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Week in Lithuania. Landsbergis suggests inviting Russian MPs

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Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania‘s first post -independence leader, has suggested inviting Russian parliamentarians to memorial events of January 13 coup. In his words, inviting Duma deputies would be a logical and humane step.

«Inviting deputies of the Duma to our memorial events would make sense and be humane. This is also true. Those who were killed outside the (TV) tower died for your freedom, too – it would be an opportunity to say this,» Landsbergis said at a meeting in the historic March 11 Hall at the parliament on Thursday, January 12.

Landsbergis said the time had come to discuss everything with Russian parliamentarians in a decent and friendly manner, adding that such diplomacy would be necessary.

Russia is considered one of the biggest threats to Lithuania‘s national security. Moscow has refused to cooperate in trials of January 13 attempted coup and the Medininkai massacre.

Parliament starts debates on MP seats reduction

The Lithuanian parliament has started debates on constitutional amendments aiming to slash the number of seats in the Seimas from 141 to 101 and moving the date of general elections from October to March.

The draft amendments to the Constitution passed the first reading in the Seimas with 67 votes in favour, 22 against and 34 abstentions and will be now discussed at parliamentary committees.

The amendments were supported by the Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union (LPGU), the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Union of Christian Families and a part of Liberal Movement MPs. Members of all other political groups, except for some individual lawmakers, voted against or sustained.

The Peasants and Greens, who initiated the amendments, say that parliamentary elections should be moved from October to March to give enough time for the newly-elected parliament to form the coming year’s budget.

Under the Constitution, regular parliamentary elections are held on the second Sunday of October in the last year of the legislative term. If the date is moved to the second Sunday of March, as proposed, the current legislative term will be half a year shorter than usual.

The Peasants and Greens cite the country’s declining population as the reason for slashing the number of seats in the parliament.

First German troops to arrive in Lithuania in late January

The first troops of the German-led NATO forward presence battalion are expected to arrive in Lithuania in late January, the Defence Ministry said. Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis told NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, who was on a visit to Lithuaniaon Thursday, January 12, that that the country was taking every effort to put in place all the necessary infrastructure for the arriving forces to train and get ready for carrying out deterrence and defence tasks along with the country‘s Armed Forces.

Great Synagogue must be restored but not until 2027

The Great Synagogue of Vilnius that was razed to the ground during the Soviet rule should be rebuilt at least in part, however, the idea cannot be implemented in the nearest decade, says Remigijus Šimašius, mayor of the Lithuanian capital. Meanwhile, former Omnitel CEO Antanas Zabulis and his friends cherish the idea of restoring the synagogue, the library and a conference center for financial support of Litvaks living abroad. Furthermore, they want the elementary school building, which was constructed on the ruins of the synagogue during the Soviet era, to be torn down without delay.

«I have no doubts that the terrible Soviet building should be gone in the future, I mean the more distant future. And the synagogue should be rebuilt either in full or in some more modern manner. However, doing this in the nearest decade would be irresponsible and illogical,» Šimašius told journalists on Thursday, January 12, while attending the presentation of the plans of managing the territory of the synagogue.

Presented by the municipality, the draft proposals envisage paying tribute to the synagogue in the territory next to the Žydų and the Vokiečių streets within the coming two years and upkeep the Vokiečių Street, however, leave untouched the elementary school building constructed during the Soviet rule.

Conservative MP slams Seimas speaker

Lithuania‘s Conservative MP Mantas Adomėnas has criticized Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis‘  decision to meet with Russian Ambassador Alexander Udaltsov shortly before the Day of Freedom Defenders, which is marked on January 13. The MP noted the symbolic meaning of the meeting with the diplomatic envoy of a country that denies January 13 crimes.

«Why meet with the representative of the country that denies the January 13 tragedy on the week of January 13? The country does not only refuse to take responsibility but refuses to extradite criminals, denies and disseminates information that humiliates us about «people shooting at our own people». Was it not possible to see the symbolic meaning of the meeting,»Adomėnas asked rhetorically in an address read in Seimas plenary on Thursday, January 12.

He said he could understand the need for the parliamentary speaker to meet with diplomatic envoys of countries that are not friendly, noting the poor organization in the sense of public relations.

Foreign Minister addresses opposition MPs‘ concerns

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said on Thursday, January 12, that, as a member of the Cabinet, he had not given privileges to political party members and that the practice of appointing people to the diplomatic service without competition had been strictly in line with the law.

«There are reproaches as to the practice of recruitment to the diplomatic service. Let me say it very clearly: no one has made a diplomatic career owing to their party membership either during my tenure as (foreign) minister or my two previous terms of office as defence minister,» he told members of the political group of the opposition Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats at the parliament. According to the minister, the law sets out an exception to the rule that persons are appointed to the diplomatic service through competition.

Based on data provided to BNS by the Foreign Ministry, 12 people were appointed to the diplomatic service after temporary contracts in 2014 through 2016. The same number of people was appointed this way between 2009 and 2012. A total of 40 people have become diplomats without competition and examinations since 2004.

Another 16 Syrian refugees arrive in Lithuania

Another 16 Syrian refugees have arrived in Lithuania under the EU’s resettlement program, the Migration Department said.

«Three families of citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic with young children, 16 persons in total, we relocated from Greece to Lithuania on Jan. 11, 2017,» it said in a press release.

This brings to 239 the total number of refugees from Middle East who have been relocated to Lithuania from Greece and Turkey. Lithuania has pledged to take in a total of 1,105 refugees under the EU program.

Lithuania to do all it can to reset ties with Poland

Lithuania will do everything it can to «reset» its relations with neighbouring Poland, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said on Thursday, January 12.

«We will do everything possible to reset these relations. This is not easy. I do expect certain contribution from the Seimas,» he told members of the political group of the opposition Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats at the parliament.

Linkevi2ius said that he had maintained rather active contacts with Poland’s former presidents Aleksandr Kwasniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski. Linkevičius described as «shameful» the Seimas’ vote back in 2010 in which the parliament rejected a bill on the use of non-Lithuanian characters in name-spelling.

Ministry proposes to set up single forestry company

Lithuanian Environment Minister Kęstutis Navickas proposes to establish a single enterprise to manage state forests.

«Forest management must be streamlined to make it transparent and efficient. This is our key goal,» the minister said unveiling his visit.

All state forests are currently managed by the Directorate General of State Forests and 42 profit-seeking forestry enterprises which employ a total workforce of 4,000, including some 1,200 foresters and 800 administrative staff. The reform will aim to merge the enterprises and cut the administrative apparatus.

PM paid his first foreign visit to Latvia

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis went for his first foreign visit in the capacity to Latvia on Thursday, January 12. He met with Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, Speaker of the Saeima Inara Murniece and President Raimonds Vejonis.

«The meetings will focus on bilateral cooperation, the security situation in the region, energy, transport,» Tomas Beržinskas, an advisor to Skvernelis, said prior to the trip.

Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament), paid his first foreign visit to Latvia last month.

President supports cut in university numbers

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė backs the government in its bid to cut the number of universities.

«A higher education reform is among the top priorities identified by the president for the 17th government. The president supports the government in its efforts to reduce the number of higher education institutions and improve the quality of higher education,» the president‘s press office said on Wednesday, January 11.

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and Education and Science Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė told journalists earlier in the day that only up to five state universities should be left in the country, down from the current fourteen.

Kaunas architecture site added to UNESCO’s tenative list

Kaunas‘ Modernist architecture of the interwar period on Tuesday was included into UNESCO‘s World Heritage Tentative List. Renata Vaičekonytė-Kepežinskiene, heritage program coordinator at the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO, described this decision as a successful up first step for Lithuania’s second-biggest city toward the World Heritage List.

«This is the first step and a successful one. It is opening the way for the member state to prepare a nomination, a serious application to the World Heritage List,» she said.

At this stage, an application is evaluated based on formal criteria to ensure that it meets the technical requirements. Lithuania will then be able to start preparing its nomination to the World Heritage List, a process that takes at least two years, and usually more, to complete, Vaičekonytė-Kepežinskienė said.

Kaunas‘ Modernism formed in the 1930s when the city was the provisional capital of Lithuania, whose historic capital Vilnius was under Polish occupation. Several tens of its buildings are exceptional examples of Modernist architecture.

The Tentative List is a list of sites that countries intend to nominate to the World Heritage List. The other Lithuanian site on the Tentative List is the Historical National Park of Trakai.

Preliminary damage of Vilnius sewage named

The preliminary damage caused by the December sewage spill in central Vilnius stands at 450,000 euros, says Marius Švaikauskas, the head of the Vilnius Regional Environment Protection Department.

«The preliminary damage will total approximately 450,000 euros, and will claim it from the guilty party,» the environment specialist said at the parliament’s Environment Protection Committee on Wednesday, January 11.

He spoke after the municipal waters supplier Vilniaus Vandenys (Vilnius Water) said earlier in the day that the ecologic disaster on Upės Street in the Lithuanian capital last December had resulted in the spillage of about 30,000 cubic meters of untreated sewage in the River Neris. The information was submitted to the Environment Ministry conducting a probe into the accident.

The environmentalists calculated the damages by the amount and concentration of pollutants in the river .

Declared emigration up considerably

The number of emigrants who declared emigration from Lithuania last year increased in 2016, as compared to 2015, Statistics Lithuania said on Wednesday, January 11. In 2016, 51,000 people declared emigration from Lithuania, up by 6,400, or 14.5 per cent year-on-year. Some 21,400 people immigrated in Lithuania last year, which is a decline by 800 from 2015. Among the immigrants, 77 percent were Lithuanian citizens returning to live in Lithuania. In the beginning of this year, Lithuania had 2.849 million permanent residents, indicating a drop by 39,200, or 1.4 per cent, year-on-year, Statistics Lithuania said citing preliminary data.

Lithuania to grant a half million euros to Afghans

Lithuania is set to earmark about 470,000 euros to Afghanistan‘s National Security Forces this year. The Defence Ministry‘s relevant proposal will be discussed at the government‘s meeting on Wednesday, January 11.

«The money would be transferred to a special trust fund, which gets the bulk of the money from Americans. The Defence Ministry suggests contributing half of a million US dollars this year,» Laimonas Brazaitis, spokesman for the Defence Ministry, said.

NATO has been conducting the Resolute Support operation in Afghanistan since 2015 to train and support Afghanistan’s national forces and some ministries. Lithuania’s contingent in Afghanistan currently consists of about 20 troops.

Seimas speaker explains his meetings

Lithuania‘s Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis says he is astonished by the criticism over his meetings with the Russian and Belarusian ambassadors ahead of the Freedom Defenders Day, noting that the meetings were held to remind the diplomats about their countries’ unwillingness to extradite defendants in the Jan. 13 attempted coup trial.

«It was an opportunity to tell both ambassadors to note the trials in progress in our country and our aim to prosecute the people who now face charges in absentia, this is what the ambassadors were told,» Pranckietis said in a radio interview.

«What we discussed with the ambassadors was representation of Lithuania’s interests, and they did not hear our questions with big smiles on their faces,» the parliamentary speaker emphasized.

Earlier this week, Pranckietis met with Russia’s Ambassador in Vilnius Alexander Udaltsov and Belarusian Ambassador Alexander Korol.

Hearings into the Jan. 13 attempted coup trial started in a Vilnius court nearly a year ago, with testimony of victims being heard now. Some 65 persons face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, however, merely two of them are present in the courtroom, while others are tries in absentia. The majority of defendants are citizens of Russia.

Belarus ambassador: Belarus sees no problems with N-plant safety

Belarus is convinced in the safety of the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant under construction close to the Lithuanian border and sees no problems in connection to sales of electricity generated there, Belarusian Ambassador to Lithuania Alexander Korol said on Tuesday, January 10.

At a meeting with the ambassador, Lithuania‘s Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis urged Minsk to give access to international observers and expressed concern over the repeated incidents at the facility.

Korol said after the meeting that a mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was expected in Belarus next week for assessment of the site selection.

In his words, electricity generated at the Astravyets facility will be used in Belarus. He assured that the Astravyets facility had already met the commitment of holding stress tests, however, did not specify who conducted them.

President on universal conscription

Universal conscription in Lithuania requires political consensus and proper preparations, says President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

«The number of recruits – between 3,500 and 4,000 annually – stipulated by the State Defence Council and envisaged in the law is currently sufficient for formation of the units for the Armed Forces and the reserve. Universal conscription requires political consensus and relevant preparations,» Grybauskaitė said in a statement.

After a meeting with leadership of the Armed Forces and the Defence Ministry, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said universal conscription of young men would be introduced in 2019. Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis believes two years of preparations would not be enough, adding the scheme was only possible in 2020-2021.

The plan is to conscript all young men graduating high school. The prime minister says about 6,000-7,000 young men graduate schools every year.

Currently, 3,000-3,500 men between ages of 19 and 26 are conscripted to military service every year.

Lithuania updates security strategy

Lithuania‘s updated National Security Strategy will highlight corruption and social exclusion as threats, the chairman of the parliament‘s Committee on National Security and Defence said on Monday, January 9.

«Compared with the document drafted by the earlier government, the new document states that corruption is eroding the state from within. We should calculate the damage that corruption is causing to the state. The Special Investigation Service chief mentioned that this could amount to around 20 percent of the national budget. These are huge losses,» Vytautas Bakas, the chairman, said.

The updated strategy was drafted by the previous government to bring it into line with the security situation which has changed since 2012, when the document was last reviewed.


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