President of Lithuania

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 14 April 1994

Mr President, Madam Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate the opportunity to address this distinguished audience on behalf of Lithuania, one of the three Baltic nations building their lives on the universally recognised values of democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law, and social justice.

It is my firm belief that our major gain following the restoration of independence on 11 March 1990 is the sense and desire of commonality with Europe, a distinct awareness that Lithuania is a European state. This inner conviction of our nation is gradually and consistently acquiring a practical expression. Granted, Lithuania expects to benefit from her integration with Europe, but she is not asking for a free ride and is eager to contribute to the European developments. We give no credit to national egoism, ethnocentrism and isolationism and proceed from the premise of openness and readiness to consider the various interests converging in Lithuania, and a desire for a balanced compromise. As the geographic centre of Europe, Lithuania cannot afford to succomb to parochialism.

Some of you may be familiar with my past, including the fact that in 1989 I led the separation of the Lithuanian communist party from Moscow whereby we stood up for a democratic and independent state of Lithuania. We were the first in the then Soviet Union to break away, we cracked the monolith of the CPSU. It is not my intent today to exaggerate the contribution of an individual political party or leader in restoring Lithuania’s sovereignty. The underlying basis for change was and continues to be the resolve and will of the Lithuanian people to manage their affairs independently and to build a democratic and civic society. History itself, the beginning of reform in the former Soviet Union, and the support by the international community of our aspirations manifested in the refusal to recognise our occupation, created the necessary prerequisites for this will to materialise.

During the first direct presidential elections in the history of Lithuania, people voted for me as I am and for what I am. I am convinced that history has given a chance to each and every one in Lithuania, including myself, to build a democratic state and a new society where divisions into winners and losers are irrelevant.

The collapse of the communist system in central and eastern Europe and the growing integration processes in the West compel us to participate in designing Europe anew. With the cold war and ideological confrontation a matter of the past, I believe we cannot make do with a Europe of “cold peace” or cold conflicts. Together with eastern and central Europe, Lithuania calls for a more active western interest in and assistance to the nations east of the now-gone Berlin Wall and an acceptance of this region as an integral part of the new Europe. The West needs to develop a better understanding of the complex and very real problems and potential dangers which may erupt as the instability in some eastern countries increases.

Within the context of European security and stability and the expected expansion of the European Union eastwards, the significance of the stability pact is beyond doubt. In Lithuania’s view, this initiative could be more than a forum for discussions on regional security and stability – it could also become an effective mechanism for the settlement of international political issues and preventive diplomacy. In working to reduce the potential of ethnic minorities and border issues that might create additional threats to regional and European security, we should not overlook the socio-economic factors and the interlocking of the various problems. Therefore, the “additional agreements” within the framework of the stability pact may offer a viable mechanism for the solution.

During a meeting with the Senate of Vilnius University and the ambassadors accredited to Lithuania held a year ago on the occasion of Lithuania’s accession to the Council of Europe, and also at the Vienna Summit meeting, I suggested that a conference of the leaders of the newly restored democracies should be convened, perhaps under the aegis of the Council of Europe. It should not be seen as an attempt to build yet another bloc or create a forum for the airing of economic concerns. More importantly, we could hold substantive discussions on how to entrench the democratic practices by implementing relevant reforms and ways of overcoming problems common to many of us. It took decades for western Europe to master the art of democratic and equal co-operation. We do not have the luxury of time – it is crucial for us to shorten this learning process with the kind of assistance that the Council of Europe can offer. The participation of the western European nations, which have successfully completed their transitions from authoritarianism to democracy, would be a major contribution to the success of the conference.

It is my firm belief that the Council of Europe has a distinctive contribution to offer in propelling the evolution of a new democratic Europe. The activities of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe are a key to ensuring the viability of pan European political co-operation and better defining, promoting, and effectively safeguarding human rights and liberties in the changing world of today. To this effect, it is vital that all existing or emerging European institutions co-ordinate their actions and avoid duplication and argument.

In Lithuania, we have attained a considerable level of political, economic, and social stability. Following the democratic elections of 1992, all the institutions of state power provided for by the constitution of the nation which was passed by a referendum, began to function. Nine political parties are represented in the national parliament, the Seimas. Currently, the absolute majority in the Seimas is with the Democratic Labour Party, which has formed a stable government. Several opposition factions are active. A multi-party system is taking shape. There are no restrictions of the freedom of expression. To implement the separation and balance of powers, the Constitional Court was set up. The Seimas is deliberating the draft law on local government, which is to define, in a more accurate and clear-cut manner, the duties and responsibilities of local governments as well as their relationship with central authorities. Lithuania has no ethnic or border disputes. We adopted legislation on foreign investment which is favourable to potential investors and succeeded in curbing inflation. For almost a year now Lithuania has had the national currency, the litas, whose reliability rests on adequate gold and foreign exchange reserves. According to the experts of the European Union, Lithuania is a leader of privatisation in eastern and central Europe. More than half of the working population are engaged in the private sector. Following four years of a continuous decline, the real standards of living have stabilised, albeit at a fairly low level. Tangible success has been achieved in curbing crime. The process of reform gave rise to a sizeable group of active and enterprising individuals. Combined, it all adds to the strength of democracy in the nation.

However, unemployment, particularly hidden unemployment is on the increase. Crime imposes limitations on citizens’ rights and affects the formation of a free market. Freedom of speech occasionally stumbles on economic problems, as papers and independent radio and television stations learn to survive on their own. Large numbers of people are balancing on the verge of poverty, a middle class is slow to emerge. Foreign investments are insufficient. Regrettably, last autumn the Seimas failed to gather a qualified majority to vote for a constitutional amendment enabling foreign investors to purchase land. At present, land in Lithuania can be leased to foreigners for a period of ninety-nine years.

In the face of the troubles typical of the new democracies, we realise that all we have managed to achieve so far is to ensure that the reform process cannot be reversed. The reform, which seeks to create a socially-oriented market, is yet to become a source of prosperity and progress for all members of society. Considerable efforts will be required to avoid getting bogged down in the transitional period and to eliminate the danger of returning to autocracy in the style of the inter-war eastern and central Europe.

I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm Lithuania’s commitment to sign this year the association agreement with the European Union, which would signify unequivocal support to our reforms. The way things stand now, we in eastern and central Europe need to encourage the West to act with greater resolve and to remind it that reservations and indecision may lead to another division of Europe and deprive us of our future. The time has come to embrace the future. The Council of Europe was among the first to respond to the new realities, extend a friendly hand to the new democracies, and welcome us in. On behalf of Lithuania I would like to thank the Council of Europe for its firm and lasting support for the consolidation of democracy in our country. In this context, the President’s visit to Lithuania last year was highly significant; it brought us closer to the Council of Europe and to the general trends of integration in Europe. I should like to say a special word of thanks to Mrs Lalumière, the outgoing Secretary General, for her understanding and excellent co-operation. It was during her term of office that we became members of the Council of Europe. I also want to congratulate Mr Tarschys, who is familiar with these issues and who is known to many of us in the Baltic states, on his election to the high office of Secretary General.

European security is indivisible, and Lithuanian security is inseparable from European security. On 27 January this year Lithuania joined Nato’s initiative “Partnership for Peace”, with our ultimate goal, from partnership to full Nato membership, in mind. Notably, Lithuania’s co-operation with Nato is not and cannot be directed against any European state. Lithuania’s defence and political integration with Europe through co-operation with Nato and WEU is impossible and unrealistic if pursued separately from developing political and economic ties with the European Union.

Lithuania places a high priority on good relations with her neighbours. Indeed, there are no serious obstacles so far to good neighbour relations between Lithuania and Russia, Poland, or Belarus. It goes without saying that Baltic co-operation is of key importance. We have made a major shift from the mere expression of goodwill towards the implementation of joint projects and mechanisms: a Lithuanian-Latvian-Estonian free trade agreement is in effect, a single visa regime is taking shape, interparliamentary and government co-operation is gaining momentum, regular meetings are held by the three Baltic presidents. Significant to and in line with the strategic interests of the Baltic nations is cooperation with the five Nordic states according to the five-plus-three formula, as well as co-operation with the countries of the Baltic Sea region and central and eastern Europe.

I see the newly initiated Lithuanian-Polish agreement as a major political success and proof of a growing understanding and a juridical resolution of the historical discord between our two nations and states. Residents of a commonwealth in the middle ages, Lithuanians and Poles were divided in the early twentieth century by a profound animosity revolving around the issue of Vilnius and Vilnius region. The repercussions thereof still surface occasionally in the popular moods and statements by individual politicians. I believe that the agreement, to be signed by President Walesa and myself in twelve days in Vilnius, will ease the road of both our nations to the new Europe and will prove a significant contribution to the continent’s stability and the stability pact. Inexorably, the process of reconciliation which started in Europe following the second world war is moving eastwards. If this wave of reconciliation were brought to a halt, this would probably mark the end of twenty-first century Europe. Against the backdrop of tragedies in the Caucasus and the former Yugoslavia which had seemed unthinkable at the end of the twentieth century, we must design more dynamic, accurate and effective ways of employing the prestige and weight of international organisations, including the Council of Europe.

Multilateral co-operation is another dimension I would like to touch upon. Geopolitically, Lithuania is a small country; however, we may say that all countries are small given the scope of the problems looming large over Europe, the goals of global integration, and prospects for the future. I concur with the French Prime Minister that there are no large or small nations in Europe, there are only partners to a common cause. I am certain that the Council of Europe has a special role in the European architecture, as a pan-European forum for discussions among equal states, and an effective mechanism for implementing new initiatives and enforcing the implementation of obligations assumed by states in the area of human rights.

The expansion of the Council of Europe is a highly responsible move in designing the new Europe and promoting political dialogue. I am certain that the eligibility of new candidates will be carefully examined against the principles and standards of the Council of Europe and that assistance will be offered to put them into practice.

The success of Baltic integration is largely dependent on Latvia’s membership of the Council of Europe. The five decades of Soviet occupation created a unique demographic situation in Latvia. However, the problems which resulted from this predicament should not be a reason to postpone Latvia’s full membership of the Council of Europe. I believe that Russia has a chance to implement democracy and escape the eruption of threatening imperial forces. The membership procedure initiated by the Parliamentary Assembly is an expression of political and moral support to the democratic forces in Russia. The withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia and Estonia by 31 August 1994 would be an adequate reflection of Russia’s willingness to seek a peaceful settlement of issues of dispute with her neighbours.

However, I would like to draw your attention to an increasingly visible element in Russia’s relations with her neighbours. The second half of 1993 seemed to witness the emergence of a new quality of constructive and mutually beneficial relations between Lithuania and Russia. As agreed, Russia withdrew her troops from Lithuania. My meeting with President Boris Yeltsin was followed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin’s visit to Vilnius, during which ten agreements were signed between our countries. Regrettably, more recent developments demostrate that it is not so easy to relinquish the old stereotypes in Russia’s relations with smaller neighbours. Thus, the economic-commercial agreement between Lithuania and Russia is still ineffective for reasons dependent solely on Russia. Together with the other Baltic states, Lithuania is excluded from the countries which enjoy a favourable trade regime with Russia. We and other European nations find it important to know whether the above developments reflect the working style of Moscow functionaries or Moscow’s official political line of thinking.

I believe that Russia should build its relations with the neighbouring countries proceeding from universally recognised international law. Russia’s respect for Baltic sovereignty, renunciation of the concept of “near abroad” and implementation of international treaties would definitely speed up a positive decision on Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe. The Baltic states and, I assume, the Council of Europe, would appreciate a formal renunciation by the Russian authorities of the statements made by certain Russian parliamentarians and political groupings which deny the legality of the Baltic independence and question the territorial integrity of other European states.

By virtue of its position next to the Kaliningrad district, Lithuania has common borders with Russia. To us it is crucial whether this region, a former military stronghold of the Soviet Union, will undergo gradual demilitarisation and transformation into an area of vigorous business activities. We are aware of the efforts undertaken by Moscow and Kaliningrad to that effect. However, we are also wary of contrary developments. Russia and her neighbours should promote the engagement of international capital and businesses in the region and a more active role of international organisations, particularly the European Union. We should not forget the role of Ukraine and Belarus in the fabric of the new Europe.

There is something else I would like to share with you today. Lithuania is finally free after fifty years of captivity. Therefore, we attach special importance to the call of the Council of Europe summit meeting in Vienna to combat national egoism, xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. On behalf of the Lithuanian leadership, allow me to assure you that we will continue strictly to abide by the Vienna Declaration. We pride ourselves, and with good reason, on the successful resolution of the ethnic, including Russian, minority issues in Lithuania. Against this backdrop, the regular allegations against Lithuania voiced by certain political leaders or printed in Russian papers are at odds with reality. Our state has a long tradition of ethnic tolerance which we will continue to foster, particularly among the young. Notably, not a single ethnic group residing in Lithuania has disappeared over the 600 years of her existence.

Still haunting our minds is the painful issue of Jewish genocide carried out by the nazi regime in Lithuania during the second world war. I deplore the extermination and regret that some Lithuanians participated in the punitive actions. Indeed, all war criminals must be disclosed and punished. We have been working on that, and we call on all interested organisations and individuals to co-operate. Some things are still to be said about these tragic events. We are ready to discuss the issue and with open hearts we seek understanding with the state of Israel as well as with Jewish communities in Lithuania and outside her boundaries. A solid point of departure for this discussion is not only the centuries-long coexistence of Lithuanians and Jews on a common soil but the sacrifice of hundreds of Lithuanians who sheltered the Jews from war persecutions. We should also remember the practical steps undertaken by the Lithuanian Government during the past four years to restore numerous Jewish cemeteries and monuments and revive Jewish culture and education.

Lithuania is actively engaged in the harmonisation of her legislation with the Council of Europe Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The constitution of Lithuania vests in me the responsibility to submit international treaties and conventions for ratification. To this end, I have set up a working group which acts in close co-ordination with Council of Europe experts. Aware of your concern for the established reasonable timeframe, I will do my best to expedite the ratification of the Convention. As Lithuania accedes to conventions that make up the system of European agreements, my country undertakes new obligations and responsibilities, but also acquires new opportunities. We deem Lithuania’s integration with the system of European agreements a matter of high priority.

Lithuania realises the importance of her formal responsibilities vis-à-vis the international community and first and foremost, her own nation. The special role of the Council of Europe on the changing continent is vivid proof that the human dimension is the underlying foundation of the vitality and prosperity of all democratic states.


Thank you, Mr Brazauskas. I am sure that all colleagues, who have great experience of listening to speeches by top leaders and statesmen, will be aware of the high standard of your speech. It has been a great honour for our Assembly. A number of members wish to ask questions, which I am sure will be of the same high standard. Mr Franck of Sweden will put the first question.

Mr FRANCK (Sweden)

After its independence, Lithuania retained the death penalty but reduced the crimes punishable by it from eighteen to one. Eight death sentences have been passed since March 1990; two were commuted following a petition for clemency and one was overturned. One person committed suicide and a fifth person was executed on 8 August 1992. Three other executions are pending. I am the rapporteur for the committee studying the abolition of capital punishment and I wish to know why the death penalty has not yet been abolished in Lithuania. When do you plan to abolish capital punishment?


That question took up double the allotted time. I now call the President to reply.

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

said that Lithuania was still operating the Soviet criminal code. However, a new draft penal code was under consideration. The death penalty was imposed only in very exceptional circumstances, for instance cruel murders. The criminal situation in Lithuania was complex and abolition of the death penalty might not be acceptable to the population.

Mr FRANCK (Sweden)

As President, are you ready to pardon the three people who are in danger of execution?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

said that there was a commission for pardons under the authority of the President and its deliberations and recommendations were taken very seriously. Issuing pardons to cruel murderers might, however, be unacceptable to society.

Mr KONIG (Austria)

Mr President, you referred to the presence of former Soviet troops in the Baltic states. Can you give exact figures and dates for the withdrawal of the troops from your country?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

said that whilst troops had been withdrawn from Lithuania on 31 August 1993, troops remained in Latvia and Estonia. His government had always supported the demands of those nations that the troops be withdrawn. In deliberating upon the issue of Russian membership, European organisations such as the Council of Europe should take into consideration the issue of the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Mr KONIG (Austria)

In this respect, the declarations from Moscow about neighbouring zones of interest were disturbing news. Can you clarify those declarations?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

replied that he could only talk about the declarations of the three Baltic states. It was not understood what the Russians meant by “the zone of interest”. It was true that Lithuania had its own interests in Russia, as many Lithuanians lived there. However, if another interpretation was put on that phrase, he did not think that it was right.


Today, about 400 000 Poles and persons of Polish origin are living in Lithuania. The protection of ethnic minorities is guaranteed by a number of conventions concluded under the auspices of the Council of Europe. Lithuania is now a member of the Council of Europe and must respect such international legislation. What is the position of Polish minorities in Lithuania today? What forms of protection of the human rights of Polish minorities are guaranteed by the Government of Lithuania and what controls are there in that country?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

said that there were 200 000 people of Polish descent in Lithuania, this being 7% of the population. They were a permanent minority. Lithuania had a law to protect ethnic minorities and the constitution protected human rights in general. A government department dealt with the implementation of that legislation. Mr Brazauskas said that if he said that everything was fine in Lithuania, delegates would be sceptical, but whoever visited his country met ethnic minorities and their organisations which were able to talk openly about their condition. He said that there were no problems on the level of international law, just a few small difficulties at national or local levels which remained to be solved.

Lithuania had many Polish schools, publications and television and radio programmes in Polish. In addition, it was possible to receive Polish television in Lithuania.

Mr de PUIG (Spain) (interpretation)

asked whether the President believed that Lithuania would have to link with Latvia and Estonia or whether it would develop along Scandinavian lines.

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

Mr BRAZAUSKAS (Interpretation) replied that Lithuania’s relations with Latvia and Estonia were developing. The three states sought to institutionalise their relations in a similar way to the Nordic states. He looked forward to increased co-operation between the three countries, for example, in energy supply, the development of transport and the development of communications.

Mr JUNG (France) (translation)

Mr President, you are aware that France, through the Schuman Foundation, has made great efforts to assist with French language teaching in Lithuania, distributing textbooks to every school. Do you think that it should continue this effort or even intensify it? Would this be a positive development for your country, in your view?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

said that Lithuania appreciated that effort. About 10% of Lithuanian school children learned French as a result. There were close contacts between high schools and universities in Lithuania and their counterparts in France. That co-operation was of major assistance to his country. Such efforts were an important factor in the rapprochement between Lithuania and European countries.

Mr MARUFLU (Turkey)

Thank you, Mr President, for your comprehensive statement. I have four questions: how do you adjust the international arena; what are the priorities of Lithuania’s foreign policy; are you optimistic about the future of the cooperation schemes with Russia; and what will be the main difficulties in achieving that co-operation?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

said that Lithuanian foreign policy included co-operation with Baltic countries and with other neighbouring states, such as Poland. In respect of Poland, he thought that the forthcoming agreement would be an important step. He would like to see improvements in respect of relations with Belarus and Russia, but thought that as long as there was no clear separation of powers in Russia it would be difficult to make much change. At least, the situation in Belarus appeared to have stabilised. He also placed emphasis upon improving relations with the countries of western Europe.

Mr LUPTAK (Slovakia)

As you said in your speech, Mr President, the process of transformation in your country is irreversible. Are you convinced that there is no power in your country – or, more important, outside it – that could stop that process? If you are persuaded of its irreversibility, where do you see the guarantees?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

said that he hoped the situation had now arrived when it would be difficult for any country to interpose itself in the affairs of another. In that context he included Russia and saw no possibility of retrograde measures being taken.


We appreciate the rapid and positive development of human rights and freedom of speech in your country, Mr President, and congratulate you on it. Occasionally, however, there have been rumours that television is excessively dominated by news from the government with no further news analysis. Is it true that the private television station TL3 is about to close, and will that not increase the government’s influence on the media?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

replied that Lithuania had three television channels. One was state-financed, the others were independent. No action had been taken to close down the channel TL3. However, it was run by a commercial organisation that was governed by financial criteria. If that company had debts and had to close down, the state could not be blamed. There were many independent radio stations, and these often carried reports which were critical of the government and so were patently independent. In conclusion, he confirmed that there was no move to close down the television station in question.


Mr President, do you see any need to enhance the position further, ensure freedom of speech and broaden or strengthen professional news analysis, and are any measures being taken to that end?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

replied that freedom of speech was enshrined in the Lithuanian Constitution, and the many independent publications in his country made any process of censorship impracticable. There was a great degree of freedom, but it should be used in a responsible way. Lithuania was striving to emulate western European standards of journalism.

Mr BANKS (United Kingdom)

I was the Rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee when it considered Lithuania’s application to join the Council of Europe, so may I say how much pleasure it gave me to listen to your excellent speech. It was rather like seeing the last missing piece of a political jigsaw being put in its proper place. When Lithuania’s application was being considered some criticism was expressed inside and outside the Assembly about discrimination against homosexuals in your country. What steps have been taken to establish full civil rights for them and to end discrimination against homosexual men and women in Lithuania?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

replied that, among the many problems faced by Lithuania, the question of the rights of homosexuals did not figure large. However, legislation discriminating against homosexuals had been dropped from the penal code. If it proved necessary the government would address the issue; and in that circumstance would look towards western Europe for guidance on policy.

Mr BANKS (United Kingdom)

Interest or lack of interest within Lithuania is one thing, but what about the concern that has been expressed outside Lithuania about discrimination against homosexuals, and also about capital punishment? One must bear in mind that concern has been expressed by other member states about the situation in Lithuania.


said that he did not understand the point of Mr Bank’s question. He would be happy to respond to any specific inquiry.


Mr Banks mentioned preventing discrimination against homosexuals and mentioned capital punishment. Those concerns have been directly answered.

I now call Mr Laanoja.

Mr LAANOJA (Estonia)

What responsibilities is Lithuania ready to take or fulfill as one of the founding members of the Baltic peacekeeping battalion, which was founded for the United Nations? What tasks do you, Mr Brazauskas, foresee for that military unit?

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

confirmed that it was the intention to establish such a battalion. It would be one aspect of the policy of co-operation between the Baltic states. As funds allowed, a training centre would be established in Lithuania for the entire battalion. Its task was complex, but he hoped the battalion would soon be able to undertake its peacekeeping responsibilities.

Mr ZAPOLSKY, special guest from Russia (interpretation)

thanked the President for his detailed statement with its peaceful connotations. He appreciated the words which had been spoken with regard to certain extremists, and noted approvingly that one of these had been disappointed during his visit to Strasbourg, as his comments had fallen on deaf ears.

He asked the President what his view was of the issue of the most favoured nation agreement between Russia and Lithuania.

Mr Brazauskas, President of Lithuania (interpretation)

noted that a package of ten agreements had been concluded between Russia and Lithuania. That covered, for instance, the future of retired military staff and their pensions. The issue of Kaliningrad could be discussed subsequent to the implementation of those agreements. Lithuania was doing all it could to implement them, but Russia was not. He found that hard to understand as both countries could gain from improved relations: 40% of Lithuania’s exports were to Russia, while a great many Russian businesses sought openings in Lithuania.

In relation to transit through Kaliningrad, he had heard no specific complaints and did not understand what the problem was. There were no visa requirements between Lithuania and Kaliningrad, although the Russian request for an uncontrolled free transit corridor through Lithuania was unacceptable.


Dear friends, we have had a great session – I am convinced that all my colleagues in the Assembly share that view. I thank Mr Brazauskas warmly, on behalf of the Assembly, for his statement and for his replies to questions.