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Lithuanian PM suspects Kremlin-backed opposition behind teacher attacks

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Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
The nearer municipal council, presidential and EP elections, the more sparkles Lithuania’s political leadership spews out. With the linguistic weaponry exhausted in the Seimas, the party leaders seek help from intelligence services.

Their names have been brought up several times this week. First, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis called up the State Security Department (VSD) over potential Kremlin influence on the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, known colloquially as Conservatives, who ostensibly are behind the massive teacher strikes in the country.

More strikes were thought to be underway in the weeks to come in Lithuania. In defence of his PM, Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling Peasants and Farmers (LVŽS), said that Skvernelis, who is thought to be the LVŽS’ candidate in the presidential race next June, had «reasonable ground» to say so about the Conservatives and hinted that behind the strikes might stand people who may be of interest to the country’s intelligence.

«This is ridiculous: when politicians deplete all traditional combative measures, they resort to the card of the VSD, asking it to step forward and support one or the other side. It is preposterous to think that Kremlin orchestrated the teacher strikes,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris university and a political commentator, told BNN.

Skvernelis confirmed on Tuesday, December 11, what has been talked about since last Friday in the Government and the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament) chambers – the PM had turned last Friday to the special services over «the processes taking place in the country».

According to him, behind them stand the Conservatives allegedly plotting with the Kremlin to overthrow the Farmers and Greens who did not give in to the clamorous teachers’ demands to raise pay and approved this week 2019 state budget without allotting additional money to teachers.

It was said extra 200 million euros was needed to satisfy the striking teachers’ demands.
Teachers’ trade unions demand the cancelation of the so-called «minute-based» pay system and the introduction of a tenure model where a teacher’s tenure would constitute no more than 18 contact weekly hours spent directly with schoolchildren and 18 non-contact weekly hours spent with the pupils indirectly, checking their homework, for example.

The second thing the teacher unions urge is to have teachers’ wages raised 20 per cent from the New Year, not from 2020 as the Government has proposed. The trade unionists also want fewer pupils in the classes and kindergarten teachers be paid more for the preparatory work for the classes.

«What’s been introduced is not a tenure pay system, and teachers’ hourly pay has been replaced with minute pay as school principals and teachers are now forced to meticulously evaluate every small job of theirs and also plan them for the whole upcoming year, so they are now already calculating minutes, not only hours,» Andrius Navickas, chairman of the Lithuanian Education Employees Trade Union, LŠDPS, has told BNN.

Amid tensions, PM Skvernelis replaced three of his cabinet ministers, including the embattled Education and Science minister, Jurgita Petrauskienė.

Later on, Skvernelis slightly backtracked from his direct accusations against the Conservatives, which is the second largest fraction in the Seimas, and explained he had in mind not the actions of the Conservatives, but the «ongoing processes» in the country.

«The objective is the processes taking place in the country, and the request does not mention either the conservative group or its political group in the parliament. If they attribute themselves to it, there’s probably some concern,» the prime minister told journalists at the parliament on Wednesday.

Asked to clarify whether the request had to do with the ongoing teachers’ strike and last a massive rally last Sunday, Skvernelis said: «Not only this. We see what’s been happening lately, the inspirations, we also observe events in France, and see what state’s ears have started to pop out».

«Those services just have to do that job, all institutions, as processes might be affected externally and internally, and the criminal world also does what we had some ten years ago, speaking about the riots outside the Seimas,» the prime minister added.

The prime minister however did not disavow his words he said in the parliament last week that HU-LCD’s actions amount to «the implementation of the Kremlin’s policy». He reiterated this week he «sticks to his every word».

The PM’s request was received by the State Security Department and the police on Friday, spokespersons for the institutions confirmed this week.

Meanwhile, part of members of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence have asked its chairman Vytautas Bakas to invite heads of intelligence institutions to the committee’s upcoming sitting.

Reacting to the accusations, TS-LKD chairman Gabrielius Landsbergis quipped sardonically that the prime minister has lately been inclined to «creatively» interpret information and recommended Skvernelis to first contact the Molėtai Observatory and its specialists for information on star formations, which could help foster him further thoughts.

«It is awkward to him to directly speak to teachers just because it requires listening. Our Dučė (Landsbergis junior referred to Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, the leader of Italy‘s National Fascist Party who ruled Italy as an authoritative Prime Minister from 1922 to 1943) does not like to listen, he likes to dictate. Our dictator does not feel like commencing a negotiation or seeking a compromise. So he resorted to the old and well-tried tactics – scream inadequately about the Kremlin and the Conservatives,» Landsbergis junior posted on his Facebook.

He reasoned that Skvernelis is «desperate» to raise his ratings as a potential LVŽS candidate in the presidential race.

Defending his prime minister, Karbauskis, the leader of LVŽS, said Skvernelis had «reasonable ground» to turn to special services.

«I’ve read the document, which is classified and shows that Skvernelis had reasonable ground to turn to the services,» Karbauskis told reporters Wednesday. «This is a threat to national security (and) those posing that threat are clearly identified. I think our services must react very responsibly,» he said without elaborating.

However, nearly all Lithuanian political analysts agree that Skvernelis’ presidential ambitions as well as his stance as the head of Government have been dealt relentless blows in the couple of recent weeks.

«He (Skvernelis) acts more and more often as a begruntled cantankerous policeman of the old days, not as a prime minister. If we see more strikes there and if he reacts the way he reacted to the teacher strikes, i.e. ignored them throughout, his day as the Cabinet leader can be numbered,» Dumbliauskas underscored to BNN.

Tomas Janeliūnas, professor at Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science, is convinced that Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis seeks to involve intelligence services into political fights by calling upon the State Security Department (VSD) over potential Kremlin influence on the Conservatives.

«The prime minister has made a massive mistake: he chose to involve the intelligence services into political conflict with an opposition party. You cannot politicise the VSD even if someone earnestly thinks that the opposition is contributing to public unrest, organising protests and thus increases the risk that Russia will exploit such moods and will try to further increase public discord or cause a political crisis,» Janeliūnas wrote on Facebook, noting that high level politicians must not immediately rush to seek an external perpetrator for internal political difficulties.


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