Commitment to democracy and challenges to sovereignty in Lithuania

Written by Matthew Stanonis, Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies; Political Science; and International Studies majors

Ambassador Kriščiūnas poses with student members of the Lithuanian Club.

Lithuania, an Eastern European nation with a distinguished history of over one thousand years of growth and conquest, has been a destination for international study for 19 Miami students in recent years. Many of these students, as well as university faculty and members of the Lithuanian Club, attended a September 26 lecture and luncheon with His Excellency Rolandas Kriščiūnas, the Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States and Mexico.

Ambassador Kriščiūnas began by recalling his fond memories of Ohio as an alumnus of the Ohio State University and a "Buckeye" fan. He then turned his attention to the historical prominence of the state of Lithuania, speaking with pride on Lithuania's ancient and contemporary commitment to liberalism and religious tolerance.

A Nation Asserting Itself from Russia's Long Shadow

The ambassador detailed the success of Lithuania by describing its embrace of the post-Soviet liberalism that defined the Baltic states in the early '90s, and the corresponding economic growth and integration into the European Union in the 2000s. He also gave examples of Lithuanian military and economic cooperation with the Western alliance, emphasizing Lithuania's strong commitment to the NATO defense organization.

He said it would be naïve to ignore the tense and occasionally antagonistic relationship between the Baltics and the Russian Federation. Russia has attempted various tactics to intimidate, coerce, and influence the state and people of Lithuania.

Ambassador Kriščiūnas addresses the audience.

Some of these tactics, he explained, included high natural gas prices, harassment of trade, the threat of 'unplanned military exercises,' and dissemination of fake news targeted to divide the populace. Russia uses carrot-and-stick statecraft as well as more modern methods of manipulation to lure Lithuania away from its close embrace of the West.

Ambassador Kriščiūnas went on to explain that, however tempting Russia's methods may be, Lithuania and the other Baltic states have been resolute in their determination to develop as Western, liberal democracies. Development of booming technology sectors, a commitment to innovation, and the increasing development of commerce as an economic sector only proves Lithuanian modernity and progress.

He also pointed out that Lithuania warned of Russia's far more aggressive altercations with other states including Georgia and Moldova, which finally culminated in the conflict in Ukraine.

Lithuania credits both their Baltic identity and the strength of NATO's commitments to common defense for the freedom to diverge from a far darker path of intimidation. The ambassador added that Ukraine's status as a Slavic nation would pose greater challenges for Russian propaganda to ignore if it had reaped the rewards of membership in the Western alliance.

At the end of his talk, Ambassador Kriščiūnas emphasized that it is absolutely critical to Putin's kleptocratic regime to ensure Ukraine is never stable enough to diverge from the Russian shadow or root out the corruption that has festered in its political system.

The View from a Lithuanian-American Political Science Major

It is not every day that one has the opportunity to meet an ambassador. Speaking with Ambassador Kriščiūnas personally, I was impressed with a sense of hope — not only limited to increased security for sovereign states through cooperation, but a recognition of Lithuania's progress in the last several decades.

As a nation recently restrained by communist oppression, the Republic of Lithuania has grown by leaps and bounds to become a committed partner in NATO and the European Union. The country has even reconnected with diasporic communities to foster greater ties with the rest of the world.

This striking realization reaffirmed my belief in the progressive, liberal nature of democracy. Ambassador Kriščiūnas' visit reminded me of the best of my own nation's values and evoked a sense of pride in my heritage as a Lithuanian-American.