LRT English Newsletter – August 7, 2020
It has clearly been a challenging year for school students, but it came as a shock that almost a third of Lithuanian graduates who took the national math exam failed it. Rather than a result of interrupted teaching due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is an outcome of Lithuanian students getting worse at math and science, education official Rūta Krasauskienė says, and deep-rooted problems in the education system.
The education minister reacted by promising changes in national curricula and to focus more on making students interested in math.
With the start of the new academic year less than a month away, he also confirmed that classes in schools and universities will begin on time and in classrooms rather than online.
BELARUS DOUBLE WHAMMY
There are two reasons why Lithuania’s eyes are on Belarus this week. First, the presidential election on Sunday may, Vilnius fears, lead to violence against the opposition, which mounted a strong challenge to Minsk’s strongman Lukashenko. Vilnius is not sending any election observers this time, with few expecting this to be a free and fair vote.
Second, Minsk has announced that the “physical launch” of the Astravyets nuclear plant – the object of worry and wrath in Vilnius – is happening within days. The Lithuanian government had not received any official notice, the energy minister said, while a Seimas national security committee chair confirmed that the launch was indeed happening.
However, this will be little more than a ribbon-cutting event timed to coincide with Sunday’s election, an adviser to the Lithuanian president has assured. It won’t be before the end of this year or early 2021 that the Astravyets plant will actually start making electricity.
With numbers of new Covid-19 cases not abating – 24 new infections were reported on Thursday and one more person, most likely a Franciscan monk, fell victim to the virus this week – Lithuania continues to expand restrictions on foreign travel.
Arrivals from France must self-quarantine as of Monday and it would take “a miracle” to prevent Poland from being put on Lithuania’s travel blacklist next week. Postpone your trips to Poland, if you can, Lithuania’s top epidemiologist warned her compatriots, adding that all airline travelers might be made to register before landing in Lithuania.
Vice Minister of Health Lina Jaruševičienė was forced to resign after being named a suspect in an investigation into a 6-million-euro purchase of rapid coronavirus tests. The official is suspected of overstepping her powers when the government allegedly overpaid a private company for the tests. Several individuals from the company have also been named suspects in the investigation.
It is the second big corona-related government purchase currently investigated by Lithuania’s law enforcement agencies. A private intermediary and until recently the president of a cancer patients’ NGO has been accused of influence peddling in a 5-million-euro deal for the purchase of coronavirus testing reagents.
Meanwhile, Lithuania’s president has urged Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga to cut his summer break short and attend to the scandals under his purview.
RUSSIAN HACKERS AND FAKE NEWS
Hackers “aligned with Russian security interests” have been conducting a sustained influence campaign to compromise news websites in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland and discredit NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe, according to a new report.
Some tactics of the campaign, dubbed Ghostwriter by the cybersecurity consultancy firm Mandiant, involved spoofing email accounts to disseminate fabricated content, as well as gaining access to news sites publishing systems and replacing their content with fabricated news articles.
THE DARK SIDE OF SCROLLING
Reports about illegal and harmful content on the internet increased substantially in Lithuania this year. Social networks like Instagram are the new hunting grounds for child abusers, observers warn.
– Some social media users have been claiming that masks are uncomfortable and make people breathe carbon dioxide. LRT FACTS inquires why facemasks can cause discomfort and whether wearing them could increase risks of CO2 poisoning.
– Ever wondered what a High Altitude – Low Opening parachute jump feels like? A NATO reporter tried it out with the Lithuanian special forces – and made a video.
– Having first visited Vilnius in 1988, during his posting in Moscow, Finland’s Ambassador Christer Gustaf Michelsson says Lithuania has changed a lot since then.
– For the third time in a year President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised Ukrainians a “comprehensive” ceasefire in Donbass. Looming elections rather than progress on the ground are behind that, argues DW’s Nick Connolly.
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