returning to the Western world by joining Nato and the EU, or is it entering it for the first time?
Česlovas Laurinavičius, head of the Department of 20th-Century History at the Lithuanian Institute of History, says he does not have a straightforward answer to this question.
“I would call Lithuania an Odysseus, who at last has found what he was looking for after long years of wandering. Yes, it is returning to the West, but its journey back home has been full of dangers, with breakthroughs and setbacks.”
This well-known historian says that the people have always cherished pro-Western values, but throughout all periods the country has been brutalised, for many reasons, both geopolitical and political.
“The internal, innate attitude of the Lithuanian people allows us to say that it belongs to European civilisation, culture and ethnos. However, factors such as geopolitics, politics and geostrategic games played by neighbouring nations have prevented its full integration into Western Europe.”
He noted that, paradoxically, it was in Soviet times that the people demonstrated their preference for Western values, which are based on the idea of the free individual and a sovereign, independent state.
“The Soviet annexation led to a demographic drama and the brutal forced integration of the people into the Soviet sphere of influence,” Laurinavičius says. “But with time, the iron grip of the empire began to loosen, allowing individuals to express themselves more freely.
“Suddenly, Lithuania emerged as the most interesting and the most prosperous part of the Soviet Union. Even under heavy pressure, people saw themselves as a nation who cared about what was happening in the world and were anxious to follow the best traditions in fostering the health of the economy, culture and communication among people in general.”
The Moscow intelligentsia used to come from the capital of the Soviet Union to Lithuania to get a breath of Western culture and fresh air. In Laurinavičius’ words, now that it is returning to Western civilisation and turning over a new page in its history, it should not forget the difficulties and mistakes of the past and it should take every effort not to repeat them.
Membership offers guarantee of prosperity and stability
Even on the threshold of Western civilisation, some people are still asking how the country will benefit from membership of Nato and the EU. Antanas Valionis, the foreign minister, answers that, first of all, it has won recognition as a sovereign and independent state and as an equal partner with other Western countries in the international arena.
Membership of the EU provides a guarantee of prosperity and stability to the ten new members, eight of which once belonged to the Eastern bloc. They stand to receive billions of euros in aid which will help them to solve acute economic and social problems, such as agriculture, unemployment and the inflexibility of the healthcare and education systems, and also to promote tourism.
Foreign companies investing in Lithuania will be assured of the security of their capital, both external and internal. Membership of the EU will serve to show that it is a secure, stable and democratic country.
“You’ll see. You won’t be able to fend off foreign businesspeople,” Günter Verheugen, the EU enlargement commissioner, joked when asked what economic and political benefits membership will bring. “However, your life will become easier and better after you join the European Union. Lithuania is very attractive to foreign investors.”
Membership of Nato will also guarantee security and stability in the military, economic and political arenas. Nato aircraft began to guard the airspace of the Baltic countries on 29 March, when seven new countries, including Lithuania, became full members.
A bridge for promoting democracy in the East
Ričardas Degutis, the director of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia Department at the Foreign Ministry, said integration into Western structures would have a significant impact on political and economic processes in the neighbouring countries of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
“The process of enlargement does not end at our borders. No doubt there will be a next stage in enlargement,” he says. “This has been demonstrated by the establishment of the Nato-Russian Council and the EU Neighbourhood Policy, outlined by Brussels.”
In Degutis’ words, Lithuania has always had an ambition to play a leading role in the region. Its good relations with neighbours support this aspiration.
“We’ve launched a great deal of initiatives aimed at promoting democratic processes in Belarus, Kaliningrad, Ukraine and even the southern Caucasus. We are doing so not only because it is in our interest to be surrounded by sovereign, democratic and market-orientated states, but also because we are worried that problems such as an influx of illegal immigrants may arise.”
Lithuania could share its experience with the West, and thus contribute to the Eastern policies of the European Union and Nato.
“We are coming to the West with initiatives, not problems. Having earned the confidence of our Eastern neighbours, we have become go-betweens between the East and the West.”
He also underlines the importance of the country’s contribution to international peacekeeping operations. Lithuanian troops are serving in international missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, making a significant contribution to promoting democracy in these regions.
“The EU and Nato will benefit from enlargement because it will help build a broader security community with common values. With our experience in
building democratic institutions, we are well positioned to help our allies create a more stable and secure world,” Degutis says.
His thoughts are shared by Raimundas Lopata, the director of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University. “We are bringing our enthusiasm to the West,” he says. “We face new challenges. We are ready to take them up.”
Similarly, Bruce Jackson, an influential member of the Republican Party, a foreign policy analyst and a founder of the US Committee on Nato, has said that the USA is listening attentively to new voices in Europe because they are growing stronger. In his words, the post-communist countries are becoming a force that cannot be ignored.
No time for complacency
The country must remember that its integration into Western structures brings many obligations as well.
How fast and how deep its integration into the West will be depends on the convergence of economic cycles and new security challenges. In joining Western structures, it has committed itself to contributing towards their efforts in creating a prosperous Europe and in promoting trans-Atlantic cooperation.
The idea of common development will help create tolerant and progressive societies in which goodwill will replace xenophobia, racism and extremism. Shared responsibility will also help achieve unity. We will have to “share” our young people, well-trained troops, the costs of decommissioning the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and other difficulties that are bound to arise in the future. But the Western tradition of making collective efforts to solve problems should help us to deal with them.
Integration into Western structures will mark the beginning of radical changes, and it is up to the people to decide if these will reach Lithuania. The sceptics, whose ranks are shrinking day by day, argue that the country has to find its own way, which is creating the illusion that it is standing at a huge crossroads with many directions to go in.
True, there is more than one road. But the country fixed its course towards freedom and democratic values over ten years ago. Its final aim is not Nato or the EU. These are partners and friends who will help it to fulfil long-cherished aspirations to become a valued and respected player on the international arena, able to take part in the creation of a safe and stable world.
The Road to Nato
On 4 January 1994, in a letter to Nato Secretary General Manfred Wörner, President Algirdas Brazauskas officially requested membership of Nato.
Lithuania joined the Partnership for Peace programme and signed the PfP Framework Document at Nato HQ on 27 January 1994.
On 19 December 1996, the Law on National Security, stating integration into Euro-Atlantic structures as the top priority in foreign and security policy, was passed by the Seimas.
The mission to Nato was established on 1 August 1997.
On 23–25 April 1999, Nato leaders launched the Membership Action Plan at the Washington Summit, specifically designed to give advice and feedback to countries aspiring to join the Alliance.
The nine foreign ministers of the Nato aspirant countries established the Vilnius Group in the capital of Lithuania on 18 and 19 May 2000. They passed the Joint Declaration on Nato Enlargement.
On 10 and 11 May 2001 the Vilnius Group expanded by admitting Croatia and became the Vilnius Ten.
The Nato Parliamentary Assembly held its Spring Session in Vilnius on 27–31 May 2001.
The Seimas adopted the National Security Strategy, reiterating Nato and EU membership as strategic goals on 28 May 2002.
On 21 and 22 November 2002, Lithuania, along with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, was invited to start accession negotiations.
Permanent representatives of the 19 Nato member countries signed Protocols of Accession, paving the way for Lithuania and other Nato invitees to join the Alliance on 26 March 2003.
On 30 October 2003 representatives of Nato member states and Lithuania discussed the fifth and final Annual National Programme of Lithuania in the MAP cycle before full membership in 2004.
On 10 March 2004 the Seimas ratified the Founding Treaty of the Alliance.
On 29 March 2004 Lithuania and six other countries formally became members of Nato by depositing their instruments of accession in the United States.
* When Nato was founded, the people of these seven nations were captives to an empire. They endured bitter tyranny, they struggled for independence, they earned their freedom through courage and perseverance. And today they stand with us as full and equal partners in this great Alliance.”
George W. Bush, president of the USA
* Our accession to the Alliance means an expansion of the area of security and stability and a decisive step towards creating a whole and free Europe. It will also help to promote and to strengthen even better relations between an enlarged Nato and all of its neighbours, including Russia. […]
We will also become members of the European Union. We will use our membership in both organisations to strengthen the transatlantic link that has for many decades been the cornerstone of Europe’s security.”
Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas, prime minister
* The inclusion of Lithuania and six other countries will add to Nato’s potential to stage our security environment in positive ways. And it will be a huge step towards a longstanding objective of the Alliance: a Europe without dividing lines. A Europe not only free of war, but also free from fear.”
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato secretary general
* Becoming a member of Nato is a full legitimisation of our return to the European and transatlantic family of nations. So with this membership comes our return to the Euro-Atlantic mainstream.”
Gintė Damušis, head of the Mission of Lithuania to Nato
* Accession to Nato has been a turning point in the history of Lithuania. [...] We have finally become part of a community which offers solid guarantees and responsibilities, a community which is committed not only to the members and partners of the Alliance but to common values, safety and stability in the world.”
Linas Linkevičius, defence minister
* In the countries of the EU the second generation has not experienced wars. This has been achieved by both political and economic means. In joining the EU, Lithuania, however, seeks not only political and economic progress but also juridical and social security for its people. A state based on democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and social security – all of this lies at the bottom of European unity.”
Artūras Paulauskas, chairman of the Seimas, and currently acting president
* The forthcoming enlargement gives us the chance to unite on a genuinely continental scale, something that for thousands of years, European history has been unable to achieve. But today we can create a new, united Europe, not by the sword, not at gunpoint, but by the free exercise of the will of sovereign, independent nations.”
Pat Cox, chairman of the European Parliament
* Besides implementing bilateral projects, Lithuania is actively participating in broader initiatives such as the EU Wider Europe/New Neighbours Initiative, Nordic Dimension Initiative and other regional frameworks. These frameworks offer unique opportunities to bring individual countries’ projects, policies and resources under a single and coherent long-term strategy aimed at promoting democracy and prosperity in the new neighbourhood of the EU and Nato, for the sake of completing the goal of a ‘Europe whole and free and at peace’.”
Antanas Valionis, minister of foreign affairs
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