Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It was just twenty five years ago that we brought the Vytis, the Columns of Gediminas, the Tricolor, and the National Anthem from the underground to the spotlight, and declared Lithuanian to be the state language.
We regained our state symbols, and as they say we evolved from a people into a nation in just one night.
The resolve of the people inspired by the Lithuanian Sąjūdis movement to build their state themselves and never again to allow others to be in control has made it possible for us to celebrate freedom and the achievements of our very young state.
I invite us all to an open conversation about the place of Lithuania in the world and about the situation in Lithuania.
This quarter century was marked by events which clearly show that we can deal with challenges and that we have become more self-dependent and more responsible for our homeland.
Lithuania has changed significantly and has grown stronger. Today people know what it means to live differently, to be Europeans and to make own decisions. With a feeling of strong commitment to our country, we are coming together to transform Lithuania profoundly.
After many challenges, we are once again on the path of success. This year the name of Lithuania resonated among the best European economists, investors, athletes, innovators, and many others. Europe and the world have recognized the efforts of our people.
Lithuania - small as it is - is emerging as a country of great ability.
This past year was highlighted by golden moments. The children of our independence climbed to the top of the standings, consolidating Lithuania's presence on the global map of sports, science and technologies. We are happy for them and also for ourselves.
We introduced Lithuania to the world and we discovered more Lithuania in our hearts.
We were successful where we did not hesitate to assume responsibility and take resolute action - being aware that only we, and nobody else, can do it.
A talented and creative generation of young citizens has emerged across the landscape. We have perceptive economists, responsible business people and politicians, innovative scientists and farmers, civic-minded journalists and teachers. We really have the people to build a transparent, secure and modern state.
And therefore today I would like to invite us all to become true masters of our state.
Geopolitical processes are changing the world in a major way. Attempts to belittle, impede, mislead or bribe us, to make us dependent, to decide for us will not stop. Our geographic location and size has placed us in the interest zone of the East and the West; therefore we must constantly uphold the right to build our state ourselves.
Each generation has to go through its own trials and tribulations.
We cannot give in to influences or sell ourselves. We must stay free, make the right decisions in critical situations, stand firm and protect the interests of our state We must be strong inside to counter external threats that are becoming more advanced.
The choices each of us makes can be decisive.
In just a month's time we will take over our first presidency of the Council of the European Union. Together we will have to seek solutions that are the best not only for Lithuania, but for the whole expanded community of 28 member states.
We are embarking on this task in challenging times when Europe is going through a period of historic change. The presidency will require us to be resourceful as we coordinate actions and broker the best responses to global challenges. If we delay making the necessary decisions, the consequences will be felt by all EU countries, and that is 500 million European citizens.
Today Lithuania has the trust of both international markets and international institutions. Our economy is projected to grow the fastest in the European Union.
We survived several economic shocks in two decades. On our own, with no advance prescriptions, we took the necessary steps and overcame the crisis, setting an example of financial responsibility for the whole of Europe. Lithuania's public debt indicator is now among the best: we are among the six least indebted EU countries.
The people of Lithuania can do a lot. But our progress is hindered by limited government capacities. Urgent issues require immediate solutions. Lack of political will, complicated decision making, inability to respond instantly, time consuming meetings in working groups - all of this can be very detrimental and even damaging to the state.
In today's world, the winner is not the bigger but the faster and the smarter. Having the insight and the drive is crucial for us.
Six months have already passed since this government took the oath of office. After long preparation for work, it is time to start working.
Only consistent actions can translate projected growth into real benefits for every individual person in Lithuania. If we want to live better, we must work more and faster.
Personal initiative works miracles in Lithuania today. Almost 15 thousand new businesses were started in a single year. They are rapidly expanding not only in large cities, but also in smaller towns. The number of self-employed people has reached 125 thousand.
Each week the LOGIN generation creates a new IT startup focused on global markets.
More and more emigrants are returning to reestablish themselves in Lithuania: over 17 thousand came back in 2012. The number of those leaving is also going down.
Our economic, industrial and agricultural competitiveness will be shaped by the development of information technologies. We must therefore invest in human capacities. We do not have abundant natural resources, but we are proud of our educated society and highly qualified specialists who are indispensable for developing business based on innovation, unconventional thinking and knowledge.
Every fifth Lithuanian resident has higher education; more than 78 percent speak one or several foreign languages. It is this kind of workforce that guarantees progress today.
Only Lithuania has improved group membership on the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013, moving up for the first time from a modest to a moderate innovator. Lithuania has been recognized as an innovation growth leader in the European Union. And it is high-tech enterprises that attract most of the investments.
In 2012, foreign investors announced about their plans to realize 34 greenfield projects in Lithuania. These projects, which are expected to create 2,500 new jobs, demonstrate that confidence in the Lithuanian business environment is growing. Ever more often Lithuania is chosen by Scandinavian investors who bring a culture of business integrity, higher salaries and new social solutions to our country.
Swedish investments in Lithuania have reached a total of almost 9 billion litas. The global retailer IKEA will soon open a shopping center in Vilnius, its first in the Baltic States. A month ago, a modern Lithuanian-Finnish cogeneration power plant was launched in Klaipėda, introducing not only more transparency to the waste processing sector, but also lower heating prices for the city residents.
Honest work, fair competition and transparent western-style business are taking deeper roots in Lithuania.
The Lithuanian market and its financial system are trusted. We eliminated delayed action threats from the banking sector, proving that we can deal with even the most complex issues in a civilized way and with as few consequences as possible. Our experience is included in European agendas aimed at finding tools for effective bank resolution. Total deposits in local banks have reached a record high and amount to almost 46 billion litas.
The economic and financial situation in Lithuania is stable. This is confirmed by international institutions and also by Lithuania's improved credit ratings.
However, easily made populist promises can change the situation very quickly. We need responsible decisions to maintain financial stability.
To make our position stronger, to be more competitive and more attractive to investors, we must walk the road of financial responsibility to the very end. Financial populism will be fully restrained only when the principles of discipline and responsibility are reaffirmed at constitutional level.
However, if we fail to break the shackles of energy dependence, we will continue to be economically vulnerable. Because energy is the most dangerous geopolitical instrument used to belittle our economic, social and even political independence.
In energy matters, it is only recently that we have started to reason on our own. We still lack independent competent specialists. But even with limited capabilities, we have initiated historic changes in securing diverse energy sources: we have joined Europe's largest power exchange Nord Pool Spot; we have launched the biofuel exchange; we are building the NordBalt and LitPol Link electricity interconnections; we are unbundling gas supply and transmission; we are introducing radical reforms in the gas sector; we have completed the ninth power block in Elektrėnai; and we have started using local fuel more extensively.
We have to hold out for at least two more years. We will be able to breathe more freely when the power links with Sweden are completed in 2015 and when the LNG terminal starts operating in Klaipėda.
It is not that simple. As we continue to be undecided and disagree about the national energy strategy - already the seventh - secret visits by Rosatom, undisclosed Gazprom memorandums and documentaries by pseudo greens are making decisions for us.
No efforts are spared to prevent us from becoming energy self-dependent. Influence is exerted directly through official persons, interested business people, the media, and intermediaries.
Someone else's experts are deciding for us which of the nuclear power plants is the best for Lithuania: Visaginas, Kaliningrad or Astravyets. Or who should sell us gas and explore our underground natural resources.
Because of uncertainty in the energy field, bigger energy-intensive foreign investments circumvent Lithuania.
Indecisiveness and delayed decisions may cost us international trust.
Stuck in the calculation of economic costs and prices, politicians risk to deviate from the road of energy security to a nationally disastrous path of one-day profits. It means that energy self-dependence and freedom can become an object of exchange.
Just like the Lithuanian language is becoming a hostage of political agreements made by the governing coalition. The controversial Lithuanian language exam has started to generate other demands that divide the country. While at the same time, Lithuanian schools are being closed outside our borders.
People deserve a clear explanation about the ultimate price we may have to pay for all of this.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Each year state institutions spend around 60-70 million litas for publicizing their activities. However, today it has become a real challenge to receive objective and comprehensible information. Lack of credible facts, lots of misleading articles, news distorted by interest groups are depriving our people of the right to choose and make their own decisions. Even a national referendum is reduced to farce.
The attitude to the quality of information and information security must change.
People cannot feel safe without knowing what is happening in the state, what decisions are made and why this is done. It is only when we understand the real motives, their meaning and consequences that we can take decisions which are the best for Lithuania - not imposed by others.
After 130 years, the Lithuanian media again has to embark on the mission set by Jonas Basanavičius and Aušrininkai, while teachers have to deal with problems faced by Meilė Lukšienė and her generation of educators - to bring up civil-minded and independent thinking individuals who respect their language, culture and national history.
It is easier to manipulate a misguided and divided nation because it does not notice the silent threats.
Many projects that belittle Lithuania and change its national mentality are surfacing in this environment. Teaching programmes irrelevant to our needs are quietly finding their way into our state, ethnic discord is stirred up, a feeling of nostalgia for the Soviet times is revived, and our art and theater festivals, sport teams and young talented students are traded.
Those who are not our friends understand very well the importance of culture and education for making the state stronger, and they spare no effort or money to reach their ends. We, too, must be aware of it.
Some concerts silence Lithuanian songs. And where our songs are not heard, there will be less of Lithuania.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is not easy to remain a self-dependent state in a world torn by geopolitical interests. Our innate love of freedom, resolve, perseverance, insight, silent resistance, and Baltic patience has helped us to preserve the state throughout ages.
Many unpredictable things are happening again around Lithuania. Our foreign policy dimensions are also shaped by the geopolitical situation. Therefore, it is not only intelligence services, but also diplomatic radars that must detect signals important to the security of the Lithuanian people.
Nine years of membership in the European Union and NATO is a strong shield, but it is not something given forever. Last year we secured real contingency plans at the NATO Chicago Summit. This year we are testing collective defense scenarios in practice. It is very important for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, given their painful historical experience, to finally have a concrete scheme on how the Alliance will protect them in case of a threat.
The interests of big powers however can make changes in the anti-missile defence system. Therefore, Europe - a continent of peace for the past 55 years - is seriously returning to defence and security issues. The concept of security has expanded. Today when we speak about secure life, it is not only military security that we have to think about, but also energy, economic, information, social, financial, and especially cyber security.
The first open attack against Lithuania's internet space is a serious warning that we need to strengthen our defence capacities. I see this attack as a manifestation of terrorism.Therefore it is we ourselves who must defend the state in all spheres.
It is also important to distinguish when we are offered a truly brotherly shoulder or friendship based on advantage.
Today we are absolutely sure that cooperation based on shared values between the Baltic and Nordic countries within NB6 (3 Nordic and 3 Baltic EU member states) and NB8 (5 Nordic and 3 Baltic countries) sets the best format for protecting the interests of our people. Our common approach to financial responsibility, IT technologies, energy security, and business climate has made the Nordic and Baltic region the most stable and secure region in Europe. It is a unique example of regional cooperation.
International confidence in Lithuania is growing. This is attested by the invitation received at the end of May to start negotiations on accession to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Membership in this organization will be immensely beneficial for Lithuanian businesses, economic contacts and international prestige.
The Eastern Partnership Summit - to be held in Vilnius this coming autumn - could also open a qualitatively new stage in EU neighbourhood cooperation. Association of Eastern partners with Europe would enhance the democratic process in these countries. It would also ensure a more secure life for the Lithuanian people and more opportunities for economic growth.
Ensuring energy security and finding alternatives to Russian gas supplies is the common concern of the whole of Europe. The Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union will focus in particular on completing the EU internal energy market, implementing the 3rd energy package and eliminating energy islands.
We will also have to negotiate many legal acts related to the implementation of the EU's new multiannual budget. We must ensure that European financial support reaches all member states as soon as possible.
Even though the EU budget has been significantly reduced because of the crisis, Lithuania has managed to negotiate a total of 44 billion litas in financial support for the next seven year period - an increase of 10 percent in the overall package compared to the 2007-2013 framework.
Each year it adds up to almost one fourth of Lithuania's annual budget, giving a strong impetus to the economy. European funds have reached all areas of our life.
Lithuania is among the best in terms of absorbing EU support and was named a region of excellence by the European Commission. Innovative projects implemented in Lithuania have been honored with three RegioStars awards.
European funds can open new opportunities for our people to start businesses, restore Lithuania's heritage landscape, upgrade production, and consolidate local communities. But without transparent distribution, these funds may end up in the bank accounts of interest groups, dishonest businesses and individual officials.
Lithuania has improved its transparency scores in respect of agricultural payments, climbing up from the 20th to the 4th position on the Farmsubsidy Transparency Index. Nevertheless, inquiries and investigations carried out by law enforcement, the Public Procurement Service and the National Audit Office show that suspicions about the embezzlement of European funds, the exceptional success of party-backing companies in public procurement, and the payment of tributes to mediators are not unfounded.
In the course of four years, the Financial Crime Investigation Service alone has carried out 80 pre-trial investigations into attempts to illegally receive EU support funds. It was established that the damages incurred on the state amounted to a total of 32.5 million litas. The right to property worth more than 48 million litas was restricted.
The National Audit Office also established more than 80 violations in the use of EU financial assistance which resulted in the redistribution of 45 million litas to other recipients.
European funds open up broader opportunities, but only we ourselves can translate them into actual well-being. If after spending 20 million litas to expand the 112 Emergency Response Center, we are deaf to help calls, Brussels has nothing to do with it.
European directives will not cover up blatant fraud, corrupt transactions, lack of strategic planning, and inability to guide people through bureaucratic mazes.
But membership in the European Union is not only about money. First and foremost, it is aboutrespect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The progress we made in this area in just two decades was accomplished in a three times longer period by most countries.
However, last year we had to once again protect our right to democratic, fair and free elections - the fundamental element of democracy. It was our unprecedented fight for transparency and responsibility.
Immediate legal measures and the spontaneous public movement White Gloves did not allowdemocracy that can be bought with money for inmate votes, a mug of beer or by provokers to take root in Lithuania.
This is crucially important for further development of civil society and the rule of law.
Many elections at all levels will be held in the next four years: elections to the European Parliament, presidential, municipal and parliamentary elections. Only we - not the money or scenarios delivered by others - have to decide who to entrust with our vote and our mandate for Lithuania.
We should finally give the people the right to elect their mayors and elders directly.
Political maturity does not come easily. The first election held without business money allowed political parties to reduce the risk of political corruption and break away from oligarchic groups.
Regrettably, the distribution of posts which followed the last parliamentary election became a political auction of narrow interests, not competences. As a result, the parliament's winter agenda was dominated by legal immunity issues. While high heating bills continued to impoverish many.
In the end, even the parties began to seek immunity. At the same time, really important decisions were shelved in working groups.
But the Seimas did not become a shelter from law enforcement.
And though it is still possible to "buy a heart attack" in our country, it is becoming ever more difficult to "buy" a judge. And that is because the judges themselves do not want to be for sale.
Changes in courts became possible only when judges assumed responsibility for their community and no longer tolerated negligent or bribe-taking colleagues.
When judicial self-government institutions stopped focusing on self-defence and introduced genuine self-governance, cases of disciplinary action increased in number.
Thirteen disgraced judges were dismissed in four years - almost as many as during the preceding twenty years of Lithuanian independence.
This is the time of crucial change in the judicial system. Professional and ethical standards have been raised, new instruments have been put in place for allocating cases more effectively and making proceedings faster. In four years, almost 100 new lawyers joined the judicial system; 35 new heads of various courts were appointed. Merging of small courts has resulted in better administration.
The judicial reform has already started to yield results: cases are resolved more quickly, and civil cases are resolved the fastest in the European Union. However, we still need measures to curtail trial delaying tactics.
Some politicians continue trying to "advise" judges, prosecutors or officials from the Special Investigation Service, or even to threaten them with commission hearings. But the law enforcement upheld its independence from politicians, and credit for that goes to its officers.
There are no more untouchables in fight against corruption. All suspicious transactions are scrutinized - with no exceptions: those of mayors, members of parliament, ministries, migration services, organizers of basketball championships, insolvency administrators, land surveyors, judges, bankers, and municipal officials.
Politically backed fraudsters and swindlers, with their eyes set on expensive and vitally important waste management and energy projects, on public procurement and on EU assistance funds, come into the ever sharper focus of law enforcement.
The web of political corruption in Panevėžys, with its threads reaching the Seimas, ministries, energy companies, forest and land management has been broken.
The municipalities of Alytus, Rokiškis, Radviliškis, and Šiauliai have become more transparent on the corruption map.
The first 20 criminal cases of illicit enrichment have already reached courts. 139 more pre-trial investigations are under way. The total value of suspicious assets has been established at more than 150 million litas. Over 2 million litas worth assets have been confiscated by two court decisions - mostly the assets and money of contraband kings.
As we started to use new anti-corruption instruments, not only did we detect hundreds of cases of illicit enrichment, but we also found out that luxury surrounded smugglers and drug dealers were being paid social welfare benefits.
Such cases are reported by people who are concerned about a fairer distribution of state provided support. The number of fraudulent benefit recipients has declined considerably in those municipalities where local communities are actively involved: in the municipality of Šilalė by 33 percent; in Akmenė by 24 percent.
There is now more transparency in Lithuania and less impunity, but the habit of living at the state's expense is dying hard.
Those who had been enriching themselves illegally find it very hard to accept the new public procurement procedure. Under the pretense of simplification, attempts are made to return to thecorrupt practice of negotiations without public notice and internal transactions. The obligation to publish notices on all such procurements and to receive relevant permits from the Public Procurement Service has reduced the costs of no-notice procurements by six times.
The law providing for the rotation of managers of health care establishments is progressing slowly. But future medics do not want to live by old rules. Students have stood up against bribery, suggesting that inpatient and outpatient doctors should at least wear anti-bribery stickers. Regrettably, this campaign against corruption did not receive wide support. But it has a strong potential to evolve into a powerful movement against old habits that will eventually introduce modern health care management.
It will be then that Lithuania will be known only for its unique medical achievements, like the minimally invasive heart valve surgery performed in Santariškės this year for the first time in the world.
We will be able to do without bribery only if we ourselves want it to happen. The vast majority of Lithuanians are honest and hard working people. The corrupt and the ill-intended are on the minority side. They are afraid of openness and publicity. So let us not allow them to be in charge.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
That's what Lithuania is today. Tomorrow it may be even stronger, more secure and more transparent. If each of us makes a difference the way we can, we will have a home where it is good to grow up and where we are not afraid to grow old. There is no other prescription for well-being, but to create it ourselves.
Success will continue to be with us if we stop looking back, if feel self-confident and do not put off important work for tomorrow.
Twenty years ago, the people adopted and proclaimed the Constitution - the fundamental agreement about what kind of a state we want to have and how to build it. Speaking at the meeting commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Lithuanian Constitution, a high school student emphasized that it was a public agreement which had brought us success. She also pointed out that it constituted all of our rights and only five duties.
For some, the duty to live in accordance with this agreement still seems to be too heavy. But it is the only way towards trust in each other and the state. It is the ultimate guarantee of our survival.
Today we are all taking the Constitution exam which will determine if we continue to be a nation strongly committed to its freedom and independence, cherishing the sounds and signs of its native language, fostering its customs, proclaiming the right to freely live and create in the land of our forefathers - the Independent State of Lithuania.
Freedom is fragile. It will live on as long as we keep it in our hearts, loved and protected by all.
Last updated 2015.02.03 11:46