by Sabine Tessono
As discovered in the previous article, Lithuania’s top priority is to remain a state under the watchful eye of Russia while further incorporating itself into the Western sphere. The desire to protect its independence is understandable due to several run-ins with Russian propaganda and even near invasions onto Lithuanian soil. Yet, through all its tumultuous history, and the aftermath of shifting power structures of World War II and the Cold War, the real significance of Lithuania’s assimilation into the West are still hard to understand in the modern era. In this post, we will attempt to discover what Lithuania stands to gain from integrating itself into the European Union and NATO.
As mentioned before, the Soviet Army occupied Lithuania during World War II, which led to a stifling of statehood and cultural independence. However, the Soviets were not the only force on Lithuanian soil during that time period. From June 22, 1941, to January 28, 1945, forces from Nazi Germany managed to overpower the Soviet Union and occupy Lithuania. Originally, the arrival of Germans was welcomed by Lithuania, due to the projecting of a “liberator” image onto Nazi Germany and its potential to beat back Soviet authority. While this feat was originally seen as a chance to break free from Russian control and finally establish its independence, the actual results proved the contrary. Under German control, the country’s Jewish population was “all but annihilated”, and its provisional government was little more than a figurehead without any real power, causing many to wonder if Lithuania could reemerge from its war-torn state and establish an identity and a fully formed world image. But despite the negative impact of an oppressive regime worsening matters within the country, perhaps Germany’s influence within WWII helped to weaken the Soviet grip on the nation and potentially set the stage for its eventual collapse, and to cause a shift from a reliance on Russian values to a desire to implement itself in the West.
This desire became especially evident on May 1st, 2004, when after a Parliament referendum Lithuania voted and became an official member of the European Union. Just approximately two months earlier, on March 29th, 2004, Lithuania made its way into NATO as well. By integrating itself into Western European culture, politics, and economics, Lithuania gained a new system to rely on and further relinquished its ties to Russia. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, joining the EU has brought about positive changes such as rising foreign investment (about 80 percent of its foreign direct investment in Lithuania came from its relationship with the other EU states), freedom of trade and travel, and investment in local industries and innovation within the country. Even with the simple act of changing its currency from the litas to the euro helped boost growth and consumer confidence, important qualities in stabilizing a nation. And with the additional bonus of NATO membership, Lithuania has a potential network of allied nations that can aid it in the political and military protection of Western values of independence and democracy if the threat of Russian annexation were to occur.
The Western world’s impact on Lithuanian society and independence may have started as another oppressive system used to control its population and fight a self-interested war, but it ultimately gave Lithuania a chance to break free of complete Soviet control and influence and establish a freer, more independent state. While the European Union and NATO (like many other systems) are not perfect, perhaps they provide a faster and an easier way for Lithuania and similar countries, to evolve.