I often travel to Ukraine, sharing the knowledge gained within 25 years of building success in independent Lithuania. Over the 25 years, I have acquired a wide range of experience while twice leading the government as Prime Minister, occupying the leading positions in the Parliament, serving as a parliamentary opposition leader, and chairing one of the major parties in Lithuania, the Homeland Union, for 13 years.
I am very pleased and proud of what you have achieved in Ukraine over the last one and a half years. Albeit with temporary territorial losses, you managed to suspend the Russian aggression and form a strong and qualified team in government. You are now embarking on a major reform we implemented 20 years ago.
When I look back on the path Lithuania has travelled and estimate the challenges and reforms ahead for Ukraine, I become very well aware that your main challenges do not lie in the planning of the necessary reform and improving your fight against corruption. The most important challenges are to lay genuinely strong and stable political foundations so that Ukraine never swerves away from its European course of reform regardless of any political uncertainties future elections may bring.
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We were more successful than Ukraine. A number of historical and geopolitical factors led to that. Two of them were crucial in the past 25 years.
Firstly, from the very outset, democracy stood on two legs in Lithuania. From very early on, the national reform movement Sajūdis gave birth to the centre-right conservative Homeland Union, while on the centre-left part of the political spectrum, the Social Democratic Party appeared, following the dissolution of the Communist Party. Importantly, as early as in 1992, having won the elections, the left-wing parties clearly demonstrated they would not betray Lithuania’s pro-Western aspirations. This was why in the elections the Lithuanian voters could choose between the left and the right, without ever having to choose between Brussels and Moscow. This led to the long-term interparliamentary consensus on reforms to be implemented in Lithuania, taking us closer to the European standards. Both the right and the left-wing parties, while in power, moved in the same direction.
Stable democracy in Lithuania was also supported by networking from the very outset, as both benchmark members and elites of our political parties participated in the formal and informal party and political cooperation networks of our Western friends and partners. Our political partners in Scandinavia, Germany, the UK, and the USA taught us European political standards. We received training from both left-wing and right-wing parties in these countries, which also dedicated funds to support the informal networking activities under their auspices. This led to the development of friendly partnerships with many European political leaders of the day, who often later came to be the leaders of their countries.
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My advice to the Ukrainian political elite is this: make sure your democracy stands on two European legs. I know the parties in the governing coalition, I am personally acquainted with their leaders, and with many of them we share the membership of the same European right-wing party family, the European People’s Party. Even though I am a right-wing politician, I think there is a serious lack of a genuine pro-European left-wing party in Ukraine, which would defend the pro-European choice of Ukraine while at the same time offering a convincing leftist alternative of pro-European economic and social policy. In future elections, let voters choose between pro-European left-wing and pro-European right-wing parties, rather than between Moscow and Brussels.
My second advice to the Ukrainian political partiesis that they should join formal and informal cooperation networks of like-minded political parties. Invest the resources required; attend all the party and political seminars, and invite real and prospective friends.
Apart from stabilising the political foundations inUkraine, this will help Ukrainian democracy stand on two pro-European legs. More importantly, this will enable it to find real advocates of its pro-European ambitions. In fact, EU membership was the second factor that enabled Lithuania to stay on track with the necessary reforms. As a result, Europe offered us membership guarantees rather early on — firstly, because we were involved in our friends’ party networks, and secondly, because those networks helped us find strong advocates for our EU membership aspirations. In particular, Scandinavians were our best advocates in Berlin, Washington, and Brussels.
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Last but not least, apart from party-based networks, create cultural networks as well. Because you still need to prove the obvious to Europeans: Ukraine is rich in what is truly European culture. Europe is somewhat fatigued and going through a period of crises. It is therefore necessary to go and knock on every door in Europe and talk about Ukraine as a European country and nation. For this, you need a team of active advocates of Ukraine composed of your closest neighbours. Lithuania continues to be one of them. And Ukrainians should visit European capitals telling Ukraine’s success stories, rather than merely requesting assistance. Ukraine will attain success, but its political foundations need to be put in place.