Every year, The Economist names its country of the year. This year it opted for Italy, for seemingly no other reason than its infatuation with incumbent Prime Minister, and long-time money printer, Mario Draghi.
A stronger case, of course, could have been made for its second-place entrant, Lithuania. This year the Baltic nation has stood up to both China, Russia, and Belarus and seemingly won. Its conservative and liberal government has kept the economy on the right track throughout the pandemic. And most importantly, the country celebrated 30 years of restored independence from the Soviet Union with pride.
Lithuania is not a country often on the radar of most, and yet its geopolitical footprint in 2021 has expanded greatly. This is in no small part due to the nation’s zealous commitment to liberal democratic values. Since the end of the Cold War, and its accession to NATO in 2004, the country has been on a mission to support its neighbours.
In 2020 the country opened its doors to political dissidents fleeing Belarus, including opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The country did this knowing the risks it faced from a potential backlash by Lukashenko and Putin. In 2021, Lithuania has doubled down on its support for the Belarusian opposition, taking the call for further sanctions to the European Union. This was perhaps most evident during the hijacking of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, which resulted in the arrest and torture of a blogger.
More broadly, Lithuania has remained committed to its tough stance on communism and the legacy of communism. Lithuania was among the first countries in Europe to introduce sanctions against China for its treatment of the Uyghurs, declaring it a genocide. In August, the country was the first to open a representative office in Taiwan. In response, the Chinese government recalled their ambassador, and expelled large parts of the Lithuanian diplomatic team in Beijing.
Equally, Lithuania’s tough line on the weaponisation of migrants by Russia and Belarus saw the country elicit support for the building of a border wall, and an expansion of the NATO presence in the region.
Throughout the year, Lithuania has demonstrated that size does not matter. It has proven to be the most ardent defender of Western civilisation and liberal democratic values in Europe, putting the larger nations on the Continent to shame. It has shown that with grit, determination, and the right amount of risk taking – any democracy can stand up against authoritarian collectivist regimes.
That’s why Lithuania should be the country of the year and remains a part of the world worthy of increased support and attention.