Archive for February, 2009

The Lithuanian Presidential race kicks off

Dalia Grybauskaitė

A long awaited Lithuanian Presidential election marathon has started yesterday in Vilnius.  On Feb 26 the Central Electorate Committee declared a beginning of the candidates registration.  The candidates could register until March 13.  The first day of registration saw influx of the hopefuls.  However, the main question, which was bothering all Lithuania, was will the EU Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget Ms Dalia Grybauskaite will enter the race.  All Lithuania’s media spot light at noon was directed to the BNS press conference room where the Commissioner was to announce about her decision.  And so she did, Gyrbauskaite will run for the Presidential seat.

She made a statement: “I’ve decided that I’m ready to return to Lithuania as long as the people of Lithuania decide that I’m currently needed here. I’ve understood that we’ve all missed the truth and responsibility for our country. We want to live free of fear, want trust in ourselves, each other and in what the future may bring. I am able to and wish to devote my experience, knowledge and skills to cast out the moral, political and economic shadows and create a different Lithuania – a Lithuania for the public, a public state. Therefore, I will run in elections for Lithuanian President”.

According to the BNS Ms Grybauskaite will be looking forward to and requesting volunteer organizational support from individuals, parties and other structures and will be open to financial support without commitments.  The Commissioner also noted that her election campaign will be modest, as should be the case with all candidates during this downfall.

The entry of the heavy weight into the race has drastically altered chanced of the other candidates.  The main political parties, such as the Conservatives and the Social Democrats have not officially declared their candidates yet.

The Conservative party leader and the PM Kubilius openly support Grybauskaite as the party’s nominee.  However, some the conservatives would like to see their party member running for the post, and many think that Prof Landsbergis would be the best candidate.  The others in the party are convinced that by nominating Landsbergis the party would do a favour to Grybauskaite, since the Commissioner’s support for the  unpopular reforms by the majority Conservative government might damage her chances.  The party will nominate its candidate, or declare a support to for a candidate on March 7.

The Social Democrats are still discussing the possible candidate from the party.  The party leader and former PM Kirkilas understands that he has very slim chances and is already looking forwards to become a member of the European Parliament.  The pensioner number one in Lithuania Brazauskas did not yet reveal his decision regarding participation in the upcoming elections, saying that the running of the popular candidate Grybauskaite would not influence his choice.  “I have already made the decision and will reveal it in party forums,” he told BNS on Feb 26.  The Social Democratic Party is also expected to decide on its candidate for president during its council meeting and congress due on March 7.

As the BNS writes the Central Electoral on Feb 26 also received applications filed by candidate of the Order and Justice Party Valentinas Mazuronis, followed by Reserve Brigadier General Ceslovas Jezerskas, Parliamentary Speaker and National Resurrection Party candidate Arunas Valinskas, independent candidate and Chairwoman of the Peasant Popular Union Kazimiera Prunskiene and other two canditates.

The Lithuanian media more or less agrees that out of those who registered on Feb 26 only the speaker Valinskas has a chance to reach the second round in the Presidential elections.  That would be a best possible result for him.  Many predict that a single election round will be enough, and Ms Gybauskaite will receive necessary 50 percent of all votes.

Grybauskaite for many a month has been topping public opinion polls on most popular public figures, and in Feb outran President Valdas Adamkus appearing first on the said list.  Some 26 percent of polled inhabitants indicated Grybauskaite as a politician best representing their interests, with Adamkus in second place with 11 percent respondent support.

However, this assumption would not be valid if a second round will be needed.  In the presidential elections in 2002 Adamkus was a clear front-runner in the first tour, leaving way behind the number two candidate Paksas.  However, Paksas managed to win during the second round.  A second round of elections may be inevitable, as the candidate list is likely to be long, said Grybauskaite.

The Lithuanian official is not yet planning to resign her post in the European Commission (EC) and will take unpaid vacation only from April 17, when the presidential election campaign officially kicks off.

 

As she said during the press conference on Feb 26 her final decision to run in the elections was prompted by the Jan 16 events in Vilnius, when a peaceful protest against government policy turned to riots. “I think my understanding of responsibility kicked in at that point”.

As the BNS reminds Dalia Grybauskaite was born on March 1 of 1956 received a political economy diploma from Leningrad’s (currently Saint Petersburg) Zdanov University in 1983 and got her PhD in Economics in Moscow’s Academy of Sciences in 1988.  After returning in 1983 to Lithuania she became a secretary of the then Academy of Sciences and lectured economics in the Communist Vilnius College during 1983 to 1990.

She was secretary of science in the Institute of Economics in 1990 to 1991, department head in the International Economic Relations Ministry and the Foreign Ministry from 1991 to 1994. In 1995, Grybauskaite represented Lithuania, as the top negotiator on the European Union (EU) Treaty was envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the Lithuanian mission to the EU, the BNS writes.

Grybauskaite worked as minister plenipotentiary in the Lithuanian Embassy to the United States, was deputy finance and foreign affairs minister in 1999 to 2001 and headed the Ministry of Finance from 2001 to 2004 (when Mr Brazauskas was PM), at which time she became member of the European Commission for Financial Programming and Budget.

Grybauskaite in 2004 was elected Commissioner of the year and her mandate as the EU commissioner expires on Nov. 1.

The Commissioner speaks English, Russian, Polish and French.

As the BNS reminds March 13 will be the last day for parties and non-affiliated individuals to hand in documents on candidates planning to run in the presidential race.

Candidates will receive election signature blanks in a matter of three days after turning in all necessary documents to the Central Electoral Committee.

By April 2 the signatures of 20,000 Lithuania’s citizens in favour of the candidate’s running for president need to be presented to the committee.

On April 17, the Central Electoral Committee will announce the list of persons registered as running for president, with this day also marking the beginning of the election campaign.

The first round of the presidential elections is scheduled for May 17, with the second planned for June 7 in conjunction with the elections to the European Parliament.

The marathon, o should we call it a sprint began, there is no doubt this is going to be an extremely interesting times in Lithuania.

February 27, 2009 at 2:09 pm 3 comments

Lithuania may become host also to families of Guantanamo inmates

Should Lithuania take in detainees from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, there’s a chance their family will eventually come along, BNS reported.

As the Chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Audronius Azubalis said the families may be reunited, as regulated by international acts of law, and ones that Lithuania has adopted.

“There’s a possibility, that should those persons arrive, their families would also”, the Chairman told during the press on Feb 25.

The above-mentioned committee convened the first meeting on whether Lithuania should consider the proposal made by the US to take in a few detainees from the Guantanamo prison amid its closure BNS reports.

Azublis said “We needn’t retreat into our shell and believe that by doing so, being without allies, we will achieve higher security than with them”.

Any decisions on taking in Guantanamo inmates are still pending, said Azubalis, as institutions are currently exchanging opinions and info.

Lithuania will arrive to its decision in consideration of the common European Union (EU) stance and on the grounds of national acts of law, stressed Azubalis.

The first session of the EU Council of Justice, Interior Ministers – due on Feb 26 in Brussels – will serve for exchanging opinions on hosting Guantanamo inmates, said Lithuania’s Interior Minister Raimundas Palaitis, also present in the parliamentary committee’s meeting.

Lithuania’s State Defence Council has authorized the foreign minister to negotiate this issue with the US, said Palaitis.

As BNS reminds the Lithuanian officials couldn’t provide answers to any specific question on receiving alleged terrorists in the country. Neither their status, nor their situation or any other circumstances are currently to our knowledge, said the officials.

“Each case will be considered separately”, the interior minister kept reiterating. Any decision to come about will be based, first of all, on the principles humanity, he said.

Lithuania on February 5 received a US administration request to take in two Guantanamo inmates, the foreign minister on Friday said in a press conference.

Unofficial information has it that the inmates are Uzbek.

February 25, 2009 at 10:43 pm Leave a comment

Lithuanian Def Min: If Financing for Military Reduced Further, Lithuanian Will Be Incapable of Being NATO member

A Lithuanian weekly magazine Veidas on 23 February has published an interview with a first female Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene in Lithuania’s history.  The interview came out on the day after the first hundred days of the 14th Government.

[Veidas] Is it true that you are trying to force Povilas Malakauskas, director of the State Security Department (VSD), to resign?

[Jukneviciene] Ask Lietuvos Rytas. They seem to be better informed about my activities than I am, because I do not know anything about this; I have not spoken to anyone about this. I read about this during my visit in the US, where I had a meeting with Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

On the other hand, there are attempts to link certain persons with the efforts by the Seimas [parliament] National Security and Defence Committee to reform the overseeing of special services and to implement a control mechanism. This, however, will be done, and it does not matter who is heading the VSD – Mr Smith, Mr Doe, or Mr Malakauskas. This is the Seimas’ prerogative – to fix past mistakes and to create a mechanism for controlling special services, which can be found in all NATO countries. By the way, this control mechanism will also affect the Defence Ministry’s Second Operations Department, which is directly subordinate to me.

[Veidas] You were the first NATO defence minister to meet with the new US defence secretary – Mr Gates. Was this a coincidence or a political gesture from the US’ side?

[Jukneviciene] I do not think this was some sort of a gesture. I think this revealed the US’ view towards Lithuania, not towards a certain person. I clearly felt the US viewed its allies as being very important.

[Veidas] Did Mr Gates want to discuss a specific question related to the military cooperation between the US and Lithuania or did you just discuss general questions, for example, whether Lithuania was planning to withdraw from Afghanistan?

[Jukneviciene] We did not discuss the option of withdrawing from Afghanistan. We talked about strengthening capabilities and about the need to look for ways to solve problems in Afghanistan.

[Veidas] For a while now, there has been talk that, considering its financial capabilities, Lithuania is giving Afghanistan more than it can give.

[Jukneviciene] On the contrary, we are giving too little, compared to the amount that is foreseen for international missions. Up to 10 per cent of the defence spending should be allocated for this. Thus, there are reserves.

[Veidas] We are talking about reconstructing the province of Ghowr, which is too difficult for Lithuania.

[Jukneviciene] The Ghowr Provincial Reconstruction Team is working in two directions: The military, security direction (the Defence Ministry is responsible for this direction) and the civilian direction – fixing the province’s life. It is obvious that in the latter viewpoint Lithuania cannot compete with the big and rich NATO countries.

Politicians are still debating whether Lithuania made the right decision, when it accepted responsibility for the entire province and whether it was a calculated move. An unequivocal answer to this question does not exist. The fact that we are in Ghowr, that we can lead the mission is useful to Lithuania, because the troops gain combat experience.

On the other hand, with Mr Gates we talked about the possibility for other countries to join civilian projects implemented in the province of Ghowr. For example, the continued construction of an airport. The US promised to find money for this so that the project would not be implemented solely from Lithuanian funds.

[Veidas] Recently, there have been sharp discussions related to the use of money intended for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. For example, the Defence Ministry’s Second Department is investigating how over one million US dollars that Lithuanian had transferred “evaporated” from one bank in Afghanistan.

[Jukneviciene] We should not get those things mixed up: That $1.2 million that disappeared was not a result of misuse by Lithuanian troops. It was a problem of the Afghanistan bank. On our part, one could only detect some signs of carelessness, when the money deposit agreement was signed in 2007 with that bank, which at the time did not seem to have any problems. Afghanistan’s officials even sent us a letter stating that other countries that were part of the international force for stabilizing Afghanistan were keeping their money in that bank, too. Now it is being investigated whether the letter was forged, because later the bank started having problems with Afghanistan’s law enforcement agencies.

Today, the Lithuanian military does not have any dealings with this bank. I hope we will manage to get that money back in one form or another. From that account we will transfer money to local companies for works that have not been completed yet.

[Veidas] Why then was the military’s logistics chief replaced so quickly?

[Jukneviciene] This is another matter – concluding contracts with certain Afghani companies that were obligated to do certain works. Using surveys, companies were selected. Later, however, it turned out those companies were nontransparent, and today our auditors view them as unreliable. I signed a decree that there will be no new contracts with those companies. Because of this, Lieutenant Colonel Giedrius Vasiliauskas lost his job last summer.

The most important thing today is to make sure everything is transparent in the logistics department.

[Veidas] Was the Defence Ministry involved in the Foreign Ministry’s “democracy spreading” projects, which now are investigated by a Seimas committee and the new leadership of the Foreign Ministry?

[Jukneviciene] Well, they denied the reports about the alleged planting of an oak park in the province of Ghowr.

However, it is good that there is control, that things are reviewed. If it is necessary, our ministry will cooperate with the investigators in every way; we will present all documents, including classified documents.

[Veidas] Yet, it is apparent that recently the Defence Ministry has been buying equipment that is not the most important for the country’s defence – minesweeper ships, cargo plane, and armoured trucks.

[Jukneviciene] The previous government made those decisions. The previous Seimas also approved the military capability plans. They thought purchasing minesweepers and cargo planes was a priority.

Our government would not see purchasing minesweepers as a priority and would strengthen other forces. On the other hand, sooner or later Lithuania would have been forced to purchase the minesweepers, because Lithuania is obligated to participate in the joint Baltic Sea mine clearing fleet; those plans have been coordinated with NATO.

[Veidas] All military branches had purchase projects. The navy, however, managed to present its demands clearly and to organize a competition. Meanwhile, projects for purchasing armoured vehicles or helicopters still have not been prepared.

[Jukneviciene] I can only confirm that the issue of priorities is very important. This year, which is a “year of drought” (just as the next year will be), we cannot even dream about any additional purchases. However, it is an excellent opportunity for quiet contemplation and planning; we can set purchasing priorities for the future, when the financing for the Defence Ministry is normal again. Priority will be given to anti-airplane and anti-tank defence.

[Baciulis] The Defence Ministry was already forced to reduce its budget by 150 million litas, but it is estimated the ministry will have to save another 100 million litas.

[Jukneviciene] If the financing is reduced further, Lithuanian will be physically incapable of being a NATO member, because it will be unable to participate in joint missions. Next year, Lithuania will have to participate in NATO’ rapid reaction force. One needs a fully operational, mechanized battalion for this. If we do not have one, the rapid reaction project may stop. Today, it is very important to us, because the rapid reaction force will have to ensure defence of the NATO territory. In Krakow we will talk about this with our colleagues from other NATO countries.

[Veidas] Is it possible that after reducing defence spending we will be unable to finance the new professional military, because six months from now we will give up the draft system?

[Jukneviciene] We are witnessing the results of the hurried switching to the professional army. Additional money is needed to maintain the professional army, while the defence spending had to be reduced. This means that we will hire fewer regular soldiers than we ought to, and the disproportion between the private soldiers and the officers will increase even more

The saddest consequences will be felt by the anti-air defence battalion, which is defending the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, because we will have no one to replace the draftees. We will have to raise the issue whether it is worth defending the airspace above the Ignalina plant, especially considering the fact that since 11 September 2001 there have not been similar incidents in the world. Moreover, today we have the NATO air police mission.

[Veidas] Listening to you, one gets the impression that all the military will be doing in the near future is trying to survive.

[Jukneviciene] This is no secret. This and the next year will be the years of survival for the military. Just as for the entire Lithuania. The most important thing is to retain human resources, although there will be difficult decisions, trying to even out the disproportion between the officers and the privates and sergeants.

Source BBC Monitoring

February 24, 2009 at 9:49 pm Leave a comment

Lithuania is ready for the SwedLink

As the BNS informed the Lithuania Foreign Minister once again confirmed that Lithuania is ready to launch construction works on the underway energy link with Sweden immediately.  Minister Usackas told this during a meeting with the  European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in Brussels on Feb 23.

As the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry statement writes Mr Usackas stressed that it is of utmost importance to reach an agreement with Latvia on the Baltic-Sweden power link.  The Minister has also invited the European Commission to work hand-in-hand in pursuing a fit solution.

The Lithuanian daily Vilniaus Diena quoted the Lithuanian Prime Minister as saying that resignation of Latvian PM Ivars Guodmans could facilitate negotiations between the two Baltic neighbours since the former Latvian PM was a stanch opponent of the Swedlink being built from Sweden to Lithuania.

 

February 23, 2009 at 5:07 pm 4 comments

The latest on the Lithuanian dual citizenship

Lithuanian passport

As the BNS reminded President Valdas Adamkus would be in favour of holding a referendum on dual citizenship and plans to authorize the Seimas to create in its spring session a new edition of the Citizenship Law, as drafted by his appointed task force.

After the meeting of the group with the Seimas Board the Presidential spokeswoman Grumadaite said: “The president requested the Seimas Board to mull the new draft Citizenship Law so as to vouchsafe a more clear and consistent legal regulation of citizenship, expand and better define cases when a Lithuanian citizen can simultaneously become that of another state. (…) The president would back the Seimas should it decide to hold a referendum and change Article 12 of the Constitution, thus legitimizing dual citizenship for all applicants”.

As the BNS writes the legal experts last week presented the president with a draft Citizenship Law drawn up by his appointed task force. The bill provisions a move to introduce and regulate a Lithuanian Charter document by Sept 30 and draft respective acts of law.

“I would like to remind that the new draft bill provisions that all Lithuanian citizens, who were exiled from Lithuania or left the country on their own will from 1919 to March 11 of 1990, as well as a few generations of their progeny get to retain Lithuanian citizenship. Persons, who for various reasons left Lithuania after March 11 of 1990 and chose to become citizens of another state, automatically lose their Lithuanian citizenship. However, their children, born abroad, retain the right to dual citizenship, i.e. that of Lithuania and another country”, Grumadaite explained.

Members of the Seimas Board were not unanimous on dual citizenship prospects.

As the Deputy Seimas Spokeswoman Degutiene, the Conservative said: “There is a joint Seimas commission with the American Lithuanian Community, and, naturally, it is necessary to first sit down with representatives of the emigrant community in order to reach a legal discourse”.

The Baltic Times write that Degutiene said reactions to the bill from the emigrant community are grounded on emotions and interpretations because they are yet to see any documents. “We will see whether the emigrant community, all of it, finds in favour of the new edition, or, in case something is askew, we can amend it. Should we fail to reach such an agreement, then, of course, we will have to go about it by holding a referendum. This would be the alternative route,” she said.

Degutiene also voiced concerns over the planned referendum on the issue that will coincide with the presidential elections this year, saying Lithuanian émigrés might not want it.

It needs to be reminded that a change to the constitution can only be made via referendum.

February 19, 2009 at 10:57 pm 13 comments

Lithuania PM – Eastern Europe needs coordinated EU help. Dark clouds of crisis over the Baltic States and some rays of optimism

Economical gloom is reigning in the Baltics.  The SEB bank has released a traditional forecast for the Baltic economies.  According to the report the Batics are in the long and painful recession.  However, Lithuania looks much better against its other Baltic brothers.

In its latest Nordic Outlook report, SEB forecasts that Lithuania’s economy will contract by 5.5 percent this year and 3 percent next year.  If you think this is bad read further.  Estonia’s GDP will plunge by 10 percent and 2.3 percent and Latvia’s economy will slide by 9.5 and 3 percent, respectively.

Lithuania’s average annual inflation rate is expected to ease to 5 percent this year, down from 11.1 percent last year, and decelerate further to 4 percent in 2010. Inflation in Latvia should reach 4.8 percent this year before falling to 0.5 percent next year. Inflation in Estonia will be 0.7 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

During his visit to Sweden Lithuania’s Prime Minister Kubilius once against called for the EU countries to look at the problems in Eastern parts of the EU more seriously.  In his interview to the FT he stated “It would be good to see a more coordinated approach from the EU authorities.  We are all suffering in a similar way from the credit crunch and the recession.”

In this interview Kubilius also expressed his worries about the situation in Ukraine and Russia.  “We are worried about what can happen in Ukraine and Russia.  The collapse of one of these big markets would have a very negative impact on the whole region.”

Kubilius said Baltic companies were complaining that foreign banks were tightening lending conditions, preventing them getting credits to pursue export opportunities. “Sometimes we would like to see a more positive attitude, especially when business is not in a bad shape,” he said.

In the same interview Kubilius noted that the Baltic States were in an especially difficult position because, to defend their fixed exchange rates, they had to tighten rather than loosen fiscal policy and their exports had become less competitive compared to countries with depreciating currencies.

However, Lithuania did not yet need to follow neighbouring Latvia and seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kubilius noted.  “We don’t have any real need for IMF lending,” Kubilius assured. “We are controlling our budget deficit and we don’t have any real problems at the moment with local banks.”

However, Kubilius said this could be counter-productive: “There is a stigma [in seeking IMF help] that we want to avoid,” he said. “We can still borrow from private sources and we hope that in the second half of the year there will be a more positive international market.”

Nevertheless, Kestutis Glaveckas, the chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee, has mentioned that Lithuania may have to turn to the IMF for financial support to stimulate the economy.

The MP noted to the BNS on Feb 18 “The financial instruments and powers that we have and are waiting for from the EU can be insufficient in the next six months and we may have to look for other financing sources. Seeking [financial support] from the IMF is not ruled out”.

However, even in the such grim environment the Lithuanian Economy Minister Dainius Kreivys still keeps his upbeat spirit and expects that either Google.com or Amazon.com will “sooner or later” begin to develop operations in Lithuania.

As he the BNS wrote, “It’s a question of time. I believe that sooner or later we’ll attract either Google.com or Amazon.com,” Kreivys told members of the parliament’s Economics Committee on Feb 18.

The BNS informed that the minister said that he was personally in talks with Sweden’s furniture group Ikea, Norway’s aluminium manufacturer Elkem and Google.com over investment in Lithuania.

As the BNS states Elkem considered investing about 800 million litas (EUR 232 mln) in building a factory in the port of Klaipeda or in the central Lithuanian town of Kedainiai. The company discussed those plans with the then Prime Minister, Gediminas Kirkilas.

Google was interested in the possibility of establishing a data centre in Lithuania. Ikea, which bought the chipboard and furniture factory Giriu Bizonas for more than 100 million litas last December, mulled building a new fibreboard and cellular furniture factory in Lithuania.

February 18, 2009 at 9:19 pm Leave a comment

Lithuania considers to accept two Guantamano inmates

Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Usackas announced that on February 4 Lithuania has received an official USA request to accept two Guantanamo prisoners.  The USA department maintains that the inmates will not cause any threat to the Lithuanian national security.

According to the Minister Lithuania will wait for those inmates to apply for a political asylum in Lithuania.  Mr Usackas would not disclose nationality of the inmates though later he assured that those inmates are not Chinese.  According to Delfi.lt the Chinese Embassy in Vilnius has asked Lithuania not to accept the Chinese inmates.  Some of the sources are saiying that they are Uzbeks.

The USA Embassy in Vilnius has issued a statement on Feb 12:
As demonstrated by President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo, resolving this issue is a high priority for this Administration.  As we have stated, we look forward to working with our international partners toward the shared objective of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  We welcome statements by Prime Minister Kubilius and Foreign Minister Usackas and are looking forward to discussing this issue with the Government of Lithuania.

The initial information about Lithuania’s resolve to accept the inmates was that Lithuania was ready to accept ten inmates.

February 13, 2009 at 2:29 pm 1 comment

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