--- Today, Chairman of the Education, Science and Culture Committee of the Seimas, Rolandas Pavilionis, came up with an initiative of holding a referendum on Lithuania’s membership in NATO. Mr. President, what is your opinion about this initiative?
--- The latest opinion polls give NATO supporters a clear lead among the Lithuanian population. All parliamentary parties have also strongly endorsed Lithuania’s membership in the Alliance.
Therefore, by far it seemed reasonable to admit that a widespread consensus on the issue of NATO membership exists in the country and that a referendum is not necessary; especially at a time when an invitation to join the Alliance has not yet been issued.
However, today a group of politicians issued a statement calling for a referendum. As far as I know, it was signed by the representatives of the parties in government, the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals, as well as by members of some smaller parties -- the Farmer’s Party, the Party of National Progress and the National Democratic Party. Thus, a new interesting coalition is being formed.
I believe that, sooner or later, we’ll get to know the real interests of those who have put their signature under the document. We still don’t know whether the noble words about the right of the people to decide their future are not just a cheap populist bite that NATO opponents are offering. By the way, today some of the initiators of the referendum were rather outspoken about their negative attitudes not only towards Schwarzenegger and Rambo, but also towards our country’s membership in NATO.
Yet I wish to believe that this initiative is not about fishing in troubled waters. Before the Prague Summit, there might be a certain interest in casting doubts on Lithuania’s commitment to join NATO. If this is exactly what the initiators want, I am convinced that they won’t get it.
I am no way against referendums. They are an important democratic means of expressing a popular will. However, Europe does not have a tradition of mandatory referendums on membership in NATO.
I do not exclude the possibility of holding a referendum, should Lithuanian people petitioned for such an initiative, or should this idea be approved by the Seimas.
And if a decision to hold a referendum were adopted, I believe we should arrange the referendum on 22 December 2002, together with the presidential and municipal elections.
This way we shall economize on public money, which is a major issue of concern among the initiators of the referendum. In addition, we will provide all presidential candidates and candidates to municipal authorities with a possibility to make their point on Lithuanian’s membership in NATO. I assume it is high time for us to find out who speaks for a free and secure Lithuania, firmly anchored in the West, and who wants our country to remain in a gray zone. Just imagine: in a few years Poland, Latvia, and Estonia will be members of the European Union and NATO. And what about Lithuania? Will it be a sort of a ‘picnic area’ between the two parts of Russia?
I am confident that all Lithuanian people -- all citizens of Lithuania who love freedom and judge independently -- will go for their country’s security in NATO. I am also convinced that all the heavyweights in the presidential campaign will champion the way Lithuania has chosen.
--- Mr. President, at present many questions are raised about the relations between Lithuania and the Kaliningrad region. In your opinion, how should these relations be managed in the process of Lithuania’s accession to the EU?
Indeed, much noise been has been made recently about our relations with the Kaliningrad region, thus leading to a certain confusion about Lithuania’s actual position. For this reason, I would like to explain it in a greater detail.
First of all, I should note that the issue of the visa regime with Kaliningrad involves two separate aspects. We should make a distinction between a visa-free regime to the citizens of Kaliningrad on the one hand and extraterritorial, visa-free transit trains for all Russian citizens on the other.
As regards visa-free transit trains, Lithuania’s position is crystal clear: such transit will be impossible.
We appreciate Russia’s interest to ensure as easy transit for its citizens as possible. However, this goal cannot and will not be realized at the expense of Lithuania’s sovereignty. Neither should it come at cost to the European law. I don’t believe that Lithuania or Poland or the European Union will ever agree to it.
Russia’s interests cannot be maintained by the means that Germany pursued on the eve of World War II.
Second, as regards visa free regime to the population of Kaliningrad, Lithuania expressed its position as early as in 1995, when it signed an agreement with Russia on abolition of visas to the citizens of the region. At that time, Lithuania and Russia agreed that owing to a unique geographic location the status of the Kaliningrad region is different from the other regions of Russia.
I personally regret that some of the existing legal provisions will have to be lifted in the near future. However, when Lithuania must choose between visa-free regime with Kaliningrad and membership in the European Union, our choice is Europe. It is unfair to interpret this choice as our country’s inimical step towards the people of Kaliningrad.
Russia might have succeeded in convincing the European Union to make concessions regarding visa-free regime to the inhabitants of Kaliningrad, had it pursued this goal consistently. However, three weeks ago at the Summit of the Council of the Baltic Sea States the following position of Moscow was presented. I quote: “The visa regulations must be the same for all citizens of the Russian Federation. No matter in which part of Russia they live: for both Kaliningrad and Khabarovsk.”
Does that mean that Russia is giving up its earlier recognition of Kaliningrad as a unique region? Is it Russia who is willing to break the existing agreement on visa-free travel?
It sometimes seems that Russia’s one and only interest is to secure free transit, the so-called ‘corridor’ to the Kaliningrad region. Yet, as I have said, no trade-offs are possible on this issue.
Lithuania has come up with a number of proposals on how to facilitate travel for the population of Kaliningrad. It has been suggested to issue the citizens of the region with inexpensive multi-entry visas or special electronic identification cards, as well as to expand of the network of Lithuanian consulates in Kaliningrad. Regrettably, no constructive answers have yet been received from Russia.
--- Recently some Russian politicians have expressed radical views on Lithuania’s territorial integrity, especially as regards its sovereignty over the Vilnius region, and on ratification of the Lithuanian-Russian border agreement. What is your opinion about such statements?
I can only say one thing: the Lithuanian-Russian border was defined as early as in 1991. Both Lithuania and Russia have ratified this agreement and neither of them is keen to revise it.
In 1997, our countries signed another agreement defining the topographical line between Lithuania and Russia. Today, one can get an impression that Lithuania alone needs the ratification of this agreement. Sometimes non-ratification is even presented as something that Lithuania should fear.
However, I’ll be frank: we will hold on even if this topographical line is not ratified. Rather, the Russian politicians who ardently oppose ratification should apologize to those citizens of Lithuania and Russia, who live at the border and continuously face certain inconveniences.
Radical statements have been voiced now and then both in Lithuania and in Russia. There is every reason to believe that there will be more of them in the future. But it is not such statements that form the foundation of the Lithuanian-Russian cooperation.
Our good neighbor policies rest on a positive diplomacy. First, we focus on the joint projects of cooperation, which help promote the environment of mutual confidence. Second, this positive environment enables us to address and successfully overcome other, more complex issues.
This position is widely shared among the Russian leadership, as I can tell from my personal communication with President Putin and the other politicians in Russia. Therefore, I am confident that the Lithuanian-Russian relations will only improve, and the number of unresolved issues will decrease further.
Sometimes Lithuanians tend to overreact to the hysterical statements posed by the Russian radicals. Possibly, there still remains a certain level of inertia among the people of Lithuania, who used to live in fear of Russia.
This “fear syndrome” must be overcome as soon as possible. We are an independent state with time-honored traditions, a state that has chosen its way.
As future members of the European Union and NATO, we must have more confidence in ourselves. We can maintain good relations with all our partners, including America, Europe, and Russia. Actually, we are already in the process of developing and expanding these relations.