Arūnas Milašius. What happened in the provincial elite when MG Baltic sought power in Vilnius

Arūnas Milašius
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

The MG Baltic scandal arose at the right time and the right place.

The ten years of intelligence data was published specifically on the day when high state officials had to decide how to respond to very inconvenient questions. Today those questions are no longer being posed. Other inconvenient questions are avoided as well.

However to MG Baltic, which, if the sins are proven, may have to answer, the desire to rule the country is only a decent attempt by business to measure influence with politicians. The real danger lies far deeper and is currently not spoken of.

The cancer of influence and selfishness has spread far wider in the country.

You cannot buy authority

The MG Baltic executives made a fundamental mistake – they imagined that you could simply buy authority, manipulate it and thus silently rule cities and the country.

Far more cunning Lithuanians chose a different way and are thriving. They simply became the government because they understood that the final decision in a regulated market will always be made not by a businessperson, but a politician or subordinate clerk. It matters not, how much the businessperson has “invested” into politics. The decision is always on the side of the politician.

MG Baltic certainly didn’t seek to entrench itself in government for nothing. It split parties, cornered opponents. It worked.

The group received a number of delicious contracts and during the rise of the real estate market could successfully develop real estate projects. Hundreds of millions of euro in state company purchases flooded in.

Cunning province

What is different is little towns and the regions. Their elite found another golden formula of existence and comfort. There local businesspeople have long realised the rule – you must be a politician yourself and participate in making significant decisions.

That’s when your business will thrive. There’s no need for parties and branches. It suffices to come and establish yourself in an existing structure. Well, sometimes you may create some committee and lead it, using this to push away the old elite.

Crowds of businesspeople have cosily settled in local councils, ruling party branches, some have taken mayor seats. Some, who present modest official wages in income declarations, drive the most expensive cars and confuse themselves among the addresses of their real estate. This is not in Italy or Colombia, but in humble Lithuania.

In part it is specifically this process where businesspeople became local politicians and local politicians became local businesspeople has halted development.

Today we talk about a demographic crisis, dying regions, from which emigration is only growing. It cannot be halted because wages sometimes lag behind the major cities, where a certain business structure, despite its efforts, failed to establish itself and they have no more chances to grow.

Decay in the name of the elite

In smaller municipalities, the locals manage to block out competitors or at least obstruct their development.

Competitors, who could force them to increase service quality and raise wages because they must compete are unnecessary. Better to simply cut a deal in the local business club, where the elite gathers. Opportunities to win local municipal procurements are practically non-existent.

And based on Lithuanian legislation it is possible to obstruct practically any project or investment. Legal acts are created not for businesspeople or common citizens, but for politicians and clerks so that they could manipulate.

Suffice to demand documentation, under which there is a signature of a subordinate department, raise an uproar and stall yet another decision in the local council for a few years, blocking construction or reconstruction of the object in interest.

For example, owner to six poultry farms Jonas Jagminas obtained a location in Jonava where together with partners from Ukraine he wished to construct a fodder factory. After a year and a half of efforts to change the land designation, the investors, who wished to invest 5 million euro and import and process corn and sunflowers – cultures, which do not grow locally, withdrew from the project.

It is only a single one of hundreds of examples. Not even the largest.

Major party bastions

If the mayor of a small region is shouting that they only need foreign capital factories to full happiness, often it is not an earnest shout.

Such investors are not wanted because it would force locals to raise wages and compete for staff. It’s discomfort and unneeded stress.

From time to time, the government grants funds for development and it is successfully split and absorbed in the local “Rotary” club. Even if the region has historically been thriving, this thriving often does not reach the locals.

From the other side, such local czars are convenient to the major politicians. They are the backing of the major parties, a sort of party bastion, stably and predictably delegating a few members to Seimas during every elections, both in the single mandate districts and contributing a good number of voters when counting multi-mandate district results.

But it is not reached so bluntly as unexperienced parties attempted to do, whose representatives stood next to electoral districts and offered minor money for votes. It is enough to “convince” a prefect to “work” with the local villagers.

They will soon understand that if the prefect together with the party government will change, issues can arise with benefits payments, firewood and other goodies.

After successful elections, the mayors once more have support in Vilnius and an inflow of financial support. A few years of comfortable living secured.

No need to intimidate, blackmail or bribe anyone. The system simply works. The regions continue declining, but as long as it does not harm individual figures and their families’ welfare, no one cares.

People are leaving? Who cares about them. The older the villagers are, the easier to bend them to your will. The welfare of the local elite is ensured not by strong local business, but state disbursements.

Dwindling youth

Such a lifestyle is already bringing a sort of result. Only in Vilnius is there an increase in residents and even then only a little, as well as in some regions.

The head of the Large Families Association Jurgita Pocienė told Delfi she is not surprised that the number of families in the regions is declining – part of them move to the major cities or simply leave Lithuania.

“I believe that the largest problem is the drain on specifically young families because say in my environment there are few families raising 3-4 children, I’m not even speaking of those raising 7 or 8 children, however in essence we are losing young people. After travelling abroad they raise their kids there,” she noted.

According to J. Pocienė, emigration and at the same time family planning is linked to a lack of trust in the state.

“No one will rush to raise children until there is a feeling of stability, state responsibility,” she concluded.

It is curious that this is specifically the case where before talking about economic revival, we should talk about specific legal measures for the revival to have room.

What data has been gathered on local elites over a few decades by special services is something only the services can say. However, the files must be very thick. Let us hope that a day will come when they will cease to lie in competing shelves and will go to where they should under the rule of law.

About Arunas Milasius 3 Articles
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