Elections in Armenia showed people’s trust in democracy: ARMENPRESS Exclusive with Lithuanian Prime Minister
VILNIUS, OCTOBER 8, ARMENPRESS. Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte underscores that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan received a very strong level of trust from the Armenian people at the June 20 parliamentary election. PM Simonyte says the Armenian people expressed trust in democratic processes and said yes to the “mandate for a better life”. The Lithuanian Prime Minister highlighted the fact that the elections in Armenia were recognized as fair and transparent.
PM Ingrida Simonyte was interviewed by ARMENPRESS Director Aram Ananyan on the prospects of developing the Armenian-Lithuanian relations in various sectors, cooperation in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement.
Aram Ananyan: Madam Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian-Lithuanian diplomatic relations. It is meaningful that Lithuania is the first country to have recognized the independence of the Republic of Armenia. If we were to sum up, what kind of relations do we have today and most importantly in what direction are we moving forward?
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: Well, I think that basically we are on the same road. We have some modalities, but we are on the same road because we are countries that believe in fundamental democratic values, it is important for people to have right to choose, to decide their fate. It is important for them to know what is happening, so the freedom of press, private property, independent courts and all the other fundamental values are the foundation of what we call liberal democracy.
And I think that we are both on the same road, of course for many reasons, geographical as well. We are in a pool of other countries that formerly joined the European Union by those values. But I think the partnership with other countries that are like-minded is very important and it's good that we had the chance to discuss with Prime Minister Pashinyan what we can do as a people who see those fundamental values as crucial for them prosperity of our nations, how we can share our experiences, how we can share our stories, our successes, and sometimes maybe mistakes as well.
Aram Ananyan: Madam Prime Minister, you addressed important issues. We always say that there is a big potential for boosting economic ties: In which sectors do you see opportunities for developing this cooperation?
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: Well, I think it's not only about trade. I think it's about cooperation on also other levels, because we can also speak about, cooperation, for example, of our universities and science as well. And the agreement that was signed by ministries of health, sort of building the basis for cooperation in this area, which appeared to be very important because of COVID. So I think that in terms of economic ties first, and the easiest thing will be speak about tourism, because we are somewhere on the way of opening a new direct flight, which will connect the people. So this is a, niece that I think can be elaborated and can be widely used.
Now, in terms of economic relations between businesses, once you have a flight option and once you have a political backing, I think business is smart enough to find their own opportunities and in what is available in one market and the other. So I know that there is a big ambition in Armenia in digital transformation. And we have quite a number of companies that operate also on the biggest scale. And we have a number of solutions that are already applicable here or in another country. So this might be of interest for example, for Armenian institutions to use this experience or to use the products that are developed or to use the systems that are operational here or in other countries, also green transition, alternative energy. This is just the dimension of where I see that this synergy, that of European policy or policy of European union, but also policy lines of Armenian government are very much, sort of, coinciding. So, I think there is a big opportunity for synergies.
Aram Ananyan: Lithuania assisted Armenia in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. The Armenian and Lithuanian healthcare ministries signed an agreement on cooperation. Could you tell us more about future cooperation in this sector?
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: We can be of use to Armenian institutions in term of reforms in health care, in health insurance, as well as in organizing of healthcare. We are not a country without problems. We still have a couple of things to do ourselves. So, it's good that you can also progress and maybe share your experience with the others. And during COVID, there were exchange of expertise or medical personnel as well as things that we needed for COVID tests or vaccines for the management of situation. But these were rather in the framework of, well, if we can share them, we share, and we were sharing not only with Armenia, but also with other countries. But I think that it is important because you have to use your options wisely. And if we, being in the European union, being lucky to receive vaccines one of the first globally, so if we see that it is also doable, you know, sharing with the others then, and it's only the way countries should pursue, but this was rather a situation that was created by COVID. But since this, exchange of experience and this cooperation proved to be quite good and quite fruitful.
Aram Ananyan: As you know, 2020 was a dramatic year for Armenia. The war in Nagorno Karabakh led to a number of issues, including humanitarian ones. Lithuania was one of the first to respond. What is your position on the conflict settlement and will you continue the humanitarian assistance programs?
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: A stance that we take, I guess, for many years, that if you see people suffering somewhere and you can help somehow in that, in a reasonable way, then you should do this. And we as a country that is based on Christian values is exercising this in many aspects being that a natural disaster somewhere or being that a conflict in Karabakh.
And I'm really sorry. And I extend my condolences to those who died in this conflict, and any loss of human life is a huge loss. So it is very sad that still we have situations like that, but of course there is no other way, as just try to regulate this. And of course the preferable option is that it would be regulated in a political manner, by the framework of Minsk group chairmanship. And it's good to hear that are at least some steps towards this direction.
Of course it is not easy. It never is easy because while people have dissenting opinions on who's right, and who's wrong and what should be done. But I think that with the help of also European union institutions and participation of European union and experience in regulating conflicts in other places, with a sincere heart, and I see sincere will to come to a peaceful situation. , I hope we will achieve something. I mean, this first Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also globally, because it's important for Europe and it's important for the globe because the less conflicts we have then the easier it is for people to come to their daily lives, and, create their future and their prosperity.
Aram Ananyan: Lithuania is one of the unique pioneers of developing the EU-Armenia relations. Lithuania was first to ratify the Armenia-EU CEPA and is in favor of liberalization of the visa regime. At what pace are we moving forward in this direction?
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: Well, you know, in, European union, things are not necessarily moving fast, although sometimes European union can act actually fast and COVID was a situation where it was clearly seen that we can also move very fast. So maybe, when we have this summit of Eastern partnership, there will be a bigger ambition presented by the European union. But you know, that in many cases we are proponents for European decisions being more embracing towards Eastern partnership countries. And it is not only related to Armenia, but also to other countries. We discuss about reforms in Ukraine. We discuss about Georgia. We discussed about Moldova and other countries. And we think that there are so many solutions that can make European union and Eastern partnership countries closer to each other and then people on both sides benefit. People, business, general conditions becoming better and people getting to know each other and be able to move or to make business. So no surprise that we are one of the loudest supporters of those ambitions, and of course you cannot just have this decision for yourself. There should be an agreement, but we are pushing for this agreement that we are advocating for this agreement.
Aram Ananyan: Given the trends of democratization in Armenia, how does Vilnius view the support programs for continuing the reforms?
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: Well, it will still depend on Armenian people and Armenian government, but, with the level of trust that Prime Minister Pashinyan received during the elections, I think he has a very strong mandate. People actually said that ‘we trust in democratic process’. We do not want a strongman to come and sort all our problems because we know that usually it does not happen this way. You just get less democracy, less freedom of speech, and then you should be more happy about things that are actually worse than they used to be, but your options to make your opinion visible or heard are much more limited. So it's good to see that, elections in Armenia were recognized as fair and transparent, and it is very important. Usually people when come and vote, they vote for a better life, how they see it. And I think they see it in a democratic environment. But we all have, to make efforts to produce better public service, to have a more fair competition or reduce some problems that we face.
For Armenia maybe this is, sort of a bigger area of questions where you need solutions. For example, prime minister is visiting the waste management companies trying to know about this experience of deposit system. And he told me that this is an important issue for Armenia. For us, this is closed case. We think it's very successful. So that's why we can share our experience with other countries. A lot needs to be done, but the end goal is the welfare of people. And I strongly believe that it's welfare of people that comes as a consequence of democratic values, not vice versa, because sometimes people who think otherwise they say ‘let's first take care of economy, and then we will provide with democratic values’. It never happens like that because the welfare comes actually as a result of democratic values, because when people can choose what they want to do, where they can say what they do not like loudly, where they can go to the court if they are not happy, and the court is independent where they can secure their property, which will not be taken by somebody who just came in and took a business or other property. When it's secured by law, and by independent courts, then business can flourish and welfare can increase.
Aram Ananyan: The Armenian-Lithuanian relations have strong foundations and the Armenian Prime Minister gifted the Book of Lamentations by St. Gregory of Narek to you, and the Lithuanian culture is well known in Armenia. In this context, what potential do you see for developing bilateral relations? You also received an offer to visit Armenia, when is your trip likely to take place?
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: Our cultural ties can be more intense and I hope that the ability to travel directly will add up immensely to this, especially when we speak about all our citizens, just people who are walking the streets and living in whatever towns and villages, who can travel, see the culture, get this personal experience, get the sense of the flavor of the other country and come back with the best. At the level of cultural cooperation, I think, we also can do more. We can exchange not only what was created twenty, fifty or a hundred years ago, but also what is being trending. And I think we have quite a number of young prominent artists who would be more than happy to present or to be presented to Armenian public. And, we were speaking with the prime minister that this cooperation between people, as well as between scientific, educational institutions and cultural institutions should be intensified.
I think it is a great honor to be invited. I don't know if you know, but there was never a Lithuanian prime minister to have visited Armenia so far. So I hope I will be able to be the first and it will happen soon.
Aram Ananyan: Thank you Madam Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte: Thank you very much.