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Boy’s death adds to political rivalry in Lithuania

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Algirdas Butkevicius, Lithuanian PM, and Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaite

Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN

The Lithuanian President has never been enamoured with the Social-Democratic Government, but, lately, the nagging by the state-of-head to many seems inappropriate as never before.

In interview to Lithuanian National Radio, asked about the death of an 11-year-boy boy from a special-care children facility in Kaunas region, President Dalia Grybauskaitė accused the Government of «inactivity» in reforming the country’s foster homes.

The boy tumbled down from the school’s window last Tuesday and Grybauskaitė lashed out at the Government, asserting: «The situation is completely intolerable: there’s a such feeling that this Government is able only to set (various) commissions, talk, discuss, promise and do nothing, dragging on the time».

Irked by high PM ratings?

Before, last Monday, with Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius haggling for 50 million euros for Lithuanian dairy farmers suffering from the Russian embargo aftermaths, the President, with the talks under the way, snubbed the efforts, insisting the sector just cannot expect the sum.

«The whole rhetoric by the state-of-head is about trying to reaffirm herself over and over again. She is obviously exasperated to see the Prime Minister’s support ratings high for so long and with one year untill the Parliament election left, she will, definitely, be little choosy with words. But the comment on the boy’s case, not only lacks political correctness, but also ethics,» Vytautas Bruveris, a political analyst, told BNN.

«It is just another time when the President’s rhetoric is inappropriately fiery orincendiary,» Bruveris notes.

As the state’s-of-head tend to nod to for the Conservatives most of the time, she will not miss out an opportunity to lash out at the Social Democrats and the Prime Minister if there is occasion for that, he believes.

«Even in such a sad tragic occasion like this one in the foster home,» says the analyst.

The 11-year-old has fallen out of the window of the third floor and was pronounced dead in Kaunas Clinics later.

Who is to blame?

The director of the establishment, Linas Butkus, could not explain how the tragedy could happen. It is known so far that the boy went to the bathroom on the floor, peeked through the window with the bulk of his body out and tumbled down.

Under the fire, the director blamed the old windows, not the personnel for the death.

«The accident took place in the building, where the new windows will be installed next year. The present windows are really old and cause a lot of headache for us,» Butkus said.

He described the victim as «very agile». The child had some mental problems, according to him.

Earlier this year, another pupil died from asphyxia after getting choked in the school. The educational centre had also been embroiled in a scandal when it turned out that some psychotic pupils were tied to beds and beaten.

Visibly upset, President Grybauskaitė called the foster home «a Soviet relic» that needs to be demolished.

«It is just another painful event reminding that the situation with foster homes in Lithuania is really bad, especially so with children who have health issues. Vilijampolė foster home (where the boy died) is a typical example of a Soviet social-care establishment. There were problems before, but they remained unaddressed, though there have been various commissions set (to address the situation),» Grybauskaitė noted in the radio interview.

President wants change

Stacking up the school against similar Western facilities, the Lithuanian President noted that there disabled children, also those with psychiatric aberrations are held in groups of 10 or 20 people.

«It is necessary to break apart the foster care homes (we have) – there cannot be monsters like this. There have been talks about this for long,» the head-of-state emphasized.

Chastising the Government for «insensitivity» for the children, she told it cannot be «hidden» as it is «obvious» to all. «It is the direct responsibility (for the children) of the Government,» Grybauskaitė insisted, calling the explanation the boy was too frisky «mockery.»

But the Social-Democratic head of the Lithuanian Government, Butkevičius, was quick to respond to the accusations by Grybauskaitė, saying that the Government has started reforming the countries foster homes, as a matter of fact.

Long history of troubles

«This Government is the first one to have actually started the implementation of the reform. This Government has ordered the establishments to inventory their property and put the papers in order legislatively,» the PM underlined.

There are around a hundred different foster and special-care educational establishments in Lithuania. Las spring, two major scandals broke out within a month in foster homes barely a hundred kilometers apart. First, it turned out that teenage girls at Švėkšna foster home were pimped by elder peers, and, later, director of Viešvilė special school was accused of serving boys as young as 14 to a pedophile ring. Besides, allegedly, the director himself sexually abused boys from the school under his supervision. The case stills sits in court.

With the calls to overhaul the existing foster care system, Vilnius Municipality was the first to announce this week it will seek to dismantle it by 2020.

Will it work?

However, it remains to be seen whether the expedited forceful transition from institutionalized children care to the one to be provided by families is what works for Lithuania.

Butkevičius, the PM, seems to have doubts over the rapid switch.

«To have the families out there to take the children from the foster homes, a very big educational work needs to be done. I can talk about it a lot, as my wife’s parents have brought up and raised a child from a foster home,» the head of Lithuanian Government said.

It, certainly, puts Lithuania for an acid test in the near future, as well as the Lithuanian political life with the President exhibiting no will to tone down the bellicose rhetoric.

«Her whole rhetoric for long is about the lasting duel with Butkevičius. If he were weak and did enjoy the public support he has now, she’d not be so stingy, I believe,» Bruveris said. «But the rhetorical means she is using, like in the case of the boy’s tragedy, is just not politically correct, obviously. The same could be told talking of her interference in PM Brussels talks over compensations for dairy sector. It just does not sound like an attitude of a statesman – talk about it until negotiations are over. In the political competition, Grybauskaitė seems to be forgetting any political decency,» Bruveris said.

New Polish President – a factor

Lauras Bielinis, a political analyst and associate professor at Kaunas Magnum University, believes that the President tends to rough up her language when she feels she needs to hold the spot in the limelight.

«Recently, we have been seeing the Government and Prime Minister acting exuberantly. Their performance has overshadowed the President and she cannot stand it. Besides, Grybauskaitė had long been in the spotlight over the events in Ukraine, but with the new Polish President, Andrzej Duda, who has demonstrated some really tough stance on the conflict, Grybauskaitė may get dimmed by the Polish counterpart. So she needs to find other topics to remain in the spotlight,» the analyst reasoned.

Bielinis called the emotional flare-up over the Vilijampolė tragedy a «pure populism.»

«To blame the entire Government for it is political incorrectness, to put it mild. For me, it’s all about her attempt to show herself as a tough leader, again and again, especially in the context of the PM popularity and Duda election,» Bielinis underlined.

Ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election next year, he believes the President is already taking sides with certain political forces.

«What are they is a public secret: Conservatives and Liberals, whom she expects to form a new ruling coalition after October 2016 Seimas election. So from that standpoint, her rhetoric will be getting tougher.

But I don’t think she will be a very significant player in the election. Let’s not forget she’s an outgoing president and people do not listen to her necessarily as much now as in the beginning of her stint,» Bielinis emphasized to BNN.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.2704


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