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Lithuanian MPs talk to BNN about winds of 2018

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A kiteboarder surfs past stranded cargo ship Ocean Crown during windy weather in Klaipeda, Lithuania on December 26 REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Another year is about to expire and, with the last couple of days still left, we tend to look back and see how it has been for all. More importantly, what does the New Year, the Earth Dog’s year according the Chinese calendar, bode to all? BNN asked several well-known Lithuanian analysts and politicians to go over 2017 and give their insights into 2018.

For Andrius Kubilius, former chairman of the Homeland Union and Lithuanian Christian Democrats, TS-LKD or Conservatives, the year 2017, politically, has not lived up to the hype that had engulfed Lithuania with the victory of the Farmers and Greens (LVŽS) in 2016 parliamentary elections.

«The LVŽS-led government was promising to move mountains in the beginning of the year. But with the year about to end all see that it has not fulfilled its promises. The illusion that a new government led by an untraditional party can make change no one had seen before has vanished by the end of 2017,» Kubilius noted.

Asked to draw a comparison between his led government during 2008-2012 and the LVŽS government, the MP said that the cabinets are «incomparable.»

«We came to power with the economy in big recession, whereas the starting position of the Farmers and Greens was absolutely different. They did not have to deal with the severity of issues we had back then,» the Conservative parliamentarian emphasised.

Asked why the LVŽS failed to keep the electoral promises, Kubilius pondered that the party took the reins of Lithuanian government «utterly unprepared.»

According to him, the New Year will not bring any substantial changes in the country and no improvement of daily life will follow.

«I think that Lithuanian people already understand that another three years of stagnation await us (the next parliamentary election in Lithuania is slated for 2020). I understand that the scenario I am foreseeing does not play well with the New Year hopes we have, but I am realistic,» Kubilius underlined. «On the other hand, the government seems to be not capable of doing much harm. This is what we can console ourselves with.»

Asked what is behind the Conservative party’s high support ratings, Kubilius emphasised that that the party has successfully carried out reforms.

«We were not afraid to entrust a young man (Gabrielius Landsbergis, who is 35) with the leadership. We were the first party in the Lithuanian political system to hold a direct party chairman election. The generational change within our ranks has been smooth, which I cannot say about the other parties,» the lawmaker noted. He added: «What sets us apart, we do not deal with any problems currently.»

Asked what brought joy in his personal life in 2017, Kubilius replied that three grandchildren at home cheer him up and pamper with unconditional love.

Approached by BNN, Andžej Pukšto, associate professor at Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University, described the year as «undistinguished.»

«Indeed, all had very high expectations about the new government, but it did not prove to be efficient as many thought it will be. On the other hand, it shunned major pitfalls and blunders,» the analyst suggested.

In his words, the government has moved forward with legislation regarding energy security and in developing infrastructure in general.

«With the new Transport minister in office, I especially see many good changes took place in Lithuanian railways company, LG, although the company had to pay fine of almost 28 million euros to the European Commission over the dismantling a railway stretch to Latvia’s Renge,» he said.

On the front of foreign policy, Pukšto discerned «warming relations» with Poland.

«We had our PM’s visit to Warsaw and Polish President Andrzej Duda is expected to visit Vilnius next year,» he said.

Asked which of three Baltic States seems to be the year’s winner, the lecturer put Estonia on top.

«Estonia did well as the holder of the presidency of the EU Council, further strengthened its image as an e-state and it saw a rapid economic growth this year,» Pukšto said.

The analyst believes that among the events to be watched in 2018 is the Russian presidential election in March.

«I think the outcome is predictable, but the dialogue between Russia and the United States will set the tone for international affairs. I have a hunch Washington with further toughen its approach toward Russia,» the analyst predicted.

MP Remigijus Žemaitaitis noticed that the Seimas, Lithuanian legislature, passed many different laws this year, however, it is the state not an ordinary man or business who will benefit from them most.

«The new labour bill serves the employer’s interests, not the average John’s,» the lawmakers was categorical. «The amendments to the Excise, Social Insurance and VAT laws also are not in favour of business or an individual.»

The legislator predicts that growing disenchantment among the grassroots can trigger social unrest.

«Look, at the end of the year, doctors are threatening to hit the streets and there are a whole lot more of other social groups that are ready to follow them,» Žemaitaitis said.

He predicted to BNN that emigration numbers will increase ca 15 thousand on top of the current yearly level, i.e. 60 thousand.

«The growth is not owing to Brexit. It is due to the unfavourable legislation, especially that new one, we have. Look, price of diesel will go up 8 cents per litre for farmers and by 6 cents for the rest in 2018. The accessibility to medical services, especially in countryside, decreases, a result of closure of infirmaries in rural areas,» the MP accentuated.

In his words, apart the current Foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, the other politicians, even from the top brass, have «little idea» what foreign affairs are all about.

«Can you remember a visit of visits of high-profile policy-makers to Lithuania this year? Did anybody from the highest echelons of power meet a high-ranking Belarusian politician this year, for example? No. Speaking of the latter, this is horrifying as Belarus has drawn up a plan aiming to redirect cargo through our Klaipeda port to Russian seaports instead. I’ve heard about this from very credible sources in Belarus,» the lawmaker said.

«Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis managed to make only a few foreign trips this year and they were unsuccessful,» said the parliamentarian. «Although we speak about regional cooperation, none of the Baltic PMs visited Lithuania in 2017, which is very bad,» Žemaitaitis underscored.

He ridiculed PM Skvernelis, who hinted that his visit to Vatican paved way for the papal visit in 2018.

«Such a visit had been planned three years ago, not within a week,» he remarked.

Laurynas Kasčiūnas, another Lithuanian parliamentarian, Conservative, singled out the discovery of the long-sought original document of the Lithuanian Independence Act signed on February 16 1918. The precious document in Germany’s diplomatic archives in Berlin was found by professor Liudas Mažylis of the Vytautas Magnus University.

«It is really a big thing, especially ahead of the centenary celebrations,» he added. Three Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are set to start celebrating the hundredth anniversary from proclamation of their independence in 1918.

To his opinion, the other distinguished event in the country’s social life was the recall of best-selling author Rūta Vanagaitė’s books.

Vanagaitė, 62, made an inappropriate comment to a journalist about Adolfas Ramanauskas, a famous anti-Soviet resistance leader after WWII, alleging that he might have butchered Jews in a ghetto and may have been a KGB infiltrator.

The author also said her research into Ramanauskas’ death in 1957 suggested the guerrilla leader committed suicide after betraying the names of fellow nationalists to the KGB in the captivity.

The Alma Littera publishing house has recalled from book stores all Vanagaitė books it published. Vanagaitė’s 2016 book «Our People» about the Holocaust is credited with breaking some taboos in Lithuanian society about collaboration during War World II.

Kasčiūnas says that the majority of fellow Lithuanians has had «too high» expectations about the new government and the disappointment in the ruling party is «clear.»

Yet he hopes that the government will move forward with tax and social security reforms in 2018.

«However, I am not convinced they are capable of carrying it out due to the weakening support,» he said.

To him, the fall of the Social Democrats is particularly worrisome.

«The Social Democrats are in a deep knock-out at the end of the year,» the MP emphasised.

Disagreeing with the new party chairman Gintautas Paluckas to leave the ruling coalition, a dozen Seimas Social Democrats stayed in power but were expelled from the SD ranks. The ostracised SD heavy-weights are setting up a new party, Lithuania’s Labour Social Democratic party, which is seen as a big blow to the old SD party.

«We have a situation where the political left is weak as never before,» Kasčiūnas emphasised.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.5391


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