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12 Mar, 2010 05:03

Lithuania celebrates two decades of autonomy

As Lithuania is marking its 20th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union, the country’s achievements in the new era are being questioned.

On March 11, 1990, Lithuania became the first republic to declare independence from the Soviet Union, though it was actually only achieved a year later.

The country’s Parliament has held a special session to commemorate the event. President Dalia Grybauskaite, wearing a national costume, greeted the citizens and international guests with a solemn speech.

The celebrations featured a special service in the main cathedral, a military parade, concerts and firework displays. Among foreign guests who came to the celebration were the presidents of Poland, Finland, Slovenia and the leaders of the other Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia, as well as many other high-ranking international guests from many countries, reports information agency RIA-Novosti.

However, the overall atmosphere in the country, which more recently became a member of the EU, is not to be called festive.

When Lithuania joined the Union in 2004, it witnessed a short boost in its economy. However, later the economic crunch left the country struggling with the aftermath of the crisis, without much help from the older members of the EU.

Unemployment in the country has soared to 16 per cent during the last year, causing mass protests.

Despite the speeches of politicians who acclaim the country’s entrance to the EU, many doubt that the country has gained any benefit from the membership.

Meanwhile, relations with Russia seem to be improving.

At the festivities, Russia was represented by the Minister of Transport, Igor Levitin. Earlier, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev turned down the invitation because of a busy schedule.

Levitin, also head of the Russian-Lithuanian intergovernmental commission, said in his interview to the information agency Itar-Tass that relations between Russia and Lithuania should be brought to a completely new level. He said that the two countries have always collaborated on the economic level. However, recently the political aspect of the bilateral relations has weakened.

The Minister also noted the importance of cultural exchanges between the countries. Levitin said that the commission he heads is working on a new treaty between Russia and Lithuania that will concern culture, policies in science and work with youth. He added that it is impossible to rule out cultural exchange by some political measures from above.

Levitin also touched upon relaxation of the visa regime for Lithuanians entering the Kaliningrad Region. He said that Russia is ready to abolish visas for Lithuanian citizens who wish to enter the area, but in return Lithuania has to make similar steps. The issue, however, is to be resolved within the framework of EU. Earlier, Vilnius spoke about abolishing visas to visit a narrow strip along the border between the two countries.

A former European parliamentarian, Giulietto Chiesa, claims that situation in Lithuania is one of the worst in Europe now.

“Along with the other Baltic states, everybody there is not in a very good shape,” Chiesa told RT. “[The] economy of Lithuania shrank last year more than 18 per cent, according to my figures. The situation is not absolutely easy from [an energy] point of view. They shut down the Ignalina power station, previously agreed with the European Union, without any alternative, and now there is only some dream of changing, of substituting this source of energy with another power plant in the same place and which is very difficult to build. They need some kind of three billion-five billion euros to make this project which will begin to work in 2018 if they will reach the situation.”

“It seems that all the process of gaining real independence is being dictated by Brussels, by the European structure, without taking into account the real situation of the country,” Chiesa added. “It was a terrible economic mistake which has been decided in 2003-2004.”