The most important events of 2017 in journalists’ eyes – Mažylis‘ discovery and Trump’s presidency

The original copy of Lithuania's Act of Independence of 1918, the signatories and Dr. Mažylis
DELFI montažas

The most important events of 2017 for Lithuania were the discovery of the February 16 Act of Independence, new law enforcement suspicions in the corruption case and the arrival of NATO troops, Lithuanian journalists interviewed by the BNS news agency said.

The top five most important events also featured the Social Democrat break-up and the new Labour Code coming into effect.

According to Lithuanian journalists, it was Donald Trump‘s presidency’s early decisions to withdraw from international agreements under the slogan “America first” which had the most impact on the world.

L. Mažylis‘ discovery united and cheered up Lithuanians with the coming of the centenary of the re-establishment of statehood. However due to D. Trump’s presidency the world has become less predictable and due to his disputes with European partners, Lithuania will have to pick more often next year who to support – Washington or the duet of Berlin and Paris,” BNS chief editor Vaidotas Beniušis says.

L. Mažylis united Lithuania

Vytautas Magnus University professor L. Mažylis found the handwritten ruling on the re-establishment of an independent state in Lithuanian and German with the signature of 20 signatories in the German Foreign Ministry archive. Three quarters of journalists partaking in the survey identified this event as one of the most important.

“L. Mažylis proved that personal initiative, enthusiasm and earnest interest can do much more than state bureaucracy. It is an inspiration for everyone desiring change to not wait until “someone somehow” will take care of things, instead to act themselves,” Lietuvos Rytas television news service producer Monika Petkevičiūtė says.

“The discovery of the February 16 act cheered up many Lithuanian citizens and raised their national pride, it strengthens the foundations of independence,” LRT television journalist Kristina Jackūnaitė states.

“We hear of scandals and proposed reforms all the time, but the discovery of the act is once a century,” news portal journalist Dalia Plikūnė says.

Suspicions toward the Liberals

More than half of the journalists specified the law enforcement corruption suspicions declared on the Liberal Movement, Labour Party, several politicians and the MG Baltic group in a pre-trial investigation which has lasted more than a year and a half.

According to TV3 news journalist Eglė Šepetytė, the suspicions have shattered liberal voters’ hopes that the party operated transparently.

“Prior to the Seimas elections, the management of the Liberal Movement was able to convince a part of the people that the bribe taking was a personal crime of Eligijus Masiulis and the majority of his companions had no idea about this. The party was unfortunate – it received unexpectedly many seats in Seimas, however soon after the elections, facts surfaced that Gintaras Steponavičius, a jurist himself, “did not understand he became a special witness”, Šarūnas Gustainis‘ manoeuvres were also discovered. In order for the party to regain public trust, there may no longer be enough time left until the next Seimas elections,” the journalist said.

Chief editor for the news portal Raimundas Celencevičius says that the political corruption case may have a significant impact on the state political and business system.

“Crisis which struck the party after its leader E. Masiulis’ arrest may significantly redraw the country’s political map and take Lithuania toward a two party system because only one strong power is left in the right – the Homeland Union, which could have a liberal wing similarly to its Christian Democrat wing. The corruption suspicions cast on the MG Baltic group, not just its now former VP Raimondas Kurlianskis, could greatly alter the country’s business map if the suspicions are confirmed and the group falls apart, also making business impact on politicians more transparent, moving it from the shadows into the offices of legal lobbyists,” R. Celencevičius says.

News portal journalist Vytenis Radžiūnas says that the Liberal Movement elections where Eugenijus Gentvilas defeated Vitalijus Gailius with a minimal number of votes shows that the party is not united, many members are confused and unsure how the case may develop.

NATO battalion growing muscle

Half the interviewed journalists included the deployment of the NATO battalion in their top five most important events. The thousand troop detachment is led by Germany, with troops from Belgium, Norway, the Netherland, Croatia and Luxembourg rotated in this year. Next year French troops will serve in the battalion.

The head of the LRT television news service Audrius Matonis says that NATO has firmly displayed the Alliance commitments are not empty words, strongly involved Germany into its commitments in the region, which became a convincing deterrent for Russia and strengthened the Lithuanian public’s security perception.

“The NATO battalion is a tangible deterrence measure. Lithuania has become a full-fledged NATO member,” the editor of the Lithuania Tribune news portal Ruslanas Iržikevičius said.

However the foreign news editor for LRT Vykintas Pugačiauskas says that Lithuania’s resilience is insufficient.

“The increase in external security with the NATO battalion’s deployment and the progressing amnesia over Russia aggression in Ukraine has undercut the beginnings of a forming internal resilience – Russian propaganda measures are becoming increasingly acceptable and defence financing increases are once more becoming the object of political discussion,” V. Pugačiauskas stated.

Social Democrat break-up

According to journalists the fourth most important event were the changes in the Social Democrat Party. In April Vilnius vice Mayor Gintautas Paluckas became the party chairman. In September the party council decided to withdraw from the coalition with the “Farmers” at his initiative, however a number of party veterans disagreed with this decision and chose to leave the party in order to remain in power.

Verslo Žinios journalist Stasys Gudavičius pointed out that the Social Democrat internal processes have for a time “frozen” the cabinet and ruling coalition’s ability to effectively proceed with implementing their programme, thus toward the second half of the year they clearly lost the momentum clearly obtained in the first half.

“After the dust settled with the Social Democrats, the ruling coalition and cabinet formally remained formally. Without a majority, but factually it has been secured. Nevertheless the budget and tax reform questions, as well as support for the ministers in various questions, the coming elections are unlikely to aid this cabinet in realising all of the planned reforms,” S. Gudavičius stated.

According to newspaper Lietuvos Rytas analyst Vytautas Bruveris, the so-called traditional party or even overall party decline and the system’s erosion is a fundamental trend of Lithuanian domestic policy, which could incite radicalism.

“With every cycle of political elections, the overall quality of the political elite declines ever more, their capacity and finally even will to rule the country and answer existential challenges to it, among which we have social problems and inequality, as well as the demographic situation with emigration. That political gamblers have taken up anti-party rhetoric and replaced the parties and their policy, but almost immediately were swamped in their own scandals, intrigue and incompetence grants no hope that parties will make a comeback on this basis or that voters will start viewing their decisions and those of those they vote for more responsibly. Quite the contrary – an even deeper general crisis of public trust in politics and increased people’s radicalism cannot be dismissed,” V. Bruveris warns.

Labour Code and children’s protection

The top five concludes with the unpopular new Labour Code coming into power in the middle of the year – a third of journalists included it into their top five most important events. The supporters of the reform say that more flexible work relations will encourage investment and the creation of jobs. Critics warn that people will be less protected because the code eases the firing of employees.

Žinių Radijas show host Aurimas Perednis says that the code coming into power, compared to the previous events, has touched the most people with its consequences.

A quarter of journalists also included the Seimas decisions in child protection among their most important events – legislation banning the beating of children and children’s rights protection reform.

“The ban of physical punishments for children has displayed that we are a European state which is finishing shedding its Soviet heritage. We have also showed that Lithuania cares about its future,” LRT television journalist Reda Gilytė says.

Seimas rulings to limit alcohol advertising and accessibility also made the top ten, as well as the competition for the Lukiškių Square monument, MPs ruling to begin forestry reform and MP Greta Kildišienė‘s resignation.

The phenomenon of Donald Trump

Since entering office in January US president D. Trump has proven in a year that he will not be a typical leader. Under his decision that USA has departed climate change, immigration and free trade agreements, the UN Education, Science and Culture Organisation, the first year of term was blemished by scandals and disputes with the news media.

The beginning of the D. Trump presidency was identified as the most important event by three quarters of interviewed journalists, most of them warned that American leadership in the world is waning.

“The greatest risk is that the chaotic and scandal ridden Trump presidency may unbalance US leadership in the world. China has received opportunities to broaden its influence in the West Pacific Ocean region, while Europe is coming to terms with the idea that in the future it may have to do without the unconditional support of the USA,” news portal deputy chief editor Antanas Manstavičius says.

LRT journalist Deividas Jursevičius says that D. Trump began a wholly new “twitter diplomacy”. “We are now all trying to grasp what exactly D. Trump wanted to say though it is clear to everyone that it would be better if he said nothing,” D. Jursevičius states.

Newspaper Klaipėda chief editor Saulius Pocius states that D. Trump has pushed the world to a certain red line which “means nothing other than a massive political risk to cause unprecedented and tragic events in the world.”

“His strategy is a policy of unpredictability and demotivation which is carrying humanity who knows where. All of this is evident from his brave, but very risky decisions,” S. Pocius said.

Lietuvos Rytas television news journalist Mindaugas Vasiliauskas observes positive trends in the Trump presidency – according to him the musings that the new US president may seek to normalise relations with Russia, relinquishing harder policy toward it, have not come true. “The America first policy gives hope that Vladimir Putin will no longer be pandered to,” the journalist says.

Accusations for celebrities

In second we have the wave of scandals rolling over the West regarding sexual harassment. It began when in October Hollywood tycoon Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual violence, with many influential news media, show business and political figures’ victims speaking up later.

“With individual statements regarding sexual harassment the movement begun in the US has developed into a worldwide campaign which has reached even Lithuania. This brings hope that the conditions are developing for a gradual change in people’s views and social behaviour,” BNS editor Jūratė Skėrytė says.

The third and fourth most important events were the North Korean nuclear tests and the beginning of the British negotiations with the EU.

“The threat of a world war,” such was the explanation of Lietuvos Žinios chief editor Ramūnas Terleckas, why he identified the events around the totalitarian North Korea as the most important of the year.

“In his book After Europe political scientist Ivan Krastev wrote the thought that so far we have analysed various European integration theories, however no-one has written a theory of European disintegration. And this is all becoming not just a theoretical possibility, but a real threat. Europe needs reforms so that the Union would survive, however what would be worst is if member states would not come to agreement on the causes and treatments of the disease despite agreeing regarding the need for reform,” chief editor for the portal Donatas Puslys states.

Among the frequently mentioned events we also have the International Olympic Committee ban on Russian participation in the Winter Olympics, the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Emmanuel Macron‘s election as French president, the declaration of Catalan independence, Xi Jinping‘s re-election as the leader of China and the military victories against the Islamic State.

“The unilateral decision over the future of Jerusalem is suited to illustrate the way of D. Trump’s actions in the international arena. “This created a tension around Jerusalem and this diverted attention from Christmas,” Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, says, stressing that the Christmas celebration would not be spoilt by this. Whether this characteristic act by D. Trump ruin the fragile peace in the Middle East will become apparent already next year after VP Mike Pence‘s visit to Jerusalem in an attempt to mitigate the harm of D. Trump’s power play,” Žinių Radijas journalist Ridas Jasiulionis says.

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