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Week in Lithuania. Midsummer celebrations bring Baltic and Nordic countries together

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President Dalia Grybauskaitė took part on June 16 in the traditional Nordic Baltic Midsummer celebration, organized by the ambassadors of the Nordic and Baltic countries at the Botanical Garden in Kairėnai.

«The Nordic Baltic Midsummer festival is a get-together awaited by all. It not only offers an excellent opportunity to celebrate shared cultural traditions, but also stands as a symbol of our strong partnership and friendship. The event is yet another proof that we are partners and allies, working together to maintain the welfare and security of the people in the region,» the President said.

The celebration, which annually gathers almost a thousand people together, highlights St. John’s traditions of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland – their national cuisines, music and dances.

Midsummer falls on the longest day and shortest night of the year.

It is observed by all Nordic and Baltic peoples. The bonfires which surround the Baltic Sea to celebrate the shortest night, the President said, denote friendship and togetherness between nations, making these bonds increasingly attractive and strong.

Lithuania not vying with Latvia and Estonia in refugee resettlement

Lithuania is not racing against neighboring countries in the European Union’s refugee resettlement program, the country’s new Interior vice-minister Justas Pankauskas said after taking the post on Thursday, June 16. He will be in charge of refugee relocation. He emphasized that refugee relocation was vague across the European Union.

According to data published by the European Commission (EC) in May, Lithuania has relocated 11 refugees from the over 1,000 it has pledged, while Latvia has accepted 23 and Estonia 19.

Social Democrats’ electoral programme draws criticism

The SD Party’s document has drawn criticism due to a number of factual errors in it. For example the social democrats promise to raise the annual average occupation rate in the age group between 15 and 64 to 67 per cent, while according to the Department of Statistics the rate was 68.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2016.

Social democrats claim they will reduce long-term unemployment to 4.5 per cent, but the Department of Statistics shows that in the first quarter of 2015 long-term unemployment stood at 4.2 per cent and 3.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2016. MP Algirdas Sysas, who heads the Social Democrats‘ election headquarters, said that the document was just a draft that the party decided to share with the public for input.

Conservatives’ old-timer resigns

Jurgis Razma, a long-time member and significant conservative figure in the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democratic party (TS-LKD), has stepped down as a member of the party’s leadership in response to internal party conflicts. The internal party conflict arose due to a pamphlet that was sent before the party’s internal Seimas candidate selection process.

In the pamphlet, the conservative party’s chairman, Gabrielius Landsbergis, expressed his support for 13 Seimas candidates and urged party members to support them during the internal selection process. However, most party members expected Landsbergis to remain neutral during the process, especially given his power to modify the selection once it has been made.

A pilot dies in sports airplane crash

The head of Lithuania’s National Flying Club, Šarūnas Staniulis, was killed during a crash of a sports aircraft in the Vilnius district on Thursday evening at the Kyviškės airfield. The sports aircraft crashed into the ground after an unsuccessful acrobatic manoeuvre in mid-air. Staniulis represented Lithuania at the European Acrobatic Flying Championships in 2015, ranking 44th.

Two nabbed in Klaipėda port corruption investigation

The Special Investigation Services (STT) has arrested two people in the port of Klaipėda during a raid held as part of an investigation into potential corruption in the port city.  But STT deputy director Roman Zienka said he could confirm that a pre-trial investigation had begun regarding potential corrupt actions, and searches of the port director’s office were performed as part of the process. The names of the suspects were not revealed yet.

Twelve kilos of heroin busted in Vilnius

Vilnius police has detained a group of drugs smugglers after a year of investigation, busting more than 12 kilos of heroin with them, local authorities said. The drugs were supplied from Tajikistan to the Roma settlement in Lithuania, which is one of the largest drugs dealing spots in Vilnius.

Two citizens of Tajikistan were detained on the Kaunas-Vilnius highway in early hours of Tuesday, finding more than 12 kilos of heroin aboard their car. The drug is estimated at more than 400,000 euros on the wholesale market. The Vilnius police established that the Tajik citizens, bringing used cars bought in Lithuania to countries of the CIS, were also involved in extremely large-scale drugs smuggling and dealing. The police believe the drugs were placed in customized hiding places.

Foreign minister unhappy about Sarkozy’s comment

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has criticized statements by former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy on EU-Russia relations, saying that the former French leader missed a good opportunity «to keep silent». The Lithuanian minister tweeted  to Sarkozy’s statements about the mutual sanctions between the European Union and Russia at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.  Speaking about the possibility for Russia to be the first one to lift sanctions for the EU and expect the same response from the community, Sarkozy said: «And the strongest should reach out a hand, because the strongest player is Russia, represented by President (Vladimir) Putin.»

Calling repeatedly Russia as aggressor does not make Lithuanians safer

The European Union’s (EU) Ambassador in Moscow Vygaudas Usackas, a Lithuanian diplomat, claims that

Lithuania should be more reserved and calmer in its relations with Russia.

«Speaking about the current relations between Lithuania and Russia, of course, our country is very sensitive about the developments in Ukraine, it is emphatic, many ask the question of who could come next. On the other hand, calling Russia an aggressor from a rostrum every time you can does not contribute to boosting the safety of the people of Lithuania, this sends a message of panic to foreign markets and investors, and the number of people in Russia viewing Lithuania in good light is declining,» the diplomat told Lietuvos Zinios daily.

In his words, what Lithuania needs is certain psychological de-escalation of the relations with Russia.

«We cannot change Russia, we cannot change our neighborhood. Therefore, it is crucial to keep the cooperation, the dialogue, especially in the fields that have not been affected by sanctions, we should be in contact with Russia’s residents, universities and university students, as well as the Kaliningrad region that is close to us,» the daily cited the Lithuanian diplomat as saying.

Baltic Pride kickoff sees protests

A small group protested outside the Russian Drama Theatre in Vilnius which hosted a Baltic Pride event on Thursday, June 16. As the event, Pride Voices, inside the theatre encouraged tolerance of the LGBT community, a crowd of several dozen people gathered outside the Russian Drama Theatre to protest. «We are not happy that the drama theatre (hosted such an event,» said Seimas member and Lithuanian Russian Union leader Sergejus Dmitrijevas. He said he would encourage the theatre’s director to resign and would ask the Ministry of Culture to fire him if he did not.

Riflemen can purchase and keep semi-automatic weapons

Lithuania’s parliament (Seimas) has adopted amendments to allow members of the Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union and volunteer troops to purchase semi-automatic guns and cartridges and to keep them in their homes. The amendments allowing the purchase of B and C category guns were supported on Thursday, June 16, by 60 of Lithuania’s 141 parliamentarians, with seven nay votes and 28 abstentions.

According to Lithuanian law, weapons are divided into four categories, with the A category representing the deadliest weapons and cartridges, and the D category featuring the least dangerous. The initiators of the amendments said they were necessary for national security and to correct the fact that the two categories were allowed for sport but not for riflemen.

EC Commissioner: Brexit a potential challenge, not disaster

Great Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) would be an enormous challenge but not a disaster, says Lithuania’s European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

«Britain’s exit will be a very big challenge, however, not a disaster, of course. If Germany or France decided to leave, it would be a bigger challenge, then we would start talking about some negative scenarios,» the commissioner said on Thursday, June 16. «I am among those who believe, under the current circumstances, that the EU will survive the crisis (…). I don’t believe in any forecasts of EU’s end or collapse,» said Andriukaitis.

Seimas greenlights permanent conscription

Lithuania’s Parliament has passed a law making military conscription permanent. The lawmakers adopted changes to the Military Conscription Law, which envisage that conscription to permanent initial military service is conducted every year.

Earlier this week, the parliament stipulated that between 3,500 and 4,000 young men between 19 and 26 would be recruited for military service on an annual basis until 2022. Lithuania discontinued conscription to the army in 2008, but reintroduced the procedure last year in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and in an effort to fully man its military units and draft a reserve.

Inmate gets favourable Human Rights Court ruling

Lithuanian inmate won a case at the European Court of Human Rights against the Prisons Department’s ban on growing beards at internment facilities. The 63-year-old man, interned at Marijampolė Correctional Facility, argued that he was subjected to « humiliation and grief» by being forced to shave his beard. The judges at the Strasbourg-based court decided that the prison violated the man’s right to privacy.

They ruled that an absolute ban on growing beard was not justified by hygiene requirements. Moreover, the ruling said, the ban did not seem to apply to other types of facial hair like sideburns or moustaches. The court was not convinced by the Lithuanian government’s argument that the claimant, Rimantas Biržietis, had not sported a beard before being interned nor afterwards.

Lithuanian Energy holding set to buy started wind parks

Lietuvos Energija energy holding is expanding its operations and is looking for an infrastructure necessary to build a wind farm and invest about 30 million euros. With estimated capacity of about 60 megawatts, the new wind park should allow the group to increase its capacities more than two times.

Lietuvos Energija seeks to purchase projects under development with land sites. According to the company, this would allow for faster implementation of the project than by starting it from scratch.

Lietuvos Energija plans to have a wind park of about 20 wind turbines, each of capacity of about 3 megawatts (MW). The deadline for participant applications is June 30.

U.S. to head one of NATO battalions in Baltics and Poland

The United States will head one of the four international battalions to be set up by NATO in the three Baltic states and Poland to deter Russia, US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter confirmed on Wednesday, June 15. The information has also been withheld by the defence ministers of Germany and Great Britain who have said that two of the four battalions would be set up from their troops.

MPs’ suggestion on profit sharing  

Labour Code reform, has proposed a provision that would have businesses share at least a fourth of their profits with employees. The proposal was put forward by MP Vytautas Matulevičius and states that employers should use at least 25 per cent of their profits for employee compensations.

Rūta Skyrienė, a representative of Investors Forum, an employer association, has criticized the proposal as nonsensical. Meanwhile Nerijus Kasiliauskas, representing labour unions, says it is a political proposal with consequences that are hard to predict. The proposal passed a vote at the Committee on Social Affairs and Labour on Wednesday, June 15, but will have to pass a plenary vote.

Lithuania considers Norway’s defence systems

Lithuania would buy the NASAMS medium-range missile defence systems from the Norwegian government, not directly from the manufacturer Kongsberg, Lithuania’s Defence Minister Juozas Olekas says. «The agreement is that, if the acquisition takes place, it will be done by the government from the government,» the minister told Brussels journalists. The Defence Ministry decided to open talks with the Norwegian enterprise in late May.

China lures Lithuanian businessmen

China has been identified as a tempting new market for Lithuanian exporters, but few producers, outside the food industry, are making any forays into the world’s most populous market. Verslo Žinios reports that, at the moment, China looks like an attractive export market for Lithuanian food producers, while others prefer markets closer at home and regards South-East Asia as a distant option.

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