Archive for January, 2009
There is lots of reassessment and analysis is taking place in Vilnius at the moment. It is natural since the riot on Jan 16, or as I call it ‘eggs riot’ in Vilnius was a most serious political action in Lithuania since it regained independence 18 years ago. The last time Special Forces had to be employed was two years ago by calming down the Polish football fans riots in Vilnius.
As the BNS reminds the demo called by Lithuania’s trade unions drew a crowd of around 7,000 people. However, the demo ended in a riot.
The atmosphere in the peaceful protest heated up as aggressive protesters attempted to break into the Seimas (Parliament) building. The crowd at first chucked snowballs at parliament windows, later employing stones, bottles, eggs, tomatoes and even coconuts. This fusillade resulted in 30 broken parliament windows. However, claimed damaged of 2 mln Litas was reduced to more than 200.000 litas today.
The Public Security Service units, who were first only observing the situation and took the matters into their own hands after rowdy protesters started throwing smoke balls. The crowd attempted to charge the parliament building a few times, however were blocked by the officers, who shoved them away. The most aggressive of the rioters have been detained.
The BNS writes that some 32 individuals have been presented with suspicions in a criminal case concerning the riot. The police had initially detained 151 individuals over the incident in question. Detained demonstrators not suspected to have contributed to the riot will be charged with resisting police and violations of public order. The second district court of Vilnius on Jan 18 granted prosecution’s requests and arrested 15 individuals who were detained in connection with the riots broken out last Friday. Some 50 of those detained were drunk.
The Presidential spokeswoman Grumadaite said today; “In the opinion of the president, Friday’s unrest is a serious signal for the government to once again re-evaluate the burden imposed by the crisis prevention plan on businesses and all inhabitants. The president urges the government to take immediate measures in view of reducing tension in society and evade another wave of strikes”.
The PM Kubilius assured that the new ruling coalition as having held intensive communication with representatives of various a stratum of society – including trade unions – right after the Seimas elections, however acknowledged that the dialogue in question was later aborted as the BNS reported.
“It is a pity that while passing the entire package for stabilizing state finances we had to spend all our time in Seimas sittings, and many times in rather unfruitful discussions. But we saw as of utmost importance the task to approve before the end of the year and have by the beginning of this one a more optimism-rendering budget, which allows timely delivery of pensions and wages. Financing for an entire array of functions would have started cracking otherwise”. Kubilius also said that “assuming this tempo in passing legislation made it difficult to maintain those contacts. We are prepared to draw inferences from the current developments”.
As the BNS reminded the Interior Minister Raimundas Palaitis, Police Chief Vizgirdas Telycenas, State Security Chief Povilas Malakauskas and leaders of public security services and the VIP service on Jan 19 met for a sitting of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, to address actions undertaken by public security services in order to maintain public order during the rally called by trade unions in Vilnius.
The riots in Vilnius are not necessarily a thing of the past, warned the State Security chief. “Assessing the situation at hand in Lithuania, I can say that yes, this can happen again, and we don’t need special services to ascertain this. This is already in the public arena, a protest rally is in the cards for February”, Malakauskas said. The small business Trade Unions are planning a meeting in the front of the parliament on 3 Feb.
The BSN writes that the actions employed by the officers amid the riot were adequate to the situation, however the extent of the unrest was underestimated in advance, said Interior Minister Raimundas Palaitis, who wasn’t in Lithuania on the day of the riot.
The minister noted the public security service squads as having reacted to the attack after rioters starting throwing a tear gas device as those previously employed by the Soviet militia, as interior affairs system representatives informed him.
The police didn’t have sufficient information to prepare for Friday’s events, in turn said Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene reminded BNS. “The police was ready, information was what was lacking. About the planed use of a dangerous weapon, more so than tear gas – the ‘cheriomucha’ – I found out only today. Neither the State Security Department nor any other institution had any information about this beforehand”, the minister spoke. It is interesting how come this tear gas reached the hooligans.
The most controversial aspect of the riots was use of the rubber bullets by the Public Security Service units. However, the head of this unit admitted that the decision to use the bullets was taken after the unit run out of the tear gas. The gas run out when the crowed of the hooligans began advancing towards the police officers. According to the chief of the Public Security Service unit some more than 2.000 rubber bullets were fired in duration of the riot. As he commented on the Lietuvos Rytas TV programme ‘Reporteris’ on 19 Jan the French colleagues in such a circumstance would have had fired 15.000 or 16.000 bullets.
Mr Kubilius also said that; “I am sorry about one thing, that is failure to perceive in time just how fast such rallies and demonstrations can evolve into such rowdy riots, and I stand convinced that we could have sought out better and more intensive communication with the trade unions themselves and other organizations, however I wouldn’t agree that their voice was left unheard”. Kubilius also said that he sees no grounds for resignation.
However the PM said to the BNS that the Trade Unions and other social groups should bet honest and admit that many meetings and conversations held with the government as the latter was preparing the program and crisis prevention plan.
“Of course, it is very regretful that the election in Lithuania was just in Oct and we were forced to take all determined measures in view of stabilizing state finances on the very last weeks before Christmas”, said Kubilius. Demands previously made by trade unions lacked “an actual aim to tend to the needs of the neediest citizens”.
“The suggestion put forth by trade unions to put a halt to our plan to stabilize state finances means one single thing, that is should we agree to go ahead with this, we would no longer be able to pay out pensions as early as Feb and be left with nothing other than devaluing the litas in a matter of another month. This would impose the heftiest burden on those simple workers, who haven’t acquired any savings”, the prime minister reasoned.
As the BNS noted on the other hand, the prime minister said to have found rational suggestions among those made by the trade unions as well. He mentioned; “For example that on the real estate tax is already included in our program. We will negotiate the best time and manner to implement this”.
On the other hand a demonstration of about 1,000-1,500 on Saturday called by Lithuanian trade unions in port city Klaipeda ended peacefully. The police detained around 30 individuals, most of who were drunk. The detained will be charged under the administrative procedure for appearing drunk in public BNS writes.
The disturbing news is that one of those provocateurs Mr Algirdas Paleckis who had try to ignite disturbances, is seen in one company with Mr Audrius Butkevicius. Those both marginal politicians belong to different parties. Mr Paleckis founded his socialist party ‘Frontas’ and wants to be associated with Che. Mr Butkevicius is associated with impeached President Rolandas Paksas and known as the ‘expert on the civil disturbances’. Furthermore, unofficial sources claim that the additional few dozen diplomats have remanded the Russian Federation Embassy in Vilnius just few weeks ago. However, the police confirmed that all detained are citizens of Republic of Lithuania.
See an update on the riots
There was no such a situation in Lithuania for ten years’ these words of one of the top Police Chiefs said in press conferences. Some seven thousand protesters gathered in the front of the Parliament to protest against the new government’s anti crises plan today. The plan was adopted only few weeks ago, however it managed to upset few people in Lithuania. There were demos in Siauliai, Alytus, Panevezys, Alytus also.
However, only in Vilnius the demo erupted into rioting. There were some disturbances In Siauliai also. The special police forces are still on the guard in the streets surrounding the Parliament.
There a lot of details still emerging but there are some facts. 151 rioters were detained, 15 people were injured. 2 million Litas of damage was done to Seimas. Some of the arrested had knifes, iron bars and Molotov cocktails. The police use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd of rioters.
The Trade Union confederation the main organisers of the demos, have distanced themselves from the troublemakers. Despite riots in Riga only few nights ago, the organisers guarantied that the demo will be peaceful. However, it appears that that the peaceful, but noisy demo turned into riots once the main demonstrators began planned march to the Governmental building about two kilometres away.
The Police kept distance when the snowballs and eggs showered the parliamentarian building. However, the ammunition became more aggressive, and once the stones and other heavy objects began outnumber eggs and snowballs the police decided to intervene…
Absolute majority of the troublemakers were youth with hoods covering their heads. The biggest ‘surprise’ was that such youth actually came to the streets having in mind the apolitical nature of the Lithuanian youth. This youth was harvesting the results of the rapid Lithuania’s development in the last eight years and don’t resemble the ‘hard times’ in the 1990s. I would also assume that those rioters do not give a dam about the pensioners and the demos’ causes.
The Prime Minister Kubilius mentioned that the riots were superbly organised, and mentioned ‘forces unfriendly to Lithuania’s sovereignty’. President Adamkus compared Vilnius ‘eggs riots’ with Bronze Soldier events in Tallinn and recent riots in Riga. Professor of Politics Lopata advised to compare Vilnius, Riga, Sofia and Greece. Prof of Sociology Gaidys voiced his concern that Lithuania was caught unprepared: ‘We did not realise that situation so bad’ he admitted.
Those riots are wake up call to the new government that time has come to do some explanatory work about the reforms. Yes, there are 10.000 unemployed registered last month alone, government has to borrow to pay pensions, and economy is going to have a negative GDP growth this year. The government has to explain reasons behind it anti crisis plan. And of course, authorities should tighten their belts also…However, in about twelve hours there is going to be another demo in Klaipeda. Lets see how long it will remain ‘peaceful’.
The new appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs the carrier diplomat Mr. Vygaudas Ušackas (former ambassador to the US and the UK) gave an interview to the Lietuvos Žinios daily on Jan 10. Mr Ušackas is known to hold a real politik with Russia view.
Relations with Russia must be developed based on principles of value, said Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas, noting the Russian Federation to be an important and complex neighbour.šackas said that “We speak out in favour of pragmatic relations with Russia. We are also for observation of democratic, honest and just values”.
Ušackas said: “We live in a global society and are interconnected with various ties. I do not think we can stop any one or another type of influence from being exerted. We must be strong with our morale and values. We must warrant that faulty, corrupt practice of making economic trade deals so as to exert influence on political life to be put to a stop. I will put all efforts in view of preventing Russia from using economic ties in order to make a political impact on Lithuania”.šackas pointed out the importance of education. We will hear more of this. It sounds that Lithuania’s foreign policy is on the course of revision.
The Russia Containment Strategy put together by the ruling Conservatives speaks of “Russia’s cultural, political and economic arrest”.
As the BNS noted Ušackas also pointed that strategy to be one, but real life something quite other: “On the other hand, I believe we should change our defensive position with regards to Russia. We should keep in mind that we hold an equal weight politically. We must make use of our equality by expressing our concerns via the European Union (EU) and NATO. We should also enliven our cultural and economic policy on Russia, namely rally like-minded people in Russia, who follow similar values. I think stopping (Russia) is important, but our policy within Russia itself – working together with the EU and the US – is much more important. I will underline the latter task on my agenda. It would be more constructive positive and exert more influence for Russia to change”.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said on Thursday that currently the government does not plan to borrow from the International Monetary Fund noted the BNS.
As the agency BNS wrote the Lithuanian central bank governor also said earlier in the day that the country does not need international financial aid at the moment. However, he did not rule out turning to international institutions for help in the future, if a sharp economic downturn led to a budget revenue shortfall.
“We are not planning [to borrow] at the moment. The International Monetary Fund has given good marks to our [anti-crisis] plan. I will not attempt to predict today how the situation may develop in the future,” Kubilius told BNS.
Reinoldijus Sarkinas, the Bank of Lithuania’s governor, told BNS: “I don’t think that the situation in Lithuania is as bad as the International Monetary Fund’s representative says it is. It is quite possible that in the future we will have to cooperate with the IMF and other international organizations and to borrow, but today there is no need for borrowing.”
He was commenting on a Bloomberg report, which quoted Christoph Rosenberg, the head of the IMF’s mission to central Europe, as saying that Lithuania could be “the next east European economy in need of an international bailout after neighbouring Latvia was forced to seek aid because of the effects of the global financial crisis.”
However, the original message appears to be so updated that it does not really corresponds to the original message. Just to compare this I have attached the original message on the bottom of this post. It seems that Bloomberg have exaggerated this time.
The central bank governor said he was not certain if Rosenberg had actually said that Lithuania might have to borrow from the IMF.
The IMF last month extended a 7.5 billion-euro loan to Latvia.
As the BNS reminds Catriona Purfield, the head of an IMF mission, said in Vilnius last month that she did not see the need for Lithuania borrow from the fund.
This is the original message from the Bloomberg.com which stirred some waters in Lithuania.
Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) — Lithuania’s economy may be the next east European economy in need of an international bailout after neighboring Latvia was forced to seek aid because of the effects of the global financial crisis, Christoph Rosenberg, head of the International Monetary Fund’s mission to central Europe, said.
The Baltic economy may contract “at least” 2 percent this year, the Washington-based fund said in December compared with the Lithuanian central bank’s October outlook for an expansion of 1.2 percent. The IMF forecast signals that Lithuania will follow Latvia and Estonia into a recession next year as domestic demand wanes after banks tightened lending.
The three Baltic countries, which spent almost half a century as communist-run Soviet states, have been hit hard by the crisis as banks saw external funding dry up and exports slowed. Last month Latvia took a 7.5 billion-euro ($10.2 billion) IMF-led loan to strengthen the currency and shore up the banking system.
“Lithuania is in a more difficult position” than Estonia, Rosenberg said. “Estonia is the least vulnerable of the Baltics because it has big buffers. It’s been running a budget surplus for a number of years now and so there are fiscal assets.”
Lithuania’s economic sentiment index, which measures expectations in sectors including manufacturing, construction, retail and services, fell to the lowest in six years in December as concerns grow over a recession this year.
Estonia and Latvia lead the EU’s slowdown after contracting an annual 3.5 percent and 4.6 percent in the third quarter, respectively. Lithuania’s economy expanded 2.9 percent for the period. Latvia joined Iceland, Belarus and Hungary and other emerging-market nations in asking the IMF for aid.
Latvia’s problems were created by a soaring wages and a credit boom which saw funds channeled into non-tradable industries like real estate, retail and banking, Rosenberg said.
The economy wasn’t diversified enough and officials failed to curtail rapid credit growth or use counter-cyclical fiscal policies to cool the economy off before it was too late, he added.
“Latvia had the highest growth rate in the EU for several years, but it was a bubble,” he added.
Moody’s Investors Service said yesterday it had cut Latvia’s foreign-credit rating for the second time in three months amid fears of a deeper-than-expected economic decline. Inflation in Latvia, at 11.8 percent in November, is the highest in the 27- member European Union, compared with 2.1 percent in the euro area.
According to Rosenberg, the largest of the EU’s eastern members, Poland, is better equipped to survive the credit crunch.
“Poland avoided bubbles like the ones we’ve seen in the Baltics, where the economies are small and a few sectors have all resources poured into them,” he said. “Poland is fundamentally in a good position. Its economic fundamentals are much sounder than in the countries that are in trouble at the moment like Hungary or Latvia.”
France’s interests to support the recovery of European nuclear energy sector, which has the sole reactor producer – France’s Areva, might have been one of the obstacles to Lithuania’s intentions to extend the lifespan of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP), which is considered unsafe by the West, by at least several years, Lithuanian government’s nuclear negotiator Aleksandras Abišala admits to the BNS.
“Areva or not Areva… But there are actually no other nuclear reactor producers in the European Union,” Abisala, who was in charge of talks with the European Commission (EC) on the extension of INPP operations, Abišala said to BNS.
The team representing Lithuania failed to immediately understand one of the main reasons behind the EC opposition to the extension of INPP lifespan, which was one of the reasons of Vilnius’ failure in those talks, he noted.
As Abišala noted to the BNS “I think it is one of my biggest mistakes…I failed to understand immediately what are the main reasons of opposition, that the French are actually the main source. We always hoped and it seemed that with France holding the rotating presidency we could find an agreement since it is a nuclear state. The main reason was reluctance to harm the reputation of reviving nuclear energy”.
Areva is one of the potential suppliers of reactors to the nuclear facility, which Lithuania plans to build in Visaginas.
Since the new government was sworn everyone were talking about the anti crisis management plan. However, some of the other interesting developments are also taking place. First of all, for the first time in Lithuanian history we have a female minister of Defence.
The new defence minister, Rasa Juknevičienė, says that Lithuania should not limit itself to the defence guaranteed by NATO, and that the national army should be ready to defend Lithuanian territory. According to the minister, the decision to cancel conscription was premature and several thousands of professionals are not enough to fight the dangers Lithuania might face.
“Only the naive can believe that several thousands of professionals are capable of fighting against the dangers Lithuania might face,” Juknevičienė said in her interview with Lrt.lt.
[LTV] The Social Democrats (LSDP) were in charge of the Defence Ministry for eight years. What changes can we expect after the ministry was taken over by the Conservatives? What will be your first and foremost task?
[Juknevičienė] The changes are presented in our programme. If you compare our programme with that of the LSDP, you can see the differences. However, the national defence system is one of the areas where we need policy continuity, and we support this idea. The areas in which the national security system was being strengthened will continue to be strengthened, and changes will be carried out in the areas we feel that changes are needed.
The system has never been too open. This is why even when I was working on the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee (NSGK) I did not have information about certain ongoing processes; I could only assume something was happening. This is why my first and most important task is to analyse the problems and evaluate the system. I will dedicate more of my attention to that. I will try to visit all the units after the New Year, so that I can personally see things and the situation.
For now I can say that our priority will be to bring back the balance to what we had signed before we joined NATO. [as published] I have in mind Articles 3 and 5 of the NATO Agreement. In my opinion, there has been a certain disproportion as far as these articles are concerned. There has been a lot of talk that NATO will protect us and that we do not need anything else. However, I am more concerned with how well the Lithuanian Armed Forces is prepared for defending its territory.
I already have a feeling that a lot will have to be done here. Of course, we will need much more resources to deal with this problem, and, unfortunately, we cannot do that now because of the financial crisis. However, we should use this period to get ready and analyse the situation, to create a theoretic groundwork, so that, when the economic situation gets better, we know where to allocate the necessary funds, so that these funds indeed bring us benefits and help us strengthen our country’s security.
Another important thing is, of course, transparency. After all, the government allocates over 1 billion litas [LTL] to national defence and to the national defence system, and society has the right to know whether the funds are being used transparently and whether they are being used for proper and important purposes. For the time being, I cannot answer the question whether there are very serious problems in this area, but what I can say is that I will be paying attention to that and that this is important to me. Honest and qualified people who perform the functions that suit their qualifications create transparency. I will be able to give you a better answer to these questions after I become acquainted with the situation and with the people working in the system.
The first task I had to come to terms with right away was the budget. One thing I discovered was unpaid bills amounting to 150 million [LTL]. I found this out on 10 December. A week later, we managed to reduce the debt by 50 million, and I hope that we will manage to reduce it even more. Another important thing is the 2009 budget, which, unfortunately, had to be reduced compared with the draft budget proposed by the previous government. But this was an unavoidable and necessary step. And this is why the Defence Ministry, just like any other institution, had to do that.
[LTV] Lithuania’s commitment to NATO is to allocate 2 per cent of GDP to national defence on a yearly basis. However, it has not managed to fulfil the commitment, and Lithuania remains one of the NATO countries that allocated the least to national defence. How much funds have you planned for national defence in the 2009 budget? Will the prestige of Lithuania, an international partner, not suffer because of the reduced funding? Will Lithuania manage to implement all the international commitments properly?
[Juknevičienė] Unfortunately, we will only allocate 1.01 per cent of GDP next year. Perhaps we will manage to achieve 1.03 per cent, because nobody knows what the real GDP will be, various experts give various estimates.
Of course, it is not good for Lithuania’s prestige, but it is even worse when not enough funds are being allocated during the period when the economic situation is good. Our economy had been growing over the past five years, but Lithuania, however, was far behind Latvia and Estonia in allocating funds to national defence. This is a certain indicator. Everybody understands what the situation is when there is a crisis. This is why I hope the new government’s actions will be appreciated.
However, we will certainly start increasing our budget and financial commitments after we overcome the economic difficulties. This is incorporated in the government programme.
We are shaken and stirred by the crisis, but we also can find solutions. This is why if we manage to purify ourselves during the crisis, to reduce the operations that are not typical national defence operations; to reduce funding of less important things, to concentrate on just the priorities, perhaps then the financial shake-up will bring some kind of benefit. However, we first of all need to carry out a very thorough revision of our priorities.
[LTV] What would these priorities be? And in which areas are you going to reduce funding?
[Juknevičienė] The priorities are set out in the government programme. Speaking about the cuts in spending, we should allocate fewer funds to public relations and to various additional sponsorship programmes. Everybody has become accustomed to asking the Defence Ministry for support and money. We will take a very close look at that, and we will allocate the defence budget to defence, and not to the things related to prestige and publicity.
[LTV] What will happen to the projects not directly related to defence? For example, with the project the Defence Ministry has been implementing to restore ancient armour and armaments.
[Juknevičienė] I am not saying that we do not need all that. Armed forces usually invest in historic artefacts and things that are related to the armed forces. Our lives without the roots would be absolutely meaningless. However, I think we will need to have a closer look at advertising, publicity, and some other things.
I think that the period of partisan movement in national defence history deserves to be given more attention. I will try to pay more attention to that and will encourage others to take interest in this period. [Passage omitted on the importance of this period for the patriotic education of the youth]
[LTV] What is the future of the international missions in which Lithuanian troops are participating at present? Are you going to participate in other missions?
[Juknevičienė] Lithuania is a NATO member and its participation in the NATO missions is obligatory and should be seen as a priority. We will try to balance this with the objectives of Articles 3 and 5. Our first and foremost duty is to be prepared to protect our own territory. Article 3 says the same, that each NATO member is responsible for its own territory. This is the priority. According to the situation we have now, I find it difficult to imagine that we could expand the missions. We would be lucky to carry out the tasks we have already undertaken.
[LTV] In your opinion, what are the main military and security dangers Lithuania might face? Is Lithuania capable of properly reacting and responding to these dangers?
[Juknevičienė] I cannot give you a proper answer to the question of whether Lithuania has the needed capacity. I hope that, with NATO assistance, it is capable of responding to the dangers. However, the fact that other countries, such as neighbouring Poland, are speaking about a revision of their defence plans, the fact that Denmark and other Scandinavian countries have started reviewing some of their current plans, shows that the dangers Lithuania might face are preconditioned by its geopolitical situation. We can look at the example of the Russian-Georgian conflict and have an answer to the question.
[LTV] As part of the military reform carried out by the LSDP-led government, it decided to cancel conscription and to build up a professional army. The Conservatives were against the decision. In what direction will the current government take the military reform? Will you come back to the conscription system? What kind of army does Lithuania need?
[Juknevičienė] When this issue was discussed in the Seimas [parliament], the Homeland Union [TS, Conservatives] was against the method of carrying out the reforms. Presently I am even more convinced that they [the previous government] chose the wrong method and everything was done in a hurry. The previous [defence] minister, Juozas Olekas, issued an order to cancel conscription, this was the only document cancelling conscription and this was done when the election campaign was about to start. The NSGK was not informed about the decision.
The law states that conscription will be cancelled by 2013, whereas they already cancelled it this year, when the country is facing a crisis and when no additional budget has been allocated. This is a big problem now, and this is why I think that this was a big mistake.
How to correct it? It looks like we have gone too far, but we will try to find a solution to this problem. By the middle of next year we will demobilize about 1,000 of the conscripts currently serving in the army, and we will have to hire professionals instead, but we do not have sufficient financial resources to do that.
Can you imagine how much it will cost? And the LSDP did not allocate the money for that. This was a very irresponsible step. It was taken to attract more voters, and now we have to deal with the problems.
[LTV] How are you going to correct this mistake?
[Juknevičienė] By reducing the budget we are trying to preserve the budget line for salaries, so that we can invite people to work as private soldiers for the salary that has been agreed on, the salary that has been promised, and the salary that is appropriate considering present competitive market conditions. Otherwise the situation will be such that there will be many officers in the army, but there will be no soldiers. And an army without soldiers is not an army.
Moreover, because we are not properly prepared for that step, the volunteer national defence system has incurred some losses. New people are not as active in joining the volunteer system. Previously their motivation was not to serve in the army and to join the volunteer forces instead, so that they could be closer to their homes. [passage omitted on how to motivate people to join the volunteer forces]
We should create a system that would replace the conscription system and allow us to have reserves. We are working on that and will continue working on this. The naive imagine that a professional army of a few thousand can deal with the dangers Lithuania might face.
A well-prepared professional army can defend the country only when it can do it together with well-prepared reserve soldiers whose training is up to date, who are prepared and know what to do in times of danger. This is the most important thing. And attempts to have a primitive discussion on which army is better – professional or conscription – is useless. A professional army together with the reserves and conscription army could be well prepared. [passage omitted on the options for training the reserves]
[LTV] Previously you claimed that the Lithuanian Armed Forces were affected by erosion. In what area does this erosion appear and how does it manifest itself?
[Juknevičienė] I will not take my words back, but I do not want to speak about that in more detail. I think that holding this office means carrying out specific tasks and not speaking much.
[LTV] Does it mean that you would also prefer not to speak in more detail about problems in the army?
[Juknevičienė] I can only mention one problem. I feel worried because young people who received their military education in the West still do not have the possibility of holding high-ranking posts in the army. I will do my best to deal with all the other problems.
[LTV] The new government has included in its programme plans to improve the work of the State Security Department (VSD) and to define the scope of its accountability. Are you seeking to make the VSD accountable to the government?
[Juknevičienė] I think that sooner or later we will have to discuss this issue. The VSD is a constituent part of the Lithuanian security system and is one of the most important organizations carrying out counterintelligence tasks. Its activities are very closely related to the processes going on in the economic, energy, and transport sectors. According to the constitution and according to the Law on Government and other laws, the government is responsible for the aforementioned sectors, and this is why the VSD should maintain a particularly close contact with the government.
I do not know how we will do that. We could have the same system they have in Western countries – NATO and EU members – where such structures are a constituent part of the government, or we could find another mechanism, because we have also the presidential institution included in our system. The NSGK is going to set up a special working group for this purpose. Probably, the Security Sub-committee will undertake this initiative, the parties will express their opinion, projects will be created, and the Seimas will approve or reject them.
My suggestion to the VSD management is not to react in such a sensitive manner and not to escalate some deliberate tension here. Instead, they should look at the core of the problem and deal with it. Presently, the quality of the contact actually depends on whether the relations between the government and the VSD director are good or bad. This is not how it should be. There should be certain laws that establish what this contact with the government should be like, when the VSD should provide the government with information, and how it is supposed to do that.
And finally, there is another issue – the formulation of tasks. The government should participate when tasks for this structure are being formulated, it should not formulate its own tasks.
[LTV] Not long ago, the Russian President spoke about the plans to deploy short-range missiles at Iskander in Kaliningrad, something Russia also mentioned in the past. In your opinion, are these plans serious and will they be implemented? What influence will the missiles deployed close to the Lithuanian border have on Lithuania’s security? What should Lithuania’s response be?
[Juknevičienė] I hope the missiles will not be deployed there. I do not see any reason why this should be done. I think that common sense will prevail. Russia needs NATO-Russia cooperation more than anybody else. And such a step would not contribute to mutual cooperation. Lithuania is in favour of good neighbourly relations with Russia and has always declared that. However, not everything depends on us.
[LTV] The government programme says that the government will try to encourage NATO to pay more attention to the defence of the Baltic region. What specific steps should the Alliance take? Perhaps you have in mind the possibility of deploying elements of the US European anti-missile shield in Lithuania?
[Juknevičienė] This issue has already been solved. The anti-missile shield will be deployed in the Czech Republic and Poland. This is why the question is not on the agenda anymore.
However, the question how NATO together with Lithuania and the other Baltic countries would protect its territory has always been important. All the plans should be constantly revised as the circumstances are changing. I think that they are being revised. For the time being, NATO preparedness to defend its territory will always be on the agenda.
[LTV] Warfare and national defence are usually perceived as something men do. You are the first woman who has become Lithuanian Defence Minister. Are you not afraid of the difficulties you might face?
[Juknevičienė] It seems to me that it is very difficult to sweep the streets at 0600; nobody has asked the women doing that whether it is hard for them. I think that any job is difficult if you are working hard. However, when I accepted this post I certainly did not think about the fact that I would be the first or the second woman. I have been working in this field for many years. Perhaps this was why the party and Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius decided to offer me this post.
Some may find it unusual. I have met some people who do not have a thorough knowledge of the system. Many do not know that an armed forces commander is in charge of the armed forces and that all warfare issues are his prerogative. According to our law, the defence minister has to be a civilian. This is an obligatory requirement in democratic countries. Whether it is a man or a woman is irrelevant.
When I was appointed to the post, many people asked me what kind of uniform I would now wear. I thought this was strange. I would like to use this opportunity and say that not a single defence minister of a NATO country wears a uniform. These are civilians. They shape policy and manage the system. The military personnel obey the system; they are responsible for the army’s combat readiness and other things for which they need special knowledge.
Source BBC Monitoring