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Wednesday 21.02.2018 | Name days: Eleonora, Ariadne

Year 2014 roughed up Lithuania, but nation took hits well

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius for the BNN

As we all аre nearing to bidding the final good-bye to 2014, we tend to glance over the shoulder to see what the year has brought to us. Alhough many of those that BNN spoke to pointed out first to issues triggered by the Russia-West standoffs that were plaguing Lithuania down the run, the year has perhaps marked a major shift in the national mentality.

Are Lithuanians getting not only tougher, but also, most importantly, more cheerful and trusting in others?

«Lithuania is coping with Russian embargo pretty well»

Lauras Bielinis, a renowned Lithuanian political analyst and associate professor at Kaunas’ Vytautas Magnum University, says this year has been «pretty complicated» for Lithuania.

«It was that way economically and politically, and acutely such with the deepening Russian information warfare against Lithuania, a result of the standoff between Russia and West and Ukraine,» Bielinis told BNN.

The repercussions from the conflict are heard all over the Baltics, with the three Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia ramping up its defense capabilities, and squaring up with the economic crunch in mostly agricultural and cargo sectors.

«In the wake of Russia sanctions, Lithuanian farmers dealt with production glut in the market as the milk and meat purchasing prices dipped up to 20-35 percent,» the analyst noted.

But Lithuania exerted much in finding new markets for the agricultural output and has done quite a good job in this regard.

«Politically, the Lithuanian ruling coalition is very colorful, encompassing the well-strategized, reputable Social Democrats and some of the parties that are gravely brushing the law. The Labor Party managed to get a verdict on its allegedly shady accounting put off for the future, while Order and Justice Party has been lately entangled in a probe by law enforcement over possible corruption.

Obviously, the two parties have been jarred and excessively suspicious about what had led the prosecutors to them. As a result, we have been seeing certain rifts on the parliamentary floor, and I believe they will extend well into 2015. I think we will see therefore more all kinds of political squabbles and procrastination when it comes to law adoption,» Bielinis evaluated.

As Lithuania is eagerly looking forward to welcoming the euro from January 1, 2015, the adoption of the new currency is likely cause some herky-jerky fluctuations in market trends – from a lackadaisical, cautious wavering to bullish attempts to jack up the trade from scratch.

«But the euro adoption will play to the advantage of the country,» the analyst said.

In terms of Baltic cooperation, the lingering tensions with Russia will prep up the three countries to seek a whole lot more cooperation and unity.

«I think that the countries will get together in the face of the imminent menace from the East. I’d think that the states along with Poland will come up with, for example, a joint TV show aired across the region, to bolster the states’ positions in Russia’s information warfare against them,» Bielinis said.

But he insisted he doesn’t see «a worst scenario» – a Russian military incursion – coming to any of the three states.

«Stakes are high, so is Russia’s possible economic and political down-fall with the crisis deepening,» the analyst said. «But, definitely, the boundaries of the Russian information warfare are likely to expand, throwing out new baits through possibly some other forms.»

According to him, in the light, economy will hardly be edging up, and if it managed go up, the rise will be not as big as predicted.

«No doubt, we will still be under the clout of the Russian embargo and all its ramifications,» the analyst predicted.

Some «historic novelties» lie ahead

For Naglis Puteikis, a member of the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament), the year of 2015 will mark «a huge shift» towards the democratization of the country.

«First, the capacity of court public advisors will be reinstated from 2015. To remind one, it was abolished back in 1994, so the reinstatement will be a leap towards a more transparent judicial system that is expected to obtain more credibility that way. Second, for the first time in the country’s modern history, Lithuanians will be directly electing mayors in March 1, 2015 municipal council election. Importantly, for it, again for the first time, societal movements are allowed to vie for the council seat,» Puteikis told BNN.

He says, the political novelty sends out a very strong message to the traditional political parties that, until now, had little competition among themselves.

As many as 60 societal movements have been registered for the election.

The lawmaker believes that the inclusion will make mayoral runs more competitive and transparent.

«I believe that the election law amendment will particularly shake up the race in Vilnius,» said Puteikis, who unveiled he also considers running for the mayoral office.

«Despite the supposed rivalry, each party was usually pandering until now to relatively small circles of voters and lobbyists, whom they had to pay back for the support later. No wonder that with the lobbyists’ tentacles webbing all the legislative chambers, our political system has been corruption-smeared and ineffective. Now it is about to change and the shift bids nothing good for the conventional political forces,» the legislator told.

Giving a thought to the passing-by year, he also singled out the presidential race in 2014.

«I hardly know any other European country, where a presidential campaign would be so lackadaisical, with everyone clapping for the only candidate, the incumbent president, and which effectively was mimicking democracy. I hope Lithuania will never ever have another similar presidential election again,» the parliamentarian said.

Economically, Puteikis predicted, Lithuania, with the adoption of the euro, should be getting stronger and open for new markets with the bids of market diversification.

Amid the standoff with Russia over Ukraine, Lithuania, the EU’s easternmost tip, has been handling the precarious plight well, according to the politician.

«Amazingly, I see that our people, especially the youth, can be very patriotic and ready to defend the most precious thing we have – the independence,» the MP said.

Brunt of Russian embargo to be felt later

Lithuanian cargo haulers have been hit very hard by the Russian retaliatory embargo in the wake of the EU and U.S. sanctions against Russia, but it is still too early to size up the magnitude of losses.

«The Russia-bound cargo truck traffic has halved. Many small and medium-size logistics and transportation companies have ended up on the brink of bankruptcy and are turning their heads over heels to avert it. We will see the real scope of the ill impact on the sector well into the coming year, as it takes time for troubled companies to go through bankruptcy and have all things sorted out. So it is still too early to post up any numbers on that,» Algimantas Kondrusevičius, president of Lithuania’s National Road Carriers association (LNRC), told BNN.

He says Lithuanian cargo carriers have gone through several shockwaves this year. First, there was a shake-up due to the rouble fall back in March; to the end of the summer, there came Russian food embargo and its severity peaked in mid-November.

«Upon the adverse circumstances, our road carriers are coping with the plight pretty well. Over the last half-a-year, quite a number of companies have managed to diversify their markets and make inroads in often yet unchartered markets in Africa, especially Morocco, also the Balkans and Central Asia. Speaking of the latter, Kazakhstan comes to mind first. We’ve have always had pretty good working relations with the country, but now Russia exerts to cut off Lithuania from the lucrative transportation market,» Kondrusevičius told.

The prospects for Lithuanian haulers in 2015 seem gloomy, and if the plight exacerbates, big closures might rattle the whole Lithuanian economy.

«Pretty amazingly, even in an otherwise really bad year as 2014, the road cargo transportation sector has been expanding. But the bulking was happening in the first half of the year,» the LNRC head noted.

According to him, there were around 26,500 cargo trucks out there last year, and the number has reached 28,000 this year.

«Roughly 8000-9000 Lithuanian companies’ trucks were crisscrossing Russian roads until recently,» Kondrusevičius noted.

What impedes the entire situation, many of the trucks had been leased recently and the owners are wading into debts unable to make payments for them due to the lack of the current assets.

Big-as-life changes in Lithuanian’ mentality?

But despite the fuzzy economic outlook, some really good and big-as-life news seem to be on the horizon.

«Quite surprisingly, record numbers of Lithuanians were insisting throughout the year they are pretty content with their lives,» said Vladas Gaidys, director of public opinion and market research company Vilmorus.

In an Eurobarometer poll conducted in June, a whopping 72 percent of Lithuanian residents claimed they were satisfied with their life in Lithuania. Though the number went down to 69 percent in the autumn, it is unusually high against the findings from the previous years.

«Quite recently, only a mere 40 percent said they were satisfied with their lives in Lithuania,» the pollster pointed out to BNN.

«A half year is a sufficient stretch of time to speak of a hint to a big turnaround in one of the most significant indications measuring country’s population’s happiness,» the researcher emphasized.

Still, compared to Scandinavians, who nearly all claim to be happy about living in their country, Lithuanians need to do a lot of catch-up.

Behind the steeping numbers is slowly, but constantly increasing potential of the Lithuanian economy – EU market forecasters predict its growth in 2015 to be the largest Europe-wide, improving human relations and bigger confidence in the country on the whole. All this, notably, is over-shadowing the detrimental effects of the Russian embargo!

Other big-as-life change in Lithuanian mentality might be shaping up from Lithuanians’ attitude toward country’s law enforcement.

«The credence in police, for example, has surpassed 50 percent for the first time since the polling started taking place in 2000 and now, at 53 percent, match the trust that of Lithuania’s Catholic Church, firemen, military and social security agencies. Only 14 percent of the respondents claimed they do not the police,» Gaidys said.

The judiciary system has also been viewed more favourably by Lithuanians in 2014. Again, a record-high 25 percent of the respondents pointed out they trust local courts, against 26 percent who still distrust justices.

All the above perhaps would look gloomier now if not for the stability of the ruling coalition’s fulcrum party Social Democrats, who after two years in power, still enjoy high numbers of trust.

«Certainly, for the most part, they are carried by their charismatic leader, the incumbent Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius, who in the ranking of trust is only behind only President Dalia Grybauskaitė . He is really very well perceived by the people,» the Vilmorus director said.

The trust in the Social Democrats’ leader could be explained, among other things, with the launch of the LNG terminal off the shores of the seaport of Klaipėda, the adoption of the euro and the Government head’s personal traits.

Summing up, the pollster indicated that Lithuanians amid the standoff between Russia and West are getting increasingly upbeat about the life and near future in the country.

«Even from the economic point of view, pessimism over the aftermath from the collision, at its peak in mid-September, seemingly has bottomed out and is noticeably fizzling away. This is what a Eurostat survey shows,» Gaidys noted. He added: «So in general, those times when Lithuanians were among the least cheerful nations on the European map are going away, and certainly they have bypassed Lithuania in 2014. The Greeks and Italians have been the biggest pessimists this year.»

PM singles out LNGT and euro adoption

For Algirdas Butkevičius, changeover to the euro and the construction as well as the launch of the Klaipėda liquefied natural gas terminal, a sign of the country’s growing energy independence from Russia, have been Lithuania’s key milestones in 2014.

«I’d like to single out two achievements, which, I believe, are very important in Lithuania’s history. These are preparations for the adoption of the euro, which, I think, have been carried out in a very responsible manner since I don’t know any other country, which achieved a 63 percent level of public trust before the adoption of the single currency. This is very positive and we will leave that mechanism of the litas being pegged to the euro,» Butkevičius told the national Lithuanian TV and radio.

Another milestone event for the Prime Minister concerned the anchoring of energy independence through the construction of the LNG facility in Klaipeda.

The LNG facility launched operations officially in early December. It will actually start supplying gas from January. In its first year, the facility will operate at a capacity of a billion cubic metres, which will later be increased to some 4 billion cubic metres. The terminal received its first commercial LNG shipment in mid-December.

Ref: 020/

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  1. Mike Walsh says:

    Gut-wrenching BNN spin.

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