- November 22, 2012
What is the future of the Šalčininkai region?
“Šalčininkai 2013: business and employment possibilities” – this is the motto of the socio-economic discussion which took place in the Local Government of the Šalčininkai region. The meeting was organized thanks to the initiative of the Mission of the European Commission in Lithuania. They have actually started a series of discussions on different regions in Lithuania. Guests from Vilnius, EU agencies’ representatives and citizens of that unique, border and multicultural region were searching together for an answer to the following question: “What is the priority direction of development of the Šalčininkai region and how can the European Union help?”
A month ago there was a public opinion research conducted on the strategic directions of development in the following regions: Šalčininkai, Panevėžys and Tauragė. The research showed that 83% of the Šalčininkai region citizens see their future in industry and production development. 59% of respondents claim it is worth creating better conditions for small and medium companies. 56% of respondents count on logistics while 54% of them count on agriculture, which is the regional economy mainstay. Opposed to the citizens of other Lithuanian regions, 40% of the Šalčininkai citizens see their future in tourism and 36% of them – in science and innovation, what also distinguishes them from the citizens from Tauragė and Panevėžys regions. Education, culture and sport are not the fields that are perceived in the Šalčininkai region as promising in any way.
Andrzej Andruszkiewicz, the Vice Mayor of the Šalčininkai region, emphasised that the region has always been agricultural, therefore it is worth counting on the agricultural development. “We are deeply rooted in the agricultural tradition. We can work on the land. It obviously is possible to benefit from farming. Farmers from our region efficiently make use of the European Union funds and, in this respect, we are one of the most active areas in the country. Last year, one of the farmers from the Šalčininkai region received 1,5 million of Lithuanian litas as a part of financial help from the European Union. He employs 46 workers. Such examples can be multiplied”, said the Vice Mayor.
Bogusław Grużewski, the Director of the Labour and Social Research Institute, presented a report on the dynamics of number the of citizens and the level of employment in the Šalčininkai region as well as the changes in private enterprises. Sadly, the data shows a drop in the number of companies since 2008, which influences not only the decrease in salaries but also in purchasing power of the citizens. There have been 297 companies in the Šalčininkai region at the beginning of this year. Small companies employing up to 4 workers constitute a vast majority of them. The unemployment rate in November 1 was 11,5% and it was 2% higher than the statistical country rate. Currently, there are 9 export-oriented companies in the region. What is more, the local government is carrying out 32 projects co-funded by the local government and the European Union.
The issue of industrial and production power of the region stirred up controversy. The Šalčininkai region representatives claimed that there is no way to bring any international investments, so it is better to support small and medium companies. Danas Arlauskas, the Director of the Lithuanian Confederacy of Employers, encouraged to continue looking for foreign investors. However, he emphasised that the state authorities’ attitude towards the region, either positive or negative, is of utmost importance in that case. Józef Rybak, the Deputy Director of the Local Government Administration in the Vilnius Region, says that the lack of a regional investment policy among the Lithuanian authorities is still visible. “We have a well-developed transport infrastructure and favourable geographical location. Although we are a border region, so a depressive one as some would say, we can welcome a foreign investor but we need the state authorities to turn their eyes towards the Šalčininkai region”, said Józef Rybak.
Aurelia Arlauskienė, the Director of the Vilnius Department of Lithuanian Journalists Union, was rewarded with applause for her statement about the Šalčininkai region. She said that the attitude towards the region would not change unless their image in media changed. The Šalčininkai region is shown in media as an environment of hostile Poles who do not speak Lithuanian; a place which people should be afraid of going to and a place you probably need to have a visa to enter. Such an image created by media and, consequently, followed by the Lithuanians is very harmful for the region. That is why, the Director of the Vilnius Department of Lithuanian Journalists Union tries to change that image by inviting journalists to the Šalčininkai region and helping them realise that the true picture of the area is completely different.
At the end of the meeting, there was a question to the organizers about the aim and results of the discussion. Giedrius Sudikas, the Chairman of Media and Information Department of the Mission of the European Commission in Lithuania, answered: “I believe that this meeting was beneficial for us all, at least if it comes to mutual relations. What is more, the problems we have discussed here will be put forward to the state authorities thanks to the representative of the Lithuanian government who was present at the meeting.”
Tłumaczenie Marta Dubiel w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Marta Dubiel the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.