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Anförande i Seimas, Litauens riksdag

Anförande i Seimas, Litauens riksdag

Esteemed Members of Parliament,

It is truly a great honour for me - and for my country - to be invited to address you here on this very special day.

Yesterday I participated in the ceremony outside Seimas and was deeply touched by the very dedicated atmosphere.

Like all of you I very vividly remember those dramatic days 16 years ago.

I was in Stockholm that night.

Some of us had been actively engaged in doing what we could to support the peaceful demise of the Soviet Union and its empire.

We had watched as tensions had been building up during the preceding months, weeks and days.

Your determination was beyond doubt. Your cry for freedom had been heard all over Europe - indeed all over the world.

But pressure on you from Moscow had been building up. Ultimatums had been issued. New military forces had been sent to your country. Senior military commanders were heading towards here.

It was obvious that the darker forces were manoeuvring in order to maintain the old system and save the old empire.

There is little doubt that the attempt to reimpose a draconian Soviet order in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia was planned and masterminded at the highest levels in Moscow.

We know for certain that it included the leadership of the military as well as the security institutions. And, in spite of all his denials, I remain fully convinced that President Gorbachov was at the very least aware of what was being prepared.

There were distinct limits to his perestroika. The aim had been to reform the Soviet Union. When that failed the darker forces moved in order to try to restore it.

And when that so spectacularly failed the entire system and empire had to be removed.

It was then that a truly new era for Europe took its beginning.

The battle for the TV tower in Vilnius in the early morning hours of January 13, 1991, as well as the popular protection of this very building, was one of the decisive battles of our modern times.

Some of you who are here saw your dear ones lose their lives during that night.

As we remember and honour them, we should remember the wider importance of the ultimate sacrifice they made.

Had the forces of Soviet reaction succeeded during those hours and days here in Vilnius, they might well have succeeded in Riga and Tallinn in the following days as well, and they had with certainty moved earlier and more decisively in Moscow as well.

Our common history would have been written differently.

But it was when the images of the heroism by the TV tower of Vilnius were broadcast across the world that it all failed.

They had the machines of destruction and oppression. But you had the ideals of freedom, the dreams of independence and the determination to protect your democracy.

Against this, tanks in the long run can do little.

I remember sitting with friends from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania glued to a TV screen in Stockholm with the phones constantly ringing.

We were actively preparing also for the worst - there were plans for the legitimacy of your elected governments to be carried forward by your representatives in Stockholm and elsewhere.

Luckily, those plans never had to be put into operation.

Instead, we saw the dawn of a new era in European history.

16 years is not a very long time - but the changes that we have seen during these years have been truly remarkable.

Where there was previously a zone of occupation, deprivation and despair throughout Europe - through the heart of Europe from the Baltic to the Black Sea - we now see a new belt of freedom, peace and prosperity.

Ten nations and approximately 100 million people from the Gulf of Finland down towards the Bosphorous have integrated in the rule of the law, the democratic governance and the open and competitive economies that are at the core of the European Union.

And this has been made possible by the extension of the Atlantic institutions of security to cover these nations. The significance of that is obvious also to those of us not part of these institutions and structures.

It's a truly new Europe that is emerging. Step by step.

And the work goes on.

In March we will celebrate that 50 years - half a century - have passed since the signing of the Treaty of Rome.

Back then it was only six nations in the West of Europe trying to revive the dream of the old Carolingian Empire.

Since then waves of enlargements have added to the Union in immeasurable ways.

Great Britain with its traditions of open global trade and links across the Atlantic entered in the early 1970's.

The renewed democracies of Greece and the Iberian Peninsula entered in the early and mid 1980's, thus anchoring the Union even more firmly in the Mediterranean world.

And then the victory in the battle for the TV tower here in Vilnius paved the way for the enlargements we have seen since.

In 1995 Sweden, Finland and Austria could enter. And then the momentous enlargement concluded only days ago with Romania and Bulgaria entering our Union.

But we are only half the way - perhaps - towards building a new order of peace and prosperity in our part of the world.

You can measure it in different ways, but in one way the very geographic centre of Europe is located just a short distance from us here in Vilnius.

16 years ago your country was far outside Europe as defined by the boundaries of the European Union.

Today you are inside - but close to its Eastern boundary.

Our vision must be that one day you would be truly in the heart of a Europe fully free, fully democratic and fully committed to the principles of integration between free nations.

More immediately, the process of further enlargement of our European Union is now centred on the 100 million peoples of Southeastern Europe - the Western Balkans and Turkey.

There is little doubt that this will take time. We must not underestimate the challenges to overcome. But none of us can doubt its profound importance.

To overcome the bitter political divisions of the Balkan Peninsula in order to truly secure its peace. To overcome the divisions between cultures and religions that might otherwise cloud all of our future prospects.

There are those that want to draw the borders of Europe and declare that the peoples and nations beyond those lines should never be able to join our Union and our integration.

In my opinion, drawing big lines on big maps of the East of Europe would be profoundly dangerous. Vilnius is not a place where I need to explain why.

The dream of European integration has already gone far beyond the original aspirations of bringing together the areas of the old empire of Charlemagne.

Now, we must also focus on those nations and regions that were once part of that commonwealth between the Baltic and Black Seas of which your Vilnius was one of the centres.

That they are Europeans is beyond doubt. Kiev is a city with a longer European history than Stockholm. And Minsk is even closer to Vilnius than Riga.

I believe it will be increasingly important for all of Europe - but perhaps particularly for countries like ours - to concentrate attention on how we should develop the European integration and transformation policies towards these vast countries and areas.

We must do what we can to keep the hope of freedom and democracy and dignity alive in Belarus. Its peoples have the same right to freedom and democracy as all other Europeans. That your role here is of particular importance is obvious.

We must as nations and as a Union do more in order to help Ukraine with its complex transition and step-by-step entry into the structures of European integration and cooperation. Our nations must remain committed to keeping this important task on the agenda of the European Union.

And beyond this, we must always be ready to engage with the processes of positive change in Russia. Also Russia is part of our Europe. Tolstoy and Pushkin were certainly not Asian writers and poets. The cultural and human richness of Russia is an integral part of the cultural and human richness of all of Europe.

We must always be firm in upholding the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of the law so central to our European undertaking.

And we have no reason whatsoever to remain silent when we see these values increasingly under threat in the Russia of today. To remain silent would be to betray the European destiny also of Russia.

And neither do we have any reason to remain silent when we see language of threats being used against small nations - as was recently the case with Georgia.

Also this is a case of defending the values of Europe.

Here, by the geographic centre of Europe, we must keep alive the vision of a Europe truly whole, truly free, truly democratic and truly dynamic.

Your ties of history stretch from near the Black Sea to the shores of the Baltic Sea. Your country has seen armies marching past on their way to Moscow - or on their way to Paris or Berlin. Also it has seen the ideas of the Reformation battle with the ideas of the Counter-Reformation. You have been the scene of some of the very worst of the immense tragedies of the Holocaust.

You have been at the centre of Europe for centuries - and have every prospect of being so in the future to an even higher degree.

16 years ago one of the most decisive battles of modern European history was fought and won with the ideas of freedom here in Vilnius.

And what has been achieved in bringing Europe together since then is truly of historic importance.

But our work must go on. Our vision must be kept alive. Our ideas of freedom and democracy are still firing the hopes and the dreams of millions of people in those parts of our Europe where these values are still under threat.

We salute what was achieved that historic day here in Vilnius.

We should be proud of what has been achieved since then.

But we must remain committed towards carrying our ideals onwards.

Your city is now firmly a part of a democratic Europe.

But it should not be on its periphery.

Our dream is that you should be at its centre.

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