You can't make your own soup in a common pot
It is the end of the fourth year for Piatras Vaitekunas in the position of Lithuanian ambassador in Latvia. There is active development in relationships between these two countries, largely thanks to the professional efforts of this intelligent and delicate by appearance man
Mr. Vaitekunas, it seems that in your position, you are one of the few, to whom economic and business questions have become a priority. What encourages you to promote Lithuanian goods on the Latvian market?
I simply believe that in reality, economics is the basis of foreign policy. Promoting economic processes within the foreign policy of a country – it is not just a slogan; it is a direction, which has to be taken both by the embassy on the whole and by me personally. Economic cooperation between Lithuania and Latvia is of advantage to both parties. The evidence of this is an increase of Latvian exports to Lithuania, amounting to 15%. Export of Lithuanian goods to Latvia is growing even faster. But the main thing is that we – Lithuania and Latvia – calculate our profits. Entrepreneurs in both countries calculate profit, and the movement of goods between our countries goes both ways. For example, Vilniaus Prekyba goods are moving back and forth. Nevertheless, Lithuanian goods in the VP chain in Latvia amount to only 15%. Retail chains are just an instrument to increase the competition, to work better and faster. And the embassy often acts as an accelerator to various initiatives, relationships among entrepreneurs and various integrated business structures. Our Chamber of Commerce organizes meetings with Lithuanian entrepreneurs at the embassy on a monthly basis. We invite government representatives, mass media and all interested parties to such meetings.
How important is it to develop economical relations between the Baltic states currently? What directions would be the most effective?
In a modern world, if a country is normal, i.e., market relationship oriented, there are no isolated economies. This is especially fair towards small countries, which have very open economies. The Baltic states use very little of the GDP on the domestic market. The majority is being exported. Therefore we are very open and a subject to various impacts from the whole world – both positive and negative. In such cases, there is no other way out as to make our overtness even more diverse and open. It is natural that currently, such branches of economy as the power industry, transport and tourism are developing more intensely. Looking into the future, we can suppose that there will be an increase in the role of the IT and scientific economy in general. Governmental structures and mass media can do much in order to make such breakthroughs in the Baltic States. What do we have? Brains. In all three Baltic countries, there is a very high level of education and qualification of specialists. Of course, there is a threat that a part of the specialists will go to the West. But we should take measures in order to decrease this flow and otherwise – to return a part of them. We should search for the Baltic NOKIA. We should try to create it in Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia.
How do Lithuanians manage to retain the lowest level of prices among the Baltic states?
I would say that there aren't low prices in Lithuania, but they are a bit elevated in Latvia. In Estonia and Poland prices are almost the same as in Lithuania. There is a high level of competition in Lithuania. Moreover, the economic policy of the country promotes the retention of lower price levels than in Latvia.
It is no secret that the Baltic states are not all too fond of each other. Where do you think this comes from?
I have a counter question. Do we like the Portuguese more? When the mechanism of cooperation among countries works very intensively, there is a bigger hustle. Our countries are tied together by more than 50 contracts. I don’t think that this is evidence of any dislike. These are just intense relationships between neighbors. When there is no “cold war” between neighbors, there is a bigger hustle. But it is good. I like it when there is a big hustle. It means that there are many contacts, many questions to be solved in the course of events. This is how it has to be. This is exactly a good neighborhood, good bilaterally advantageous relationships.
To your mind, what is the main characteristic of the Lithuanian people?
I don’t want to use set expressions. All nations are hardworking and friendly. What might makes us different from Latvians? This could be the awareness of our historical roots, currently stretching already 752 years back in history since the first Lithuanian state was founded. I would like to point out such features as initiative, flexibility, mobility, which has all been retained from those imperial times. And – zeppelins [traditional Lithuanian dish, ed.].
Not to remain in the corner of the EU
How do you see the role of the Baltic states in the European Union?
We are joining a huge market, a very big family, where interestingly each participant becomes a minority, even such nations as the Germans or French. We are a very successfully developing region, where countries have to cooperate with each other more than EU regulations require. For example, like the Benelux countries. Our region can already be shown as an example of such cooperation. For example, the Caucasian countries – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – through parliamentarians have expressed a wish meet with speakers from our three countries. We will share the experience of successful cooperation between the three Baltic states in politics, economy, culture and national defense. I would like to see our countries developing like Ireland has, not by any other model, slow and half-asleep.
Will the living standard in the Baltics improve or get worse after joining the EU?
Undoubtedly, it will improve. The question lies not in this fact, but in what we should do in order to make it happen more effectively and faster. Although all comparisons are incomplete, I would compare the EU with a university. Will an ordinary worker improve ones welfare by entering a university? Rather not. But there are prospects. We should chose wisely. It will depend on how quickly we rise, how wise we are in avoiding such mistakes as we have made during these first 12 years. Today, after 12 years of cooperation for the three Baltic states, we can see what should be done better. What we could have avoided.
What are these things we could have avoided?
For example, if we could have immediately understood the risk of creating two borders: between Estonia and Latvia and between Latvia and Lithuania, then there would be fewer problems. Today, we are successful in dealing with such obstacles created ourselves. If this had have been understood by our three governments already in the beginning and was reflected in triangular actions, there would be fewer problems.
What do you think are the prerequisites for good relationships with Russia?
Of course, it depends on the common geopolitical division of power, as well as on Russia’s luck in general. More concretely, it depends on the development of relationships between Russia and the EU and NATO. I would like to emphasize that we are deeply interested in seeing Russia’s political and economic life develop in the most positive way.
What did you do before coming to Latvia?
My profession is theoretical physics, I worked at the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Science of Lithuania, a Doctor of Science. During the independence movement I participated in politics actively, I was a member of the Supreme Council. Then we formed the Center party, which fell through in the elections of 1992, not even getting the necessary number of votes. It was a blow to us. Then for five years I was a foreign affairs councilor for president Brazauskas. It is a good lesson working with a politician of such level. Then I worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And since February 1999, I am in Latvia – this is my first appointment in the post of ambassador. Speaking about the emotional aspect – it seems that I have just started to understand this country and get to work.
Your favorite place in Lithuania. In Latvia. In the world?
Maybe it is not the favorite, but the most remarkable one. It depends on who to go with, what the aim is, what the criteria are for your visit. For you as to a professional, I would show you Neringa or Palanga in Lithuania, which turns into a real resort in summer. As to a person – our Rostrum (Rostrum Cathedral in Vilnius – ed.), where 5 meters deep, there is a threshold, over which Vitautas the Great once stepped. In Vilnius, I would absolutely take you to the Sculpture Park, where terrific sculptures from all over the world have been collected.
In Riga, I take my friends to the Dome Cathedral, the fundamental of which is also deep under ground. In Latvia, Kuldiga was the city that surprised me with its beauty. There you can touch hundreds of years of old history. Also Kolka – the sea gate of the River Daugava. There are incredibly beautiful art nouveau buildings in Riga. As for the whole world, I have almost never been abroad, I haven’t seen anything. When travelling with the president, I didn’t manage to look at the beauty of other countries. All in all, each place on our planet is a unique secret. I like the place where I am, and currently, this is my favorite place. Seeing and feeling it also means something.
What would you toast on New Year’s Eve if there was an Estonian, Lithuanian and a Latvian at the table?
To our success and to the success of our neighbors! I don’t see Lithuania flourishing without the success of its neighbors. It is impossible to make one’s own soup in a common pot.