Vilnius, 24 February 2003
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
My Fellow Citizen,
The positions and principles that I stand for are well known to you: for five years I have not only proclaimed them but have sought to translate them into reality in my everyday work. I presented in detail my proposed vision of Lithuanian's progress in my last year state-of-the nation address.
Therefore, addressing you for the fifth time at the end of my term of office, I would only like to make a brief overview of the past year and remind you of those of my underlying principles, which, in my view, are of importance for the future of this nation and state.
The year 2002 was a crucial year for Lithuania. At the end of the last year we received an invitation to join the North Atlantic Alliance and concluded membership negotiations with the European Union, thus completing an important stage in the development of our state. We have achieved this together, by pursuing a targeted and active foreign policy and by carrying on the work of modernising Lithuania.
This state is a strong state today. We are well known in the world and are recognised as a reliable partner.
Today we are standing at the threshold of a united Europe. All that remains to be done is to take yet one more decisive step and anchor ourselves in the community of Western democracies. This step will mark a historic return of our nation and of our state to the Western civilisation, which had been our home for hundreds of years, and from which we had been separated by force more than half a century ago.
It is imperative that all of us - the nation at large and each and every citizen - realise how important it is for Lithuania to establish itself in the Western world. History has given us a chance to build a secure, prosperous and modern life for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Our primary duty is to take advantage of this opportunity. Today, just like in the times of the Sąjūdis national liberation movement, we must act in unity and with strong will. Everything is in our own hands today.
We cannot afford to be indifferent to our fate, we cannot afford to submit to false prophets, and we cannot afford to commit irretrievable mistakes.
"Politicians are forcing the people into the European Union," "Breaking away from the EU is just as difficult as from the USSR," "Politician fear revenge of the people" - these are but a few headlines carried recently by a Lithuanian daily. With the referendum on Lithuania's EU membership approaching, such headlines are likely to become more prominent and there will be more of them.
Will we manage to withstand the attempts to set different groups of the society against each other, to artificially divide us into the "working people" and the "elite" who is allegedly unable to understand the ordinary people? The answer to this question will depend on both those in power and on the wisdom of the ordinary citizen.
Regrettably, the Seimas has failed to avoid wavering in dealing with the organisation, character and duration of the referendum. I hope that in the near future all the political parties in the Seimas will be able to present to the public a joint and well-thought plan of the referendum that will be first and foremost based on the trust in the people of Lithuania. I hope that all the key political and non-partisan forces of the country will put in an earnest and united effort to encourage the people of Lithuania to actively express their will and endorse the road of European integration chosen by Lithuania. I will personally do all in my power to ensure that ever more people realise the importance and benefits of such a choice for their well being. I call on all the citizens who are not indifferent to the fate of the nation to unite and act together, so that the idea of a civilised and European Lithuania prevails in our society.
An active and united civil society has always been and will remain the aim of my political activity. Over the past five years I took every effort myself and urged you to do away with the obstacles that stand in the way of a stronger civic concord and impede the restoration of the people's trust in their own society and their state.
A key precondition for such a trust is the overall wellbeing of the people and social justice.
Our economy has shown a steady growth in recent years. Last year the gross domestic product increased by 5.9 per cent. Foreign direct investment grew by 14 per cent. The inflation rate stood at less than 0.5 per cent. Exports grew by 10 per cent. The current account deficit has gone down. According to preliminary data, the revenues of the national budget last year exceeded those of the previous year by 1.250 billion litas. It was not without reason that the international ratings agency "Standard and Poor's" has recently upgraded Lithuania's credit rating, noting the progress made in its financial system, robust economic growth and, most importantly, the flexibility of our economy at the time of global economic decline.
Positive economic development is already being felt by some parts of our society. Retail trade in the country grew by more than 12 per cent last year. Citizens' savings in commercial banks increased by 500 million litas, showing a growth of more than 8 per cent. This demonstrates that an increasingly growing number of people in Lithuania is able to consume and save more.
Regrettably, a large proportion of the population has not yet been affected by these positive developments in the economy. Their life has not improved. Unemployment is looming high, having dropped by just one per cent in a year's time. The rates of unemployment, long-term unemployment, and youth unemployment in Lithuania are twice as high as the EU average. Small old age and disability pensions fail to guarantee a dignified life.
The regional disparities in the level of people's wellbeing are getting ever more evident. Incomes of businesses and individuals have been growing fairly fast in Vilnius, Klaipėda and Kaunas. The pace of development of other Lithuanian regions, however, is considerably slower. The level of unemployment and poverty in the regions is significantly higher. More than one tenth of the country's urban dwellers have found themselves below the poverty line. In rural areas, over a quarter of population live in poverty. One third of Lithuanian farmers live in deprivation. More than a third of large families are destitute. A large proportion of such families lives in rural areas.
It is important, therefore, today to co-ordinate the rapidly progressing economic development with the expectations of our citizens to live better. Both the low-income people and the socially disadvantaged must also feel the positive changes in the economy. There must be a gradual increase in the wellbeing of farmers, scientists, teachers, doctors, and cultural workers alike. Our state policies today must not leave individual groups of society on the margins of the overall development of the country. They must be aimed at reducing social tensions and enhancing solidarity in civil society.
It is regrettable that even under the conditions of economic growth the desperately needed social transformations are being further postponed or abandoned half-way. The pension reform model, chosen last year after long debates, is clearly not a successful one. The intended slow pace of the reform will hardly give the current generation of the working population a possibility to ensure a more secure retirement for themselves.
Our social support, just like in the past, remains poorly targeted. A fundamental health reform is yet to start. The work on education reform has stalled due to disagreements within the ruling coalition.
The modernisation of civil service is proceeding too slowly. There is still too much red tape at all levels of administration. Small and medium businesses still lack more favourable conditions for their development. There is still no sign of viable policies for the development and revival of the regions.
If this sort of stagnation in the above mentioned areas protracts for a longer period of time, it can considerably hamper our society's overall progress.
It is of crucial importance today to modernise state governance, to make it more efficient, more transparent and reliable. It is on the success of these efforts that the further progress of our democracy and civil society rests.
Democratic governance of the state must be based on a much closer interaction between the state institutions and the public, on a much better system of keeping the public informed and consulted with in the process of making strategic decisions, and on a much greater involvement of citizens in the matters of the state.
Today we need to reinforce the dialogue between the authorities and the public, underpinning it with a solid foundation: we need a clear strategy for the development of the state and the nation that would in very concrete terms give an answer to every citizen of Lithuania as to how this country is going to make use of the European Union support and achieve rapid progress. There is a need of a strategy that would not only articulate clear development priorities but would also substantiate them by a plan of future investments. Such a strategy would pave the way to a more binding, broader, and functional national agreement.
In fact, today we have some good strategic documents; we have also signed the National Accord for Economic and Social Progress. However, political decisions that are made every day depart as often as not from the strategic blueprint presented to the public, and make our documents sound like hollow declarations which the citizens have little ground to trust.
Last year you, the esteemed Members of the Seimas, approved the State Long-term Development Strategy which lays down, and with good reason, such priorities as knowledge society, security of society and competitive economy. This Strategy, like the Long-term Strategy for the Development of Lithuania's Economy adopted by the Government says that "economy based on knowledge is to become the priority goal of Lithuania".
However, not long ago the Government formulated the Framework Programming Document providing how Lithuania is to use the structural funds received from the European Union in the years 2004 - 2006. Under it, only 18 per cent of all the future funds obtained from the European Union structural funds are to be given over for the development of human resources - educational and social programmes. Meanwhile Member States of the European Union allot, on an average, 23 per cent of these funds for this sector, while Ireland which has made a "tiger leap" is setting aside as much as 33 per cent for these needs. Such is the policy of states which have achieved a much higher level of social and technological progress than we have, and have a much lower unemployment rate than Lithuania.
What is the point of speaking about knowledge economy, about combating unemployment and poverty when we intend to invest into our people, their education and their capacity to adjust to the changing labour market only the funds which are left over from the upgrading of bridges, motorways and railways. Can we expect to create a knowledge society, a society of security and a competitive economy if we continue along these lines? I doubt that very much.
I call on the Members of the Seimas and the Government once again not only to make declarations but also to translate into reality the priorities that have been set for the development of our people and the State. Let our deeds agree with our words. Only then shall we be able to restore people's confidence in the government.
How important is the increased role of education in assisting people to adjust to the radically new political, economic and social realities is seen from the self-portrait of our society today.
Some time ago a comparative study of values in European countries "Values: Europe - 1999" was carried out. It gives us a possibility to see our society in the general context of Western and Eastern Europe.
According to the findings of the study we, Lithuanians, have very little trust in the democratic institutions of the State and in our powers as citizens. Together with the Russians we are far ahead of other nations which have liberated themselves from communism in our leanings towards the totalitarian past. We have a more favourable opinion about the former communist system than about the present democratic political system. Most of us would be inclined to obey the rule of a leader who is free from the control of the parliament and the election. According to the results of the study we long much more than the Russians and Belorussians for such authoritarian rule. Of all the European nations we, Lithuanians, have least trust in the parliament we have elected ourselves; moreover, we are least of all critical about the printed word. Out of all the Europeans we take least pride in the fact that we are citizens of our State.
Thus, we are an easy prey for manipulators because we have so little confidence in ourselves.
One may sometimes get an impression that moral and civic responsibility for many of us is too heavy a burden. Today our society lacks moral stability. Side by side with many examples of noble humanity we witness cases of abominable degradation. It is simply inconceivable why an ordinary village lad, not much different from many others like him, could kill in cold blood the neighbours who had cared for him, how a young city girl could stab a passer-by without any other motive, "just for fun"; how young Lithuanian men and women can torment their babies and children before the eyes of their neighbours. Abominations like these taint the portrait of Lithuanian society today. Nothing could be worse than responding to such atrocities as to some kind of inevitable daily routine.
I keep asking myself: how should politicians who are confronted with an imperfect image of a post-communist society behave in such a society and endeavour to work for its good? The expectations we have about the government are always unreasonably too high; no wonder then that continuous disillusionment with the government is unavoidable.
In such a society there is a great temptation for politicians to manipulate with people, to take advantage of their problems and failings, to play on their expectations, without having regard to the realities. A maxim that an end justifies the means may be very deceptive. The victories scored by politicians in such a way would be short-lived and the defeat sustained by society could have irreversible consequences.
If our policy, instead of being an exercise in running the common affairs of our nation, became a mere technology aimed at seeking power and its retention, a mere flexing of muscles when all the means are good, our democracy and civil society would be confronted with a serious risk. In order to be strong and to survive, a democratic nation must have a solid moral foundation, moral covenants and civic commitments. A democratic policy may exist only if it rests on shared values and principles.
It has always been my belief that a politician who really cares about democracy in Lithuania and its future must take a more challenging road, a road of openness and truth. Only such a road will eventually lead to an honest dialogue between people of Lithuania, will consolidate people's confidence in themselves and their State.
Regrettably, our political life at present is too self-centred, socially unreceptive and too far removed from the daily concerns of the people. Our government seems too complacent. Our parties sometimes resemble debating societies engrossed in their internal problems.
It was this that made me more than two years ago to bring up the idea of a new policy. Calling on the parties which supported this idea I said at that time: "Let us try and face Lithuania as it really is - with its poverty and injustice, hopelessness and inertia inherited from the soviet past. It is time we started liberating ourselves from this legacy. It is time we started addressing the real problems with which our people are grappling. During the ten years of the freedom which we have regained, our State gave too little attention to the reality, to the daily concerns."
Today I am still convinced that it is only through attention of the politicians to the reality, only with the help of an open political dialogue Lithuania will be able to advance forward. It would be most regrettable if the idea of a new policy deteriorated into new political technologies.
I am positive that one of the fundamental tasks of the moment is to lay the basis for an active and organised society. Decades of oppression have undermined our potential to unite into societies and movements independent from the State, potential for organised activities. Sometimes attempts are made to divide all political and social life of the country into the elite and the masses, into the rulers and those who are ruled. There is a risk in such an approach not only to distort the complex real face of the society but also to distance ourselves from it, by putting all responsibility for our common future on the shoulders of the government, the financial elite or the professionals. Such attitudes and behaviour devalue the importance of an individual and his civic responsibility. Such a position is totally alien to the very nature of a civic society and democratic policy.
Nothing could pose greater danger to democracy and a contemporary state than an illusion that everything in a society and a state is predetermined by interest groups, that everything else is a mere manipulation and deception of people. It is pointless therefore, the argument goes, to take part either in the political life of the country or take interest in it.
Neither democracy, nor a modern state can survive without conscious, active and organised citizens. That is why it is important to expand the scope of open discussions and civic actions in Lithuania so that people could feel that they were members of one community, united by shared values and goals.
It is education that today must lay the foundations for an active civic society through consolidating our values and fostering our potentials. The aim of education is to assist our children, young people and adults to lead an independent and creative life under the conditions of a free market, an ever changing world of labour and an open civic society. It is only through promotion of education that we shall be able to safeguard and foster our identity, to secure a place for ourselves in the area of the West as an independent, dignified and creative nation.
I am sure that at this moment when we are about to embark upon a new stage in the history of our nation and our State, it is essential that our society and parliamentary parties reach a common position on the main trends in the development of our education. To this end, I lay before you, the esteemed Members of the Seimas, the strategic provisions for the development of education in Lithuania drafted by a group of experts and discussed with the public. I entrust them to the Chairman of the Seimas and I hope to have your approval.
I have trust in the success of our democratic state, I believe in the future of Lithuania, which we have created and will continue to create together.
President of the Republic of Lithuania