Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
First, Lithuanian PM Algirdas Butkevičius insists that a plot to oust him is ready and then he shocks all by claiming that Moscow’s hand orchestrates Lithuanian teacher strikes engulfing around 7,000-8,000 educators from 220-240 schools in the country.
A proof in Russian newspaper?
After initially pointing out vaguely to a certificate on Russia’s involvement in the strikes from «special services», Algirdas Butkevičius later referenced to an article in the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaja Pravda.
«Pick up Komsomolskaja Pravda and read it, you will see what it says (about the strikes),» the prime minister told Tuesday.
It remains unclear what article Lithuanian premier had in mind, but by late Wednesday several Russian outlets, including «Komsomolskaja Pravda», have picked up Butkevicius’ words, poking fun at him for blaming Russia for the strikes.
Not teachers but others have ties with Moscow
On Wednesday morning, Butkevicius backed away from the accusation and apologised to teachers clamouring for higher wage and better working conditions.
«Some of the country’s professional trade unions do keep in touch with Moscow, however,» Butkevičius insisted. «When speaking in Seimas on Tuesday (about the teacher strikes), I just wanted to warn the leaders of teachers’ trade unions about Russia’s possible clout on them. If some misunderstood me that I have accused all Lithuanian teachers and educators, I can assure one that it was not what I meant to say. I do respect and will always respect our teachers. Therefore, today, standing in front of TV cameras, I am apologising to all, but my duty is to warn the trade unions which organise the strikes that certain people, capable of wreaking havoc, can join them,» Butkevičius warned.
He added in the emotional speech that he«perhaps» will not«commit a crime» informing that «some» Lithuanian trade unions do cooperate with Russia’s Federation of Independent Trade Unions.
«It is the most influential pro-Putin organization, which can be considered as a mechanism of soft power of the Russian Federation, which is carrying out informational and ideological politics detrimental to Lithuania,» Butkevičius said.
Teachers want more money
The strikes commenced last Monday and they encompass around 240 pre-school, primary and secondary education establishments all over the country. Around 7000-8000 teachers are believed to be engulfed in the strikes. There are about 55000 teachers in Lithuania.
The teacher unions urge the Government to allot additionally 18 million euro for teachers’ wages from September 1.
Teachers had made Lithuanian Government raise the average salary nearly 20 percent before the economic downturn during 2008 and 2010. Besides, the-then Government had agreed to raise teachers’ salaries for a period of five successive years, but with crisis in a full swing, the hard-fought teachers’ wins were annulled.
After Butkevičius’ statement on Moscow’s clout, heads of Lithuania’s chief teacher trade unions claimed to BNN they were «astounded» by it.
«I see it as a very irresponsible and emotional outburst, which has nothing to do with the reality. Prime Minister has apologised teachers today (Wednesday), which we welcome. He explained us in the meeting today that he was misled by a certificate from special services, which, he now insists, mentions other unions, but not those of teachers,» Andrius Navickas, the chairman of Lithuania’s Education Workers Profession Union, told BNN.
Teachers’ demands have nothing to do with politics?
Navickas said he assured the head of Government that Lithuanian teachers are aware of who is who and no one can doubt Lithuanian teachers’ credibility and loyalty to the state of Lithuania.
«Our demands are of economic nature. We do not have any political demands whatsoever,” Navickas emphasized. «Premier has assured us that he will go back to the ruling Coalition’s Political Council and discuss our demands there.»
The strikes, however, will go on until an accord is struck with the Government, the trade unionist underlined.
Trade unionist calls PM a «flip-flopper»
Asked what he makes out from Butkevičius’ words, Egidijus Milešinas, the deputy chairman of Lithuania’s Education Professional Union, told BNN the Lithuanian premier appeared to be «a flip-flopper» in the situation.
«First he says it and then he changes his opinion. It is just not solid for a man in his capacity. It is not the first time that he flip-flops. He might have been misled by some people in his environment. I doubt whether knows it exactly. Ifeel at a loss for words, to tell the truth,» Milešinas admitted to BNN.
He says, however, here is a glint of hope that the Government and Butkevičius will stop turning deaf ear to the teachers’ demands.
«As a matter of fact, Butkevičius was the one who eased the tensions in the Wednesday meeting between Government officials and the trade unions’ representatives. He was late for the meeting, but after walking in, he apologised to all the teachers (for the accusation). After that the trade unions lowered their demands on the wage increase, asking the Government to find 13 million euros instead of 18 million euros for the purpose,» Milešinas told.
As the Ministry of Education and Science has committed to finding 5 million euros for the wage hike, the Government needs to come up with the rest.
«I don’t think that the 8 million euros that Government needs to find in its coffers is a lot,» the deputy chairman reasoned.
An accord might be around the corner?
According to Milešinas, PM Butkevičius pledged to find the money until the third round of the negotiations between Government and trade unions that is scheduled for next Monday.
«After the apology and the toned down rhetoric many teachers now believe that accord might be just around the corner,» Milešinas told.
Government negotiators have failed, however, to convince teachers’ unions to call off a strike on Wednesday as talks about higher pay continues. The teacher’s average pay before taxes is around 835 euro in Lithuania.
Is Lithuanian PM good at damage control?
Linas Kojala, an analyst at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre in Vilnius, believes that PM Butkevičius can hardly come out as winner in the situation after the horrible accusation against Lithuanian teachers.
«The only thing that he can do in the damage control is to keep apologising and repenting for the words. By having withdrawn from his words on Russia’s implication in the strikes, he is reaffirming his image of a sincere, open and mistaken-prone person. Most people like that and, therefore, Butkevičius can even bolster the image,» Kojala told BNN. «But on the other hand, the blunder by Butkevičius is huge and he might not get away with it.»
The analyst notes that it was not the first time when the state’s highest officials, making allegations, were referencing to a certificate from special services being unsure of the existence of such document.
Trade unions are very weak in Lithuania
«First the premier says he was briefed on it, then the spokeswoman of Parliament (Loreta Graužinienė-L.J) steps in denying existence of such certificate. Manipulating with the notion of special services and their supposed certificates is a very bad practice in the country,» Kojala emphasized.
If Government satisfies the teachers’ demands, it will encourage other professional groups to come forward with their demands for authorities.
«I will not be surprised if workers of culture or those in law enforcement structures, who are long complaining of the lack of attention will make their demands loud now,» the analyst said.
On the other hand, Kojala says, Lithuanian trade unions are very weak.
«Only around two or three percent of the country’s all workers are members of trade unions. That is a very low number,» the analyst underlined.