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With 30 years into independence, Lithuanian pundits speak not only of achievements

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Lithuania, independence, Algirdas Butkevičius, Soviet Union, restoration, Vilnius, emigration

Lithuanians walk with a national flag during a parade to mark the 30th anniversary of the independence from the Soviet Union in Vilnius, Lithuania on March 11, 2020

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Lithuania has clinched a landmark milestone this past Wednesday, the 30th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuanian independence. A Vilmorus poll released on the occasion shows that 58,1 per cent of Lithuanians are satisfied with the changes over the last 30 years and, well, a sizeable 28.4 percent were discontent with them.

Social exclusion plagues Lithuania

 «It does not mean the latter people feel nostalgia for the Soviet past. They feel unhappy about the economic conditions they find themselves in. The levels of social exclusion are pretty high and that is worrisome,» Sigitas Besagirskas, economist and President of Vilnius Industry and Business Association (VIBA), told BNN.

Weighing in on the poll results, Rūta Žiliukaitė, sociologist, reasoned that pensioners, workers, lower income and less educated people are among the most dissatisfied in free Lithuania. Social exclusion is relatively high and it divides Lithuania in «winners» and «losers». Meanwhile, ambassador Laimonas Talat- Kelpša pondered that part of the Lithuanian society still feels the consequences of the Soviets-induced collective psychological trauma that is being handed over from one generation to the next. «Maybe Lithuania is ill and the name of the illness is not the corona virus. Perhaps we should be looking for the reasons of our collective depression in the complicated history that we have,» he commented the results.

Soviet heritage not wiped out yet

What do other Lithuanian pundits and luminaries make of the poll numbers? What do they find praiseworthy and worrisome? Here are some of the distinguished opinions.

«I think we can hardly expect better numbers than those that the poll produced. Naturally, some people are luckier, while the others – not so lucky over the independent years. Let’s not forget there’s still a significant part of alive former Soviet functionaries who thrived during the Soviet years. They are not gone yet and furthermore – they are handing down the Soviet memories, the ostensible accomplishments of the system to their children and grandchildren.  However, some of the mentioned 28 per cent are people in social exclusion. From that standpoint, social exclusion is worrisome and it is one of the biggest problems that Lithuania faces,» Arvydas Anušauskas, historian and a member of Lithuanian Parliament, told BNN. Asked what element of freedom he personally values most, the politician said that possibility of choice is dearest to him.

Vilnusans live better than Parisians?

Sigitas Besagirskas, economist, noted that Lithuania, in terms of the economic development, can be divided into two parts: «One is Vilnius and the other is the rest. From that point, Vilnusans’ income and purchasing power is 125 per cent of the average Western European inhabitant’s GDP. So, statistically, the average Vilnusan lives better than the statistic Parisian or the Finn in Helsinki,» Besagirskas told BNN. «But our regions are lagging economically, hence social exclusion, quite stark in fact.  The life has improved to most in free Lithuania, but those who saw little tangible results in their lives during the 30 years feel abandoned. And they tend to believe they were better off during the Soviet era».

However, THEN and NOW is beyond compare, Besagirskas underscored. «How many of us dreamt of driving brand new Western cars during the Soviet years? How many of us travelled West during the years? These things are just incomparable,» Besagirskas noted.

Asked about the biggest challenges being faced by Lithuania, he said that, in terms of business, incompetent governing poses the biggest risk. «In many other countries, the governing is competent and efficient, but the business is weak. Here in Lithuania we have strong businesses but weak authorities. So the governing is definitely our weakest link,» Besagirskas said.

«Despite this, our economy is doing pretty well. But if not for the multiple changes in our taxation, which is prone to changes most, the economic results we have could be even better,» he accentuated. «As a result of the ill governing, some our businesses move to the West,» he added.

Asked what matters him most in independent Lithuania, Besagirskas said freedom of speech is on his top list. «It all starts from it,» he emphasised.

Phenomena of «moaning societies»

Approached by BNN, Povilas Gylys, former Foreign affairs minister and economist by profession, said the Vilmorus poll numbers do  not surprise him. «Wherever we look at, we can see perhaps everywhere what many sociologists call «moaning societies». Be it Austria, France or Lithuania. In other words, there are always people dissatisfied with something everywhere. However, as many others, I believe we could have achieved more over the last 30 years if we all would have found a common ground on multiple issues. Sadly, often pesky squabbles and quarrels prevented us from doing more and better,» Gylys said. «As for the 28 per cent, I don’t believe the people feel nostalgia for the past, although some things, like free education, were good for all then».

Enquired of the biggest challenges for independent Lithuania, the scholar of Vilnius University said that emigration poses the biggest risks. «No doubt about it,» he emphasised. «I am also concerned about our state’s psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately, individualism and hedonism has penetrated every societal layer, every individual,» he regretted. Besides, he says, Lithuania «continuously» fails to create to common good. «Not surprisingly, most prolific Western pundits speak about the tragedy of common good. Not only Lithuania is dealing with it, but all the modern societies, too» Gylys pointed out. «We are cursing the Soviet past, but we’ve thrown ourselves into the other extreme – insane liberalism that is permeating our politics, media and the social life. We are forgetting what makes us as Lithuanians and as the nation,» Gylys said.

Asked what is most important in independent Lithuania to him personally, Gylys answered he appreciates the possibility to speak freely and be yourself.

Signatory worries about two fields

Audrius Butkevičius, signatory of the March 11 Independence Restoration Act, told BNN he disapproves of how things are being done in the field of national security and defence. «What I see ongoing is a mere imitation, not actions. Although there’s a lot of buzz about our defence affairs, but I am not sure our allies would act immediately on NATO’s 5th article stipulating joint defence and come at Lithuania’s rescue right away. I am afraid our own military is not prepared yet to properly withstand an aggressor’s attack,» Butkevičius underscored.

«The other field of my concern is ecology. Unfortunately, with the «farmers» and greens in power, the deforestation, orchestrated by some of the Scandinavian countries’ large companies, has intensified, leaving acres of forests treeless,» the signatory noted.

According to him, 30 years into independence, Lithuanians are still very complacent, showing no resistance to authorities’ initiatives that run counter to the people’s interests. «To me, this is a clear sign of the Soviet mentality,» he emphasised. «The fools we have in power is the biggest problem Lithuania has. However, I do hope that our youth will someday overthrow the old-generation functionaries and will make a real change in the country,» Butkevičius said.

Next generations will wipe out Soviet relics?

Algirdas Butkevičius, former Prime Minister and now a member of Lithuanian Parliament, told BNN that he is not surprised that a whopping 28,4 per cent of Vilmorus respondents are discontent with the changes over the years of independence. «To wipe out the relics of sovietism and rid of the mentality we need a couple of more generations. Having jumped into the global world, we still do not know sometimes how to act in it. We can see that those smart ones are thriving in it, but those less active and educated are lagging far, gruntling against the rest,» Butkevičius said. «This not good. Social exclusion is a big problem here,» he summed it up.

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