THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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A reader who responded to one of our VilNews issues last year argued that our publication had begun to go in the footsteps of local Lithuanian media in describing Lithuania in a rather negative way. I can well understand such a reaction, but it must also be said that unfortunately there has been a relatively large number of cases and circumstances in this country that deserve to be described in quite critical terms.
• The Lithuanian people, especially the weakest groups, are very hard hit by the economic crisis that continues to affect much of the world. The country's pensioners and other disadvantaged groups continue to live under very miserable conditions, and one must be allowed to make critical remarks on how this country's authorities have acted in the handling of the crisis. It seems to me that Lithuania's government has been more concerned with finding their own solutions, trying to ‘reinvent the wheel' rather than to learn from what other nations have made with regard to stimulus packages, lowered interest rates, etc. in these times of crisis, which in my view unnecessarily sets Lithuania several years back in time compared to many other countries. Fortunately, it appears that the immediate panic that came to characterize both the government and the banks in 2008-2010, seems to be slowly taken over by more mature attitudes now in 2011.
• There has still been far too little done for increased foreign investments in Lithuania, even if there were some good efforts made during 2010. Also the country's own industry has largely had to fend for themselves without the kind of facilitation and support one sees taking place in countries frequently compared with Lithuania.
• The country has been constantly ill-placed on Transparency International's statistics on corruption and transparency over many years, compared with other European countries, a situation which clearly has hindered economic growth and a better society for its own citizens. That corruption and bribery is still a part of the country's 'culture' in business and public institutions is nothing less than a big shame!
• The country's press must, unfortunately, largely be described as underdeveloped, with too much emphasis on celebrity and scandal reviews, and too little emphasis on constructive and investigative journalism that focuses on corruption and other undesirable conditions that continue to hold this country down. But many would also say that the media focus too much on the negative, too little on all the positive things going on here.
• A huge proportion of Lithuania's population has emigrated in recent years, including many of those with higher education, and one can rightly ask what is done to create new jobs and make necessary provisions to keep these groups remain in their home country.
• One of Lithuania's most prominent human resources is undoubtedly the country's large diasporas around the globe, groups of people and their descendants who left their mother country because of war, difficult economic conditions, political persecution, etc. These diaspora groups are in my view too little listened to or consulted from the Lithuanian authorities, which is very sad for a nation that so desperately needs all possible support and assistance from the hundreds of thousands who still have Lithuania in their hearts.
• When Lithuania's Constitutional Court in November 2006 ruled that the country's Law on Citizenship should be interpreted in disfavour of dual citizenship for large groups of Lithuanians and their descendants having citizenships in other countries, this became the start of a still heated debate around the world, as many within the country's numerous diaspora groups felt that their country of origin did not want them back or did not want to appreciate them as full Lithuanians. Many felt that the Court's decision in its interpretation of the law was more influenced by hidden motives and intentions rather than common sense. As previously stated, Lithuania desperately needs goodwill from all of its huge diasporas, and should be more eager than most other countries to allow dual citizenship. Lithuania’s welcome-back-door must be kept constantly open, never closed. We need everyone who is ready to contribute and make an effort for the mother country.
• The Lithuanian school system, especially at higher levels, is still dominated by Soviet-era thinking and there is good reason to ask what has been done the last 20 years to make it more conducive to more advanced and modern education, research and collaboration between education, businesses and government.
• Health Service has major and serious deficiencies, and also suffers under the fact that many of the nation's doctors and nurses have emigrated to Western countries.
• The focus on travel and tourism has largely been unsuccessful, partly because of the disproportionately high airport taxes (the good news is that this was finally understood and these taxes were drastically lowered in 2010), under-developed ports for ferries and other ships in the Baltic Sea city of Klaipeda, poorly developed infrastructure and promotional activities, as well as little support to hotels and other tourist industries.
• Vilnius as European Capital of Culture in 2009, must also be described as a flop due to the fact that the number of visitors to the city was sharply down instead of up as expected, not least because of the unstructured and poor planning, and as several flights were cancelled due to FlyLAL's bankruptcy, too high airport charges and poor decisions by authorities. The planned main symbol of the year of culture, the re-created royal palace at the cathedral in Vilnius that should have been completed in all its glory during the culture year, still stands there as a ghostlike skeleton surrounded by construction cranes.
• The statistics for suicide and violent crime in Lithuania is sad reading, and the country is among those on the very bottom of all these statistics compared to the rest of Europe.
• Lithuanians make up for a disproportionate share of criminal gangs in Western Europe and the United States, something which increasingly creates major problems for the police and the judiciary in many countries and also leads to frequent negative headlines about Lithuania in the Western media.
• Lithuania is still suffering under a lot of pending historic "dirt", for example with regard to its dealings with the Holocaust and the fact that relatively many Lithuanians collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews here. There was also an extensive collaboration between the KGB and senior Lithuanian politicians through the Soviet time, and it is still missing a wide clarification of what actually took place in the post-war partisan war. Reconciliation must be the obvious target, but based on all the facts laid on the table in a most scientific, objective way so that whatever might have been of injustice or illegal actions come to light and can be reacted to. A firm and fair treatment of these historical conditions will provide Lithuania great honour both domestically and from the international community.
• Participation in voluntary organizations is record low in Lithuania compared to other EU countries, and it seems that people in this country has relatively little liking for and willingness to teamwork and to work jointly with others within their neighbourhoods, local communities or on a national level. Is it perhaps selfishness, greed and mistrust of other people behind this?
But, then, there is so very much positive that can be said about this country that many of us have become so fond of during the years after the liberation from the Soviet Union in 1990/91.
Lithuania has in many areas undergone an admirable growth for several years until the economical crisis started, which I recently saw very nicely symbolized by the many great new buildings that have shot up in the outskirts of Vilnius since I first came the same road into town in November 1990 on tour from my native Norway. Vilnius was by then a city that I experienced as sad, dark and worn, but is now a modern metropolis on a European level. An important part of this picture is the incredibly beautiful Old Town in Vilnius, which has now been renovated and re-emerged as one of Europe's finest and most attractive tourist magnets.
Also, coastal areas have undergone phenomenal change for the better. A summer stroll through the newly renovated Palanga city or at Europe's largest sand dunes in Nida are good experiences fully on par with what one finds in other countries' tourism destinations. The spa-town Druskininkai in South Lithuania has similarly undergone great improvements, and stands today as one of Europe's most attractive for anyone who wants to 'recharge the batteries' and at the same time enjoy the truly wonderful sceneries of Lithuania’s forest and lake landscapes.
It pleases me very much every time I visit my in-laws lush garden outside Vilnius. The practice of garden-towns is still alive and well here, and represents, in my opinion some of the closest you can get to this country's soul. Worth a visit!
Let me also mention the fantastic cultural life that so much characterizes this country. Music festivals that mark the cities and towns every summer. Most professional theatre, ballet and singing performances that fill the country's many stages throughout the winter months. Art exhibitions of all kinds, and spontaneous performances of various theatre and music groups in courtyards, squares, settlements and villages across the country. One needs never get bored in Lithuania!
And, let me share with you what two late statistics say about Lithuania:
According to the “2010 Quality of Life Index” published by the “International Living” magazine http://www1.internationalliving.com/qofl2010/, Lithuania is among the 25 best countries in the world to live in, with better quality of life than most other countries of Central and Eastern Europe (even ahead of some West-European countries).
Vilnius can boast of the cleanest air in Europe according to the „Economist Intelligence Unit“ and „Siemens“ in a research study called “An Index of Green European Cities” in which 30 cities-capitals of Europe were participating. http://www.vilnius-tourism.lt/topic.php?tid=84&aid=2304
It is my hope that Lithuania's authorities, businesses and people in general seriously start to cope with the still remaining problems and negative conditions, so that we can put behind us the negative features and once again see and experience a Lithuania with similar positive guts, profile and multi-cultural constellations that this country was once so famous for.
The initial question was what we can do to improve Lithuania's reputation to the rest of our world.
Many would probably say that what we need is more positive attention in international media. And, in fact, over the years there have been spent large sums on advertising Lithuania and Vilnius on CNN and in other media. It has been printed countless brochures, and it has repeatedly been created commissions that should propose new logos, new slogans, new profiles and new ideas for international promotion of Lithuania. But I hardly exaggerate when I say that the usefulness of all this has been extremely limited.
My answer to the question would therefore rather be to open up for a broad process with the aim to overcome, and actively improve the problem areas I have outlined in my bullet points above. I believe this would be a far better starting point and professional platform for improving Lithuania's reputation. Such a process would in itself attract attention and recognition in international media, as well as among leaders and ordinary people around the world.
Nothing gives better reputation for a nation than when the country’s authorities and citizens join forces into a positive and determined development process based on openness, fairness, honesty, genuine concern for fellow human beings, true respect for law and order, hard work, and attempted professionalism on all levels.
Lithuania has the historical and contemporary power to again become a leading, prominent example nation for other developing countries and many others around the world. Let’s take the opportunity.
I am fully aware that I have embarked into a minefield by writing the above comments, but after living in Lithuania more or less continuously for 20 years now, I feel that I have some background to indicate an ever-so-small number of perceptions. Giving advice to others, however, is always a risk sport. To be a bit critical is even more risky. I have no roots in or from Lithuania, but I have my 'branches' here, and I would so dearly like my descendants and all other Lithuanians again to feel pride when they tell of their Lithuanian background. Therefore, I have written this, and I hope it will be well received as a constructive contribution with the best intentions and wishes for a brightest possible future in and for Lithuania.
VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the editors: editor@VilNews.com.
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