Experts: Lithuanians increasingly cognisant of threats and increasingly prepared to defend their homeland

Riflemen's Union members
Organizacijos nuotr.

Every second Lithuanian citizen believes that Russia is a large or very large threat, 40% of the public believe that Russia could attack Lithuania. Research also reveals that approximately 150 thousand Lithuanian citizens would defend the country by force of arms, writes.

This was discussed on the talk show Dėmesio Centre featuring Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science professors Ainė Ramonaitė and Tomas Janeliūnas alongside Lithuanian Social Research Centre Institute of Sociology scientist Diana Janušauskienė.

In terms of what threats Lithuanians find the most pertinent, D. Janušauskienė highlights that most respondents find most any threat one could bring up to be important to Lithuanians, but when no options are proposed, the threat of military invasion is seen as the most concerning. She posits that this may be due to events in Ukraine such as the Crimean annexation.

The scientist also highlights that if you query about separate threats, respondents differentiate, what is asked about – Lithuania or the European Union. “If the query is on Lithuania, then emigration and unemployment are mentioned as threats, but if the talk is concerning the European Union, then people bring up completely different threats – terrorism, external border security and such. Another peculiar matter is that people feel the safest in their closest environment. The more distant the location, the less secure people feel,” she states.

When asked about the potential for civil resistance in Lithuania and the significance of analysing it, A. Ramonaitė explained that even the Lithuanian Constitution states that the duty of every citizen is to defend their country. The scientist points out that this was already demonstrated during the events of January 13, 1991 when unarmed civilians stood up for their country while it had yet to develop a military. While it could appear that with entry into NATO and a developed military force the significance of civil resistance has declined, the academic observes that a new issue has arisen in the form of hybrid threats, as well as the rise of propaganda and related problems.

“During the first year after the Ukrainian crisis, we spoke much about threats and from what we see in research, the people heard those messages,” T. Janeliūnas says, highlighting that continued media focus on events in Doneck, Luhansk and Crimea would remain the public engaged with the events there, but it is a whole other matter when talks about threats have to move on to discussion of concrete actions and he finds this transfer to be lacking.

“The same sociological research shows a very clear matter: people may express their concern, may understand where those threats arise from, but very few manage to realise, what exactly they can do to reduce those threats or what they should do to protect themselves, their family and such. So here this talk – from declaring a threat to taking concrete steps to increase resilience – is where the difference lies,” the scientist pointed out.

There is dynamics research, which suggests that the number of those stating their intent to defend their homeland in Lithuania is increasing, but D. Janušauskienė finds that this is greatly dependent on context, with the feeling of security increasing on Lithuania’s accession to NATO, “Our research shows that this understanding that during a crisis situation we have backing is very strong. It could also influence survey results. Nevertheless, I believe it is very important that our research has shown that every second person states they are the most responsible for their own security.”

Regarding how such intentions could be channelled, A. Ramonaitė suggests two points of view. One, espoused by the Scandinavian states is that every citizen knows, what they could do, up to the level where people receive instructions as to how to act and what to do in specific cases. This includes suggestion as to how businesses could become involved, the non-governmental sector and the news media, with Finland even drilling various institutions for such cases.

The other point of view is that if everything is pre-planned, it leads to vulnerability because hostiles would also be aware of expected response patterns, leading to reliance on spontaneous organisation. In respect to both, the scientist believes that it is necessary to seek the best of both worlds and combine them.

T. Janeliūnas emphasises that there is need for leadership to make best use of the civil defence potential available and it is not necessarily something that should stem from politicians or institutional heads, but the public itself. He presents the Riflemen’s Union as an organisation with potential for presenting leaders, who could contribute to organisational capacities. “Leadership is also important in that psychologically it is the hardest to make a small step. The state must also take responsibility as well, both in terms of making that small step and in allowing other initiatives to do so,” the scientist notes.

The Riflemen’s Union has publically suggested an idea of expanding its membership to 50 thousand in Lithuania. A. Ramonaitė believes that it is a realistic aim, as well as an important one and it could yield various effects. According to research, she has participated n, one of the key factors, which result in individual involvement in defence, is the social environment – the behaviour of friends and relatives. “If there is even a single rifleman in the social environment, the likelihood for another to join increases several folds. As such, if we had 50 thousand riflemen, our defensive capacities would rise some 4-5 times. This would be a massive effect, which would cost little to the state,” she explains, concluding that a force of 200 thousand, who are prepared for armed resistance, could be truly potent and would only require minimal investment for a significant result.

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