Will the European migration crisis return
Dalia Grybauskaite, President of the Republic of Lithuania"This migration crisis is more complicated than the economic crisis"
Sabine Adler: Madam President, you will be visiting Germany next week. Can this be understood as a sign of solidarity with Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom many people accuse of being to blame for this serious refugee crisis?
Dalia Grybauskaite: I have always supported the Chancellor. We worked together a lot, practically for two decades. I always meet her in the European Council, where she faces global challenges, from the economic crisis to the banking crisis and now the migration crisis. And I can testify that it is only because such leaders exist that Europe is in a position to solve even very difficult issues. Because the Chancellor is very responsible and takes huge responsibility on her shoulders. She knows every question down to the last detail, works hard and is always one of the most knowledgeable people at the table, at least in the European Council. So I think without them it was not possible to solve the economic, euro, debt and banking crisis and it would now be impossible to solve the migration issues. This migration crisis now is even more complicated than the economic crisis. And we are still just beginning to find a solution, because the problem is difficult and critical. But I fully supported their effort. "
"The large influx of migrants is a very sensitive issue in every country"
Eagle: Did she make a mistake?
Grybauskaite: I think that as a leader you are faced with decisions that separate you from a purely logical point of view and your very personal understanding of the obligation you have towards people who are in need in the world. And sometimes these two approaches, responsibility and will, may not go together. Especially when someone thinks that there are fundamentally values and responsibility for humanity, but others see the capacity of their economy that is needed to integrate so many refugees. And then, thirdly, there is the citizens' understanding, their willingness to accept many people from other cultures. All of this has to be brought together and the overriding, unifying interest has to be identified. With global developments, one always has to consider the respective domestic political situation. Terror and the many threats around it play a role when it comes to accepting migrants. The large influx of migrants is a very sensitive issue in every country.
Eagle: Would you agree that Germany is isolated in Europe during the refugee crisis?
Grybauskaite: No, I do not think so. Although in our country we do not always agree with all the details of the methods and proposals for solving the crisis. Everyone understands that Germany takes on a huge burden and responsibility. Of course, not all suggested solutions are equally acceptable to everyone. But the fact that Germany appears as a problem solver unites us all. We disagree on the details.
Eagle: Would you support Chancellor Angela Merkel becoming UN Secretary General?
Grybauskaite: I am sorry to say that as Germany's Chancellor she is more important in Europe than in the UN, this position is more important and necessary for Europe today
Eagle: Do I have to understand that you would rather have a weak leader than UN Secretary General?
Grybauskaite: Every international organization, including the United Nations, is made up of member states and is only strong if the member states are strong. And that's why: Merkel is needed for Europe and that's why it's better to keep her in Europe (laughs).
"We have no experience of integrating Muslim people"
Eagle: Last week a young man from Afghanistan came to Lithuania. He was welcomed because he already speaks a little Lithuanian. Can we conclude from this that the relationship with the refugees is changing a little?
Grybauskaite: This is a very special case. This young man was a translator who worked for our army units in Afghanistan. And that's why we felt obliged to take care of this, as well as other such helpers, because they are in great danger. He supported us and helped us fulfill our commitments in Afghanistan. But because of this, this example is not yet a change in prevailing opinion. People are still reacting very sensitively because some of them also associate this question with the threat of terrorism. The cultures are so different and we have no experience with the integration of Muslim people because they practically do not exist here. They are seen in a rather negative way and that is why we are cautious about proposals that should be pushed through with all our might. In general, most of the countries in our region that have only regained their freedom for 26 years are very negative about any decision that is to be pushed through with power. This affects all institutions: the European Commission as well as the EU in general. We are ready to participate and we do so in a number of programs, but we want to do it voluntarily and consciously, with our understanding of solidarity and not because we are forced to show solidarity.
"We don't want people who don't respect the countries and their cultures that host them"
Eagle: Some people in Germany are disappointed that Lithuania, the Baltic countries and Poland are not accepting refugees. Would you agree that it has damaged Lithuania's image?
Grybauskaite: Lithuania was the first of the member states to agree to accept a certain quota of refugees. And we are already taking in refugees. Lithuania also provides local support, financial aid and humanitarian aid. We participate in the financing of refugee facilities in Turkey, we voluntarily finance refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt through the Madad Fund. We participate in the financing of the UN Refugee and Children's Aid, UNHCR and UNICEF, and the World Food Program and the Africa Trust Fund. We think that it is more important to support non-governmental organizations and UN organizations and to provide humanitarian aid locally, in the region from which the refugees come, than to bring large numbers of people to Europe. Because integration in Europe is many times more expensive, it is very difficult. You can see that in France, where there was no integration, and in some other countries as well. And from this experience we say that we don't want ghettos. We don't want people who don't respect the countries and their cultures that host them. We are ready to meet our obligations under the Geneva Refugee Convention, but the more efficient way is to provide local financial and humanitarian aid.
The Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite during an interview with DLF Eastern Europe correspondent Sabine Adler. (Civil Didzgalviene)
Eagle: I would like to talk about Turkey, which is offering to help deal with the migration crisis. Would you say that Turkey is a reliable partner in this case, given its democratic deficits?
Grybauskaite: We only try to find solutions with Turkey in very desperate situations. The stream of refugees goes exactly through this country. I was very critical of this from the start because the mechanism is so complicated.
Eagle: They found it too complicated.
Grybauskaite: Yeah, it's too complicated. He is close to violating international law. And it's hard to do. It is not the case that the influx of refugees could be reduced or slowed down. It would have been better to negotiate that Turkey is not allowed to leave anyone who has no chance as an asylum seeker. Now it makes it all very expensive. It doesn't just cost money, it costs time. And the political commitments to Turkey, the negotiations on EU membership, the money Turkey gets for it, all of these things are difficult and very sensitive. But we did that in a moment of desperation. So far, the problem has only been solved with one route. The smugglers will find a different route. We have not yet solved the fundamental problem. However, we have to understand, and we do, that Turkey is important - in the region, in solving problems, in the fight against ISIS. But of course the situation regarding freedom of expression in our relationships is complicated. I understand that made us more sensitive and complicated the whole thing.
Eagle: How do you interpret President Erdogan's reaction to the German satire poem?
Grybauskaite: I usually try to avoid judging other heads of state or government. I'll tell you how I deal with it. Of course I am also criticized and people draw caricatures of me or do not particularly nice TV shows about me. But I decided for myself that everyone has the right to criticize in whatever form. And I think that only the public can decide whether someone is right. Correct or not, it's up to the people to decide, not me. Any reaction from me would put the critics in a better position. I am not responding and I ask everyone not to go through proceedings or try to punish anyone for it, because it is people's right to be what they want.
"The criminals are ahead of us, which is why acts of terrorism end so deadly and bloody"
Eagle: Deutschlandfunk. The interview of the week with the President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite. I would like to move on to another topic: the fight against extremism. You said we were at war on the streets. Is the EU able and is it taking the right steps in the fight against terrorism and extremism?
Grybauskaite: A few days ago the European Parliament took the first step towards the exchange of flight-passenger data. It was very necessary. During a visit to Slovenia I was at the border to see how they treat the refugees. I learned from the police that the fingerprints they take of the refugees will remain in Slovenia. They are not even exchanged among the EU member states. This means that a person can go to a number of countries with their fingerprints and apply for asylum under a different name, and the countries cannot control who that person actually is. We need data and information exchange and we need to work together against potential criminals or terrorists. We're late with it, we're behind. The criminals are ahead of us, which is why acts of terrorism end so deadly and bloody.
Eagle: Do we have to admit that Russia is fighting the so-called Islamic State?
Grybauskaite: At least according to the information that we as heads of state receive from our intelligence services and from NATO intelligence services, only a small part of the activities is directed against ISIS. In the beginning it was around 10 percent, now it is around 20 percent. The rest are directed against the Assad opposition to support the Assad regime. From this point of view, Russia's goals are a little different. It is more about the protection and security of the Assad regime and its retention of power than about fighting ISIS.
Eagle: Would you interpret Russia's target in Syria as an attempt to move towards the West to solve global problems?
Grybauskaite: No. Because Russia does not aim to solve global problems. They aim to solve their own problem, return to diplomatic exceptions and legalize them. They want to show that they are important. The problem in Syria was that the campaign against ISIS was not efficient and effective enough and Russia seized the opportunity to take over that empty seat in the command center. We have our experiences with Russia and we don't believe what they say. We observe what they are doing and evaluate their behavior based on the facts. I can't see Russia moving towards the West, mostly because of recent events. Just a few days ago, when an American ship was on its way to the port in Klaipeda for military exercises, Russian fighter pilots approached it from Kaliningrad as if they were about to attack it. Russia has been demonstratively aggressive towards NATO allies and western countries. They showed that they are irritating and want to violate all international treaties and agreements.
"Russia demonstrates its capabilities by force"
Eagle: Is that comparable to the case in Turkey?
Grybauskaite: The behavior of Russia in the Baltic States and also against countries that are not members of NATO such as Sweden shows that Russia feels weakened internationally and is still demonstrating its capabilities with violence. Russia wants to return to the table of Western forces by force, through aggression.
Eagle: The NATO ambassadors will meet with Russia next week. This will be the first meeting in two years. Is there a small sign of hope that one will return to cooperation or at least to dialogue?
Grybauskaite: I've already said that I don't want to talk about hopes. I see very specifically what they are doing in Kaliningrad, how they behave in Belarus and in the Baltic Sea, at sea and on land. I assume that you have agreed a military base on Belarusian territory with Belarus. This means that Lithuania will be surrounded by Russian forces in Kaliningrad and Belarus. And it is very clear to us: as long as they do not stop behaving aggressively and provoking themselves in this way, we cannot talk about hope or belief. We want to see a different behavior.
Eagle: The Pentagon plans to send a brigade to Eastern Europe. Will that help if not to solve the problem, then to tackle it?
Grybauskaite: We need a greater presence and a credible deterrent in our region, in all the Baltic states and in Poland. Because no matter what Russia says and what propaganda it makes, the fact is that we see aggressiveness and experience provocations. We need NATO troops and larger troops of our own. We have increased defense spending, modernized our army, and bought new equipment, including boxer armored transport vehicles from Germany. Last year we created a rapid reaction force, we reintroduced conscription. That is, we do what we can ourselves first and only then ask our allies to be more present.
"We have to become faster in making decisions and adapting our policies"
Eagle: What decisions will NATO have to make at the June summit?
Grybauskaite: We have to become faster in making decisions and adapting our policies, because life and challenges change faster. We need to agree on how to respond sooner. We see how in the past two years the challenges have changed and the security situation has worsened because of Russia's aggressive behavior in our region. It's not just about military attacks, it's also about cyber attacks. Only a few days ago my office was attacked, the parliament and the government. We always have the information campaigns, the propaganda and the so-called unconventional tools of warfare. The same applies to Warsaw: a greater presence in our region. Because this attempt to prevent the American ship from entering the US fleet is a new phenomenon that we have to face. Then we need stronger air forces. As threats evolve, our defense plans also need to be constantly updated. From a military point of view, Russia remains the greatest threat and the Warsaw Summit must respond to it.
Eagle: This week's Panama Papers showed that Ukraine has a big problem with corruption, even or just at the head of the state. Is the EU backing the wrong country?
Grybauskaite: First of all, I have to say: we support the Ukrainian people. We don't support governments. The Ukrainians on the Maidan made a European decision. They see their future in Europe and want to integrate into Europe. They want their country to be transparent and efficient and not corrupt. Every politician in the world, and I include myself there, must be transparent and predictable for the people who voted for him.Everyone who is now on this list must now clearly tell, not only to the world, but above all to their own people, why they appear on this list, how much money it is about and what they will do in the future. That is your responsibility. First of all, they have to explain this to their own people.
Eagle: Madam President, thank you very much for the interview.
Grybauskaite: Thank you.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandradio does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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