EADaily has interviewed member of the Vilnius City Municipality (the parliamentary group of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and Russian Alliance coalition) Romualda Poseveckaja. The key topic was the current social and political situation in Lithuania.
What is going on with the population of Vilnius? Has it shrunk or grown over the last years? Do you have any social programs to bring back those who have left the country? Are they effective?
The population of Lithuania is shrinking. The shock of the last census was that we are no longer three million. So, Marijonas Mikutavičius’s Trys Milijonai (Three Million) hit is no longer appropriate. Today, we have just 2,700,000 people. Emigration is the key factor here. Once Lithuania joined the EU, our people began leaving the country for better life in Europe. According to our Statistics Department, we have as many as 620,000 Lithuanians abroad. Our authorities are trying to change this situation. Last year our political leaders approved a demographic policy that is supposed to enlarge our population to 3,500,000 by 2025. But many are skeptical. In order to achieve this goal, we need either to bring back our emigrants or to receive as many immigrants. The latter scenario is hardly acceptable, while the former one needs serious improvements. One more option is to boost the birth rate but for our country to have 3,500,000 in 2025, each our woman will have to give birth to five children. Will our families agree to this? Especially now that the authorities are considering a system stipulating simplified dismissal procedures for employees, including pregnant women. This initiative will hardly contribute to our demography, will it?
Why are the alcoholism and suicide rates so high?
Yes, here we are among the leaders in the world. Experts say that the last time Europe saw such an outburst of alcoholism was 120 years ago, when in Scandinavia, Saxonia and Prussia men used to drink 25 liters of alcohol a year. Today in Lithuania the suicide rate is four times higher than in Germany and 80% of suicides are caused by alcohol. And villagers drink much more than people living in cities.
This winter the whole country was outraged by news that a drunk man in some village threw his two children into a well. Quite recently a woman in some remote village killed her newborn baby. The key factors causing such incidents are antisocial lifestyle and alcoholism. Any psychologist will tell you that this comes from apathy and continuous stress or from homelessness and no belief in future.
We are concerned about the situation in our country. Lots of our villages are degrading. People are fleeing to Vilnius or abroad. In some rural areas there are just two people per each 1 sq km. The death rate is growing. Fewer and fewer people are getting married. Robbery is thriving.
Our authorities have developed heaps of strategies to develop our provinces but all of them are just theories. At first, we thought that once we joined the EU, things would improve. The EU is funding us but we see no improvements. Farmers are not cultivating their lands any more as they prefer getting compensation. So, emigration, alcoholism and the government’s inaction are the key factors that are killing our provinces. Our villagers have become passive and weak-willed.
Will you be able to preserve Polish and Russian schools in Vilnius?
Five years ago, on Mar 17 2011, the Lithuanian authorities approved amendments to the law on education. The amendments left secondary school outside the high education system and threw away the Soviet-time model when each district had a 12-year school. Lots of schools failed to get certificates for high level. Ethnic groups were also affected as the reform gave top priority to Lithuanian. In Sept 2016 all schools will switch to a single Lithuanian language program. So, we can see that the reform has become an instrument of assimilation.
Self-governments have no other way but to obey the law and to close ineligible schools. People are protesting but the authorities ignore the protests and continue making anti-minority decisions. One of our key problems is that we don’t have a law on ethnic minorities. Consequently, we don’t have the concept of ethnic school. And so, the authorities enjoy free hand to close Russian and Polish schools or to make life worse for them. Until we adopt a law on ethnic minorities, our ethnic schools will be dying.
You are known for your harsh criticism of the government. Is it easy for an oppositionist to act in Lithuania today? Are such people persecuted?
I am still confident that we live in a country where constructive criticism is regarded as a prerequisite for democracy rather than an attempt to shatter statehood. When I criticize I just want to make my country better. I am worried to hear that the authorities are considering banning such criticism on a legislative basis. I hope that we will overcome these hard times and will preserve our freedoms of speech and expression.
This year Lithuania is conducting parliamentary elections. Will they cause any serious changes in the parliament?
I don’t think they will. We have long had a bipartisan system. In fact, power in our country is divided between two forces – Social Democrats and Conservatives. During the last local elections Liberals were also active. But I see lots of cunning things in liberalism. The rule of Liberals in Vilnius has shown that in most cases they just patronize private business. So, their national rule may result in monopolies. Our people are afraid of new players, so, this time too they may vote for those they know better.
We are glad that our coalition is getting more votes and our slogans are not only about ethnic minorities. We are doing serious work in the social sector. We have never been involved in any political or corruption-related scandals. So, people trust us. But let’s not take the ball before the bound. The elections will show the real picture.