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Week in Lithuania. President: Lithuania is losing direction

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Lithuania, worryingly, is spending less and less time and effort on strategic decisions and the state is losing its strategic direction, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė emphasized in her annual state of the nation address on Thursday, June 9.

«The European Commission, too, regards Lithuania’s progress in the past years as limited. The state is losing its strategic direction – in many areas we are going round and round, stuck in the same routine,» the president said in her annual State of the Nation Address to the Seimas.

The president warned that «the moment of economic stability – which can produce a quality leap in the development of the state – may be lost if we fail to notice troubling signs.»

She called for an open discussion about the quality of state governance and the future path of the state. Weighing in on the speech, Lithuanian political analyst Kęstutis Girnius said that Grybauskaite did not put the blame for the country’s problems solely on the government and managed to maintain balance and not show her support for any political group in the run-up to the general elections.

«When speaking about the state’s problems, (the president) did not put the whole responsibility on the current government, but only spoke about what needs to be done and why,» Kęstutis Girnius said.

Vytautas Landsbergis, the conservative first post-independence leader of the state, has also called the President’s speech «a good one.»

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius was rejecting criticism in President Grybauskaitė’s state of the nation address, saying it was a thinly-veiled attack on the governing parties ahead of the elections.

«I did not hear a report (on the situation of the country) from the president this time. What I heard was criticism of the government and I regard this as …a bid to make the public believe something that is untrue and cause voters to have a negative opinion about the ruling majority,» Butkevičius told reporters.

U.S. official: Russia will not reach Baltic capitals within 60 hours

A senior US Defense Department official said on Tuesday, June 7 that while Russia could break NATO defences in the Baltics in 60 hours or less, it will become much more difficult after 2017. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter confirmed arguments outlined in the RAND Corporation report, saying that Russian troops could reach the Estonian and Latvian capitals in only 60 hours or less after launching an attack. Mr. Carpenter is quoted by weeklystandard.com as saying that the alliance does indeed struggle to increase defence capacity in Eastern Europe and Russia has a favourable geographical position.

Klaipeda PET producers’ results up and down

The 2015 financial results of two PET manufacturers based in the Klaipeda Free Economic Area differ starkly, with Neo Group describing its results as being among the best ever and Orion Global PET saying that its revenue went down in half. The PET pellet manufacturer Orion Global PET last year posted 189 million euros in revenue, down 47 per cent from 2014. Jitendra Kumar Malik, its CEO, said that the decline was mostly due to fluctuations in oil prices.

Alcohol consumption on a lower end

Alcohol consumption levels in Lithuania are misleading, as statistics specialists have been failing to include some factors in them, shows a new survey. According to its findings, given the shadow alcohol sales and the alcohol taken out of the country by emigrants and foreign tourists, residents of Lithuania consumes about 13.1 litres of alcohol per capita, which is nearly 1 liter less than the official statistics. Marius Dubnikovas, the chairman of the Tax Commission of the Business Confederation, said the factors should be included in the calculations of alcohol consumption, as they have a major impact.

Darius Dulkis, partner in the research company Ekonomines Konsultacijos ir Tyrimai (Economic Consultations and Research), believes that even the 13 liters per capita is not a reflection of reality.

«In ratings of international institutions, we are listed with our domestic statistics. We are not happy with the 13 liters. We need bigger research and samples. This is only the first attempt,» Dulkis told journalists.

According to data provided by Statistics Lithuania, the country’s residents consumed an average of 14.2 liters of pure alcohol per capita in 2014. However, calculations of additional sales of shadow alcohol, amounts of alcohol taken out of Lithuania by emigrants, the consumption by foreign tourists and transport of logistics companies pulled the indicator down to 13.14 liters.

Riflemen want to keep semi-automatic weapons at home

As Lithuania’s parliament is debating amendments to gun control legislation, the country’s Riflemen Union argues that if its members and military volunteers were allowed to keep semi-automatic weapons, it would greatly boost Lithuania’s defence capacity. Critics of the proposal note, however, that easier access to weapons can lead to lethal incidents or be used by criminals. MP Artūras Paulauskas, chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, says he is unconvinced by arguments for stricter gun control. Meanwhile Robertas Juodka, lawyer and member of the Lithuanian Riflemen Union, believes that if people were allowed to keep semi-automatic weapons at home, this would deter «potential enemies.»

Prosecution will not follow Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrators list

Lithuania’s Prosecutor General’s Office has analysed a list of some 2,000 people suspected of involvement in the Holocaust, but will not be pursuing charges, because not one of them is still alive. The list of 2,039 individuals has been compiled by the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania and has not been made public. It has only been shared with the Prosecutor General’s Office. Historian Alfredas Rukšėnas of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania says that the list is not final and that new names may be added to it. He estimates that between 3,000 and 6,000 people could have been directly involved in the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Lithuania vexed over alleged incident at Belarus nuclear plant

Lithuania has handed a diplomatic note to Belarus over an alleged incident at the construction site of Astravyets nuclear power plant, just 50 kilometres from Vilnius. «We have requested information about an incident that could have taken place and underlined once again that we want more transparency in this process. That would be the second incident – we do not know if it really took place – and we want information,» Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said. Lyudmila Tatarinovich, the chargé d’affaires of Belarus’ embassy to Lithuania, who was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, June 8, said that no incident had occurred, according to Linkevičius.

Finnair uses Lithuanian airspace most

Finland’s Finnair, Aeroflot-Russian Airlines and Germany’s Lufthansa were the top three users of Lithuania’s airspace in the first quarter of 2016, according to figures from Oro Navigacija (Air Navigation).

The top three users between them accounted for 28 per cent of the Lithuanian market, with Finnair’s share at 11 percent, Aeroflot’s share at 9 per cent and Lufthansa’s share at 8 per cent, the state-owned air navigation service provider said.

Latvia’s AirBaltic was in fourth place with an 8 percent market share, followed in fifth position by Ireland’s Ryanair with 5 per cent. Oro Navigacija provided services to a total of 48,700 aircraft during the first quarter (up 1.1 per cent), including 37,400 aircraft, or 76.7 per cent, on transit flights.

Lithuania to appoint new ambassador to Belarus

Government agreed on Wednesday, June 8, to recall Ambassador Evaldas Ignatavičius from Belarus as of July 11. He should be replaced by Andrius Pulokas, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department. Ignatavičius has worked in Minsk since the spring of 2013. Pulokas’ designation has already been endorsed by the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee.

Vilnius promotes itself as an open city

Organisation «Friendly Vilnius» aims to make the Lithuanian capital a welcoming place for people of all nationalities, lifestyles, abilities, and orientations. To achieve this aim, a Friendly Vilnius map was launched, listing 50 open-minded, inclusive businesses across the Lithuanian capital. In a promotional video, «Friendly Vilnius» was endorsed by a diverse crowd of locals, including LGBT, vegan, disabled rights activists as well as well-known artist Jolita Vaitkutė and Aistė Diržiūtė, star of the award-winning lesbian drama. «The Summer of Sangaile.» 10,000 copies of «Friendly Vilnius» maps are now available for free in different Vilnius cafés, restaurants, businesses as well as at Vilnius Tourist Information Centres. The map is also accessible online at friendlyvilnius.com where businesses are sorted by different «friendliness» categories, such as «disability», «English speaking» or « vegetarian», among others.

MEPs slam Lithuania for apathy

The European Parliament passed on Wednesday, June 8, a resolution slamming EU member states and institutions for their apathy toward the alleged operation of secret prisons in Europe under the CIA’s rendition program between 2001 and 2006. In the resolution, passed by 329 votes to 299, with 49 abstentions, MEPs voice their regret «at the fact that more than a year after the release of a US Senate study of the renditions program, no perpetrators have been held to account and the US government has failed to cooperate with EU member states,» according to the European Parliament’s press release. Five Lithuanian MEPs supported the resolution, three voted against it and one abstained.

A Lithuanian parliamentary inquiry in late 2009 identified two sites, one in Vilnius and the other close to the Lithuanian capital, both of which could have been used as detention facilities.

The inquiry also found that several CIA-related flights had landed in Vilnius and Palanga between 2003 and 2006, but it did not answer the question of whether any terror suspects had been actually flown into the country.

Culture minister in hot waters over Bulgaria assets

Lithuania’s Culture Minister Šarūnas Birutis owns property in Bulgaria that he has failed to include in his declaration of assets. Birutis is one of the three individuals controlling a Bulgaria-registered company Agrolitas. Official documentation shows the company has acquired 18.5 hectares of land close to the settlement of Kalcevo in eastern Bulgaria for 200,000 euros in 2009. Birutis has confirmed having planned an algae cultivation business in Bulgaria. «The idea was to have a spirulina plant there and grow the algae. It’s too cold here in Lithuania, and the climate there (in Bulgaria) is good,» the minister explained.

Lithuanians prefer houses over apartments

Lithuanians are increasingly looking to buy houses and sites as standalone house and land sales grew in Lithuania in May, according to the Centre of Registers. In May, 967 individual houses were sold in Lithuania – 13.5 per cent more than in April and 16.4 per cent more than in the corresponding period last year. «It seems that for Lithuanians, like many Europeans, apartments are no longer as attractive, indicated by growing individual houses and land sales,» said the Centre of Registers representatives. The market for sites also increased with 5,832 plots of land sold in May. This is a 9.3 per cent increase on April and 26.3 per cent more than in May last year.

Ministry suggests raising benefits for asylum-seekers

Lithuania’s Social Security and Labour Ministry has suggested raising monthly benefits for food and petty expenses for asylum-seekers by 10 euros. According to the press release, the current benefit of 61 euros per month is hardly enough for food, forcing refugees to resort to organizations providing food to those in need. The proposed sum is 71.4 euros. At the Refugee Center of Lithuania, food can be provided in a few possible ways, namely, by way of benefits, in a centralized manner at the center’s canteen and by way of issuing food products of the same value. Just over 50 asylum-seekers currently reside in the Refugee Center, with the majority of them coming from Eastern Ukraine.

Lithuanian MPs mull gender-based harassment ban

A draft amendment banning gender-based harassment in Lithuania on Tuesday, June 7, got off the ground at the parliament, which had earlier rejected such an amendment despite a threat of EU sanctions. The government has been trying since last year to put a provision that prohibits not only sexual harassment, but also gender-based harassment in the workplace back into the Law on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. Such a ban was in place until 2014. Under the draft amendment, the employer would have to take steps to ensure that a worker is not subjected to gender-based harassment and sexual harassment at work. The draft amendment passed its second reading in the Seimas with 46 votes in favor, none against and 32 abstentions and will require one more vote to be adopted. However, the Seimas had so far failed to muster enough votes to pass the amendment. The last time it was put up for vote was in late May. It was then sent back for improvement.

Ministry: no need to rush Rail Baltica agreement

Lithuanian Transport Minister Rimantas Sinkevičius said on Wednesday, June 8, that there is no need to rush an agreement between the three Baltic countries on the European standard-gauge railway project Rail Baltica, adding that the distribution of VAT revenue among the countries and the appointment of members of the management board of a joint venture set up for the project are the key problems that remain to be solved.

The Lithuanian minister spoke a day after the prime ministers of Latvia and Estonia called for the intergovernmental agreement on Rail Baltica to be finalized and signed as soon as possible. According to the minister, the issue of the distribution of the VAT paid for construction works remains unsolved.

«The joint venture is registered in Latvia. If it implemented the projects and if it is not otherwise agreed, all that VAT would go to the coffers of the state where the company is registered.  We think it would be unfair and, as far as I know, an agreement has been reached in principle that VAT deductions from funds from the national envelope of each of the states that will be invested in Rail Baltica will go to the coffers of that state,» he said.

City of Vilnius seeks 50 million euro to finance infrastructure

The city of Vilnius is seeking to borrow 50 million euro from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to finance new infrastructure projects and refinance existing debt. The EIB said on its website that the city’s request was «under appraisal». Alma Vaitkunskienė, the municipality’s director of administration, said that the city wanted to borrow funds for new projects, as well as to refinance existing loans.

Lithuania gets unplanned revenue in Jan-May

The Lithuanian state received 1.6 per cent more revenue than planned in the first five months of 2016, putting the total revenue figure at 2.424 billion euros, the government said. The 2016 revenue indicates an increase by 8.5 per cent (190.2 million euros) year-on-year.

Director’s film nominated for European Film Award

«I’m Not from Here», a film by Lithuanian director Giedrė Žickytė and Chilean director Maite Alberdi, has been nominated for the European Short Film 2016 Award. This is the fourth film by a Lithuanian director ever nominated for the European Film Academy Award and the first one since 2005, the Lithuanian Film Centre said. «I’m Not from Here» tells the story of Josebe, an elderly Basque woman from San Sebastian who lives in a nursing home in Santiago de Chile. Every day she believes that this is the first day of her visit at the home, and each time she has to realize that it is not. The film has won the Prix EFA Krakow 2016 as the best short film at the international Krakow Film Festival and, at the same time, secured a nomination for the 29th European Film Awards in the short film category.

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