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Lithuania's Wrong Turn


NOBODY knows what will happen to the statues of Lenin if Lithuania gains total independence. But in Finland, monuments to Russian tsars were never destroyed. The biggest of them still decorates the central square of Helsinki. It is not a case of super tolerance. Finns have good reasons, since their lives in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century were more than satisfactory.

The only reason to quit Russia after the October revolution of 1917 was their desire to preserve the benefits of democracy and a free market economy.

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Other motives were virtually nonexistent. In the second half of the 19th century Finland had autonomous organs of government, including a legislature, national armed forces, and its own legal system. Its economic autonomy at that time can be defined as a free economic zone.

In fact, Finland had its own currency, the Finnish mark, that was introduced in 1860. A national currency gave birth to a national financial and credit system that was controlled by the Finnish bank, independent from the financial ministry of Russia.

The customs regime of that time was extremely favorable for Finland. It had its own customs department and set its own tariff levels. Tariffs were three to four times lower than those of the Russian Empire. The goal of the Russians here is clear: to develop Finland as an independent industrial area that would ease connections with the West.

Free access to both Western and Russian markets gave a competitive edge to Finnish producers. Their products enjoyed increasing success in the West, and exports gradually became Western oriented. By the time of the October revolution two-thirds of Finnish trade was with Western countries, only one-third with Russia. This facilitated the process of final separation from the Russian republic, making it less painful.

The past is always a lesson for the future, and the Finnish lesson is positive. Many useful things can be borrowed from this experience for today's Lithuania, as well as Estonia and Latvia. Above all, the idea that national independence of nations can be achieved without breaking the borders and overthrowing the whole system of European security and stability.

Real independence is always based on the economy, not on slogans. It is absurd from an economic point of view to separate a republic whose economy is almost 100 percent linked with the Soviet economic system and whose commodities are not world-competitive.

Economic independence should be created. The only thing needed today is the due responsibility and a constructive approach from the Lithuanian government.

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All other obstacles are nonexistent, or at least disappearing. The law on economic autonomy of the Baltic republics adopted last year gives them real possibilities to become independent and free economic zones. New legislative acts under preparation will give them a still greater degree of political freedom. But the Lithuanian government now prefers to ignore these new opportunities. Its highly emotional behavior attracts so much attention, that people in the West forget one necessary question: What are the real goals of this government?

The first acts of the Sajudis' power show that it is very far from democracy. The decision on separation from the Soviet Union was made without a national referendum. Would any European country decide such a vital issue without addressing its people directly?

When Spain joined the EC, there was a national referendum. But that is not the case of the Sajudis. Having deprived many non-Lithuanian residents of their voting rights, it won the majority in the elections by this unfair trick. And after gaining power, it does not want to address its people directly any more.

Other acts show the same trend: New ministerial nominations based not on a candidate's expertise but on his loyalty to the Sajudis; new trade regulations, prohibiting the selling of consumer goods to non-Lithuanian residents.

It is difficult to imagine something like that happening in the West. Try to figure out what the reaction of the US President would be, if the legislature of Puerto Rico were to adopt a law depriving white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of their civil rights in Puerto Rico. Then consider how tolerant Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, and others must be not to have reacted immediately.

It is easy to turn from one dictatorship to another. It is not easy to create a democracy. It is easy to fool the people with nationalistic demagoguery; it is difficult to feed them. It is easy to speak in terms of ultimatums and to pursue the politics of fait accompli. It is difficult to reach agreements and a balance of interests. But easy decisions for politicians always tend to be difficult for the people they guide.

Let us hope that Lithuanian leadership will choose the less easy way of constructive work. This way doesn't produce martyrs, heroes, and headlines in the Western media. The only outcome could be prosperity and democracy for those who live in the republic. The door is open.

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