“When you go to politics, don’t be afraid to stand alone. Have your own views on whatever is happening and defend them. Prove to the others that you are right and never follow the mainstream just because is easier.”
Her long career in the diplomatic service did not mitigate her spontaneous enthusiasm and her passion. Grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, she dreamt of getting involved in politics since she was a child, but she could only fulfill her aspiration after 1989 with the end of the Soviet occupation. From the start of her career she covered roles of great responsibility: she began working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she then became Ambassador to the French Republic and then Ambassador to Israel; she was then appointed Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and she is currently Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
In her interview with The International Post Magazine, Her Excellency Mrs. Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene talked about the relationship between Lithuania and the European Union.
When you started your diplomatic career, at the beginning of the 1990s, Europe was ruled by very different political equilibriums and it had a much weaker influence in international affairs. Twenty years later, what would you say is the most controversial political challenge that Europe faces today?
Indeed, 25 years ago when the Berlin wall came down, we all hoped that Europe would become united. Obviously today there are much less divisions between us than back then, but many problems with contemporary Europe depend also on the fact that the unity we were dreaming about in 1989 has not happened yet.
Look at what is going on in Ukraine right now: there is a war and this is because internal divisions within Europe still exist. We expanded the European Union to 28 member states, and this fostered stability and prosperity; however, the rest of Europe, the one that is still outside, is prone to conflicts and wars.
So, I would say that the biggest challenge for Europe today is to establish the unity we dreamt of. It is not just a matter of economic benefits and political stability: it is crucial for our security and protection.
Since Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, what would you say was the biggest achievement your country has obtained as a member?
Well, I would say the biggest achievements for my country have been the guarantee of security, the protection of human rights and ultimately freedom.
We now give for granted things such as freedom of speech or freedom of religion, but in Soviet times, if you wanted to go to church – and most Lithuanians are Catholic – you could be expelled from university for example.
After 1990, we can go to church without hiding, After 1990 we can say whatever we want and also criticize our government. After 1990 we can travel all over the world, not just within the Soviet Union.
I would say that the greatest accomplishment of Lithuania as a EU member has not been our economic prosperity, but ultimately, obtaining a real and functioning democracy.
Moving on to more recent days, I wanted to ask you a few questions concerning the Crimean Crisis.
After Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 there were growing fears that Putin would try to destabilize the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. How did Lithuania react to this incumbent threat? And what is the situation like at the moment?
This threat is not over unfortunately. Putin can still destabilize the Baltic countries, or Poland or Sweden for instance. Events of the past weeks show that Russians are moving forces in strategic places in Europe: three weeks ago one of their submarines was found in Stockholm and only a few days ago some Russian jets were intercepted by the British in Scotland.
It sounds like a cold-war scenario!
Well yes. They are making deliberate provocations, but we are now prepared to react if this degenerates. NATO created the Rapid Reaction Force: it is a very concrete and tangible plan of reaction in case they attack. And we are not naïve, we know that this can happen, so we are prepared to respond: and we will go to war.
So NATO would go to war against Russia if they attacked?
Yes. This sounds like a movie, but this is reality. Fortunately NATO leaders understand very well the threats that are emanated from Russia now and there is a strong will to respond to this.
Since Russia is one of Lithuania’s main export partners, did the sanctions imposed by the EU on Moscow have a negative impact on your economy?
I would say that what is happening lately, not because of European sanctions but mostly because of Russian policies, is that they began to boycott our products.
In Economics they call this “applying non-tariff measures”. In practice it means, for example, that if a truck with Lithuanian dairy products arrives at the Russian border, the truck is stopped. So, instead of delivering the goods on the same day, they ask to take a sample of the products to make sure that they are conform to their quality standards. This process takes just three weeks, and obviously after that time everything is expired and all that load is lost.
Another example is pork meat. We used to import a lot of Lithuanian pork in Russia, but lately they started saying that our pork has some kind of disease so they stopped buying our pork.
Evidently, they are not imposing direct sanctions on Lithuanian products, but they are employing a smart and subtle form of boycotting. Russia is using economic measures for political goals.
Talking about economy, I would like to move on to a question related to Lithuania’s incumbent entrance in the Eurozone.
An article issued this week on the Financial Times claims that the probability of a break-up of the Euro is higher today that during the crisis. The article claimed that some countries of the Eurozone, heavily influenced by regional independence movements, might draw out of the Euro. Since Lithuania will join the Eurozone in January 2015, do you consider this aspect a potential threat?
The first thing that I want to say is that for Lithuania, joining the Eurozone is not a merely financial project, but it is partly a political one: we want to be in the European Union 100% and this also includes adopting the common currency.
But going back to your question, I believe independence movements are threats to the single countries politically and economically, but not to a communitarian level. In fact, what I think is a much stronger threat for our stability is bad governance. The last economic crisis is a quite strong evidence of the danger of bad governance, which is why we have implemented so many control mechanisms to try to prevent this from happening again.