By Marius Laurinavičius, published in lrytas.lt on 2 September
It is common in Lithuania, but not only in Lithuania, that when elections are approaching, politicians suddenly remember areas of social life about which they did not care during their entire term of office.
In Lithuania, however, one area remains an incredible area of silence even during the election campaign. It is the country’s foreign and defence policy.
The issue of the relations with Belarus has once again become very acute recently.
The story of the so-called Swedish teddy bear stunt and the victory of Vladimir Peftiev, nicknamed “Lukashenko’s wallet”, in the case against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, as announced by the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court this week, were both much publicised.
Both issues seem worthy of serious political debate and not just expert discussions, especially since the relations with Belarus always give rise to public debate anyway.
And not only debate – for instance, the industrialists constantly criticise Lithuania’s policy or at least the decisions of individual politicians or diplomats towards Belarus.
And what do politicians do? Who is it that could clearly explain Lithuania’s current policy towards Belarus?
What is the position of the ruling majority (not to mention each political party in the majority) towards relations with Belarus? What is the attitude of the opposition? Do the actions of Lithuanian institutions represent any position? Are they consistent? Should anything be changed?
There are numerous questions, but neither the current government nor those who expect to win the forthcoming elections are expressing a clear political position on the teddy bear stunt or on the victory of Lukashenko’s ally and the Minsk regime in the Vilnius court.
Furthermore, none of the politicians ever asked in public whether it is normal that the Lithuanian law firm LAWIN, which has been representing Alexander Lukashenko’s regime for some time now, is also the Government’s partner in implementing the most important energy projects.
And that is not even to mention the discussions on whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should not have granted Vladimir Peftiev an exception from the sanctions prescribed by the EU law when Lithuania itself does not follow the strictest policy against the Lukashenko regime.
Perhaps our country nonetheless follows the strict policy despite the efforts of President Dalia Grybauskaitė to thaw relations with Alexander Lukashenko?
If Lithuania has taken such a stance, however, perhaps we should have publicly congratulated the Swedes, who dropped teddy bears calling for democracy and freedom of speech over Belarus.
Or would it have been wiser to clearly distance ourselves from the Swedish provocation immediately? Especially if Lithuania still follows its previous dual policy: on the one hand, it calls for democracy in Belarus but, on the other hand, it wants to preserve close neighbourhood co-operation.
Finally, even the industrialists’ claims that Lithuania’s thoughtless actions might infuriate Alexander Lukashenko and result in severe negative consequences for the country are worthy of political discussion.
Are such intimidations grounded when the economic co-operation with Belarus gains new heights despite the political tension? What do politicians think about it?
Perhaps someone is already taking actions so that the future of the Klaipėda seaport or the railway business, which depend heavily on Belarusian cargoes, would depend not only on the good will of Alexander Lukashenko? It is no secret that Russia is improving the infrastructure of its seaports in seeking to take over the flows of the Belarusian cargoes.
May we hope not to lose Belarusian cargo flows when Russia will be ready and willing to take them over, even if we do not irritate Alexander Lukashenko?
How are the heads of the seaport and railways preparing for it? How can Lithuania’s relations with Russia influence such changes? What strategy should we follow in developing relations with our not less problematic neighbour? And what are the current policy and current strategy? What are they based on?
Can anyone answer all these and many other questions? Should not these issues be raised during the election campaign? After all, everything mentioned here deals not only with particular ideologies, but also with the vision of the national economy.
And it is not only about Russia and Belarus. Who is it that could clearly express Lithuania’s current position in the European Union, which is undergoing serious changes? And what place in the European Union do some or other Lithuanian politicians envisage for Lithuania?
During the election campaign, it also seems necessary to discuss the famous issue of the procurement of helicopters using the unused housing renovation funds from the aspect of the national defence financing problem.
Especially since the agreement on the defence policy was signed several months ago, it seems now that the national defence financing earmarked in the new budget will not be increased, as agreed, but rather decreased instead.
Someone may try to explain the lack of discussion on foreign and defence policy issues during the election campaign by the fact that according to the Lithuanian Constitution the key role in the mentioned area belongs to the President. Meanwhile, President Dalia Grybauskaitė does not publicly express her position on such issues either.
Nowadays, the line between foreign and domestic policy becomes very indistinct. Therefore, without knowing what politicians think about our foreign policy, we may not expect to understand their promises, or hope that their future actions would be consistent and calculated.