Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius: “Do not lose yourself in prejudices towards Europe”
“If Europe tells you that your country is corrupt and has human rights violations and other things to combat, this is not a prejudice. It is good advice from a friend who truly wishes the best for you.” This is the formula adopted by Lithuania on criticism from the EU. Lithuanians have found that results can only be achieved by accepting criticism and continuously working on mistakes rather than by “correcting” EU MPs and diplomats as if they were oblivious to the true state of affairs in one's country. These are lessons Ukraine, too, can learn – criticism from Brussels, Paris or Berlin is not necessarily a sign that the West has a negative stance on Ukraine’s European aspirations. The Ukrainian Week met Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius to talk about his country’s experience in returning to Europe, its historical narrative and its current conflict with Gazprom
U.W.: What role did history play in Lithuania's national resurrection at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s?
History plays a big and important role in all countries and societies. As for Lithuania, if you go back to the beginning of the 1990s, history was of crucial importance during the restoration of our independence. Really in the former Soviet bloc Lithuania was among the leaders in moving towards independence. I think that several facts were very important. First, speaking about the whole ideology of that period of time, namely, political ideology and the broader ideology of main values in our society, we should point out the restoration or restitution of the previous situation that we had before the Soviet occupation. Let’s get rid of Soviet values and return to European values! That was the message.
Before the occupation, Lithuania was a part of the European community of values. Maybe it was somewhat romantic to think we could get rid of the Soviet legacy so quickly. Life showed that you cannot give up all your bad habits and incorrect values at once. Second, the historical mentality that Lithuania had developed during its statehood in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania together with Belarus and Ukraine from medieval times is very important. This is part of our historical narrative. Also, military and underground resistance and dissident movement with the participation of the Catholic Church after World War II are part of our historical pride.
In 1988-1989 we opened up the pages of hidden history that concern resistance, deportations, suffering in Siberia, in the Gulag. This provided a historical background for the Sąjūdis movement and for uniting people during that time. But this unity was quite short-lived from the political point of view. In 1992 we lost elections to the former communist party. But even former communists were not able to get away from our European roots. However, when the society starts feeling that all its glory was in the past, not today and will not be in the future, it is dangerous. That’s why we created the special committee on Lithuanian strategy for the next 20 years. We drew the conclusion that we have to find the way to change this main narrative in the society so that not only Battle of Grundwald is worthy of our pride.
U.W.: In 2008 all Soviet symbols were forbidden in Lithuania just like Nazis symbols. What does this sharp break with the Soviet legacy give to the society?
There are two sides. First, it was a clear sign to our society that we are moving beyond this Soviet and Nazi past. We are looking to the future and that is very important for us. Second, it was a signal to our friends in Europe that the crimes of Nazism and Stalinism are equal to us. We suffered in different ways. The Jewish community in Lithuania was absolutely destroyed during the Holocaust. But also hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians suffered from the Stalinist regime. Our European friends previously had very clear views on Nazi crimes.
We said that’s ok; however, we are saying that Stalinist crimes were equal in their brutality to Nazis crimes. Different, but equal. I think this is what has started happening in the rest of Europe now. For example, just recently the very powerful book by Timothy Snyder ‘Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin’ was published. It also talks about the Holodomor. So, this is what we are trying to show. Our countries were part of this Soviet regime: Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania so on. We are part of these bloodlands. From both sides, the totalitarian regimes came to our lands; people were suffering even before the Nazi crimes.
U.W.: Do you think Western and Central Europe have prejudices against post-communist Eastern Europe? Did Lithuania encounter anything like that during its EU integration and NATO accession?
I represent the conservative party. I should say that prejudices are powerful realities in all societies. We have prejudices, you have prejudices and people in Western Europe also have prejudices. We should recognize the prejudices that rise from a lack of knowledge. We in the Baltic region are luckier than you in Ukraine and some other post-Soviet countries. From the very beginning, people in the Western community have positive bias towards us. They said that they should bring the Baltic countries into the EU and NATO as quickly as possible. If we go back to the beginning of the 1990s, I do not think that differences between Ukraine and Lithuania were very big. But the fact is that Western countries sent a very clear message from the outset that the Baltic States will be accepted. Belarus, Ukraine and others were not accepted from the beginning. I do not know where we would have ended up and what could have happened to Lithuania if this very clear goal had not been given to us from the EU.
U.W.: Lithuania actively supports and promotes the idea of Ukraine’s EU integration. What do you expect from Ukraine in exchange for this assistance?
First of all, this is of course not just about charity or friendship. It is a ‘win-win’ situation. We consider Eastern neighborhood countries, especially Ukraine and Moldova and even Belarus, as a very important region for the development of security and stability for Europe as a whole. This is a strategic goal for us. We may not speak about this every morning, but when we look into the long-term future it becomes obvious. If we go back again to history, we see how much our region suffered during the hundreds of years it was invaded from the West and from the East. So, for us the kind of stability that could be guaranteed by expanding the European area of security is a main priority. That’s why I stress that this is our very strong strategic interest. So, we have to support Ukraine’s integration into the EU.
U.W.: Do you mean support for Ukraine's EU membership in the long-term as well?
Yes, absolutely, this is very clear. There is the issue of the EU agenda. We need also to improve the knowledge of Ukraine inside the EU, especially in the southern part of Europe. Then we can provide some practical assistance. We can share our experience and knowledge with the Ukrainian authorities on how to move forward on all the homework. When I get the opportunity to meet with somebody in your country, I always say: “Do not lose yourself in prejudices towards Europe”. This could be a problem. Your prospective Association Agreement, Free Trade Agreement and visa liberalization plan are very important. I remember how we negotiated on our free trade agreement back in 1995, the prejudices we had. Would this free trade agreement cause the collapse of our economy? I remember we were afraid that our industry would go bankrupt, our agriculture would go down. Nothing like this happened! We won a lot from free trade.
U.W.: What do you think should be on the common agenda of post-Soviet countries? How should they cooperate to counter-balance Russia's influence including Russian energy expansion?
Our cooperation is needed very much on Ukrainian membership in the EU. And perhaps Ukraine should be more active in pushing this community of Central European countries to have a common agenda on Ukrainian membership. In 2009, the Czech Republic held the EU presidency. This year Hungary holds it and in the autumn, Poland will hold it. In 2013 we will assume the EU presidency. We must make use of this for the sake of Ukraine’s EU integration and future membership. This is exactly why we need to have a specific approach on Russian activities or interests that are sometimes dangerous to us, especially in energy.
We can see real progress inside the EU that is conducive to our cooperation. We have 10 new member states. The common European approach towards energy challenges has been worked out. The European Council made a very strong decision on the common energy policy in February this year. It stated clearly that after 2015 the Baltic States could remain isolated energy islands inside the EU that are only connected to Russia. This means that Europe will support interconnected electricity grids that will integrate us with the European network. Europe also supports implementing the unbundling directive in the gas sector in Lithuania by 2014. Lithuania intends to build a pipeline to Poland and an LNG gas terminal. The common European approach to such monopolist companies as Gazprom is also very important and this allows us to fight against its monopoly in Lithuania. We now have quite a fight on the legal level with the Russian monopolist. It will need to learn how to work in a competitive environment and market in the Baltic States, just as it must in the rest of Europe. They still have monopolies in Baltic countries. When we say that we are going to implement de-monopolization directives of the EU, the Russians strongly disagree. Then we answer: “If you want to argue, please go to Brussels”. Prime Minister Putin tried to convince Jose Barroso that the Lithuanians are unreliable partners. But the president of the European Commission said “No, no. This is the European directive".
U.W.: Do you confirm that Gazprom broke the agreement on the privatization of Lietuvos dujo, the Lithuanian gas company? How can Lithuania protect its own interests in the situation like that?
Yes, I do confirm this. Last year we said that we shall implement de-monopolization directives. Gazprom got very angry because we were the first not only in the Baltic region to do so, but in all of Central Europe. We are paying $100 more per thousand cubic meters for Russian gas than Germany is paying. We have also taken into consideration the shale gas discovered globally and the possibility of using liquefied natural gas. For the LNG terminal to be operated, we need some unbundling de-monopolization directives which will allow us to control pipelines that are currently controlled by Gazprom. At the beginning of this year Gazprom said that because Lithuania is so imprudent with these initiatives to implement the European directives, they will punish us with a 15% gas price increase. We wrote a legal appeal to the Competitiveness Council of the EU, a very powerful body. We explained that this was unfair and against competitiveness regulations inside the EU. We asked the Competitiveness Council to investigate the transparency of Gazprom's price policy.
For example, Microsoft went through such investigation. In the end, they were fined $1.5 billion. So, Gazprom knows the consequences this could have. In the agreement that we had with Gazprom on privatizing our gas company there is a very clear statement that the gas price policy will be fair. We said: “Look, guys, you are violating the privatization agreement punishing us with the 15% price increase”. The contract includes the final clause that all disagreements should be resolved in the Stockholm Court of Arbitration. We are talking in the language of legalities. We are not making political statements. This allows us to fight for our rights.
U.W.: What about the formula for calculating the price approved in the agreement? The Russian side can appeal to this.
Yes, we have it. However, the formula does not allow the Gazprom vice-president who is also the chairman of Lietuvos dujos Valery Golubev to make a statement that Lithuania will be punished with a 15% gas price increase because it is implementing unbundling directives that introduce the separation of pipeline ownership and distribution ownership. The formula does not include any coefficient for punishment. In other words, it does not presume any politically motivated punishment.
U.W.: What is the most alarming for you in the project of building the nuclear power station in Belarus by Russia? Why do you feel insecure? And do you expect to get support at the EU level?
Well, when we are speaking about nuclear energy in Belarus, we need to see the whole picture. This region of 200 km will get the biggest density of nuclear power stations in the world, because nuclear power stations are supposed to be built in Belarus, in Kaliningrad and in Lithuania. We are preparing to build a station in Visaginas. We shut down the Ignalina nuclear power plant and decided to build a new one for the three Baltic States and part of Poland. If we do not build it, we will not be able to provide the Baltic market enough electricity generated in our region, independently. And only after this did the plants in Belarus and Kaliningrad appear as new projects, and it may be that they were intending from the very beginning to create obstacles to us building our own nuclear plant. We think that if a nuclear power plant is built in Belarus, 50 km from Vilnius, it will not be a Belarusian power station, it will be a Russian station. This will cause quite deep long-term tensions between Lithuania and Belarus.
Sometimes we think that the real goal of the project is to create these tensions. This nuclear plant will be built by the Kremlin. Such tensions will create obstacles for Lithuania to become Belarus' partner in the future to help Minsk draw closer to Europe. I am speaking about the future, not today. Just now, after the Fukushima disaster, regulations on the EU level have been approved according to which all nuclear power stations in Europe and those that are built or will be built in the vicinity of the EU should pass a special stress test. They will be checked on their real safety. These safety requirements include a very clear and simple one: no new nuclear power plants can be built within 100 km of a capital or major city.
U.W.: You are visiting Ukraine in April. What are the most important issues on the Lithuanian-Ukrainian agenda?
I am coming to the international conference on nuclear energy and the anniversary of Chornobyl. As for the bilateral agenda, first of all, this is your European agenda and how we can assist your country. Second, we can have good cooperation in trade, energy and also transport. Energy is especially important and interesting for us. In transport we have some good projects like “Viking” train that connects the Black See port Ilichivsk with the Baltic See port Klaipeda. It has started operating more and more effectively. Besides this, our common historical heritage could be used to come closer and to have more people to people exchanges and cooperation.
U.W.: Why did the Russian minority’s “Russian Alliance” and Election Initiative of Poles in Lithuania cooperate in the last municipal elections by founding the Polish-Russian election bloc?
I do not know why the Polish political party united with the Russian Alliance in Vilnius. The Polish political party used to be active and successful in elections in Vilnius and in the Vilnius region. And this is not something unexpected, especially during the last 10 years. While a lot of Poles previously voted for communists, social democrats and leftist parties in general, they later gained their own political identity as the minority began voting for its own minority political force. The communists lost these voters. The Polish Election Initiative has its own agenda that concerns mainly education and culture.
U.W.: But what are their common interests with the Russian minority?
I do not know. Minorities are looking for partners to better organize themselves during elections. It is a tactical alliance.
Andrius Kubilius, was born December 8, 1956, in Vilnius and has been the prime minister of Lithuania since December 2008. He also headed the government in 1999–2000 and is the leader of the conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats party. He studied physics at the undergraduate and graduate levels at Vilnius University. In 1988, he joined the pro-independence Sąjūdis movement. As a member of this party, he was elected to the Seimas (parliament) in four subsequent elections from 1992–2008.