Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
A single cauliflower at a supermarket has set off a major firestorm in Lithuania, engulfing celebrities, the Prime Minister and a bunch of economists. What specifically caused the hoopla? The price of the vegetable – 3.49 euro per piece.
With the picture of the super-costly cauliflower online, the web has become incandescent with hundreds of Lithuanian shoppers going berserk over exorbitant prices in local supermarkets.
Famous singer lashed out at state as «cement elephant»
With the heat on social sites picking up, Algirdas Butkevičius, the Lithuanian Prime Minister, weighed in on the prices himself but was doomed to mockery and ridicule.
Looking at the prices in Lithuanian groceries one can get wobbly: the best-quality beef costs in the range of 10-15 euro per kilo, the price of dairy products is around 20-30 percent higher than of those from Poland. But it was sweet cherries from Greece that left many dumbstruck: an Iki supermarket asks 19,99 euro per kilo of them.
Well, the cherries are obviously not for the army of Lithuanian pensioners eking out on 200-250 euro pensions.
State sneers at the poor?
Engulfed in the online cauliflower frenzy, Marijonas Mikutavičius, a famous Lithuanian TV host and singer, went on Facebook posting a post that drove his FC followers crazy.
«Hey, it’s enough. Let’s stop to sneer at a man with little income now. Let’s stop ridiculing those who go in droves to Poland for cheaper shopping…When part of our fellow citizens were smashing Seimas windows (riots over little wages and high prices broke out at Lithuanian Parliament in winter of 2009; 159 rioters were apprehended then-L.J.), I thought it was an attack against own state. But frankly speaking, now I think it could have been avoided if the state – now and then – were willing to exert at least little efforts to reach out to the ordinary man. Then, perhaps, the man would not leave the state with a finger flick ( Mikutavičius implied high emigration rate -L.J.) if the mythical entity, state, which reminds me of a cement elephant, sat down with the man and explained him a lot in a way we tend to talk to a child,» said a Facebook post by the singer.
Why other countries do not rip off their citizens?
The performer admitted publicly he felt «tension» seeing little fairness in the country.
«But the state with all its welfare support and democracy institutions does not (feel any tension). It is tension-free and does not sit down next to the man…Why the VAT in Poland is higher but their prices are cheaper? Why the VAT in Germany is lesser than ours but their prices are lower, too? Why did the price of my favorite shrimps soar twice over one year? Why is the special-offer milk price now equal to what was a regular price a year ago? The dissatisfaction rises because I- and many out there- do not know answers to the questions. To speak in the political language, we need more publicity and democracy,» the singer said
Within an hour, the posting has garnered over 1,500 shares and nearly 8,000 likes.
High prices and euro adoption are irrelevant?
Cornered up, PM Algirdas Butkevičius explained the rise of prices with 10,6 percent higher retail turnover in the first quarter of the year, year-on-year.
«When comparing the prices in the first quarter of the year to the same period last year, we also see that, this year, the average retail margin has increased,» the head of the Cabinet told.
It made little sense to the fretted army of grocery shoppers, however.
The PM, however, defended the adoption of the euro, insisting that it and the price surge are irrelevant.
The explanations of the Prime Minister, embattled in a string of scandals miring his led Social Democratic Party and individual Cabinet members, have added only gas to the fire on social media.
But the Statistics attempted to quench the public exasperation, claiming that the costs of services have risen a mere 5,7 percent over the last year, meanwhile the prices of foods remained stable and were even edging down 0,3 percent over the period.
«The trend of service price growth is going up from the second quarter of 2014. Meanwhile, the prices of goods were fluctuating up and down throughout the year,» Nadežda Alejeva, the head of Price Statistics Division at the Statistics Department, told.
It depends where you dine and do groceries
Merchandisers also came to the defence of prices. Laurynas Vilimas, the chairman of Lithuania’s Tradesmen Association, asserted that Lithuania, compared to other European Union nations, remains a country with the lowest food prices.
Amid the unrelenting anger, social network activists having coalesced in a quickly-born online social movement for fairer prices called on all Lithuanian shoppers to boycott supermarkets for three days.
But it has not been embraced by swaths of the grocery shoppers and some of prominent Lithuanian economists were quick to denounce it.
«The prices of sweet cherries, cauliflowers and shrimps during the spring indeed look tragically, but they are not the goods that we put daily into our baskets and eat every day. If somebody lives in a world in which he or she dines out every day, gets haircut done in an expensive hair salon and buys convenience goods in boutiques, then the buyer must be spending a lot more than the rest of us who shop elsewhere… I can assure that the vegetables at local market I go have not become a lot more expensive. In fact, my favourite pickles became cheaper,» Aušra Maldeikienė, associate professor at Vilnius University, told.
Government let the prices off the hook
Stasys Jakeliūnas, a finance minister, believes that behind the price growth lie actions of the authorities.
«After the adoption of the euro, there was a very strict control over the price increase. We’ve had a good share of political declarations, all kinds of monitoring and comparisons. But the followed some populist decisions, like that on the rise of minimal wage. Behind the idea stood the Labour Party and the premier gave in… And as the price monitoring mechanism is not working any longer, it got loose, hiking the prices,» the analyst pondered.
With many Lithuanians simply unable to afford foods in Lithuanian groceries, the flow of Lithuanians shoppers to Poland continues streaming.
Lithuanian grocery shoppers swarm Poland
For comparison, the prices over the border are on the average 30-60 percent lower than in Lithuania. Thus a kilo of turkey ham costs 2,08 euro in Polish stores right behind the border, Gouda cheese- 2,54 euro per kilo, chicken wings- 1,22 euro per kilo. In a statistic Lithuanian supermarket, the prices for the foods were 4,50 euro, 6,62 euro and 3,15 euro respectively.
And if one, undeterred by the Lithuanian prices, ends up on the Baltic coast this summer, in the otherwise beautiful resort of Palanga, the prices in local cafes can leave many dumbstruck.
Palanga prices startle before summer
A bowl of the traditional saltibarsciai (cold beetroot soup) costs from 3,5 to 5 euro and the portion of another Lithuanian traditional dish, cepelinai (zeppelins made of minced meat stuffed in potato coatings) will thin one’s pocket around 5,5-6 euro. The prices of these and other dishes are certainly set to rise with the summer nearing.
«Well, the prices are on a higher edge for many, but take a look at the prices in local supermarkets where we buy our provisions. The quality of dishes in most Palanga cafes and restaurants is really good. Our capelins are hand-made and the beetroot soup is not diluted with water, which is something some other cafes may do,» Darius Miklovas, president of Palanga’s Hotel and Restaurant Association and owner of cafe «Sporto lizdas», told BNN.