LRT English Newsletter – May 26, 2023.
What a week. First, the ongoing expenses scandal is likely to result in a snap election. Second, an oak tree was cut down in central Vilnius, poking at a painful spot in society’s green consciousness. Let’s start with the latter.
Last weekend, property developers in Vilnius cut down an old oak tree, kicking off a firestorm of reactions. Mind you, the topic of trees in Lithuania, especially the capital Vilnius, is extremely touchy. Although the authorities publicly commit to maintaining green spaces, critics point out that trees are being cut down, seemingly, left, right, and centre. So the last case of the oak felling is just one in a long series of similar incidents. This one, however, was quickly politicised.
The new Vilnius mayor, Valdas Benkunskas, reacted by saying the municipality had not allowed the tree to be removed. Then, even the country’s president got involved, saying the act was “barbaric”. The developer did not help itself by first releasing what appeared to be a nonchalant statement, saying they had the right to remove the tree.
The fallout so far has been a 141,000-euro fine, the architectural office pulling out of the project, and the building permit being suspended. Hopefully, critics note, it will spur a further discussion on how best to protect the green spaces and trees in Lithuanian cities.
If you recall (and feel free to catch up on the controversy in last week’s newsletter), journalists from Laisvės TV have uncovered politicians in municipalities potentially fiddling with their receipts, claiming thousands with what appear to be forged or trumped-up expenses.
It looks like this whole saga may result in snap elections or the government resigning. So far, one minister has stepped down. Many maybes, what ifs, and buts remain, however.
Few defence-related updates from the past week. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda met with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris. The French leader pledged solidarity with the Baltic states, saying the country “is making a major contribution to strengthening NATO’s eastern flank” in reference to its troops taking part in the alliance’s mission in the region. Those same NATO units stationed in the Baltics, namely the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) battalions, have also pledged better coordination and established a new “3+3 Format” in a separate development. In Lithuania, the defence industry may now get tax breaks and will also see a new roadmap to improve the home-grown sector.
Although incomes have been growing, they’re lagging behind and being eaten up by inflation; Lithuania may also lose some recovery funds from the European Commission if the tax reform stalls, according to the finance minister.
Among other things, Brussels has also called on Lithuania to abandon across-the-board energy subsidies and focus on improving healthcare. Meanwhile, it’s getting harder to afford homes in Lithuania, with the central bank calling on lenders to start offering fixed interest rates on mortgages.
The last hurdle remains for the extremely contentious partnership bill to become law after it was re-included in the Seimas schedule at the last minute, allowing the legal amendments regulating same-sex partnerships and civil unions to make headway. The last hurdle remains – one more vote in the parliament – for the bill to pass.
Alma Adamkienė, the wife of Lithuania’s former president Valdas Adamkus, has sadly passed away. Hundreds gathered at a cemetery in Kaunas for the funeral service on Tuesday. Alongside serving as the First Lady during the two terms Valdas Adamkus served as president, she is also remembered for her decades-long charitable work.
RUSSIAN SPIES, LITHUANIAN SMUGGLERS
LRT’s own Investigation Team has uncovered that migrant smuggling networks have become a lucrative draw for Lithuanian nationals. In an unrelated expose, the team profiled the Russian spy network operating in the country. Have a read.
CHILD ABUSE SCANDAL
A high-ranking official at the Vilnius Archdiocese has been convicted of possessing child pornography. Crucially, he was also accused of having sexual relations with a minor, but the investigation was dropped.
– A new electronic ticketing system will be introduced on Vilnius buses and trolleybuses, according to a Vilnius public transport administration, JUDU.
– Lithuanian police are using drones to catch school children smoking.
– A mandatory referendum on multiple citizenships will be held in Lithuania on May 12, 2024 (here's a great radio documentary about it, in Lithuanian).
– The largest memorial to Jews in Europe is being built in Lithuania’s town of Šeduva.
– Lithuanians still remember getting 1-cent washing powder boxes in exchange for voting in the EU referendum. Embark on a nostalgia trip.
Would you like to contribute to LRT English? Please send your suggestions, submissions, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Benas Gerdžiūnas
Edited by Justinas Šuliokas