President’s Annual Speech in Seimas on Tuesday, June 8
This week national media quoted much of the speech delivered in parliament (Seimas) by Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda on June 8. He commented at length on recent events and the increased tension between Lithuania and Belarus.
He noted that “Beyond Lithuania’s eastern borders there is an unstable space where inherent human rights and the rules of the free world are disrespected, where dictators who watch action films step into the role of terrorists and hijack passenger planes. Where border and nuclear security becomes a tool of blackmail”. He was referring to the Ryanair passenger plane en route from Athens to Vilnius which was forced to land in Minsk, where Belarusian opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.
According to Nauseda, Lithuania would be much safer if it had more stable democracies in its neighbourhood, as it has recently seen an increase in the flow of illegal migrants entering the country from Belarus and there are suspicions that Belarusian officers could be involved in the organized transportation of these refugees. In his view, the most important task today is to stop Russia’s expansion and prevent further destabilization of the region.
“We must strive to give our neighbours the opportunity to decide freely and democratically on their lives,” the Lithuanian leader said. “The asylum we offer to the people of Belarus, our support to civil society, the loud voice of Lithuania reminding Europe of what is happening at its borders is the least we can and must do for our neighborus,” he added.
Nauseda called for strengthening NATO’s forward presence and air policing mission, and to prepare specific defense plans, while the emerging threats could be countered by ensuring the active involvement of the United States in the region’s security. “We must secure continued rotational presence of U.S. forces in Lithuania and their permanent presence as close as possible to our borders,” the Lithuanian president said, adding that he would speak about this at the NATO summit in Brussels next week.
He pointed out that Lithuania should also respect its commitment to consistently increase defense funding to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030, enhance its military capabilities, participate actively in international missions, and build a civil society starting “from the school bench”.
According to Nauseda, Lithuania should also keep the European Union’s attention on the Eastern Partnership.
“We cannot allow one-off failures or frustrations to obscure the efforts made in Ukraine, Moldova and the South Caucasus. Lithuania has an exceptional, I would say, a historic role here,” he said.
On the issue of power generated by the Astravyets nuclear power plant in Belarus, the president said that “Election promises may have faded in our memory, and the anti-Astravyets drums have fallen more silent, so I need to remind you that electricity from Astravyets can still enter Lithuania,” he said. “I call on the Government not to give up and to reach an agreement as soon as possible on a common methodology for trade in electricity between the Baltic States and third countries.” He pointed to a proposal to speed up the synchronization of electricity grids with Western Europe and the necessity to test the isolated operation of the Baltic power systems as soon as in 2023. “Today, we have no other choice but to further strengthen Lithuania’s energy independence,” the Lithuanian leader pointed out.
With regard to the coronavirus pandemic, Nauseda said “We see that the public health crisis has weighed not only on the economy, but also on education, eventually turning into a crisis of coexistence and confidence. The Lithuanian people, endowed with patience and perseverance, watched the politicians stumble in fruitless disagreements and unwillingness to listen”.
“Critical situations are a magnifying glass for our weaknesses and our strengths. At such moments we distinctly see how we are strong and what should be made stronger”, he said, calling for reason, respect and creativity.
According to Nauseda, democracy “can be knocked out of balance by social and economic tensions, people’s disappointment in justice and lack of public solidarity. However, democracy has a huge potential to withstand challenges, to invigorate society and to lead forward. “People have the right to demand responsibility from elected politicians and to work together towards creating a strong, just, green, and innovative Welfare Lithuania that belongs to us all.”
News from Lithuania Daily Bulletin, LRT.lt