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Monday 25.03.2019 | Name days: Māra, Marita, Mārīte
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Lithuania’s year of 2018 soaked with patriotism, but tensions will not fizzle out in 2019

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

With the clock chiming the last hours of 2018, we tend to glance over the shoulder, reminiscing the most blissful and upsetting moments of the year at which pinnacle were the year-long centennial celebrations of Lithuanian statehood’s 100th anniversary. However, what were the other events, both in Lithuania and worldwide, that drew attention?

BNN approached several Lithuanian analysts and commentators with the question.

«There were many events worth mentioning this year, however what I liked most about the whole year was the public’s heightened interest in Lithuania’s guerrilla warfare against the Soviet Union during 1944-1953. When Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) announced this year as a year of Adolfas Ramanauskas- Vanagas, the legendary hero of Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance, I had apprehensions that nothing will change much in terms of acquainting better the society and especially the youth with it and Vanagas’ life and heroism. However, we saw the opposite: a big crowd of people participated in the burial ceremony of Vanagas’ remains and the public rebutted ferociously the attempt by a Klaipeda City councillor to besmear his legacy,» Arvydas Anušauskas, a Lithuanian parliamentarian and researcher of Lithuanian resistance movement, told BNN.

Anušauskas has published two books on Lithuanian guerrilla warfare this year.

The prolonged massive teacher strikes at the end of the year is another thing to remember in 2018, the politician says.

«Teachers and medics are those professional groups in Lithuania that always stand up and speak up, sometimes vociferously, for themselves. Neither this government nor the previous ones were able to solve their issues,» the MP said.

Worldwide, US President Donald Trump’s trade wars against China and some other economic powers are worth mentioning among all the other events in 2018, Anušauskas said.

«He is the first US president to speak out so vehemently on the issue and moreover: slap China with multi-billion taxes,» the MP accentuated.

«I think that the United States has set a good example to the European Union how we here in Europe should defend our European interests against China’s economic interests. Unfortunately, EU so far mostly keeps a blind eye on China’s invasion in Europe,» Anušauskas noted.

As for 2019, he is eagerly looking forward to seeing the results of the municipal council, presidential and the European Parliament elections to be held in Lithuania in the first half year.

«The arrival of ultra-nationalist and populist political forces in the European Parliament would be a bad omen for entire Europe, and Lithuania too,» he inferred.

«In the Lithuanian presidential election, we have to clear favourites, economist Gitanas Nausėda and also economist, my fellow parliamentarian Ingrida Šimonytė. I support the latter,»Anušauskas said.

Petras Auštrevičius, a Lithuanian europarliamentarian, predicted that the new year will bring more tensions, not only between the superpowers, America, China and Russia, but regionally too.

«There are no reasons whatsoever to believe that the traditional troublemakers like Russia and China will calm down and become more peaceful and predictable,» he said. «That coupled with the inconsistence and unpredictability of the US leader, Donald Trump, can make things even less predictable and result in more tensions.»

Reacting to Trump’s statement in Iraq this week that America needs to cease to be the world’s cop, the MEP said he was «a little frightened» by it.

«Then who will be the good cop able to restrain a bunch or unruly hooligans worldwide?» the liberal politician wondered.

Amid talks of a looming new economic crunch, a hot topic in 2018, Auštrevičius says recession talks have been overblown.

«I am not saying it (crisis) will not happen, but if it will (happen), it will be small and perhaps local and will affect certain sectors rather than the entire economy,» he forecasted.

For Auštrevičius, the most important event in 2018 was UK’s steps to complete Brexit.

«We all see what a painful and messy process has it been and how it is weakening the European Union,» he added.

The prominent politician could not single out an event in Lithuania that raised his eyebrows, but noted that he is concerned by the diminishing of control leverages of local politics.

«What is especially alarming is that politics is being done at expense of the civil society,» the MEP underscored. «I won’t be very surprised in 2019 to see Lithuania dropping in major international freedom and democracy standings.»

For Lauras Bielinis, associate professor at Kaunas Magnus University, the elapsing year was not special in a way.

«Quite an ordinary year, I’d say, with exception of the announcement by German chancellor Angela Merkel that she will not seek re-election after her term is up that she is stepping down as the party’s leader,» Bielinis told BNN.

«The weakening positions of the party may open way for other, less predictable and known new political forces, which is quite worrisome taking into account Germany’s role in the European political life,» the analyst said.

Pressed to say what event nevertheless got most of his attention in Lithuania in 2018, Bielinis replied that it was the «never-ending» troubles of Lithuania’s Liberal Movement.

Court has started this year deliberating high-profile political corruption case in which Eligijus Masiulis, former chairman of the party, fights bribe charges. He however at the end the year announced he will participate in the direct mayoral election in Klaipeda City in early March.

Like the other analysts, he also agrees that in the first half of 2019 the marathon of three elections will be capturing all’s attention.

«I wouldn’t be surprised if the turnout for the last election (President’s election will be held on May 12) will be little, as the voters may become tired of the election marathon along the way,» he pondered.

Vladas Gaidys, head of Vilmorus, a pollster, noted to BNN the never-before-seen stability of the political system this year.

«Unlike in many previous years, in 2018 there were two clear frontrunners on all the polls, i.e. the ruling Farmers and Greens party, which represents rural and more elderly voters, and the Conservatives (officially, Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats, TS-LKD), who having attracted many liberals from the embattled Liberal Movement has significantly strengthened its standings in the Lithuanian political system,» Gaidys said.

The fall the Social Democratic Party after a fraction of it split and formed a new party, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Labour Party, could be predicted, he said, yet the slump from 15 per cent in many polls before the split to ca 5-6 percent in support now is «a very bad sign» for the party, Gaidys underlined.

After taking a relentless e beating from the striking teachers throughout November and December, Saulius Skvernelis, the Lithuanian PM, also saw a big damage done to his job approval at the end of 2018.

«If he was thought to be a serious contender in the presidential election in the beginning of the year, now even his biggest supporters understand that he has missed the boat,» Gaidys concluded.


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