Lithuanian Ambassador Zygimantas Pavilionas told Qorvis’ Focus Washington that American freedom inspired generations of his countrymen and particularly sustained the country from 1940 to 1990, when it was part of the Soviet Union. It may even be partly responsible for Lithuania’s extraordinary economic growth and strong investment climate.
“We have a very long story of friendship,” Ambassador Pavilionis told interviewer Chuck Conconi, in which some one million Lithuanian Americans play an important part. “Once for 500 years we were a big empire from the Baltic to the Black Sea…, and we had been very liberal. In the 18th century we became infected with the American freedom virus and we adopted the first most liberal and human dignity-oriented constitution in Europe. Then our empire was killed by three autocracies, and the liberal tribe left for America.”
The United States never recognized the Soviet annexation of Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, and Lithuania maintained an embassy in Washington staffed by expatriates for 50 years.
“That is why we have…the second-oldest functioning embassy in Washington. Because having no state, having no money, no electricity, no heating sometimes—just with a flag in their hands and American support sometimes, we were able to regain our independence. And now, you see? We are chairing the European Union.”
“That was the beacon of freedom. When I was still a kid, my father was always telling me, ‘We have an embassy, we have ambassadors. We are an independent and proud country with hundreds of years of history. And that dream was keeping us strong.”
Lithuania was the first country to break away from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Freedom on a Global Scale
Promoting freedom and democracy “on a global scale” is a priority in Lithuania’s relations with the United States.
“We are the frontiers of it, in the East. Just twenty kilometers from my office windows [in Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital], we have non-democratic regimes….And the sad fact of life is that for the last seven or six or seven, our numbers are decreasing in the world; autocracies are marching forward….People like [us] are disappearing. Being the frontier of democracy, we feel it very well. And America is the beacon of it, the leader of it. And that’s why we have to work hard together to spread our way of life.”
European Union, Economic Reform, and US-EU Cooperation
Lithuania assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1, and carries into the presidency a record as the fastest-growing economy in the EU and a country that made tough decisions on economic reform several years ago that are paying off today.
“We learned a lot,” said Ambassador Pavilionis. “We tackled the crisis well. We had budgetary disciple introduced and structural reforms introduced immediately, and now we are the happiest people in the EU. We are the fastest growing economy in the European Union. My president was a former budget commissioner and former finance minister. She is a really tough lady n this regard, so I hope that with her leadership we will make it right.”
The EU needs “to regain confidence in itself and its economy,” he said, and also faces strategic challenges. “The United States and European Union still are the best forces …to create stability and security. We have challenges not only inside, but outside our neighborhoods.”
Closer economic coordination and greater fiscal discipline will also be important for the future of the EU, he said.
“We have to continue to work hard to strengthen our economic and monetary union. So it’s not just fiscal and monetary; it should really be economic coordination that should become more and more close. And of course, fiscal discipline.”
Lithuania sees the United States and Europe as natural partners, and Ambassador Pavilionis expressed optimism over the prospect of a US-EU free trade agreement, which it also sees as helping to spread democracy fairness.
“We are happy with this project,” he said, “because finally 800 million people could create some kind of strongest—we are already the biggest economies in the world—but we have to work closely together to make us even stronger to face this global competition and to spread the rules and regulations and the vision of the world like we see it.”
A Good Place to Invest
“I just created Lithuanian-American Business Council with nine major American corporations,” he said. “To be honest, I think we are the best place for American investment. Why? Because we are kind of American minded, our business ethic is American, and I think that’s because of our emigration. We work very hard, we are very flexible. We don’t have big taxes. And we are very innovative.”
“In 15 years our GDP has grown six times,” said Ambassador Pavilionis. “We are rich compared to what I remember 23 years ago. Twenty-three years ago we were a Soviet zone. We were the first to revolt from the Su. Today, l we are regarded as one of the most successful transformation examples in world, from a very low level to most growing economy in the EU.”