INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT DALIA GRYBAUSKAITĖ
Translated from Lithuanian
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Interview with President Dalia Grybauskaitė
We know that Europe is our destiny
Madam President, the Lithuanian people are handling the aftermath of the financial crisis in Europe with extraordinary ease. Despite dramatic austerity measures, there are no signs of protests that are so common in Southern Europe. Why is that?
If the political will, actual efforts to reach a solution acceptable to all and personal example is in place, then a lot can be achieved. What counts is the personal example set by the politicians. Our Government demonstrated that it was ready for cut-backs, too. As for myself, I gave back 50 percent of my salary for three years.
Perhaps this is where history has also played its part? Or is it the Stalinist terror your country has suffered in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation that has shaped the will of the people to make greater sacrifices for the independence, unlike in some other nations?
During World War II, Lithuania was occupied several times. Many people were deported to the depths of Russia. This is how we meant to survive the crisis and make sacrifices. I can still recall the times that were much more challenging than today, and this may actually strengthened our resilience.
Is it the memory of the Soviet terror that accounts for the fact that the European Union is appreciated by the Lithuanian people, by contrast to some other nations with no dictatorship experience?
The older generation, at least, certainly recalls our tragedy under the Soviet regime. Lithuania’s EU membership reflects our awareness that we have always been European and that we were removed from it by force. We therefore see our destiny as inseparable from Europe’s.
A great majority of Lithuanian families have suffered from mass deportations to Siberia in the Soviet period. Was your family no exception?
It is true, my grandfather was deported. He only survived because, due to his heart disease, he was unfit to work in the forced labour camps. Thus, we, still children, were always conscious that we were living in an occupied country. The European identity of Lithuania was imparted in us by our families. Our fathers still remembered life in independent Lithuania, before the war; we listened to these stories throughout our childhood. This is something we never forgot; we must thank God that the occupation of Lithuania only lasted 50 years, and no more. It was my mother who first instilled the true love for my land. It was she who preserved hand-made ethnic clothing; she also made sure I was baptised as Catholic, still in the years of the Communist rule. True, this is something you could never tell anyone, even your neighbours or school friends. We would still celebrate Christmas, and the Lithuanian Independence Day.
Did you ever expect to have your independence back?
That was something inconceivable at the time. However, in the eighties, there came this wind of change in the Soviet Union, and the discussions started.
At that time, you were a lecturer of political economy at Vilnius High Party School. Today, you are regarded as one of the top financial in the European Union, and this Thursday you were awarded the international Charlemagne Prize in Aachen. When did you become convinced that the European-type market economy was superior to the Soviet planned economy?
I studied in Leningrad, in a top-class university of the Soviet Union; as the system changed, I was given the opportunity to continue my studies at Georgetown University in Washington. This gave me a certain perspective, which I found very valuable. The final days of the Soviet Union, the so-called Gorbachev era, was of no lesser personal importance. Suddenly, you could question the dogmas, and there came an opportunity for discussion; this is how I entered the world of economic science. We studied works on macro-economy published in the West; this played a paramount role.
Today, the European Union is again engulfed by heated debate. Fiscal discipline, also known as the German egoism, is strongly attacked; and the French socialists are outspoken critics of the “dogma of financial discipline”.
No dogmas exist in Europe. What characterises Europe is its ability to arrive at mutual agreements. Take the Stability Pact, for example, which was accepted by all; in 2005, out of the blue, everyone came to the conclusion that a somewhat softer approach was needed as some large countries ran into difficulties. Today, we are urging the Member States to be more responsible in their policies. There are no dogmas here. If we are a family, we must act in a reasonable way; we all agreed on this in the European Council.
Could the EU be repeating its mistake of 2005 when it eased the Stability Pact a little too early
As we eased the Stability Pact back in 2005, the crisis came shortly. Mistakes often have common causes. As the Governments, especially in the large countries, face difficulties, as general elections move closer, and as their public opinion ratings fall, they start demanding concessions.
You are referring to France.
The topic goes beyond any one country. In any case, the same mistakes we made once already, back in 2005, have been repeated. Some politicians claim there is no need for reforms; they imply that what counts is the ability to resist “Brussels”. There is, however, no “Brussels” as such. What we have is the European Council, and it was us who have collectively taken every decision. Nobody is forced to do anything. It is up to the Member States to decide, and the real problem is they later deviate from their own decisions. And then the search for the scapegoat starts. But actually every country is supposed to do its own homework.
Why then, despite all of these challenges, Lithuania still aspires to adopt the euro?
The euro calls for responsible policies. It is a good instrument to avoid fiscal populism. It implies strict rules preventing politicians from acting at the whim of the moment. Here lies the greatest advantage of the euro; I am hopeful that we will join the euro zone in early 2015.