Flying in dreams and real life
By Olga Pavuk
The Lithuanaian people have elected a new president. The energetic and youthful Rolandas Paksas is certain that Lithuania will lead a more prosperous and comfortable life by its one-thousandth anniversary in six years time. The Lithuanian president shared this and other thoughts with the BC right after his inauguration in early March.
Mr. Paksas, how do you see your role's president of state?
Photo: The BC archives
As the President, I have no higher priority than the spiritual and material welfare of the Lithuanian people, a safe life for them in their country. I believe that in five years people in Lithuania will be leading a more prosperous and comfortable life. I will work towards this means, building on general human values. As President, I will always feel responsible for the moral condition of the public.
The essence of my program is to respect all people by restoring hope and belief in the future, dignity and trust in their own abilities. I will try to make it possible for civil initiatives to grow ever stronger, to narrow the gap between the power of state and the people.
I not only want to, I also believe that by the millennia of Lithuania [one thousand years since the first written record mentioning Lithuania, to be celebrated in 2009] the country will be stronger both in a material and moral sense. I also have firm belief that over this brief time span Lithuania will return to Europe for good and will decide on its fate together with other democratic nations.
What matters do you find most sensitive in the context of Lithuania's EU accession?
The European Union is an economic union. Therefore I think that the majority of our citizens will feel advantages of EU membership through the economy: farmers will be receiving direct payments from the EU for agriculture, business people will benefit from the large and open EU market and from support of structural funds to national infrastructure development projects.
As with any business, the gain will be bigger for those, who adjust to the new conditions sooner and better, those who will be able to make use of the new qualitative competition opportunities on a large, free market. Judging by growing Lithuanian exports to the EU, quite a many Lithuanian companies are already prepared for competition with services and products from other EU member states.
No doubt, the EU membership will also identify the uncompetitive economic sectors. Some may be disappointed. On the other hand, in the long run this will become an incentive to work better and to adjust.
According to the national energy strategy, Lithuania is to remain a nuclear nation. How should this phrase be interpreted in the light of the decision to decommission the Ignalina nuclear power plant?
I said in my program that I will insist on the shutdown of both reactors of the Ignalina plant while looking for modern and safer ways to replace them. I would like Lithuania to maintain its energy independence. I believe Lithuania is ready to stay a safe nuclear energy nation. We will be taking steps to this end in the nearest future.
What changes will the president offer the Lithuanian people, who are not yet too happy about their lives?
Lithuania is an independent state, we have been invited to join the defensive North Atlantic alliance, and are ready for accession to the EU. But not all people by far think we are building Lithuania the way we wanted it to be. The country still has much poverty and unsolved problems, somehow interests of the population get forgotten, people run into the wall of clerical indifference and incompetence, they do not feel protected and still fear telling the truth openly.
A civil society is the foundation for improvement and the growth of a nation. All state institutions must take active part in building a civic society. We have to strive for strengthening and protecting private property rights – the basis of a civic society.
We are concerned over the management of state institutions that must be improved to set an example for business management. Decisions of utmost importance for the Lithuanian economy should be pragmatic regardless of any hues of left or right-wing ideology that they may have. The state must generate profit and not simply economize.
I will seek to create a favorable legal environment and infrastructure for development of small and medium-size businesses.
The Lithuanian agriculture is not part of social security but a strategic component of the country’s future. All state institutions must pay utmost attention to the modernization and restructuring of agriculture. I will call on the government to draft a program for creating conditions for farmers in which they would themselves be able to look actively for sources of financing and sales opportunities.
Currently a social assistance program is being developed to help people, who have found themselves out of a job only few years before the retirement age. I will be controlling how consistent pensions are with actual living standards – the budget of Sodra [… te oriģinālā paredzēts paskaidrojums, Ed.] must be approved by the President.
Another important task for the state is a safe and efficient health care system available to all. Money shall follow a person is the key principle for mandatory health insurance that would ensure everybody equal conditions in receiving medical assistance. Special attention must be paid to preventive measures in health care. The state must arrange for full primary health care as well as timely and good quality medical services of the second level.
In the elections you represented the young party of Liberal Democrats that won the battle against more experienced political forces. Does this mean that people have come to be disappointed in earlier leaders?
People are disappointed with lack of change in their lives. They look at political newcomers with hope to see changes for the better.
Isn’t there concern that Russia’s YUKOS after taking over Mazeikiu Nafta from the Americans would be addressing oil transit problems rather than working to keep production?
So far the facts show that the new owners of Mazeikiu Nafta are taking a lot of effort to improve production and financial results of the company. Although a loss is planned for Mazeikiu Nafta in 2003, it will be the smallest in recent years. (In 2002 the company was 132 million litas in the red, but loss projected for 2003 is 85 million litas). The plant has now been working with profit for the fourth month in a row, and crude oil refining amounts are on the rise. At present there are no risk factors suggesting that the refinery will be put out of business, keeping only oil transit functioning. On the contrary, development plans are based on a growing capacity, improvement of product quality, the search for new markets. I believe that the Lithuanian government and investors will find optimum solutions.
How will Lithuania’s economic relations with Russia and the CIS develop?
The Russian Federation and the CIS states account for a large part of Lithuania’s foreign trade. In 2002 Lithuania exported to Russia 2.463 billion litas worth of goods or 12.1% of all exports. Lithuanian exports to the CIS, Russia included, totaled 3.889 billion litas or 19.2% of all exports. As for imports, the CIS states account for 26.2% of Lithuanian imports, including 21.4% from Russia alone. Last year Lithuania imported 7.403 billion litas worth of goods from the CIS states. Lithuanian exports to the CIS increased 7.7% in 2002 over 2001 but imports from the CIS reduced by 0.9%. The main purpose in development of economic relations with Russia and the CIS states is to build active ties in trade and investments to mutual benefit. We will create incentives for Lithuanian companies to work actively on the CIS markets. Expected growth in the Baltic region should have positive effect on the expansion of relations with our traditional neighbors from the CIS: Belarus, Ukraine and others. I would like to underline that we will equally welcome investments from both the East and the West. Our future membership in the EU will offer lots of advantages to those willing to develop and expand their business in Lithuania.
What is your attitude to the problem of Kaliningrad transit that the Russian President currently regards as yet unsolved?
In fact, an answer to this question can be found in the EU-Russian joint statement about transit to Kaliningrad dated November 11, 2002. It says that in order to simplify passenger transit to Kaliningrad, Russian nationals travelling by train from one part of the Russian Federation to some other via the EU territory, will be issued simplified railway transit documents as of July 1, 2003. Active work is being done to introduce these documents, and I hope that Lithuanian and Russian experts with the help of the EU will find the required solutions.
On the other hand, Russia must not forget to carry out the obligations it assumed – to ratify border agreements with Lithuania, to sign the re-admission agreement and step up the fight against crime, improve border guarding and issues of national documents, etc.
The last decade proved that we can find positive solutions even to the most complicated issues if we give up unnecessary emotions and are guided by pragmatism based on Lithuanian and Russian interests. After all, legal framework for bilateral Lithuanian-Russian relations is mostly in place – highly important agreements have been signed and bilateral cooperation bodies have been organized such as inter-parliamentary groups for relations with Russia and the Kaliningrad region, the intergovernmental commission, the Council for long-term cooperation between regions in Lithuania and Russia’s Kaliningrad, all interested in strengthening long-term economic cooperation with the Russian Federation (and its Kaliningrad region).
We have accumulated quite a lot of experience in cooperation not only with The Russian central government but also with the Kaliningrad region. This experience could be useful also in cooperation with other Russian regions, first of all north-west Russia, which is evolving into an area of special cooperation between Russia and the EU. Use should be made of various programs initiated by the EU and NATO member states, in particular the EU initiative of the Northern Dimension. Practical matters are now being discussed to introduce simplified transit regulations to and from the Kaliningrad region, and they should not overshadow our willingness to contribute to the solution of social and economic problems in the region.
Could you describe the place of the Baltic states in Europe after their accession to the EU?
My vision of the Baltic states is that they will be economically developed, blooming and active EU member states, enjoying good neighborly relations.
After Lithuania becomes a full EU member in May 2004 I will try to ensure that Lithuania with its unique experience in foreign policy and established political and administrative regional ties will carry out all efforts to contribute to planning and implementation of EU initiatives in respect to its eastern neighbors.
And, finally, Mr. President, your hobby of flying aircrafts is widely known. Do you fly also in your dreams?
When we were children, we all flew in our dreams.
The new Lithuanian President is only 46 years old, 30 years younger than his predecessor in office, Valdas Adamkus. Paksas came to politics from business where he ran a construction company. He is a twice former mayor of kurāpilsētā? and twice former prime minister. He made the headlines by refusing to sign the scandalous agreement for selling Mazeikiu Nafta to the U.S. company Williams International, which later indeed turned out to Lithuania’s disadvantage. He would not sign it and demonstratively stepped down. Today Williams no longer works in Lithuania, and Mazeikiu Nafta passed on to Russis’s YUKOS.
In March 2002 Rolandas Paksas created the Liberal Democrat Party and became its leader. The newly-elected president’s image appeals to young people. He’s a professional pilot in acrobatic flying and even used to be Champion of the Soviet Union in this field. He still flies for pleasure. At night one can often spot him in the streets of Vilnius as a biker in leather attire, riding a classy motorcycle. Paksas has already announced he won’t give up any of this even as the president of state. He has also refused to move to the presidential residence in the suburbs of Vilnius and keeps living in his own house together with his family (he has two children – a boy and a girl). When he was reproached for not speaking English, Paksas retorted by saying in Lithuania it’s more important to know Russian.