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2021.07.02 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: Quarantine over – but is it really?

Justinas Šuliokas, LRT.lt2021.07.02 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – July 2, 2021

Lithuania is no longer under quarantine, but what does it mean? The country is still in a ‘state of national emergency’, which allows the government to keep certain restrictions, such as they remain.

For the time being, Lithuania has been reporting ever lower infection rates and relatively few cases of the worrisome Delta strain, although officials say the more contagious coronavirus mutation is beginning to spread domestically.

Meanwhile, a point of concern is the apparent setting in of vaccination fatigue. The prime minister has urged youngsters to sign up for jabs before the start of the academic year, while local authorities are trying out various tricks, such as parking a ‘vaccine bus’ outside a basketball arena.

LUXURIES OF LIFE

Life is getting more expensive – as of July, households in Lithuania will have to pay more for electricity and natural gas. Bills for the latter may go up by up to 50 percent. According to the national gas and electricity supply company, the hikes are due to a rise in global commodity prices.

Alcohol and cigarettes are also getting more expensive as the Lithuanian parliament voted this week to up excise duties as of next year.

PROFESSOR PRESIDENT

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Vytautas Landsbergis, sometimes referred to simply as the Professor, led Lithuania in the early 1990s when it declared and secured independence from the USSR. Much as he is publicly revered on every independence day, Landsbergis still cannot call himself a former head of state. The title is used for the country’s president, an institution that came into existence only in 1993. Does it mean the state had been without a head until then? The conservative-led ruling coalition has drafted a bill, saying Landsbergis was the head of state between 1990–1992. However, the opposition accuses them of attempts to rewrite history. Parliamentary lawyers have also cautioned that this might not sit well with an old Constitutional Court ruling.

Still, the bill has passed the first reading and will return for further discussions in the autumn session.

KEEPING THE CHAIR

Another stand-off between the ruling coalition and the opposition this week occurred over the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Žygimantas Pavilionis. Opposition MPs wanted to pass a motion of no-confidence, criticising Pavilionis for a number of faux pas – such as falling victim to a Russian duo of prankster-provocateurs and getting married during a business trip. However, the motion failed as ruling coalition MPs boycotted the vote.

TOO PROUD FOR PRIDE

Lithuania’s LGBTQ+ community is planning the first pride event outside the capital this September, but Kaunas authorities have been reluctant to allow them to march on the city’s main street. The organisers are going to court to settle the matter.

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda caused a minor media storm last Friday when he refused to sign an EU letter censuring Hungary’s controversial anti-LGBTQ+ law. Some interpreted it as yet another nod from Nausėda to socially conservative groups. LGBTQ+ rights are a thorny issue in Lithuania, noted the foreign minister, and reaching a common position is nigh-impossible.

POPULARITY

It seems, however, that the president’s strategy is paying off – a recent poll showed Nausėda reigning supreme in popularity rankings, while approval ratings of the prime minister and the ruling parties are going down. The conservative TS-LKD party slipped to the third position for the first time in years, ceding the second spot to the Social Democrats, seemingly regaining some ground after last year’s electoral fiasco.

EASTERN PARTNER NO MORE

The embattled Belarusian government is retreating further into isolation, announcing this week that the country would suspend its participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme. Lithuania’s politicians have flatly refused to accept it, saying the illegitimate leadership does not have the right to make such a decision.

EDITOR’S PICKS

Experiences of transgender teens and children remain a taboo in Lithuania. Oftentimes, parents take their children to exorcists and self-taught psychiatrists, leading to depression or even suicide.

– An urban explorer has been documenting ornate stairways of old apartment buildings in Vilnius.

– The Belarusian protest camp on the border in Lithuania has been operating for almost a month. According to one of the organisers, Vitaly Aleynik, some of the goals have already been achieved.

– People in Taiwan have flocked to buy Lithuanian beer and chocolate as a thank you gesture after the Lithuanian foreign minister announced that the country would be donating 20,000 AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses.

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