Speech by Mrs Irena Degutienë, Speaker of the Seimas, delivered at the international conference The Role of Parliamentarians in Strengthening Democracies in Eastern Europe: on the Road to Democratic Societies organised by the Parliamentary Forum for Democracy

3 May 2012

Members of the Democratic Forum from around the world who in part determine the future of the entire democratic world,

I am pleased to welcome you all to Vilnius today, the day that is symbolic not only to Poland and Lithuania, but to the whole Europe as well. Today we celebrate the 221st anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of 3 May, which is the first written Constitution in Europe. We are recalling once again this significant document that resulted from the political activity of our predecessors, the document that undoubtedly is a part of European political, cultural, and historical heritage. Once again we are trying to understand how one of the most progressive documents of the late 18th century is perceived today and what modern values and attitudes it is associated with.

I believe that the crucial and fundamental historical and cultural heritage of the May 3 Constitution is the effort towards consolidation and solidarity. Therefore, I think that there is a direct link between this historical document and the remark made by the US Senator McCain, who is with us here today, that “we must define our policy not just by what we stand against, but also by what we stand for.” Common standing for was a distinctive sign of progress in the Republic of the Two Nations and continues to be so here and today.

Although after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire it seemed that the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe in two was merely the tragic past, the geopolitical processes in Eastern Europe today make us speak about new dividing lines. Evidently, the building of a safe European home based on democratic values has not been completed yet. Double standards, political games with authoritarian countries and differentiating them by their usefulness unfortunately prevail not only in Western democracies.

This approach results in erasing the boundaries between the democratic and authoritarian regimes. Regrettably, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw a clear difference between the two because the authoritarian countries look for and find new ways to convince, justify and establish themselves. The rhetoric of “their own way” and modernisation is used and it is maintained that some nations are not historically destined to live in democracy.

The experience of the countries from the former Socialist camp shows that democracy is not a formal abstract notion but an objective that can be tangibly achieved. However, the constantly repeated statement that Eastern Europe is still at the crossroads because the countries in the region are situated between two very different geopolitical areas, the European Union on the one side and the growing economic and military integration processes on the other, is well grounded. And this is really not just a simple race between different political and economic organisations. This is the key and fundamental rivalry between different political and value systems and different concepts of democracy.

Therefore, our central goal in this situation is to prevent mutual agreements between the major powers made at the cost of small countries and democratic values. If the European Union and NATO fail to find the means for Eastern partners to escape the geopolitical trap, the development of the European security system will unfortunately be completed by other powers. Certainty, this will be done to the benefit of the latter. 

In order to prevent this scenario, the European Union must make a final decision on where Europe starts and ends and together with NATO continue the open door policy. The prospect of the EU and NATO membership is the best way to encourage the countries in Eastern Europe to follow a democratic path.

All the observations I have just made are based on the impression I have got by following the political life in our neighbouring countries and I would like to discuss some issues in more detail.

The political and human rights situation in Belarus, i.e. political prisoners and legal restrictions to the freedom of assembly and NGO activities is a matter of great concern.

We are strongly convinced that the major condition for resuming dialogue with Belarus is the release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners. Belarus needs systemic changes rather than show-off campaigns offered by the regime when it needs financial loans or when its relations with the East deteriorate.

The elections demonstrate that in today’s political system in Russia, only a systemic opposition can be allowed, while the real non-systemic opposition is still pushed aside.

On the other hand, the public rallies attended by thousands of citizens in Russia are an evidence of internal changes, which in the long run can imply a realistic possibility of democratisation in Russia. Most importantly, the process of changes that began in the Russian society must not cease after the presidential election and the elections to the Duma.

The case of Yulia Tymoshenko is very disturbing. With these actions, the Ukraine is undoubtedly weakening its democracy and losing support on its way towards the European Union. After all, compliance with the democratic standards is the key condition for the progress in Ukraine-EU relations.

We all who are present here agree that the erosion of democracy in Ukraine is a scenario we seek to avoid. All we can discuss is the measures that we should take in order to stop this. Should we suspend Ukraine’s integration into the EU until the issue of Yulia Tymoshenko is settled? Or probably on the contrary, the EU should sign an association agreement with Ukraine since due to the constant pressure from the other side, Ukraine can choose an economic and political integration with the East. We should particularly bear in mind that Ukraine’s opposition supports the country’s European integration.

EU and NATO integration should be continuously underlined in relation to Georgia and Moldova.

On the top level, we should constantly reiterate our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and maintain the membership perspective agreed on at the NATO Bucharest Summit in 2008.

We should help and facilitate the political course, which is integration into the EU, chosen by the pro-western government in Moldova. Similarly to other Eastern partnership countries, Moldova would like to have a realistic EU membership perspective.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is not the first time we are discussing this. Yet I will repeat the old truth that democracy is not a finite state, which is attained once and forever. It should be continuously developed, defended, supported, enhanced and seen as a political prospect. When the Republic of the Two Nations adopted the Constitution on 3 May 1791, it was also more of an aspiration and future prospect rather than an existing reality.

Today Lithuania faces another reality. Today, Lithuania enjoys freedom, independence, and Democracy. May all other countries that are striving for it attain it.

Thank you.                





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