Lithuanian president delivers State of the Nation address: The world is not a peaceful place

Dalia Grybauskaitė
DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Below is the full text of President Dalia Grybauskaitė’s annual address.

Distinguished Members of the Seimas,

Dear Fellow People of Lithuania,

Today I am wearing a hand woven bracelet given to me by the children of Lithuania before March 11, when we celebrated twenty five years of reestablished independence.

The three colors are intertwined with the spirit of a free and respected nation, innovative and persevering Lithuanian people, and interlaced with our conscience, wisdom and unique language.

The wristband civic initiative, which was launched by children, has spread across the whole of Lithuania bringing together different generations and communities.

It is a sign of an increasingly stronger and united Lithuania. More and more people understand the responsibility they have for their country.

And that’s why today I want speak about the importance of duty and responsibility as we work to create a successful life for ourselves and for our state.

Duty that demands daily courage to make the necessary decision without shifting responsibility on to others. To speak out the truth and not to give in to pressure. To protect our country and values, to be true to our principles and not to yield to short-lived gains.

Responsibility that cannot be defined in any job description.

Dear Fellow People,

We have come together and stand ready to do our ultimate duty – defend the Homeland.

To defend it not only from an aggressive external neighborhood, but also from things that undermine Lithuania from the inside.

The constitutional duty to ensure national defense, consistent with the emerging threats, has united the state leadership, political opponents, people of different nationalities, and even competitors in the media.

Working together to implement the national agreement, the political parties have assumed responsibility for proper defense funding, for the protection of strategic enterprises and information space.

A broader approach enables us not only to counter direct attacks against our state, but also to fight hidden threats, like unsafe investment.

It was not easy to openly admit that our armed forces units are manned at only 35 percent. Therefore, we decided to reintroduce – on a temporary basis – compulsory military conscription.

Duty or comfort – this was the dilemma faced by volunteers, Lithuanians, Russians and Poles, as they began to register for military draft.

We already have almost 2000 volunteers. Their number is growing and compulsory enlistment may not be needed at all this autumn.

The question “What can I do to make my state stronger and more secure?” rings in each and every heart today.

It is not only the armed forces that uphold national defense. We, too, contribute – each and every one of us – through our everyday life.

A young Polish woman – volunteer member of the Riflemen’s Union – fights Russian propaganda on social networks. Journalists from Russkoye Radio and Znad Wilii work to help their listeners to separate the lies from the truth.

These are the finest examples of a strong sense of civic duty and loyalty to the state that commit us still more to deepen mutual ties with the ethnic communities of Lithuania.

The world around us is not peaceful.

Russian invasion in Ukraine, the Islamic State organization, the emergence of new forms of terrorism, instability in Africa, and a range of military conflicts – such is the geopolitical reality.

Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has itself become an aggressor that undermines the international security system by its actions in Ukraine.

It is indeed a phenomenon in the world history.

Therefore, the duty to peace is growing for all of us.

Violence, aggression and brutality must be fought everywhere – in the East, in the South and at home.

The goal of foreign policy is not only to safeguard national security, independence and the well-being of citizens, but also to contribute to building an international order based on law and justice.

We are members of the international community and we cannot remain bystanders.

To watch the killings and stay silent means to be accomplice to crime.

Lithuania’s direct and clear position on military threats, energy and economic blackmail, information wars has been heard in the European Union, NATO and the United Nations.

By building a liquefied natural gas terminal and critically important energy interconnections, Lithuania has freed not only itself from the energy yoke.

We had the courage to initiate an antitrust probe against Gazprom. And the European Commission opened proceedings to investigate suspected market abuses in as many as eight member states where unfair prices were imposed and free trade in gas was hindered.

Lithuania’s unyielding and consistent posture in this fight will help to ensure energy security in the whole region. From now on, it will be more difficult for the Kremlin to use Gazprom as a tool of political and economic blackmail in Europe.

We have also convinced the European Council that disinformation is poisoning the minds of all Europeans. And the European Commission is preparing a unified response to protect the information space and to render aggressive propaganda harmless.

To have the courage to tell the truth to your partners even when it might be to your disadvantage, not to be afraid take on a blow and to protect, patiently and consistently, the core values is essential for European unity and security.

By encouraging Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, by protecting their sovereignty, by assisting the Eastern Partnership countries to implement the rule of law reforms, we are slowly building a ring of security and democracy around Lithuania.

Today we are valued for our open and direct words, for our support and for our responsible approach.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Value-based geopolitics is key to all our decisions.

The duty not to give in to pressure or blackmail by interest groups applies not only on the international level, but also in domestic policies.

Transparency, respect for the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and its laws cannot be declarative even when coalition partners or fellow party members insist on it.

Massive re-registration of voters before the first direct mayoral elections, money-making in civil service – these are the grimaces of disrespect to law that we saw this year.

For some new laws, it is not difficult to pass corruption screening, but it is difficult to overcome the barrier of non-transparent interests. Because it is not the welfare of the Lithuanian people, but the interests of a party, a coalition or a hunters’ group that are still used as a measuring unit.

More and more attempts are made to amend legal regulation in the interest of only one person, company or party.

At the same time, critical decisions are awaited by abused children in care homes, lonely old people, would-be pensioners whose trust in the Sodra social insurance fund is fading, those whose loved ones failed to receive help at sea or in a locked car trunk. Decisions on medicine and heating prices need to be made too.

Repeated failure by the Emergency Response Centre – on which we have spent millions of euros in the past ten years – to respond to 112 calls in moments of utmost distress is the most painful example of wasted responsibility.

If we review, fairly and honestly, reimbursed medicines and their price lists, we could save millions of euros and our people would not need to buy medications in Poland or purchase them from under the counter at street markets.

When professional duty becomes more important than money, quality services will expand and increase.

At the present moment, private initiative, non-paraded volunteering and a sense of personal responsibility make a difference where the government machinery fails to deliver. They provide a response to flawed bureaucratic practices in enterprises, hospitals, courts of law, and ministries.

Free legal help at the student-run law clinic, hope given by the Franciscans to families touched by cancer and enthusiasts who do not let talents go unnoticed make miracles come true.

Today volunteers are needed everywhere, not only in the armed forces.

True patriotism, genuine leadership means not to stand on the side road. It means action and support to your country, your community. It means preventing injustice that ruins our lives.

Initiative, innovation and volunteering demand courage.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A strong sense of duty is no less important than budgetary funds for the quality of our state.

We have to break away from the narrow understanding of professional duty and formal approach to the individual person.

Strict responsibility, competence and transparency requirements for the courts of law and the prosecutor’s office are already yielding results – for the first time in fifteen years public trust in them is higher than mistrust.

We already rank first in the European Union as regards the use of information technologies in court proceedings.

The breakthrough happened because the law enforcement has started to see individual persons and their individual lives behind each case.

And even though it is not formally stated in any of the codes, ethics is emerging as an important minimum in law. When professional citizenship prevails over justice procedures shaped at parties and banquets, there is more room left for human rights.

This year newly appointed officials have taken, or will take, charge of the Supreme Court, the State Security Department, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the National Audit Office, the Public Procurement Office, the National Commission for Energy Control and Prices, and the State Tax Inspectorate.

We expect to see a genuine, not formal, renewal, focused work and new ideas in these institutions.

Dear Fellow People,

The state budget holds money that belongs to each of us – and we have to watch more closely how and where this money is spent.

If we turn a blind eye, millions in EU assistance will slip away.

The skiing track in Alytus has been dismantled, the crisis management center in Kupiškis no longer operates, huge sporting arenas that need considerable maintenance now stand like monuments to shortsightedness.

But still we fail to draw conclusions. Lazers worth millions of euros that were financed by the Ministry of Education are used at only 12 percent capacity at the science and business valley. The Ministry of Economy, meanwhile, is again planning the same kind of investments.

When distributing the EU support for 2014-2020, we need to focus on initiatives that help people to deal with their concerns, on projects that create jobs – not on additional infrastructure maintenance burden for the state budget.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must see the state in long-term perspective.

The demographic situation and the emigration of young people remain a major problem.

The overall movement of people is gradually stabilizing – last year 36 thousand left the country and 24 thousand returned. But youth emigration is growing and we are losing a generation of educated, highly motivated and technologically competent people in prime age.

The state has a duty to maintain or re-connect ties with its citizens. Although the Constitution is strict on dual citizenship, time has come to search for a concrete solution that would help people from Lithuania living abroad to keep their citizenship without compromising national security interests.

Not to give or bestow, but to preserve this inherent right – a cherished inscription not only in our passport, but also in our life line.

That requires an all-nation decision.

We also need to reach an agreement on boosting economic growth.

We have all the necessary pre-conditions, so let us also have ambitious goals.

We are an advanced country with a focus on economic well-being: we smoothly introduced the euro, Lithuania’s GDP is catching up with the EU average, we offer high quality services and products to global markets, the industry of information technologies and life sciences is growing fast.

This year, Lithuania will start negotiations on membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is a strong recognition of our achievements.

Many of our indicators are higher than those of Western European countries. Public finances are stable, the debt is small, credits are cheap, our geographical location is good, our people are hard-working, and the infrastructure is excellent.

What we still need are targeted decisions to accelerate Lithuania’s economic growth and develop a more friendly business environment.

Only then wages will increase substantially – not minimally, life in Lithuania will become predictable, and there will be fewer long-term problems – Sodra’s situation and youth emigration will stabilize, social exclusion will decline.

We have already introduced corruption proofing for legislation. But every decision has also to be measured in terms of economic benefit and national competitiveness.

Our rigid labor market has become a major economic hindrance.

People complain about not having a job; employers say that they have problems with staffing their businesses.

As much as 70 percent of employers lack skilled workforce, while 55 percent of young people have jobs that do not correspond to their education.

Competitiveness studies show that Lithuania’s labor relations are the most strictly regulated in the European Union. We regularly receive comments to this effect from the European Commission and from international experts.

We cannot allow the much needed labor decisions to get lost in the “social model” labyrinth. The government has to decide on at least several most necessary measures proposed by experts and put them in place to liberalize labor relations.

But this must be done in consultation with all social partners.

It is important for economic development to modernize government-held data and to make it less costly.

But the State Enterprise Centre of Registers continues to collect tens of millions of euros for providing public data.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transport and Communications which is directly responsible for accessible and user-friendly data bases has just started tackling the concept of open data, focusing on how to “absorb” or to “get” more easily millions of euros of European support intended for the promotion of information society.

38 million euros have already been spent for the development of electronic healthcare services. But it did not reduce the waiting lines in outpatient clinics or improve the working conditions for doctors.

Information technologies are a huge advantage for a small country.

In Lithuania, regrettably, IT-related things often come to signify money-making, not national progress or quality.

It is therefore important, in every step of the way, to fight corruption which continues to be a serious obstacle on the path towards a welfare state.

But fighting corruption is still, at best, a formality.

We have a national anti-corruption programme approved by the Seimas. But still, the war on corruption is sluggish at the national level. Anti-corruption plans prepared by different institutions are full of inadequate and ineffective measures.

The amended Law on Local Self-Government makes it mandatory for municipalities to set up anti-corruption commissions. If it does not turn out to be yet another imitation of activity, such commissions may evolve into an effective immunity system.

Municipal commissions for ethics must also deliver real activity. Today such commissions have been established in only 17 municipalities of a total of 60.

Lithuania is listed among the countries that fight corruption and seek transparency. We understand our duty to fight corruption, which is an evil that delays better life. This year, Lithuania ranks 39th on the Corruption Perceptions Index, up from its previous 43rd position.

Socially responsible businesses have also introduced their in-house anti-corruption rules where it is written in black and white that there will be no mercy for bribe-taking employees.

It works, they say.

It would also work at the national level. A principled position by top officials means a great deal.

Working together, we would lift our country from the quagmire of corruption.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We must also pool our efforts to fight social exclusion.

It is not only poverty, but indifference that first and foremost divides society into social groups and labels them.

The way we feel in a country shapes our personal approach to those around us.

The ability of the state and our individual readiness to help the sick, the poor, the old, and those who have slipped indicates the degree of social maturity.

The approach to homeless children is the best reflection of our social policy.

To find families for 4000 children is not an insurmountable task.

A joint business-NGO project has kept almost 400 kids away from children’s homes in 15 municipal areas. All that was needed was better communication and targeted work with socially at-risk families, not a hurried decision to take the children away.

Our neighbors, Latvians, have decided to become a country without orphanages and have included this goal into their national centenary programme.

The promotion of foster care and adoption would allow us to re-focus the current system on other social services. As society ages, the demand for such services will increase. At the present moment, only one percent of the elderly in Lithuania receive professional care and nursing services.

Emergency and assistance centers could be set up in place of children’s care homes to help reduce Lithuania’s destructive statistics.

There is a critical shortage of psychological counseling across the country. Only voluntary helplines, capable of responding to one in seven calls, have been left to fight bullying, addiction and suicides.

The walls of exclusion are taken down by cultural projects and initiatives. Songs, books and the theater bring broken people back to society.

Lithuania’s social policy must change radically, so that nobody is left to their fate.

It is an investment in our future that cannot be put off.

Love of your neighbor and responsibility for your country can be instilled and developed, but they are no included in the pupil’s basket.

Only the teacher’s goodwill determines the place of humanness and good citizenship among mandatory subjects.

Investing in people falls on those who understand that no formal basket can replace the national anthem sung together by children or a tree planted by them.

My Dear Fellow People,

We are approaching the centenary of the restoration of statehood. The past twenty five years were our responsibility.

We worked to build Lithuania guided by our personal understanding of duty.

Duty to the land of our forefathers, to freedom, to law and justice, to peace, to our profession, and to future generations.

Where we stood strong and united, the world has come to know us as the Lithuania of success.

As we celebrated the 25th anniversary of reestablished independence, young people of all nationalities in Lithuania joined hands, giving a fresh spirit not only to folk costumes, but also to our core values that do not need national agreement.

Love of Lithuania is inherent to all of us.

Our experience is embraced by the children of Lithuania.

Let us live and work so that we never forsake the tricolor wristband they have entrusted to us.

And they will see their future in Lithuania.

Thank you to everyone who carries this duty in your heart.

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