On February 16, the Lithuanian people will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Lithuanian State. On this day in 1918, at a meeting in Vilnius, the Lithuanian Council, authorized by the people, claimed the restoration of an independent democratic Lithuanian sState.
The belief in independence has always been in the hands of the Lithuanian people, and has always prevailed over fear: whether the construction of a new independent state in the first years after the proclamation, or resistance to the Soviet regime during the occupation (1940-1990), or the struggle to preserve the Lithuanian language, backed by the assistance of the Lithuanian diaspora. All this was of great importance for the development and creation of a modern Lithuanian state, so February 16 always remains a special date for every Lithuanian. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the , Emmanuil Mkrtchyan, the Director General and the Chief Reporter of ArmInfo Information Agency asked the Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania in Armenia, Erikas Petrikas, to share an interview.
"You know, it's a great honor and joy for me to be at the position of Ambassador in Armenia. I never thought that Armenian people is so close to Lithuanian, although we are separated by long distances. I fell in love with your beautiful country, with its kind and sincere people. And when they call me "ahper jan" I am very proud of this attitude towards me "- said Erikas Petrikas starting the conversation.
Mr. Ambassador, do you think you have succeeded in implementing all your plans?
(laughing) No, not everything turned successful, unfortunately. But I have touched upon. You know, our Embassy is working in Armenia for the eleventh year already, and we are actively working as an EU member state, and in the framework of this European "mandate" we are trying to carry out a mission aimed at involving Armenia in the common European path for us. We are here only to help Armenia in what it needs. In 2013, when I arrived in Armenia within the preparation for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, I waited for the signing of the Association Agreement and was disappointed when I found out that this would not happen. But we are diplomats and not only supporters of real politics, we understand that all this, as they say, is "the art of the possible", and therefore we perfectly understand Armenia and respect its choice.
But last year Armenia signed a framework agreement with the EU. How do you estimate this?
I think that the signing of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA - ed. note) became a very important decision of the political leadership of Armenia.
People sometimes argue that without the elements of trade this document is weak and helpless, but I say that this is not so, that it covers all sectors of Armenia's social and economic life, it's just necessary to make some efforts to implement it, serious preparation.
Also, the development of the aviation agreement between Armenia and the EU is under way, and we will achieve that, as a result of this agreement, opportunities for Armenian citizens to fly to Europe from Yerevan will be expanded, and not alternative routes from Tbilisi and Kutaisi should be chosen.
There are many other provisions in CEPA , they are being worked out and will be implemented. In general, I believe that from the point of view of laying the foundations for future Armenian-European relations, the year 2017 was a key, turning and productive one.
They say that Lithuania sometimes behaves in a tough way defending its own interests in the European Union, often opposing major European powers, not willing to compromise: in relations with Russia, for example.
Frankly, we really want the EU to keep pace with the times, so that the EU will change, not be a clumsy structure.
We want the voices of all EU countries, big and small, to be heard. If you watched the speeches of the President of Lithuania in Davos, you would have an idea of what kind of changes we are talking about. The world is changing, we have to respond to it adequately, and Europe is changing too.
Therefore, it is not occasionally that we pemanently talk about ensuring general security, including energy security, cybersecurity - this worries us very much. We are asked why you are "focused" on these problems? Our historical experience shows that without solving energy independence you will not be able to see Europe safe and prosperous tomorrow, especially when we fully support close integration in the EU. And our priorities are the Energy Union and the Digital Union of the European Union. And we do not just talk, we show ways how to achieve this. We are the first in Europe to build a large LNG terminal (terminal for liquefied natural gas - ed.)
And believe that such a project as the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline is not based on economic factors but is a geopolitical project. The Belarusian NPP, which is being built on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, we call as " non-Conventional weapon", aimed at the sovereignty of our country. Lithuania always speaks out for EU decisions, which are based on a general consensus.
With the signing of an agreement with the EU, did the agenda of Armenian-Lithuanian intergovernmental commission changed? What are the main tasks it faces?
From the very beginning, it was very difficult to promote the work of the intergovernmental commission between Armenia and Lithuania.
The question was simple: why is it needed? And the answer was simple:Lithuania, although being an EU member, cannot cover everything - we need defined plans. Therefore, I approach this issue conceptually. When I arrived in Armenia, the Head of Government asked me, "Mr. Ambassador, and what Lithuania as a friendly country can tell our citizens, what simple peasants can offered?" And then I answered: "We can serve as an excellent example"!
I am glad that over the past 4 years, two meetings of the intergovernmental commission on strengthening economic cooperation between Lithuania and Armenia were held under the leadership of the Economy Ministers. Both meetings, in 2015 in Vilnius and 2017 in Yerevan, showed the great potential of our relations and many new areas in bilateral cooperation..
One of the areas that is directly related to the agenda of the intergovernmental commission is the agriculture. We started with 4 sectors, where we can learn from each other. This development of ecological farms, livestock, aquaculture, advisory service in agriculture. Specifically, we have stressed these elements. Over the past 2 years, four visits were held at the level of vice-ministers and experts from Lithuania and Armenia. Today, Armenian experts on agriculture have concrete partners, with whom they share problems and adopt experience. Here, our experience shows that the agricultural advisory system, including agro-insurance, makes great changes in the efficiency of not only large agricultural enterprises, but also small cooperatives. It is not a secret that the agriculture of Armenia has a very large potential.
The EU insists working out effective mechanisms to combat system corruption, monopolies and inefficient state administration in general. And they were not there, and still they are not.
Of course, as an ambassador of EU country, iI would like to see more of Europe in Armenia. After all, the biggest export market of Armenia is the EU, the biggest investments in Armenia come from the EU. And it is very important that the result of these investments, each Armenian family would feel this investment through raising the standard of living and social security. These are not just the development sectors for the EU in Armenia, such as energy, transport, the environment and trade, but these are reforms that should touch everyone: "stronger governance, stronger economy, stronger connectivity and stronger society".
For example, investments in electoral reform have yielded positive results. These reforms could be observed to diplomats residing in Armenia, who participated in elections to the National Assembly as observers. Investing in fighting corruption in the justice sector also helps new public initiatives to be a direct observer of public work. About a quarter of Armenia's trade turnover forms the share of EU. And the EU4B program brought 500 million euros to Armenia. This was felt in 25,000 Armenian companies, in which 900 new jobs were created. It need not be said, how important is the message of Armenia to the rest of the world. The EU has paid attention to it, and will pay: it is both transit and high-voltage EU power greed, and the reconstruction of the metro, and the implementation of the agreement on land communication.
This is also related to the democratic processes in your country. As an outsider I can see that much is changing for the better both in the housekeeper and in politics. I have touched only a small part of the management reform, not to mention the sphere of human rights. All these reforms are a pledge of progress.
Therefore, we must consistently invest in green energy, in the infrastructure of roads, leading them to better quality, in small and medium businesses, in reducing the huge difference between the social and economic development level of Yerevan and the regions, in encouraging any new initiatives. It is necessary to invest in education. In Armenia, under the Erasmus + program from 2015-2017, participated more than 1300 students. For comparison, I can state figures that over the 13 years of our stay in the EU, this Erasmus + system has affected 250,000 Lithuanian students, which helped 2,000 enterprises in Lithuania to employ over 13,000 young people and receive tax benefits.
Undoubtedly, twinnings (a form of direct cooperation between the authorities of the EU member states and the Eastern Partnership countries, which provides for the transfer of know-how and progressive experience between the governments of the EU member states and their partners - ed. note) also promote the development of the country. Lithuania for 13 years of stay in the EU managed to win 91 twins - this is one of the highest indicators among all EU members, and here we see a great potential for cooperation, of course, if the Armenian government wants it in specific areas.
For example, the roads safety. For the fourth season, with the assistance of the Lithuanian Highway Administration, road safety actions are carried out in many regions of Armenia. It's no secret that in Lithuania in the 90s, the death rate on the roads due to violation of safety rules killed up to 1200 people annually. According to the results of the past year, there were only 160 deaths. This huge difference shows that it is very important to instill the rules of behavior on the roads from kindergarten, and this increases the overall culture of people's behavior.
The Embassy cooperates with both the private sector, for example, Lidian Armenia, and state institutions - the Road Police of Armenia, the Ministry of Transport, mayors of cities, the First Armenian Channel and Mediamax. I would like to note the initiative of the non-governmental organization of women from Martuni who were interested in the idea of distributing funds that provide security on rural roads and received a prize from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania for the implementation of the corresponding project.
How do you assess the direct trade and economic relations between Armenia and Lithuania?
According to our statistics, in 2017 Lithuania exported goods to Armenia for more than 35 million euros. Although these volumes accounted for just slightly more than 1% of the total volume of Lithuania's exports, Armenia already falls into the top 50 of Lithuania's most important export markets. Compared with 2016, exports increased by 63%.
It's not a secret that Lithuania's exports to Armenia exceeded exports to such countries as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt and Iran. Armenia is the only country from the CIS, where exports from Lithuania are constantly growing. Moreover, over the past year, the structure of exports has changed. If before the re-export of goods constituted the bulk of exports, today Lithuanian-made goods account for half of all exports. 2 years ago, Lithuania started importing Lithuanian foodstuffs to Armenia, but, unfortunately, because of the problems in Georgia, where the products were shipped, these supplies stopped. We are now doing a great job to resume them.
On the other hand, some Armenian products like new varieties of wine, mineral water "Jermuk" appeared on the stores shelves in Lithuania. We are sure that natural juices, dried fruits and chocolate products have a great potential. Both in trade and in tourism, the biggest obstacle to effective cooperation remains logistics and the lack of a direct flight.
Are there any cultural bridges?
Speaking of Lithuanian legends in Armenia, the poet, translator, Narekatsi award winner, honorary citizen of Gyumri Marita Contrimayte, who left us 2 years ago, is always remembered. I remember also the honored artist of the Lithuanian Soviet Union, the famous tenor in the world Gegham Grigoryan, who recently opened a monument at the Pantheon of Yerevan.
But the brightest trace is left by art critic Jurgis Baltrushaitis Junior. This year, we celebrate 115 years from the date of his birth and 30 years since his death, and in this connection on March 7, a memory site after Baltrušaitis will be opened at the National University of Architecture and Construction in Yerevan. This is the third project in Armenia to perpetuate the name of the famous art historian and scientist, who became a historical and biographical bridge uniting our peoples. 1928 travel to the North Caucasus, he entered the territory of the Armenian cemetery of Old Jugha and captured the oldest khachkars. Only in 1986. Galust Gyulbekyan's fund found these black-and-white photographs and published a book that was translated into Armenian and presented to the Armenian public in Matenadaran in 2015.
The second project, relaated to the memory of Baltruchaitis, is a prize fund for students for 5 years from " 'Petros Aloyan Foundation' ', the famous Armenian archaeologist. The first prize in 2017 was awarded to the student Shogher Khachatryan. Baltrusaitis's son Jean, now living in Paris, accepted the invitation of the university and plans his first visit to Armenia, which was deep in the heart not only of his father, but also of his grandfather, Jurgis Baltrušaitis senior, who was the first Lithuanian ambassador in Moscow, friend of Armenia.
At the end of the meeting, my interlocutor, taking this opportunity, congratulated us, the citizens of Armenia, with our anniversary - the 100th anniversary of the 1st Republic. "Together we celebrate the 100th anniversary, you and us. We do in February, you do in May. You have two more significant holidays this year - the 2800th anniversary of "Erebuni-Yerevan" and a huge diplomatic achievement - the World Summit of Francophone. In the history of independent Armenia, this has not happened yet. We will definitely get involved in this work, "Erikas Petrikas stated saying goodbye.
ArmInfo. Armenian-Lithuanian military-political consultations on cooperation held in Vilnjus.
ArmInfo.On December 14, the delegation led by the Vice- Speaker of the National Assembly, the head of the Armenia-Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia friendship group Eduard Sharmazanov met with Deputy Foreign Minister of Lithuania Darius Skucevicius. Samvel Farmanian and Suren Manukyan are members of the delegation.