Lithuania in the News
22nd April 2013
Lithuania has put behind a painful episode in Australian–Lithuanian relations
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser with Canberra Lithuanians in 1975
Recent releases by Wikileaks includes documents referring to the time in 1974, when the then Australian Labor government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, reversed its long standing policy of refusing to recognise as legitimate the occupation by the Soviet Union of Lithuania and the other Baltic States of Latvia and Estonia.
This policy reversal came about when Whitlam was trying to curry favour with Moscow prior to his visit there. The then Labor government thought that they had little to lose electorally, as they assumed that most Baltic migrants normally voted for the opposition parties (the Liberal – Country Party coalition). Whitlam’s new policy was in stark contrast to his previous categorical statements that Labor recognises the existence ‘de jure’ of the states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, a position that had been confirmed as recently as six months earlier.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė meeting
Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the
2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in South Korea.
Photo courtesy
Australian Lithuanians remember those days well. Whitlam’s action enraged Australian Lithuanians as well as Latvians, Estonians and many other migrants from Eastern Europe. They regarded it as a gross betrayal of trust. Australian Lithuanians, together with other Baltic migrants, sprang into action, setting off a series of protest demonstrations across Australia, including protest bus trips to Canberra. Intense lobbying of both sides of politics followed. The then Leader of Opposition Billy Snedden committed the coalition to review Whitlam’s decision if they were to be successful in the next elections. Billy Snedden was succeeded by Malcolm Fraser as Opposition Leader, who went further and promised to actually reverse Whitlam’s decision. After winning the next election, Fraser did in fact reverse Whitlam’s policy and the incorporation of Baltic States into the Soviet Union again became not recognised as ‘de jure’. This policy of non-recognition was reaffirmed by the following Labor government of Bob Hawke.
Vygaudas Ušackas.
Photo courtesy
Since those days Lithuania has re-established its independence (1990) and Australia joined the countries which did not hesitate to recognise Lithuania’s independence. Australia recognised Lithuania’s independence on 27 August, 1991, at the same time as the UK and ahead of the USA. Lithuania was welcomed into the United Nations in September 17, 1991. It joined the European Union and NATO in 1994 and is now a highly respected member of the international community. In 2011 Lithuania very successfully chaired the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and will be entrusted with chairmanship of the European Union in the second half of 2013. It has a good chance to be elected to the UN Security Council in 2015.
Lithuania’s statesmen and diplomats are now highly regarded internationally. In addition to her many other international recognitions, Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė was recently awarded the very prestigious Charlemagne prize for 2013, regarded as the Nobel Prize for Statesmanship. It will be formally presented to President Grybauskaitė in Aachen, Germany, on Europe Day May 9, which is an annual celebration of peace and unity in Europe. Previous winners of this award have included famous and distinguished statesmen such as Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, American President Bill Clinton, Germany’s Konrad Adenauer. On the diplomatic front, seasoned Lithuanian diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas has been EU’s Ambassador to Afghanistan since 2010 and in this (northern) autumn will be taking up the challenging post of EU’s Ambassador to Russia.

Further information: 14/04/13 14/04/13