Lithuania’s EU Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, has given a scathing response to UK foreign affairs chief Jeremy Hunt, who compared the EU to the former Soviet Union.
At the Conservative Party annual conference in Birmingham on Saturday (29 September), Hunt likened the EU to Soviet Russia, accusing it of becoming “a prison” and vowing to “fight” for the Brexit deal Britain wants.
He compared the EU strategy to keep the bloc together in the Brexit context to the Soviet Union, which tried to prevent citizens from escaping to the West.
“What happened to the confidence and ideals of the European dream?” he asked. “The EU was set up to protect freedom. It was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving.
“The lesson from history is clear: if you turn the EU club into a prison, the desire to get out won’t diminish, it will grow – and we won’t be the only prisoner that will want to escape.”
Hunt’s comments unleashed a flurry of reactions on social media. The leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, called the comments “offensive and outrageous”, especially to those millions of Europeans that lived under Soviet occupation, adding that Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher “must be turning in their graves”.
But the most biting reaction came from Andriukaitis, the Lithuanian official in charge of the Commission’s health policies, who was born in Stalin’s gulag in 1951, as his parents were considered “enemies of the people”.
I was born in Soviet gulag and been imprisoned by KGB a few times in my life.
Happy to brief you on the main differences between #EU and Soviet Union. And also why we escaped the #USSR
Anytime. Whatever helps. https://t.co/c2h7gbnj59
— Vytenis Andriukaitis (@V_Andriukaitis) October 1, 2018
Andriukaitis previously described his experiences to EURACTIV in an interview dated 27 January 2016.
On his Twitter account, Andriukaitis describes himself as “medical doctor, historian and humanist. Not a bureaucrat”.
Before joining politics, he participated in the first ever heart transplant undertaken in Lithuania and in June 2016 he was responsible for a ‘face palm’ video that went viral.
Following the UK’s vote to leave, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage addressed the Parliament , criticising MEPs for never having done a “proper job” before and behind him Andriukaitis was visible with his head in his hand.
Later in a blogpost, the Lithuanian Commissioner denounced Farage’s “toxic untruths” and “lies”, including a campaign pledge that money spent on EU membership would be reinvested in the UK health system.