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Progressive forces have always been a minority in Lithuania.

Ironically, Vytenis Andriukaitis, who is born into a dissident family in exile in Siberia, is often suspected of a close bromance with the Putin-led Kremlin. "It is strange for me that when we talk about the Putin administration we always use the word 'Russians' that defines (at least) all the inhabitants of the Russian Federation. But when we speak about the US, we rarely make amalgams between Trump administration and 'Americans', Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, told The Baltic Times. He kindly agreed to share his thoughts about the Baltic centenary, Social Democracy, Russia and the Lithuanian leaders.

About the centenary

I see the centenary of modern Lithuania as an ever-lasting present composed of inspiring ideas. The Independence Act of 1918 described a number of visions that in my opinion have not been fully realised yet. The challenge remains --to fully implement all human rights and freedoms, resisting hatred, nationalism, and propaganda.

From the historical point of view, it is obvious that progressive forces have always been a minority in Lithuania. The fight for Independence united many different political colours and schools but nationalistic narrative was prevailing. Therefore, many challenges remain in terms of minority rights, women rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law. The centenary invites us progressive democrats to continue working towards making these rights fully flourishing in our society.

About the early engagement

It started with the family. My father was a dissident and I followed his lead. In the family, we didn't recognize the legitimacy of the soviet system and always fought for independence.

When I finished my medical studies, I already knew that I not only wanted to be a top cardiac surgeon but also study history so I could fully understand the historical concepts and experiences in order to be able to be opposed to the Soviet ideology with knowledge and well-founded arguments in full understanding of International law and European processes.

I was inspired by people like Grinius, Kudirka, and Basanavicius. In general, a number of medical doctors were engaged in the fight for the Independence.

So I studied history, wrote articles, organized dissident movements, and as a consequence went through a few challenging moments when I was arrested and questioned.

But when Sajudis started I was well equipped to be part of the group and to input in the founding documents, especially when it came to their conformity with international law.

Sajudis & Social Democracy--then and today

The European Union is unimaginable without the input of social democracy. What is Europe without social market economy, without full respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms, without names such as Jacques Delors, Altiero Spinelli, and Paul-Henri Spaak?

Inspired by those values and back in 1989 a group of 400 people, myself among them, initiated the legalisation platform for the social democratic party in Lithuania. This inter alia pushed forward the creation of multiparty system in Lithuania.

Social democracy, as a political school, is based on a set of principle values, human rights and freedoms, social justice, solidarity and equality. These cannot be separated, decomposed or taken apart. They are indivisible and can only be realised when taken in its integrity.

Today these principles are as important as they were 100 years ago. Social and public processes are different--we do not live anymore in industrial societies with strong trade unions and workers movements. Younger generations have a more individualised understanding of career and life in general.

But there is still strong need of social justice and protection in the overall social continuum. Who doesn't want to have safety nets for their health, mortgage, children's' education, professional development? Who doesn't want to feel equal and respected? For this you need strong public policies that guarantee such standards. And this cannot happen without solidarity for instance.

For me there are enough arguments to say that there is a great role for social-democracy to play in the European project defending those values.

About being critical to LT leaders

As EU Commissioner, I see an ethical issue of throwing criticisms like these. Of course, as a citizen, as an honorary president of the social democratic party in Lithuania, and as someone who was very involved in the public life and politics, I have my views that I express when I am in Lithuania and talk to the Lithuanian press. I follow the political developments and see that political realities are always changing, making some of the former criticisms irrelevant.

On the EU and international level, I think there is one aspect that is common to a number of central-eastern European countries--applying double standards when it is useful and easier. Indeed, when it comes to funding and CAP, some leaders project themselves as pro Europeans, but when discussion comes to fundamental values--then they tend to be more reserved.

We agreed on the Lisbon Treaty together. The same rules apply to all Member States. It forms part of the national law. Can it be ignored? Can we do cherry picking? Can we make exceptions? It is very dangerous to start making these sorts of choices when it comes to the values in a club like ours.

Therefore, leaders have to take political leadership to defend these values, educate and formulate the opinion: be opinion-makes not opinion followers. It is dangerous to do 'hashtag' politics looking at the PR and threading according to what people feel like at that moment.

About Russia

It is strange for me that when we talk about the Putin administration we always use the word 'Russians' that defines (at least) all the inhabitants of the RF. But when we speak about the US, we rarely make amalgams between Trump administration and 'Americans'.

Couldn't we start doing this a little bit more when we speak about Russia or do we really think that all Russians are the same, all of them being aggressors? This is a tad short-looking and categorical, if not fundamental. Not long ago, in Yeltsin times, Russian people went out in the streets to support the Baltic independence movement, to support people as people.

Societies are all composed of different people. If we analyse the nationalisms and chauvinisms, they all have phobias in common and I don't like phobias, they all are full of emotions, unfounded fears and irrationality. I don't like Russian-phobia either.

I have strong views on Putin's' reactions to Maidan, to NATO enlargements, and others. The Annexation of Crimea is indisputably against international law.

But we still need to talk to Russian society and to have discussions with Putin's administration. Absence of communication brings more conflicts. The EU has been working on common defence and I am very glad about it. But the EU is a peace project and we have strong soft power that is key in our relations with our neighbours and work at large.

About Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety

Commissioner Andriukaitis was born in 1951 in Siberia, where his family was deported from Lithuania. He practiced as cardiac surgeon for 20 years and was a Member (and Deputy Speaker) of the Lithuanian Parliament for six terms. He is the co-author of the Independence Act of Lithuania and of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, and one of the founders of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party. Vytenis Andriukaitis was Minister for Health for two years and then became Commissioner in 2014.

Caption: Vytenis Andriukaitis is the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety
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Author:Jegelevicius, Linas
Publication:The Baltic Times (Riga, Latvia)
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Apr 26, 2018
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