Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
No other EU member state has been as much harsh and tough on authoritarian Belarus as Lithuania. No other EU state, besides Lithuania, has so far left China’s 17+1 cooperation format set up by China in 2012. On both fronts, Lithuania stands out clearly, drawing the brunt of Minsk’s and Beijing’s fury, angering domestic opposition and raising eyebrows of some analysts.
«Without any exaggeration, these Conservatives are a party of war – extremely belligerent and pugnacious with the consequences of their ruling to be felt for years,» Gintautas Paluckas, a former leader of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) and, now, a LSDP MP, told BNN.
«The clear proclivity they have for fighting everyone over everything is just impressive. To me, it is tantamount to a drug addict’s cunning effort aimed at getting a new dose. The obsession the Conservatives have has helped Lithuania very little, to put it mildly. It is just incredible how good they are at finding new foes and waging new wars,» the MP accentuated in a harsh language.
The ruling Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD), known colloquially as Conservatives, are also criticised for botched dealings with Georgia (Sakartvelo) and, on energy issues, with neighbouring Latvia.
In late February 2021, Lithuanian MP Žygimantas Pavilionis, the chair of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, came under fire for siding with the opposition during his trip to Georgia.
The Lithuanian parliamentarian went there on behalf of the Lithuanian parliament to mediate a political crisis caused by the detention of opposition leader Nika Melia. During his visit to Georgia on February 20, Pavilionis hit out at the Georgian authorities for their «aggressive, autocratic tone».
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili dismissed the comments, saying that Georgia is «a hospitable country», but added that «insulting statements by such guests are completely unacceptable and mean nothing to me and my team».
Back in Lithuania, the MP’s stance drew criticism from Parliament Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, who said this to LRT.lt, the website of Lithuania’s national broadcaster: «Even if he has a firm personal position, he should have been diplomatic during his trip to Georgia».
«All of a sudden, Georgia (Sakartvelo), our old friend, has become undesired in Lithuania, which, following the incident, does not want to see the Georgian PM in our country. It is unclear how long the diplomatic war will last, but, for now, without Sakartvelo and Moldova, the EU’s Eastern Partnership Programme is doomed and ought to be redrawn to the so-called Lublin format, which includes Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland,» Paluckas, the Social democratic stalwart, underscores.
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When it comes to dealing with Latvia, Lithuania’s northern neighbour, the Lithuanian Cabinet has gotten into a row with Latvia over its electricity trade methodology – Vilnius wants Riga to follow into its footsteps and make it bar Belarusian electricity from entering the local grid.
However, the cherry on the cake is Lithuania’s unique bellicoseness towards China and particularly towards Belarus, Paluckas insists.
«The position the Lithuanian Foreign ministry (led by Gabrielius Landsbergis, chairman of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats – L.J.) has taken has led to complete disruption of relations with the Belarusian regime,» Paluckas says.
He also excoriates the Conservative government‘s decision to allow Belarusian opposition to set up a diplomatic representation in Vilnus.
«Why did we embrace somebody as the country‘s factual head-of-state, when we, officially, do not know who was there elected as a new president? The opening of the representation is very symbolic and, clearly, little discussed and little substantiated,» the MP argues.
Agreeing, Dainius Kepenis, a Lithuanian MP from the opposition Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) party, also blasts the ruling party. Not only on its stance on Minsk and Beijing.
«Look, they chastise Hungary fiercely for building its own wall and the Hungarians have been consulting us how to build our own wall on the border with Belarus. Sadly, Lithuania will be paying a heavy price for the hawkish foreign policy the conservative-liberal government has taken on. I already counted that it will cost Lithuania nearly 1 billion euros. It includes the roughly 150-million-euro fence project, building of temporary housing for migrants and the potential losses from the imminent halting of Chinese freights and Belarusian fertilisers,» the LFGU MP told BNN.
Following Brussels and US sanctions on Belarus, the Lithuanian port of Klaipėda at the Baltic Sea risks losing up to half of its cargoes at the worst scenario.
In August, Beijing recalled its ambassador from Lithuania, following an earlier decision by Vilnius to host Taiwan’s de facto embassy, which will be opened in Vilnius next week.
China’s Foreign Ministry has said the decision to host Taiwan’s representation «severely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity».
Beijing has also demanded that Lithuania recall its ambassador from China, which Lithuania did.
Recently, the Lithuanian parliament has recognised China’s repressions against the Uighur ethnic minority as a «genocide».
In September, Lithuania’s defence ministry advised people to «throw away» their Chinese smartphones after a new report by the country’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) found that a mobile made by a major brand had built-in censorship capabilities. The cyber authority says that Mi 10T 5G phone made by Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi was able to detect and censor phrases such as «Free Tibet», «Long live Taiwan independence» and «democracy movement».
Lithuanian trade has already reported of reticence of many Chinese trader partners to continue mutual business.
Yet some analysts refrain from scolding the ruling HU-LCD party and hails it for leadership and adhering to policy of values, which is something the party itself claims it always does.
Dovilė Jakniūnaitė, professor of international relations at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences, says: «It would be dishonest to hold the party culpable for the migrant crisis we see…And when it comes to Lithuania’s exit from China’s 17+1 format, let’s admit the task China had from the beginning was to come up with a format that considerably splits the EU. There are many nuisances to consider».
BNN ANALYSES | Lithuania‘s ruling Conservatives – trailblazers or trouble makers?
Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN