Courage that deserves support
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find European countries with a serious foreign policy. The big players are out of the game. France will be in vain. In Germany, the head of state is approaching the end of her career. Britain is tossing between resisting China’s tricks and encroaching on its wealth
There is no point in looking at all, shifting to the south (temporary, sleepy and weak coalitions in Italy, Portugal and Spain), north (paralysis in Sweden and the Netherlands, expected elections in Norway) or east. Ukraine will flirt with China, as will Poland, once Europe’s diplomatic heavyweight. The leaders of the European Union, to put it mildly, are not happy. The pandemic everywhere shook the trust and absorbed attention. The Biden administration is losing hope in its supposedly most important allies.
The only country that stands out against the sad background is Lithuania. This Baltic state, the size of Ireland, sandwiched between Belarus, Russia, Poland and Latvia, has long served as a stronghold of activists. A Belarusian university in exile operates in Lithuania and the archives of the prominent Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov are preserved. Russian oppositionists are rushing there. Lithuania is one of the few countries whose statesmen have the courage to meet the Dalai Lama.
In December, a new government came to power and raised the country’s bar even higher. The first goal was China’s ten-year 17 + 1 program, in which former communist countries compete for political and economic privileges. On the eve of the summit in February, Xi Jinping clearly instructed Eastern Europe that the presence of presidents and prime ministers is mandatory. The instruction, designed to strengthen the status of the project, had the opposite effect. Six countries, led by Lithuania, refused to comply. In response, Lithuanian Ambassador to Beijing Diana Mickiewicz was summoned to a Stalin-style morning meeting. Lithuania was not afraid and stated that it refused to participate in the Chinese-led beauty contest. And now he wants to sabotage the project in general. Lithuania also lightly violates the taboos of the continental regime. The Lithuanian parliament held hearings on the Uighur genocide. The government has provided free vaccines to Taiwan, which is suffering from the embargo imposed by the communist regime in mainland China. The opening of a “Taiwan office” in Vilnius, the de facto embassy, will be announced this week; Lithuania also plans to open its own mission in Taipei soon. The continental regime, which is trying to ban any political ties with its offshore democratic rival, will get angry again. However, Chinese trade with Lithuania is so insignificant that sanctions are unlikely to hurt.
Lithuania will also offer humanitarian visas to thousands of people fleeing Hong Kong every day. By comparison, the attitude of Great Britain towards refugees from our former colony is shameful: bureaucracy and greed (many people are not given the right to enter; few professional qualifications are recognized; access to education and health care is a problem). Lithuania is more far-sighted. Enterprising, hard-working, diligent and wealthy Hong Kongers will give a favorable boost to its population, which is rapidly declining and numbers 2.8 million people.
In its free time from confronting one superpower, Lithuania copes with another. Demands that the EU impose sanctions on Russia for persecuting anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. Lithuanians willingly track down and expel Russian spies. The killings and lawlessness of Kremlin protégés in Belarus have been criticized. They support local pro-democracy activists who face imprisonment and torture. Asylum seekers are being granted asylum: the leader of the opposition in exile, Svetlana Tsikhanouska, is recognized as the incumbent president of Belarus.
You have to pay for all this. Belarus landed a Ryanair plane bound for Lithuania to abduct two dissidents from Vilnius. Minsk has recently begun to leave hundreds of migrants from the Middle East and other parts of the world on the Lithuanian border, hoping to sow fear (now in vain) of fear and tension. Russia uses propaganda and dirty money for the same insidious purpose. A new stage of Russian-Belarusian military exercises is approaching. In previous years, they were rehearsed to invade Lithuania: an outright warning to a country that had lived in Soviet occupation for several decades. Lithuania has supporters.
Sales of Lithuanian chocolate skyrocketed in Taiwan. Bill Browder, who fights against the Kremlin’s kleptocracy, told me that Lithuania was “the only country that has developed a proper and firm foreign policy” against dictators. Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves added that Lithuania “accepted the filing” instead of the rest of the region. Slovakia is following its example in the case of Taiwan. However, what one ruler called “strategic support” is still missing. By our standards, Lithuania’s leadership seems exemplary, purposeful and coherent. President Gitanas Nauseda is an apolitical businessman. Prime Minister Ingrida Shimonite personally met Ryanair passengers when the plane finally landed in Vilnius. Parliament Speaker Victoria Chmilite-Nielsen is a chess grandmaster. Mantas Adomenas, a former professor at the Faculty of Classical Sciences at Cambridge University, is in charge of Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party should be concerned about Lithuanians. And we have to applaud them. And help.