Such is the opinion of Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) Seimas group member and former Lithuanian ambassador to the United States Žygimantas Pavilionis. “Whoever is elected US president, we have to acknowledge it is the most important strategic state. As such we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work, sending our best people to our representations in Washington DC and Chicago, rather than our fellow party comrades,” he said.
According to Pavilionis, Europe could use the example made by the US President in terms of making immigration rules stricter. “Western Europeans <…> also made many mistakes by opening up to the refugees, which has caused numerous problems. In this regard Mr. Trump, even by closing off with temporary walls, which he is using in an attempt to make immigration policy stricter, is an example to us. If we want to safeguard Europe, we have to act similarly,” the former ambassador to the US told the LRT.lt news portal.
- Since you were the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States much has changed there. The headlines and reports of world news media are full of condemnation and ridicule of the new US president. What do you think of this explosion of discontent?
I do not really understand it. I believe that a part of it is related to the elections or the echo of a lost election. If we are to have a detailed look into the narratives D. Trump repeats, we would notice that they differ very little from those of President Ronald Reagan, even the slogans are the same.
It was obvious that during President Barack Obama’s term in office the USA lost leadership in many places. Rhetorical leadership, the sympathy of Western European liberals, that was perhaps obtained, but many positions were abandoned, former enemies of America and freedom have crossed numerous red lines. Since B. Obama took power Freedom House has been observing losses of freedom and democracy across the world. Last year’s losses were dramatic – freedom decreased in 75 states and contracted to 40% of the world and we are the frontline.
D. Trump stated that this has to end and that he wants to restore the power of America. This will not be easy to do, he could make mistakes and the key mistake he could make would be to make friends with the Kremlin, as Obama attempted. However we can hope that this mistake will be avoided and we have to strive for it not to repeat. The whole congress will try to avoid it. The congressmen who visited Lithuania definitely heard what we are saying. However our own ministers and leaders, instead of criticising Mr. Trump and expressing sympathy for Hillary Clinton, have to immediately go to Washington and talk.
- D. Trump has been critically received not only by most of the news media, but also by politicians from the major EU countries – François Hollande, Angela Merkel and others. What should our country’s position be given such circumstances?
I believe we should listen to others less, just pack our bags and go to Washington to fight for our interests. Our interests have to become a part of America’s interests. I am convinced that is how it is., however the new leadership still needs to be convinced of this. I believe Russian diplomats are striving to convince Trump that the presence of American troops in the Baltic States is unjustified. We have to prove that it is completely justified, it has to be expanded and deepened. Senator John McCain stressed specifically this during his meeting with the new leadership. He has requested a number of times to ensure that American troops would constantly be present in the Baltics and that there would be more of them. That is what we have to pursue. As such Mr. Karoblis and Mr. Linkevičius have to go to Washington.
Whoever is elected US president, we have to understand that it is the most important strategic country. B. Obama was also not a saint when he was elected. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work, sending our best people to our representations in Washington and Chicago, not our party comrades.
- You mentioned that in his rhetoric D. Trump is displaying an intent to restore the power of America, but on the other hand he is inclined toward isolationism. How do these two elements fit one another?
There have been many statements made, among them also that D. Trump will stand firmly by his allies, unlike B. Obama who was friends with who knows who, be it allies or our enemies, those lines were often blurred.
Let us recall the George W. Bush era – there was much dissent, many unilateral American decisions, but the diplomacy of the time managed to reach Mr. Bush and it was this man upon who our entry to NATO depended. It was him that broke the ice because the Europeans did not see any prospects for our membership at the time. The power of America only benefits us, we just need to convince it that our security and welfare suits its interests.
- One of the most frequent complaints about the new US President is his potential friendly dealings with Russia. You have mentioned such a threat yourself. How real is the basis for this?
I am afraid the mistake may have already been made. From D. Trump’s first speeches and decisions we can see that he is bent on destroying radical Islam which is currently killing millions of people. He will need a coalition for this and it would be really bad if Russia had a strong presence in it, rather than us, the West.
I am certain that our leaders and government are currently planning participation in operations launched by Mr. Trump. If we want security and the support of the Americans who comprise three quarters of NATO and will definitely defend us, we have to also aid them in restoring security, something the previous US president and Europe have been careless about.
If Mr. Obama was more firm during 2013 and put the dictator in Syria in his place, there would not be this many refugees and so much spilled blood. Western Europeans, instead of drawing those lines, also made many mistakes, opening up to the refugees, which causes many difficulties. In this regard Mr. Trump, even by closing off with temporary walls, which he is using in an attempt to make immigration policy stricter, is an example to us. If we want to safeguard Europe, we have to act similarly.
- The flow of illegal immigrants to Europe had decreased lately, but has started to recover. There have been many talks about strengthening external borders and combatting people trafficking. Will the EU be better prepared for the challenge of illegal migration this year or have words remained just that?
I believe we are unprepared and need to make immigration policy stricter. Instead of struggling with the results we need to resolve the causes. We have to stabilise those territories.
- What awaits the EU this coming decade? Further integration or disintegration? Are the upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany a threat to EU security and stability?
I believe that we are at a tipping point. We keep naming those rebellions against the EU various terrible names. Those “Peasant” revolts are happening worldwide, but perhaps because we call it populism we fail to understand these are live people, rebelling against injustice, segregation, deepening poverty and inequality along the lines of the mid-19th century? Why are we surprised at the revolts? I believe that we need to stand with the rebels and think how to remake the EU on a new basis.
If the current bureaucratic attitude remains, the disintegration of Europe could accelerate. If we don’t stand with the rebels, instead calling them various epithets, I am afraid things will not go well and the EU will be completely demolished. Even more so because the EU has external enemies united against it. I believe in the European Union, it was created on Christian foundations, but that humanism has been departed from.
- Speaking of hostile forces, do you think Russia, who has been plagued by economic troubles and even had to revise its defence funding plans, is less of a threat to the Baltics now than a few years ago or is the threat rising?
I believe it is rising because Europe, despite being wealthy and powerful, does not invest into its power. If the massive European economy began to spend at least 2% GDP (on defence spending), it would be truly strong. The same Southern European states which accuse us of a lack of solidarity in refugee questions do not fulfil their defence spending commitments.
It is laudable that our ambitions have increased to 2.5% GDP spending for defence. Perhaps already this year we will be able to join with the other Baltics and Poland and alongside D. Trump will be able to urge Western and Southern European states because if we do not take care of our future and do not feed our armies, we will have to feed foreign ones.
- Speaking of ambitions, let us move to domestic affairs. Why did you choose to enter the TS-LKD chairman election and announced this decision so late? Why did you not pursue the post of TS-LKD Seimas group prefect though many would have supported you?
True, at the time many supported me, however I was accused of not playing by the rules. The party leadership opposed a coalition with the “Peasants” and handed over power to the reds and greens, no doubt not without manoeuvrings of the “Peasants” management, however I am convinced that it would have been better if we had acted like true diplomats and had wisely attempted to create bridges with potential coalition partners, rather than burning them. Many are happy with the professionalism of the Skvernelis cabinet, however if our party had contributed to forming it, I believe Lithuania would have been better off.
I now understand that this will be a game by the rules and no-one can oppose this viewpoint of mine, people will decide themselves whether it is correct or not. However the final decision was related not to the formation of the coalition, but with a fear that this community, one which inherited the best traditions of inter-war Lithuania, post-war struggles and Sąjūdis, this community which is a guarantee of independence and Western direction, is now beginning to fracture. I want us to cease decomposing into glamourous liberals who do not acknowledge traditional viewpoints born not in the cities, but beyond them. I do not understand why we defend the elite when all the world’s right wingers do the opposite.
- By participating in this election you are challenging the liberal wing which is represented by Gabrielius Landsbergis and the Christian Democrat wing with Paulius Saudargas at its head. Does this mean you are proposing a third way? If so, what could it be?
I am proposing unity and mutual respect. If we fail to unite, unite with our voters, then we will be unable to unite Lithuania. These internecine struggles of ours are laughable – it is the same as throwing sand into one another’s eyes in a sandbox. I am proposing to take off the masks, reach out to one another and shed the image of the angry, demeaning and disdainful Conservatives.
This is not just our problem, but also that of all other political parties in the post-Soviet sphere. It is called the nomenclature or elite democracy. I understand that certain families and traditions entrench themselves in politics, government is a major temptation, but I would like to remind all party members that the party is a creation of all of us, all the members are the owners, not just the elites.
- Many predict that G. Landsbergis will win. The chairman will not be elected for an entire four years. This means he will lead the party to the municipal, European Parliament and Seimas elections. What do you think awaits the TS-LKD if Landsbergis retains chairmanship?
Whoever is elected chairman, I believe we will work as a team. Our people are strong, we are that other dream team for Lithuania and we will prove it. However the party chairman has to be a team player, has to gather the team, understand that his strength is in the strength of those around him. He has to motivate those people and not just around himself, but even those in the furthest corners of Lithuania, encouraging them to actively engage with party activity. I hope that he will do so if he wins because failing to do so, I fear the next elections will be our last.
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