Lithuania thinks big. In the days of the late lamented Grand Duchy, it stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. That was in the 12th century. But its ability to grasp the big picture remains. This is why, on 11 March 1990, the newly elected Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic voted unilaterally to restore the country’s pre-war independence, with immediate effect. That horrified most outsiders, who were more concerned about keeping Mikhail Gorbachev in power in the Soviet Union and his hardline rivals out of it. It also displeased Estonia and Latvia. Their big population of Soviet-era migrants made them want to take things more slowly: Lithuania was 80% Lithuanian in 1989, whereas ethnic Latvians were almost a minority in their own country. But in retrospect Lithuania’s move was right. The seismic shock of a Soviet republic voting to secede showed that the Soviet Union was finished. It made talk of a sovereign and independent Russia seem real, not fanciful. Lithuanian leaders’ practical abilities have not always matched their vision. Policy changes like flat taxes, currency reform and privatisation came slower than in the other two Baltic states. Foreign policy has been brave but clumsy. In 2006-07, Lithuania repeatedly brought the business of the European Union to a halt to try to bring attention to escalating conflict in Georgia. That was prescient – but communicated with amateurishness. All post-independence Vilnius governments have had trouble with Poland. Despite centuries of common history, ties between the countries are oddly twitchy. Poles, more mindful of their own suffering than that of others, forget that from a Lithuanian point of view they can seem like a bullying cultural hegemon. Lithuanians, also prone to introversion, have never delivered on repeated promises to sort out arcane disputes about spelling and property rights affecting the country’s ethnic Poles, who number nearly a tenth of the population. (For example, may they write their names with Polish letters such as ‘n´’ and ‘l’, or are they restricted to the Lithuanian alphabet?) That is all the odder given the avowed pragmatism of Lithuania’s foreign policy under Dalia Grybauskaite?, the country’s steely and popular president. More typical of Grybauskaite?’s approach was the conspicuous absence of Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili from the celebrations to mark the anniversary of the 11 March vote. Saakashvili’s cause has long been championed by Lithuania. The official line from the president’s palace is that only heads of state from neighbouring countries and fellow EU members were invited. That meant invitations (not accepted) for Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev and Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, but not for the leader of Georgia. (At an open-air concert, David Bakradze, the speaker of Georgia’s parliament, enjoyed an enthusiastic reception, suggesting that public and official approaches differ.) Lithuania has paid a high price for its past approach of principled incompetence; the desire for a quiet life now is understandable. Grybauskaite?e reckons that good relations with EU partners such as France and Germany are vital. She wants to visit Russia soon, too (though not until after the 9 May Stalin-tinged celebrations of the Soviet victory in 1945). She thinks that boycotting the Belarusian autocrat is futile. The government hopes to rein in some of her more headstrong tendencies, but agrees broadly that pragmatism is the way ahead. Is it too much to hope that this approach could clear up the row with Poland? That could bring the Baltic states into the emerging, Polish-led, central European alliance around the old Visegrad grouping. A strong Polish-Lithuanian alliance has served Europe well in the past. It could do so again. The writer is central and eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist.