PM rows back on ‘Russian influence’ comments as teachers unions call on him to name names

DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

Talks between teachers‘ representatives and government officials are resuming on Wednesday as about 10% of schools across Lithuania continue strikes.

Teachers. unions were outraged by the comments and the developments are unlikely to bring a quicker end to the open-ended strike about low pay. Lithuanian teachers are among the lowest paid in Europe.

Butkevičius said this morning: “It is no secret that democratic processes in Lithuania – the freedom of expression and protest – are closely monitored by hostile forces of propaganda, wagers and strategists of information wars. This is evidenced by close attention to processes in our country by certain foreign media and intelligence agencies with the aim of blowing our problems and disagreements out of proportion. This is confirmed by intelligence and analysis supplied by our special services.

“The so-called soft power measures are used to engage our society organizations, include them into joint activities and influence. However, I certainly do not believe that educators’ unions, let alone teachers, could give in to foreign influences,” he said.

His statements are unlikely to assuage teachers who are demanding both higher wages and a restoration of pre-crisis student-teacher ratios in the classroom in return for stopping the open-ended strike. Over 200 educational institutions were affected by the strike yesterday.

Union representatives responded to Butkevičius’ allegations by calling his statements “politically blind” and demanding that he give names of individuals who are allegedly influenced by Moscow.

“I think that the prime minister shows his political immaturity when he talks about developments in the education system. Such political blindness is surprising,” Eugenijus Jesinas, chairman of the Lithuanian Education Institutions’ Union, told BNS.

He said that at least members of his union had not participated in events organized by Russia or Russian trade unions.

“We would like that individuals linked to Russia be named,” Jesinas added.

Audrius Jurgelevičius, chairman of the Lithuania Education Union, said that Butkevičius’ statements were slander.

“In his war against fellow citizens, the Lithuanian prime minister has pulled out the ‘Russians are attacking’ cliché. It is an argument that sane self-respecting people would not dignify with comments,” Jurgelevičius said, adding that his union might sue Butkevičius for slander.

He also said that the prime minister’s statements about an agreement between government and teachers’ representatives having been reached last Friday were inaccurate.

On Friday, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius promised additional €5 million for wages, which would allow salaries to be raised by an average of 1.5% in September, but unions said teachers would continue to strike until the government allocated an additional €18 million to teachers’ salaries this year.

The ruling parties worked out a proposal on Tuesday they are planning to present to teachers’ representatives today. A three-year plan envisages 13% wage raises for secondary school teachers and 31% raises for pre-school educators.

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