Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,
Distinguished Members of the Seimas,
Mixed emotions take over as we think about Lithuania today.
We see the amazing creation of Freedom that is admired by the entire world and that fills us with pride – in less than three decades, we have transformed Lithuania into a truly independent state.
But then, we also see the worms of greed and mistrust still eating into the foundations of the state from behind the political scenes, driving people to search for a better and fairer life abroad.
It has become even clearer at the juncture of Lithuania’s two centenaries that there is no time to rest on the road of statehood.
Both history and the present teach us that Freedom is a never-ending personal responsibility of all of us.
There have always been challenges and obstacles. But faith in Lithuania – not disappointment – was the key to the most difficult decisions and choices.
In the last century, we had many great teachers of national resistance. Therefore, today we have our own state.
Jonas Basanavičius, forest brothers, the Sąjūdis movement, January 13 – all of the freedom fighters – taught us never to give up, never to surrender and to decide Lithuania’s future ourselves.
It is in the light of their idealism that we, especially politicians, should judge our work, aspirations and intentions: how much do they serve Lithuania?
The new century arrived with a wave of new challenges. But it also gave us the courage to see things with new eyes.
To free ourselves from fear and dependency, from influences and dirty money.
When the waters of political corruption were stirred up, “unseen Lithuania” opened before us even though we had suspected of its existence.
A place where cynical calculation overshadows everything else, attacking the state and democracy. Where greedy, scheming and demoralized self-seekers have no vision of the State. Where the only language is that of blackmail, lies and threats and where influence and leverage are the hottest items.
We have the responsibility to free Lithuania from local grabbers. Preclusion and cleanup, the victory of an honest nation against a Lithuania of cunning schemers is a fight that requires civil defense measures and as many allies as possible.
National intelligence is already capable of assessing internal threats as seriously as external threats. And not only to detect, but also to help eliminate them.
The law enforcement – increasingly more independent and equipped with new legal tools to fight corruption, which we have provided in sufficient numbers over the last several years – stands on the side of the state, not influence peddlers. Long efforts, commitment and newly appointed heads of institutions have started to produce results.
There is more political will, including in the Seimas, to address fundamental national security issues. Front-line defenses are reinforced by investigative journalism. New grassroots movements are emerging in schools, hospitals and social networks.
By joint efforts we have already crossed local Rubicons, curbed the Gazprom-generated energy winds, succeeded to fight back Rosatom influences, black accounts, and bank fraudsters. “Loans-in-boxes” and “buy an elephant” schemes are collapsing; the State Tax Inspectorate is getting rid of suspicious connections.
However, new dealers ready to bargain Lithuania away keep cropping up. Attacks against the state and attempts to take control of the country continue.
Legal and civil resistance is the only effective response to non-transparent politics. We must remain a country ruled by law, finding the right balance between knowledge, information, suspicion and substantiated evidence.
To give honest people dignity in their own country, we must break down the shackles of corruption using legal instruments, renew the political system and rise from the pit of distrust that we keep falling back to.
Although we are listed among countries that control corruption, intransparency has eroded into most of the parties. Therefore, domestic policies, like the patched-up Gediminas Hill, are failing – they are cracking and crumbling.
A state of emergency was declared long ago, but the situation is not improving, the party system crisis is getting worse.
The direct merger of politics with business and its long dependence on financial supporters have made many vulnerable.
We have stopped the oligarchic take-over of the democratic system, even though all of us have painfully burned our fingers. Including myself.
The burden of responsibility for Lithuania must be assumed along with personal risks.
My only regret is that changes were not as quick as I had hoped; that almost two terms in office were needed to curb corruption and that it took so long for the law enforcement to move from suspicion to legal evidence.
Meanwhile the constitutional system, of which the President is a part, required and requires working with all officials elected by the people, including different parliaments and members of parliament.
I sincerely believe that the three ongoing historic political corruption cases will start a new chapter in our country’s transparency. That after resetting corporate-political relations we will move on to a qualitatively new stage in the development of the state and its political culture.
It is a difficult, but decisive period for the future of the state.
Everybody will have to learn to live without backstage influences. Political parties in particular, because only independent politicians can make independent decisions.
I personally know the price of independence and integrity. You must pay for everything.
Breaking away from obscure interests is the only way forward for transparent politics.
However weak, exhausted and drained the parties might be, they are the most reliable foundation for the democratic development of a country.
Today, they have a unique opportunity to rise to a new life.
We have 24 political parties; it is time they have quality standards and democratic management traditions.
It took a decade to revive public trust in courts. Step by step – by discarding tainted players, changing flawed practices, and insisting on the highest competence and moral standards – the party system could eventually emerge from the mire of distrust.
Professional analysis of mistakes, consistent work and responsible leadership can bring the party system back to its feet.
Only those parties that are able to overcome inner antagonism, smearing and discrediting, accumulation of power in top ranks, and the isolation of ordinary members, that are built not only on the name of their leader, but on own ideology, like-minded partnership, shared values and ideals have a real future.
Only 120 thousand people are currently engaged in party activities. The last three years saw barely two thousand political newcomers – there were more wishing to participate in Mission Siberia and national defense.
The army has welcomed the third enlistment of volunteer conscripts into its ranks; more and more people stand ready to take arms to defend the Homeland, if necessary.
Today volunteers are needed not only in the armed forces, but also in political parties.
Otherwise, the dynamic and transparent generation of new politicians, who see the success and the honor of Lithuania as more important than their private property and who will not sell their independence for any price, will remain an unrealized political dream.
In the meanwhile, we may see pseudo-democratic movements triumph in the next elections or a new corporate savior rising from the waters of disappointment.
The election committees, which had to introduce more democracy and encourage the participation of non-party people in the election process, are regretfully subsiding into a mere grimace of democracy with obscure funding, weak control, efforts to resuscitate political free-riders, and the only objective to gain power.
Or, if that fails, to transform into a new committee.
Taking power at any cost, when the end justifies the means, takes us back to a system where we had already been. Where national agreement has no effect. Neither does the oath of allegiance, political and moral responsibility.
Therefore, the transparency of election campaigns continues to be a challenge to our still fragile democracy.
For seven years now, corporate millions have been banned from elections. The state annually allocates 5.5 million euros from the budget to parties, but nostalgia for business money is dying hard. We still hear calls to re-legalize the buying of political parties.
Maybe that is why proposals on restricting cash transactions are stalling, only the receipt lottery is used to fight shadow economy, opened cases of illicit enrichment are in standstill, and the temptation to abandon time frames for pre-trial investigations is growing.
The desire to keep the levers of influence does not allow the Central Electoral Commission to break away from party dependency. In many EU member states, including Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, the Netherlands, and other countries which can hardly be described as undemocratic, such commissions operate without party representatives. Ensuring the objectivity of the Central Electoral Commission is a key element for the renewal of our political system. Especially now that many elections are approaching.
If we do not change flawed habits, we will continue having serious problems with the quality of state governance and with representative democracy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The people of Lithuania, with their hopes and concerns, are still on the sidelines of the political agenda, while the time mandated to the nation’s representative institution is used for inner bickering and settling of personal accounts.
The parliament – the bastion of freedom fights – is turning into a shooting gallery for attacks against freedom and democracy, with random shots taken only to ban and penalize. Bans and maltreatment make people feel alien in their own country.
Where there is no search for a common welfare denominator, social division sets in to replace concord in Lithuania: pensioners are played off against workers, rural communities against towns and cities, doctors against schoolteachers, statutory officers against civil servants, and well-being against national defense.
Selective parliamentary control and the upsurge of various commissions only add to the feeling of unfairness across Lithuania.
Divided and disunited, with severed bonds, we will not be able to focus on critical national objectives.
However much we analyze the past, we will not evade responsibility for today’s decisions.
After a long period of vegetation, the political agenda has been overfilled with very urgent issues, which are but trivial in the life of our people.
Defining eroticism, hunting with bows and arrows, and toy soldiers in wrong uniforms have become more important than social exclusion, emigration, Lithuania’s declining competitiveness, children’s literacy or preparations for referendum on dual citizenship.
We are also lagging behind, unjustifiably, with the use of EU support. This is where we need effective parliamentary control.
Democracy is not built on the principle of “minority submits to the majority,” but on public debate, persuasion, listening, compromise, and the involvement of society in decision-making. It is the only way to build a trust-based society.
Responsible politics requires that all elected authorities collaborate – not fight – in search for the best solutions to our people.
The country’s economy has been growing for eight years now. Lithuania is highly attractive to investment. However, this unprecedented period of upswing is not endless and it has to be used for decisions that will shape the future of the economy.
Our streamlined actions, carried out with different parliaments and governments, resulted in record-time progress across many areas, leading to Lithuania’s membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is a high assessment of our country.
Today, the Lithuanian economy has access to the ideas and assistance of 36 most advanced countries. But it also means a commitment to boost national development, increase transparency, encourage competitiveness, innovation and modernization, promote dynamic business, literacy and strategic infrastructure.
Qualified people – as always – and high added-value products are Lithuania’s driving force on the highway of global economy.
However, the innovation policy has become a hostage in the perpetual war of ambitions and interests between two ministries. Hundreds of millions of euros spent to promote cooperation between science and business must result in products suitable not only to the Lithuanian economy, but also for export.
The national academic potential is measured by patents, not just scientific papers, in the world.
It is not only high technologies that fail to get emphasis in the current economic policy. No focus is made on the situation in agriculture, which will soon receive a total input of nearly ten billion euros in EU support.
The concentration of land in one pair of hands, business in stocks and bills of exchange, uncontrolled acquisition of land, non-transparent allocation of EU funds, fictional farms, and “sofa farmers” have led to disarray, anarchy and a distorted market.
In rural areas, some cannot make ends meets, while others forget to file declarations of hundreds of thousands worth of transactions.
We will soon start the next EU negotiations on support to the agricultural sector. But additional billions will not change the latifundia relations in the countryside – we need to decide on the strategy for agricultural policy and rural development.
In socially oriented policies, exclusion should be reduced not by single monetary payments, but through long-term targeted solutions that involve the participation of people.
When the first meetings of the nation-wide campaign “For A Safe Lithuania” were held, local municipalities did not even have their own social services schemes. Today, most of them have prepared plans to work with problem families, the elderly, the disabled, standby foster carers, and to restructure services when children’s homes are closed so that people are not left without jobs.
Social security is mostly predetermined by income.
“Cherry-colored letters” sent by SODRA to those who earn less than the minimum wage as a reminder that they have practically no guarantees gave a wake-up call to both the people and the employers: wages started to grow for both objective and subjective reasons. Inexcusably, however, too many working people still live on the verge of poverty.
Socially responsible business is expanding across Lithuania, creating new traditions of communication and respectful relationships. It is a huge counter-balance to our former oligarchic history.
Exclusion is not only about deprivation – it is also about how people feel in their country. Many, especially in regional areas, feel that they are neglected, that they do not make a difference, that they are increasingly less consulted and excluded from decision-making.
In some municipalities, it is not only the opponents, but also the journalists who must “know their place”.
The people’s voice can and must be heard in their own country.
The civic empowerment index is slowly growing, and people are becoming aware that their active engagement can affect the government’s decisions and ultimately their life.
The quality of participatory democracy needs to change, too, so that others do not decide for us and we do not turn into push-arounds and vassals.
If we continue to think that it is sufficient to pay taxes and cast an occasional vote without getting involved in anything else – we are in for less democracy and freedom.
Civic participation is a well-recognized responsibility.
Democracy offers a whole range of instruments for engagement in the decision-making process. All we need to do is learn how to use them properly.
The voice of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is the key measurement of democracy. The more it is heard by politicians and the more it affects their decisions, the more profound changes we will have.
Making NGO’s stronger remains a strategic national task. Otherwise, we will have a “majority” democracy with its imposed decisions.
Our trade unions, too, are still unable to reach a proper position. Their merger with the government and the experience they keep bringing back from scientific conferences in Russia are undermining their public standing and credibility. Only around ten percent of all workers participate in trade union activities, and the numbers are dwindling every year.
Therefore, the disabled trade unions are replaced by spontaneous inner movements, which are much more inconvenient to the government.
While “undercover buyers” and “undercover patients” are searching for a cure against corruption in health care and pharmacy and while the corruption fever continues to hold major clinical hospitals in its grip, the Medical Movement has emerged to fight for fair wages and transparency, mobilizing as many as 43 thousand medics and 3.5 thousand patients for the first battle.
Their voice has been heard.
Wherever self-will sets in, we need civil resistance movements. There are many different ways to move solutions forward and to participate in their legal enforcement, ranging from petitions in Facebook and other social networks to live protests.
Out of 1,500 centennial ideas, the people of Lithuania named the strengthening of the teacher’s prestige as one of the most important.
It means that education must become primary national investment.
The objective of the education reform is not only to respond to the needs of the labor market, but also to change the quality of education in a way that both children and adults can keep pace with digital developments, adjust to the changing economic, political and cultural environment, develop critical and creative thinking.
While the teachers’ training reform is still in the start-up phase, financial literacy is taught by banks, critical thinking by journalists and public figures, social skills by non-government players, computer literacy by responsible businesses.
New-quality education would be a national centennial victory.
Only by giving proper education to young people will we be able to vouch for the future of the State.
Because only an educated nation will always be independent, however the world turns.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Division and confrontation in international relations are just as dangerous as domestic confrontation.
The threat of trade wars, lack of agreement on security issues, increasing rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic, and disregard for international agreements have made the geopolitical situation around us vague.
Global multilateral diplomacy is in crisis, and therefore universal commitment to peace, democracy, freedom, and human rights can no longer be taken for granted.
In today’s fragmented world, security has become multidimensional, requiring comprehensive measures and solutions. We can no longer expect that others will protect us.
We need to strengthen bilateral relations with strategic partners and closest neighbors and to expand the circle of our friends. We must also search for new formats of cooperation, avoid transatlantic cracks, seek a more efficient EU, and a NATO that responds quickly and is better adapted to the new security environment.
Geopolitical challenges commit us to strengthen Lithuania’s defensibility.
The State Defense Council has decided to gradually increase defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP. At the same time, it is necessary to seek a stronger engagement of partners in the security of our region.
This will be the goal of the upcoming NATO summit. We are also learning to act together in the ongoing centenary exercise held in Lithuania, which has gathered 22 NATO allies, Sweden and Finland.
Let us not be afraid of being at the forefront of EU integration because we will be strong only if we join our efforts in military, energy, cyber and economic security. The resurging vision of a strong and united Europe brings back self-confidence.
Greater EU responsibility for the security of its citizens is what our people want.
Lithuania, too, contributes to strengthening European security: at our initiative, rapid response teams are created to counter cyber threats and hostile propaganda; common standards have been approved for the protection of the EU’s external borders – also with our participation in the process.
By standing up to Gazprom and Astravets and by speeding up the synchronization of electricity grids with Western Europe, we work to safeguard the energy security of the entire EU and serve as a model example on this path.
Today, together with our like-minded partners, we are wherever freedom and democratic values are being defended – in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, the Mediterranean – together with our partners.
Lithuania’s strategic partnership with the United States, France, Poland, and with Germany, which has become the pillar of Lithuanian security, has gained new quality.
For nearly a decade now, we have been successfully going in the Nordic direction, heading towards Scandinavian well-being, democracy and socially responsible business.
This year’s February 16 summed up the success of Lithuania’s foreign policy. Many world leaders came to Lithuania as centennial guests and many more will come.
The entire democratic world – that sees us as a dignified and respected nation – stands together with Lithuania today.
We have many true friends, so let us not go searching for yesterday over the eastern border and let us continue the course of our foreign policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Surveys show that a nation-wide shift of values is underway.
Along with the Act of Independence, the spirit of the First Republic has returned to Lithuania.
Post-Soviet traditions are unacceptable to the young people of today, they are not satisfied with the current quality of democracy and political culture, and they are ready to change it.
The mindset of the Independence Generation correlates with the attitudes that prevailed in inter-war Lithuania: serving bigger goals, behaving with integrity, reaching out, having self-confidence, and taking on responsibility without waiting for others to make a change.
It means that the centennial shift is truly happening and we are witnesses to it.
Foreigners who choose Lithuania describe it as fairy-tale country because of the many things that we do not even notice.
Lithuanians living abroad feel increasingly more positive about their Homeland and its future: they believe that Lithuania will be successful, prosperous and open to the world.
So let us, too, have more faith in Lithuania. We will then find solutions to today’s problems and tomorrow’s challenges.
I believe that four million voices can unite not only when singing the national anthem.
That with the same passion and faith we will participate in elections, parties, movements, and local communities.
A critical mass of people who care is needed for the name of Lithuania to resonate with glory and distinction.
Who else will choose Lithuania, if we do not choose it ourselves? Who else will love our people and our Homeland?
When our land is blessed by the Pope and when the Song Festival resounds across the skies, we all – each and every – will be Lithuania.
It is up to us what the Bell of Independence will ring out in the next centenary: revival, grassroots movements, Gloria, or endless quarrels and national dangers.
If we want to make a difference, let us act now – it is the only time given to us by Lithuania.
Thank you all who have Lithuania in their hearts and minds.
Last updated 2018.06.12 12:22