Lithuania will fight to open all the freedoms that exist in the EU for Belarus.
On October 11, the first round of parliamentary elections was held in Lithuania. In the first round, the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats won. The party won 24.82% of the vote. This was stated in an interview with Charter97.org by a deputy of the Lithuanian Seimas from the Homeland Union – Christian Democrats party, Žygimantas Pavilionis.
– On October 11 and 25, parliamentary elections were held in Lithuania. What changes await your country?
– This time, we have a particularly pro-European and pro-democratic government, a young generation of ministers who are well educated. Thus, it will be a very pro-European government, which means that we will press all the levers in our relations not only with old traditional neighbors like Poland, but also with Germany, France, Great Britain. Even if they are “Brexiting” (leaving the European Union – ed.), we have about 300,000 Lithuanians there, so we will strengthen relations as much as possible.
In our relations with the United States of America, we are personally very much looking forward to the new President Biden. I worked with him when he was vice president, and I was ambassador to Washington. But this is not only because of personal relationships but also because of democracy as one of the goals of the new US president’s administration.
In the government’s program, we clearly say that we will fight for democracy and freedom not only in neighboring countries, that is, in Belarus, but all over the world — Taiwan, Cuba, or Venezuela. However, Belarus will be the number one priority for us, for our government.
We will do our best at the national, regional level with our neighbors, Poland, Ukraine, the Nordic countries, the Germans, as well as at the EU and international level, to make this final turn towards democracy happen. We hope that next year, under the auspices of this policy, new and fair elections will be held in Belarus, and this will be the choice of the Belarusian nation.
– Many authoritative Belarusian politicians believe that personal sanctions are not a sufficient measure against the Lukashenka regime. Lithuania was one of the first to lobby, including economic sanctions against the regime. Should we wait for their expansion?
– The process has already begun with the third package of sanctions, where there are some sectoral sanctions. Although, I would not say that individual sanctions are ineffective. I find that they are very effective, especially when you are targeting people around Lukashenka or Lukashenka himself.
Of course, we must extend them to those sectors that are mainly involved in supporting the regime or persecuting people. Some modest steps have already been taken in Brussels, but we are not opposed to expanding sanctions on new industries. Everything will depend on the behavior of the regime. So far, we do not have any positive signals: no dialogue with people, no dialogue with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. This means that the sanctions will only increase; we will not soften them. The new Lithuanian government will do everything to protect the right of the Belarusian people to restore freedom of choice.
– Some politicians talk about disabling SWIFT in Belarus. How effective is this tool?
– It’s a kind of nuclear bomb. I think there are many other pressure tools before using this nuclear bomb. A blow to businesses that fire people after demonstrations that directly support the Lukashenka regime.
Let’s focus on what the Lukashenka regime is based on. Including, by the way, various projects of cooperation with Moscow.
For example – Astravets NPP. Lithuania will raise this issue not only in Brussels but especially in Washington, so that similar sanctions, which were approved for Nord Stream 2, will also be approved in Washington for all those companies that have built a station in Astravets and which trade energy with BelNPP. Anyone who paves the way for this “Chernobyl 2.0” has to pay the price, including Russian companies or people who are helping the Lukashenka regime.
– Since we are talking about the nuclear power plant. In October, the Lukashenka regime launched the BelNPP, but a couple of days later, a series of problems began, which were hidden. How are these events assessed in Lithuania?
– This is nothing new. From the very beginning of construction, it was a project of cooperation between the Kremlin and the Lukashenka regime and, by the way, the Chinese regime. They did not pay any attention to the complaints from Lithuania, international complaints. This does not surprise us.
We do not and will never view Astravets as a safe nuclear power plant due to its proximity to densely populated areas. First of all – to our capital, Vilnius, which is unacceptable. If something happens, it will have a huge impact on Lithuania, knowing the “security culture” in Belarus. The Belarusian authorities do not even have a nuclear safety culture as such since we know that expert opinion does not have any value for the authorities.
Many Belarusian experts say it is crazy to launch a power plant at this stage. We know this is unsafe and therefore welcome the first signs of solidarity from the European Union.
First, it was the European Parliament, which on October 21 said that the EU should show solidarity by banning energy exports from the station. At the last meeting of the European Council in December, the European Commission was instructed to analyze the possibilities of banning exports at the EU level. Thus, this is not only a recommendation of the parliament, but also an instruction to the commission to provide all the necessary measures to implement this decision.
The three prime ministers of the Baltic countries also made a similar commitment. However, we have to agree on the technical details, because we know that this electricity is still going to the Baltic states. On the Latvian market, there is trade in this electricity. This is completely unacceptable for Lithuania.
Our Prime Minister Ingrida Szimonyte said this very clearly at the last meeting: we will hunt for every kilowatt that is illegally sold on our territory using our infrastructure. These opportunities will be completely destroyed. But nevertheless, it is necessary to do technical work, because if we cannot do this, Lukashenka will have money not only for the construction of the second, and maybe even the third and fourth reactors, but also for using this money to kill people on the streets of Minsk and continuation of repression.
– Lithuania not only actively acts on the EU platform on the issue of Belarus, but together with the Baltic states, it is expanding national sanctions against the regime. How effective is this tool? Will it continue to be used?
– We have some great examples where our initiatives have inspired Europeans to make the right decisions. For example, the Magnitsky Act. At first, it was an initiative of Lithuania, then the Baltic states joined, but these were only a few states. Great Britain, which is leaving the EU, the Netherlands have also moved in this direction. At the beginning, it was our own initiative.
As you know, in December, the EU approved a law very similar to the Magnitsky Act, called the Human Rights Regime Law (Global Sanctions Regime for Human Rights Violations – ed.). This is another example where we inspired the EU to punish Putin’s killers and thieves. Not only Putin’s but of other similar regimes, using similar instruments, which were primarily initiated by the Baltic states, the United States, Canada, and others.
Why are we doing this? The simple answer is January 13. As you know, this is the 30th anniversary of the Soviet attack on the TV tower in Vilnius, where many people died. Among them were my friends. On the day of remembrance, we will present the award for freedom to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Belarusian nation, which is fighting for freedom. For hundreds of years, there have been people in our region who have been fighting “for our freedom and yours.”
We suffered greatly together with the Belarusian nation during the totalitarian occupations. We know what this means, but the Belarusian nation suffered even more. As Timothy Snyder writes in his “Bloody lands”: “Belarus is the bloody lands of the bloody lands.” The greatest harm was inflicted on the Belarusian nation not only by Stalin and Hitler but also by Lukashenka and Putin. We take this fight personally. Your fight is our fight. You can always rely on Lithuanians to help you at every step. Because we clearly know what Astravets shows and that the destruction of freedom of choice in Belarus is immediate aggression against the Baltic states. This is why we take everything that happens so personally.
– The General Prosecutor of Lithuania Evaldas Pašilis began a pre-trial investigation of torture by the Lukashenka regime on the principle of universal jurisdiction on the basis of a complaint by a citizen of Belarus in Lithuania. Assuming that someday a tribunal will be created to prosecute members of the Lukashenka regime in Belarus, will Lithuania provide assistance in any form?
– We will push other EU member states and other partners in the West to initiate similar cases, as Lithuania did, because this is a legal way to fight for human rights and respect for these rights. Including even the ideas leading us to The Hague and some other international legal institutions because this is one of the ways to fight the regime.
– I would like to touch upon one more question. How do you assess the regime’s anti-Lithuanian hysteria? Why did your country, well, perhaps also Poland, become the targets of Lukashenka’s attacks?
– Lukashenka is trying to divide the opposition and weaken it. He tries to portray what is happening in Belarus as a kind of geopolitical clash, although he played this card before the elections. At first, he did it in a contradictory way because he played the anti-Russian card. Then he immediately switched to his usual anti-Western rhetoric, trying to portray this as a kind of “interference in internal affairs.” This is complete nonsense because we’re just trying to defend the Belarusian citizens to the basic human rights that we have in Europe. Lukashenka is trying to hide his geopolitical betrayal.
As we know, he is so strongly dependent on the Putin regime, which financially supports him with a very clear goal – the absorption of Belarus. You can call it differently, Lukashenka calls it an alliance with Russia, but in Lithuania, we call it very clearly. Even at the plenary session of the Seimas, we called it the annexation of the country. Lukashenka is selling Belarus’ sovereignty with a very simple goal – to preserve his own regime at any cost, even at the cost of his country’s independence.
In August, we said in our parliament that this regime had lost its legitimacy; therefore, any international step taken by this regime to surrender its sovereignty to Russia will never be recognized in Lithuania, the European Union, or the United States. This is also clearly stated in the recent US resolution on Belarus.
We have a similar case: America did not recognize the Baltic occupation by the Soviet Union. We know this policy is effective, even if it takes decades to implement. But this does not mean that we interfere in the internal affairs of Belarus because we believe that Lukashenka has no legitimacy. He is not an elected leader, he has abolished all democratic elements in his own society, and we are just trying to defend the right to choose in Belarus, nothing more. What geopolitical choice they will make will be the choice of the Belarusians themselves.
– In our conversation with you, we touched upon the principled position of Lithuania on the Belarusian issue, but it is even more striking how the pain of ordinary Belarusians finds a response in the hearts of ordinary Lithuanians. It was impossible to look without tears at the “Baltic Way” from Vilnius to the border with Belarus, in which thousands of Lithuanians stood. How do you explain this phenomenon?
– First of all, I think we are not doing enough. We have much more to do. Until we achieve our common, joint goal, until elections are held in Belarus, where Belarusians will have the right to freely choose. This means that the efforts are not 100% successful, so we will have to do much more: provide assistance to the victims of the regime, those people who bravely oppose, who lose their jobs, they are killed or tortured. We must provide all the necessary assistance: from legal to financial, moral, political.
We are still building a coalition at the highest political level because we know that we are not dealing with Lukashenka, but with the Putin regime, trying to punish another nation only because of its imperial ambitions.
To do this, we will work hard at the highest political level, trying to unite the best energy: the new administration in Washington, the powerful German coalition led by Merkel in Berlin. We will work with Brussels, France, Portugal, which will preside over the European Union. With all the leaders, including the UK, we will try to create a coalition that will be very clear and frank with Mr. Putin that you should stop doing this. You have done a lot to your nation, you have occupied and killed a lot of people in Georgia and Ukraine, and you continue to do so in Belarus. This is not your territory. This is the territory of a sovereign nation, and please let people hold free and democratic elections within the framework of the OSCE, of which you are also a member.
Why is this symbolically related to our historical events? Because, as I said, we live in the same region. Some people say that we have the same blood and history. We all suffered from these regimes, so from the time of Kalinouski or from the time of Kosciuszko, we knew very well that we ourselves could never defend freedom on our own territory. If our brothers and sisters are in trouble, we must help them protect their human dignity and freedom.
For this reason, I personally created the international “Kalinouski Conference,” which took place in August. The next conference will take place in the Lithuanian parliament, on the day Kalinouski was hanged just 500 meters from the office where I am now.
On March 22, I will hold another conference, at which I will try to gather the best minds in Belarus and political heavyweights from various Western capitals; I will try to ask a simple question: we have done a lot, but what is the plan? What is the plan for the final implementation of the main goal of the Belarusian nation – free and fair elections. Without our political, economic, legal, financial, and any other participation and solidarity, the Belarusians will not do this alone.
We must be with you the way the world supported the Baltic states’ struggle for freedom, our “Baltic Way,” and our struggle.
I mentioned the events of January 13. I was 20 years old when I saw Russian tanks killing my friends, but I remember then the US Congress delegation in Vilnius. And I know that after this event, influential US Congressmen spoke to Bush Sr. and other leaders, saying that “enough,” they were peaceful demonstrators, singing Lithuanian songs and waving flags, they were killed for this.
In 1991, the world began to recognize our struggle. In 1993, already in Copenhagen, in the European Council, we received the prospect of membership, in 1994, we received a free trade agreement with the European Union – something that has not been done in full in the case of Belarus. Because of the actions of Lukashenka and Putin, Belarus is a kind of Soviet zoo. The Belarusians do not even have the elements of this European openness.
In our government program, we clearly state that our goal is not only free and democratic elections; we will fight to open up all four freedoms that exist in the EU for Belarus: freedom of movement, goods, services, and capital. This is our dream.
We want to have neighbors with whom we trade, do business, and create Europe together. We do not need neighbors that are occupied by the Lukashenka regime and the Putin regime, which not only kill Belarusians but also threaten us, neighbors who have lived together for centuries. Today nuclear and other weapons threaten our existence. This should not be the case, and the Belarusian people were the people who suffered the most from all the wars taken together.
I don’t understand how you still have illegal rulers who are stealing the future of their nation.
As my former Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas told me when I represented Lithuania in Brussels: “Do not forget that we are speaking here on behalf of tens of millions of Europeans who want to live like us.” So, of course, we will try to defend the rights of Belarusians.