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In an Period of Geopolitical Uncertainty, Lithuania Evokes
February 01, 2018

In an Period of Geopolitical Uncertainty, Lithuania Evokes

The initiation of such a strategy of democratic renewal at a time when Lithuania’s nationwide consciousness is comparatively sturdy is an encouraging signal that this small nation doesn’t take its democracy as a right. Sadly, that’s not the case in lots of different Western democracies right now. Certainly, it’s well-known that the world is now within the midst of a grave disaster of democracy.  The temper of confidence within the inexorable progress of democracy that prevailed after the collapse of communism in 1989-91 has been changed by pessimism and apprehension. The newest Freedom Home survey launched final month gives troubling proof of the retreat of democracy. It stories that political rights and civil liberties on the earth have declined for the 12th consecutive 12 months, with new and established democracies dominating the checklist of nations struggling setbacks in freedom.

It was to deal with this disaster that the Nationwide Endowment for Democracy, in cooperation with the Czech group Discussion board 2000, convened a gathering final Might of a number of dozen public intellectuals and democracy advocates who adopted a press release referred to as The Prague Attraction for Democratic Renewal, which opened with the declaration that “Liberal democracy is underneath menace, and all who cherish it should come to its protection.” The Attraction described the menace as complete and multi-faceted, having each exterior and inside dimensions. Democracy is threatened from with out, it mentioned, by resurgent despotisms like these in Russia and China, the place the regimes are tightening repression internally and increasing their energy globally by “filling vacuums left by the fading energy, affect, and self-confidence of the long-established democracies.”

The Prague Attraction additionally warned that democracy is threatened from inside by quite a few troubling developments, together with the rise of illiberalism in backsliding nations like Turkey and Hungary, and the erosion of assist for liberal values in lots of established democracies, particularly amongst younger individuals who don’t have any reminiscence of the struggles in opposition to totalitarianism. It decried the declining religion in democratic establishments, resulting in the rise of populist events and anti-system actions in superior democracies the place governments appear unable to deal with the tough challenges of globalization and immigration, and elites managing multi-lateral establishments just like the European Union appear distant and over-bearing. 

The Prague Attraction warned that additional backsliding might happen as the various threats to democracy reinforce one another. Anti-democratic forces around the globe might achieve energy and confidence because of the geopolitical retreat of the West and the rising affect of authoritarian regimes. As well as, authoritarian propaganda and disinformation campaigns utilizing social media might reach deepening the demoralization of democratic nations, whose inside weaknesses and divisions have made them inviting targets of such manipulation.

Lithuania is clearly gravely affected by these developments as a result of it’s a small and susceptible nation, caught between assertive Russian energy and the eroding geopolitical affect and political will of the West. On the similar time although—and this level must be emphasised—Lithuania isn’t gripped by complacency, concern, or confusion. Whereas it’s endangered by the exterior menace, it stays internally sturdy, clear-headed, pro-active, and decided. It is aware of what it’s up in opposition to, and it has the need to defend itself. 

Lithuania’s political dedication grows instantly out of its nationwide expertise over many centuries. The core of that have is that Lithuania has at all times been on the entrance strains of the political and civilizational conflict between Europe and Russia. Immediately it’s celebrating 100 years of independence, however its battle to defend its freedom and proper to self-determination began lengthy earlier than 1918.   

Lithuania was a frontline state and have become a part of the West when Mindaugas was topped King by Pope Harmless IV in 1253. For 3 centuries after the beginning of the primary Muscovite battle in 1492, Lithuania was continuously at battle with Russia, which noticed the Grand Duchy as the usual bearer and propagator of European Catholic values that had been alien to Russian Orthodoxy and a rival successor to Kievan Rus. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth additionally represented a political problem to Russian absolutism because it had developed a democratic system with an elected parliament, non secular toleration, and an impartial courtroom. Russia wouldn’t tolerate such a problem, and with the ultimate partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, the independence of the Grand Duchy got here to an finish.

The autumn of the tsars in 1917, following the catastrophic losses suffered by Russia in World Battle I, offered a gap for the restoration of Lithuanian statehood and independence. However Lithuania remained a threatened frontline state at a really tumultuous and violent interval in European historical past.  It was occupied by the Crimson Military in 1919-20 and once more after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 on the outset of World Battle II. This was adopted by the horrors of the Nazi occupation, after which the Crimson Military as soon as once more occupied Lithuania in 1944 because it superior on Berlin. 

Lithuania remained on the frontlines when it was annexed by the Soviet Union. Its resistance fighters battled the Crimson Military and the Lithuanian communist authorities within the nation’s huge forests for nearly a decade after the occupation. The Soviet intelligence recordsdata referred to as the partisan battle “The Invisible Entrance.” Some tens of hundreds of the “Forest Brothers” had been killed and as many as 60,000 of the Lithuanians who had been deported to the Soviet Far East died within the early post-war years.

Resistance continued in numerous varieties, armed and unarmed, all through the interval of Soviet rule.  The self-immolation of the 19-year previous pupil Romas Kalanta on Might 14, 1972 triggered the Kaunas demonstrations that had been among the many largest pre-glasnost protests within the Soviet Union.  Such a insurrection had by no means occurred earlier than within the Soviet empire, and it signaled to the world that Lithuania had not given up the dream of freedom and independence.

Ultimately that dream turned a actuality on January 13, 1991, referred to as Bloody Sunday, when tens of hundreds of Lithuanians confronted Soviet tanks by encircling the Supreme Council constructing and the Vilnius TV Tower singing, praying, and shouting pro-independence slogans. This climactic rebellion pressured the retreat of Soviet army forces and precipitated the occasions resulting in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lithuania has been impartial now for nearly three a long time, however it stays a threatened frontline state. Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, bordering Lithuania and Poland, is essentially the most militarized zone in Europe. With 25,000 Russian troops completely deployed there and roughly three-quarters of the inhabitants related in a method or one other to the Russian army, Lithuania has needed to construct a border fence to discourage army incursions and smuggling. 

Different frontline risks embrace the likelihood that Russia might shut the Suvawki Hole, the 60-mile-long border between Lithuania and Poland that stretches from Kaliningrad to Russia’s ally Belarus. Such a transfer would reduce off the Baltic States from the remainder of Europe. As well as, Russia recurrently blocks transit and commerce from Lithuania throughout its border; it’s constructing a nuclear energy plant in western Belarus, about 40 miles from Vilnius, that’s strongly opposed by Lithuania; and it’s conducting a pervasive disinformation marketing campaign that features the publication of bogus histories claiming that Lithuania is a pretend nation that has no actual justification for an impartial existence.

Within the face of this menace, Lithuania has refused to again down. Its resistance is harking back to one thing that Golda Meir as soon as mentioned about Israel’s unwavering dedication to defend itself.  Our secret weapon, she mentioned, is that we have now no different. Lithuania additionally has no different however to defend itself in opposition to Russia, for the reason that menace is existential. What isn’t sufficiently appreciated is how complete and well-conceived Lithuania’s insurance policies have been in response to this menace.

A living proof is Lithuania’s political assist for Russian democrats, which has been knowledgeable by its expertise underneath Soviet occupation. Lithuania took the appropriate classes from the occupation, which means that its outlook and coverage mix a clear-eyed view of the Russian authorities’s home authoritarianism and worldwide aggression with solidarity and sympathy for the Russian individuals, whom Lithuanians largely acknowledge as victims of the identical sort of oppression they themselves confronted underneath communism.

We must always not overlook that Lithuania’s brave frontline position has additionally been a supply of inspiration for Russia’s democratic motion. When Lithuanian residents confronted Russian tanks in January 1991, greater than 100,000 Russians took half in a solidarity march in Manezhnaya Sq. close to the Kremlin shouting “Arms off Lithuania!” and “Lithuania right now, Russia tomorrow.” Such mutual solidarity stands within the noble custom of the well-known slogan “For Our Freedom and Yours,” which was first utilized by democrats of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth throughout the insurrection of 1830 and in assist of the Russian Decembrists, who had revolted in opposition to Tsarism in 1825.


In that custom, the Democracy Shelter Program, organized in Vilnius by Freedom Home, gives emergency help to Russian democrats who’ve been pressured into exile. It’s the greatest program to shelter democrats-at-risk that I’m conscious of anyplace on the earth. That is largely attributable to political assist from the Lithuanian authorities, which recurrently takes all essential steps to help these courageous activists. Russian democrats-at-risk who’ve needed to flee are given visas quickly, and those that have been the victims of utmost human rights violations are given counseling and relocation and immigration standing help. Lithuania’s authorities and civil society additionally make a robust effort to interact with Russian political activists in exile to assist them proceed their activism by supporting work nonetheless being carried out inside Russia.

Lithuania additionally gives platforms for voices selling a peaceable and democratic imaginative and prescient for Russia. For instance, Lithuania hosts an annual “Discussion board of Intellectuals” bringing main Russian democratic activists and political consultants along with their European counterparts to work towards creating a typical imaginative and prescient of a democratic Russia with normalized relations with the West. Lithuania additionally helps efforts organized by Russian democrats that work towards comparable objectives, such because the Free Russia Discussion board. Lithuania is essentially the most frequent venue for worldwide occasions centered on questions of democracy in Russia, and its embassies around the globe are additionally lively in organizing comparable discussions. Lithuanian politicians have a repute for being vital voices for democracy and human rights in European political our bodies. An instance is the work of Emanuelis Zingeris because the Particular Rapporteur of the Council of Europe on the Boris Nemtsov assassination.

Lastly, Lithuania has promoted a robust and unified worldwide response to Russian aggression. For the reason that annexation of Crimea and the invasion of japanese Ukraine, Lithuania has been a number one voice in favor of a agency response from the European Union and the transatlantic neighborhood. It has constantly and strongly spoken in favor of sustaining sanctions on Russia and offering army assist to Ukraine, and it has invited wounded Ukrainian troopers for therapy in its hospitals. The depth of its dedication is exemplified by its submission of the film Frost, recounting efforts by a Lithuanian couple to offer help in japanese Ukraine, because the official Lithuanian candidate within the Finest Overseas Language Movie class within the 2017 competitors for an Oscar.

Lithuania has additionally been a frontrunner in creating and implementing methods for countering Russia’s overseas propaganda efforts, establishing a strategic communications program inside its Ministry of Protection and supporting impartial Russian-language media protecting the Baltics. It additionally hosts the annual Snow Assembly, an vital safety convention selling transatlantic unity in coping with Russia. Not least, in November Lithuania turned simply the fifth nation to move a Magnitsky Act, and it has applied the regulation robustly.

Along with all of this, Lithuania additionally serves as an vital hub for Belarusian democrats pressured into exile (together with the Belarus Human Rights Home) and overseas organizations expelled from Belarus. The Nationwide Endowment for Democracy’s two get together institutes, Worldwide Republican Institute and Nationwide Democratic Institute, run their Belarus packages from Vilnius, as do Freedom Home and plenty of different worldwide organizations. IRI additionally runs a regional program funded by NED that brings parliamentarians from Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova to Vilnius to study from Lithuania’s expertise within the EU accession and integration course of. The Vilnius-based Japanese Europe Research Middle additionally runs a strategic InfoSpace undertaking backed by NED that counters Russian disinformation all through the Baltics. Not least, Lithuania aids civil-society teams working to strengthen democracy in Japanese Partnership nations, particularly in Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus. 

In sum, subsequently, Lithuania greater than lives as much as the reward prolonged by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who referred to as it “a stalwart champion of democracy, free markets, and human rights.”

There’s a lot that Lithuania can do within the years forward to defend its safety and advance democratic values. For instance, it may well construct upon its strategic relationship with Ukraine, which stays, as Carl Bildt as soon as mentioned, “the epicenter of the worldwide battle for democracy.” Final November, the Lithuanian Parliament initiated a “Marshall Plan for Ukraine,” a long-term assist package deal that may funnel extra funding into Ukraine and strengthen its ties with the West. A key objective can be to interchange growing older Soviet-era infrastructure in Ukraine and make different extremely seen investments. Except for its financial advantages, such help would display to Ukrainians that the West is dedicated to their restoration and independence, thereby serving to to stop the rise of anti-European politicians. This Lithuanian thought is now a European plan, due to Lithuania’s profitable lobbying for the plan’s approval on the Japanese Partnership Summit, and Lithuania has additionally reached out to Washington and Ottawa. On account of Lithuania’s persistent management, the US, Canada, the EU and different potential donors and worldwide monetary establishments have been invited to an “Make investments Ukraine” convention that will likely be held in Brussels in early 2018.

Lithuania also needs to proceed to push for the combination of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova into European constructions. Within the run-up to the current Japanese Partnership Summit, it strongly advocated for the European aspirations of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and it has elevated its assist to civil society teams in Japanese Partnership nations. Overseas Minister Linas Linkevicius not too long ago underlined the significance of European integration when he declared, “The EU ought to defend the frequent values shared by either side and step up its engagement within the area. Immediately’s scenario is greater than a ‘geopolitical recreation,’” he mentioned. “It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of residents.”

Nothing is extra vital for Lithuania’s safety than NATO, and because the largest and most strategically situated Baltic state, Lithuania must proceed taking part in a number one “entrance line” position within the alliance. Lithuania has been the principle advocate for NATO’s Enhanced Ahead Presence within the Baltics. It’s now proposing urgently wanted modifications—most significantly, an air-defense protect for the Baltics—to provide the alliance the potential for a fast shift to large-scale collective protection and to stop a doable army isolation of the area. The truth that Lithuania’s 2018 price range reaches the specified goal of two p.c of its GDP for NATO spending exhibits that it’s ready to pay the value for its protection and be a totally accountable member of the alliance.

Along with Lithuania taking the lead as a frontline state on problems with European integration and strategic protection, there are two extra methods it may well help democracy, not simply within the area however on the earth. One thought is to copy in different nations the mannequin of the Democracy Shelter Program. Offering complete assist to democracy activists pressured into exile is a rising want at a time when many authoritarian governments are stepping up their repression. Georgia presents a superb venue for the institution of such a program to help activists within the Caucasus and Eurasia areas, and different nations within the Center East and Asia would possibly provide the same refuge for activists of their areas.

The second thought is to make use of the newly-established Worldwide Coalition for Democratic Renewal to construct a assist base in public opinion for strengthening the transatlantic alliance. The Coalition is managed by Discussion board 2000 in Prague, which has created a Transatlantic Working Group consisting of main intellectuals and coverage advocates in Europe and the USA.  Lithuania can turn out to be a world hub for coverage dialogue and planning to rejuvenate the transatlantic thought and relationship, which is a precondition for defending democracy in these troubled instances. That’s an enormous job for a small nation, however Lithuania helped revive the Group of Democracies when it held the presidency of that international group virtually a decade in the past, and it’s doable that it may well now be a catalyst in revitalizing the transatlantic alliance.

Regardless of its modest dimension, Lithuania has a big position to play, and it has by no means been extra vital that its voice be heard. A current cowl story of The Economist in regards to the rising menace of great-power battle famous that “the very best assure of world peace is a robust America.” America continues to be a super-power, however it’s a really divided nation right now, and it’s unsure about its objective and the significance of its management. The nonetheless small voice of a rustic like Lithuania gained’t change America in a single day, however it would possibly assist remind the USA of what its management means to the world and why such management is so badly wanted right now. Nothing would assist democracy greater than for America to heed this name for democratic renewal.


Carl Gershman is the President of the Nationwide Endowment for Democracy. This text is predicated on remarks delivered in Vilnius, Lithuania, on the Nationwide Convention on “Concepts for Lithuania’s Future” that was held on February 1, 2018.

(Source - https://newsglobal.live/in-an-era-of-geopolitical-uncertainty-lithuania-inspires/)