“There are things I was not ready to do,” Eidukonis said, referring to not-so-subtle hints that he’d have to pay if he wanted things done. Though disappointed, he did not give up his interest in Lithuania; now, he lives between the two countries, is a member of the World Lithuanian Community‘s (LWC) delegation at the Lithuanian Seimas. In his opinion, Lithuanian expatriates are encouraged to engage in purely cultural and educational affairs, while if they make remarks on Lithuania’s political and economic situation, these are met with less than welcome reactions.
Eidukonis says that the LWC does not need any more members, the emigration from Lithuania needs to be stopped, but that requires political will. The American-Lithuanian, member of the Casimir Simonavičius University Academic Council, talks to lzinios.lt about leadership and the media in Lithuania.
Are you, as a member of the LWC, content with the way this organization interacts with the Lithuanian government?
The World Lithuanian Community has its own agenda with a lot of things, but it could be deeper. We should pose the question of how to build Lithuania for it to be a powerful state. Now, we have a problem: We are trying to be like the Scandinavians, we want the same social system. But contrary to them, we did not start to manage our infrastructure a hundred years ago. Everything we do today in Lithuania goes contrary to building such an infrastructure. Salaries here are among the smallest in the European Union and taxes are quite high. How could we accumulate funds in order to build infrastructure?
Interestingly, Seimas members believe that we represent only the expatriates. After all, those people emigrated not because of good conditions in Lithuania, but because they were disappointed. The goal of the LWC should be to reduce emigration – we do not need any more members, really. We want to minimize the number of them and bring them back to Lithuania. The government is “pushing” us to the safe topics of language, education studies. This is important, but the state is in trouble; do we have to talk about roses at this time? In order to save the country, it is necessary to change the approach to the economy. The situation is complicated not only with low wages and high taxes, but also with mentality stuck in the old times, when workers were not considered to be of value. As a result, they do not feel safe in Lithuania, there is a lack of justice. We can see how people with money make the system stall, while a poor man is imprisoned for stealing chickens. I do not like to criticize the government, unanimity is necessary, especially in these times when such things are happening in the world. But many of them do not understand what is going on in the economy.
As a teacher of economics, I have formulated a few rules. First, there is no dinner for free, someone has to pay for it. Second, business does not pay taxes. It is hard to understand for people. The minimum wage is increased, but where employers have to get the money to pay them? The state has even better benefits o fit: higher salaries – higher taxes. Another thing is that the state is fighting against the black market. It would not exist if taxes were reasonably trimmed. According to official figures, one-third of people in Lithuania are engaged in the shadow economy. Instead of battling the cause, we are fighting against people.
In June, parliament presented conclusions from conversations with the so-called third-wave emigrants. It is interesting that after summarizing the reasons for their departure, it appears that economic problems are not in the first place. The key reasons are related with a lack of respect.
Money is not really the most important reason. Working as a business consultant in America, I have seen companies where people were paid little, but they were happy with what they did because of a good working relationship. Lithuania lacks much of it and people do not realize it, they cannot create workplaces for work in a team. Today, the system is hierarchical: I am in charge and they execute. I have worked for ten years developing a different way of work in firms. When employees started to work together as a team, significant changes happened. A person will not work more for the owner to benefit from it. However, if the person also gets financial benefit, he or she will be proud of working in the firm; an opportunity to buy shares will appear in the future – the person will be thinking in a different way. Another thing is promotion of employees. If someone does something well, pat him on the shoulder, people will never grow tired of it. Lithuanian employers learn it step by step; I can see how the situation is changing slowly.
Twenty years ago, I was serving in Panama to put the state on its feet. A recent survey shows that people there are among the happiest in the world. They regained independence from a dictator at a similar time when Lithuania became free from the Soviet Union; it also has a population of three million. You see a lot of similarities when you compare, but we still have Soviet mentality: If a person earns money, he is a thief, a speculator.
You teach leadership in Casimir Simonavičius University, you are an experienced manager of many firms, you received the award of the Entrepreneur of the Year. Do you think Lithuania has good leaders?
Currently, the president is doing what a good leader should do. This concerns Ukraine, the coexistence of ethnic minorities in Lithuania. It seems to me that we know how to get along quite well with brothers Poles and Russians, but more rigor with regards to Eastern politics is needed.
Another thing, it is necessary to be able to defend ourselves. As a former officer, I understand that our army is not ready for it. It can only slow down the enemy but not to stop him. Would we make it long enough before NATO forces come to rescue? It is a serious question. It is uncomfortable talking about it, but I have not heard of any strategic plan to defend Lithuania. We should not over-rely on NATO, only four of the twenty-eight countries spend more than two percent of the GDP on defence.
Another thing is that not only the two percent are important, it is also important that ordinary people be willing to defend their country. The National Guard – Army Reserve acts in the United States, the members meet for exercises once a month for a weekend and two weeks during the summer. This is one of the cheapest ways to reinforce the state; the similar guard is set up in Ukraine now. These are the citizens who would go against little green men in their villages and who know how to deal with them and who they are. The regular army cannot be sent to fight against little green men to Alytus or Elektrėnai. In this way, local patriotism is strengthened, the nation is united. I served as a draftee myself, I do not recommend to have such an army; it is rather better to train motivated volunteers.
Continuing the leadership issue, I do not see it among politicians. One of the most important things a leader needs is courage. But our political system is designed in such a way that it is dangerous to show courage. If a member of the Seimas opposes the party’s position, their career is over, they will be placed at the end of the list and will not have the impact on the Seimas or the nation. It is necessary to change this. In addition, there are too many members of the Seimas in Lithuania, the LWC talked about it four years ago. If there are any political leaders, they lead Lithuania in the wrong direction.
I also see leaders among the students, but very few. Lithuanians do not want to stand out, they are quiet, polite. Meanwhile, a leader must be able to convince others and to give reasons. I have noticed that the best leaders I met in Lithuania are women. This is not an empty compliment, they are a little braver, more relaxed; they were brought up in a different way in family. Overall, I am very confident about the young generation. They have seen the world, they are not afraid of work, and they are patriotic. I would encourage them to find a party with an ideology they agree with and take it. It is necessary to start from somewhere. It is not enough to sit outside and talk about what’s going on inside.
You said that while working in Panama, in order to find out what is happening in Latin America, you analyzed the media. What do you think about today’s Lithuanian media?
I have been studying this field, I was particularly interested in how media outlets owned by neighbouring countries washed the brains of the people. You can see clearly where the orders to do something come from. When I criticize the government, I feel a little guilty for helping those people who act against Lithuania.
But criticism with specific proposals is different. I do not know when, but I believe that Lithuania will be able to handle it one day. The people and the government are two separate things. The government has to gain the confidence of the people, but that’s not how it is in Lithuania. I do not recommend to have a Maidan here, it is better to change the system and to work within it. It is necessary to fight with words, ideas and the media rather than with pitchforks or Kalashnikovs. It is important to open people’s eyes for them to understand the economy; you cannot arm the state without economic growth. And for the state to get wealthier, it needs a system where people can work and earn a decent living.
Russian television clearly spreads propaganda, but some media channels do it subtly. Lies are wrapped into partial truths and it is difficult to discern them. Most of all, it’s done very well, often humorously. As a former propaganda analyst, I understand how the system works. The worst is that a part of the Lithuanian people get their news from the Russian media only. The Lithuanian government should express its position in the Russian and Polish languages. It is understood that it is easier for them to read or listen in their native language, and they have no choice in sources of information. Joseph Goebbels said: Lie loudly and often – people will start to believe you. So, it happens, therefore, there should be given a choice. There are discussions on whether to ban some Russian TV channels, but I’m against it. Let us broadcast them, but it should be marked in the corner that this is propaganda. A forbidden fruit is sweeter, it is not difficult to bypass bans.
Translated by Lotus Translation