• August 27, 2015
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Kuolys in PKD: The country wants to control social processes

Society has to be free in order to develop – said the councillor of the Vilnius municipality, former advisor to the President Valdas Adamkus and the founder of Open Society Fund Darius Kuolys yesterday during the first Polish Debating Club this season.

The debate which took place in the Cultural Centre in Nowa Wilejka was devoted to the issues concerning social activism, citizen control, and civil society in Lithuania. “I was wondering what are the biggest challenges of non-governmental organisations. One of them certainly is encouraging people to take action. Additionally, this problem strengthens the quite low level of citizen awareness, lack of the feeling that we can have an impact on a situation, make a change. This thread keeps coming up in discussions about civil society” – the chairman of the Polish Debating Club Artur Zapolski in the first place.

Poor society, but it has potential

During the debate, Darius Kuolys stressed that the state of the Lithuanian civil society is very poor. “The research made by the Open Society Fund show that civil society is poor but has potential” – said the founder of the Fund, and he cited the results of the research. In 2007, the social activity rate amounted to 33 points out of 100. In 2013, there was a slight increase – 36 points, but in 2014 there was a decrease – 34 points. In the speaker’s opinion, Lithuanians take an active part in charitable activities and everywhere there is no risk of social revilement. “58% of people thinks that by taking an action they can lose their jobs, over 50% is afraid of external attacks. The most active people in Lithuanian society are the teachers, especially those teaching in villages, where they are the leaders. Social activity of teachers in 2014 amounted to 42 points” – informed Kuolys and added that despite their activity, the teachers are at a great risk. “Signs are not good” – he stressed.

“The hope is in the students whose social activity rate amounts to 52 points. Students are also more confident, they do not feel the risk. Lithuania would have to invest in that. What is interesting, their enthusiasm is, unfortunately, ending when they leave their schools” – pointed out the founder of Civil Society.

During the meeting, the speaker regretted that the authority has a huge impact on civil society. He enlisted things such as the act which has recently been signed by the president Dalia Grybauskaitė. “According to that act, non-governmental organisations in Lithuania do not have any impact on politics, it is the politicians that make politics. I am disappointed of this move of the President. It is an Eastern point of view. I see a huge risk in this, and it is also a risk for civil society” – said Kuolys. In his opinion, Lithuania should take its inspirations from West, and not East.

No pitch, no cinema

The social advisor to the seniūnaite of Nowa Wilejka Halina Borawska, present at the meeting, regretted that the district in which the majority of people constitutes Poles and Russians is being neglected by the city authorities. “We do not have a pitch, a swimming pool, or a cinema. We are left by ourselves” – said Borawska.

As an example of social activism, the local activist mentioned cleaning up the neglected cemetery in Nowa Wilejka, in which Polish soldiers are buried. Because of the citizens’ effort, the Department of Cultural Heritage committed to clean up the area. Borawska stressed that she received a lot of help from Edward Klonowski who had already contributed to the state of the cemetery in Rossa in the past.

In reference to Borawska’s words, Kuolys informed that the municipality is currently working on creating special funds which non-governmental organisations could approach. “Currently, there is no such thing. There only is a lobby. We want to change that. Vilnius, despite being in debt, has a large budget. There is hope in creating such a fund” – the councillor informed.

Media and censorship

A lawyer and blogger Aleksander Radczenko, on the other hand, said that the country has to listen more carefully into what society says. He provided the reorganisation of school network in Vilnius as an instance of the authority which very often functions thanks to the “bulldozer method”.

Kuolys agreed that during the school reorganisation, especially in the case of schools for national minorities, many mistakes were made. However, overall, he supports the reorganisation. “It is worth mentioning that the municipality has not been doing anything like that in the past 10 years. This needs to change. Right now, we have political solutions, however, there is no decision made. Some schools want to stay but only at the expense of the children” – Kuolys explained, providing Vilnian schools in which there are 6 students attending one grade as an example. “The reorganisation needs to end but we need to keep the quality” – he added.

The PKD guest also referred to the role of the media in creating civil society. “It is a bad thing that Lithuania announces its participation in information wars. Criticism and control of the authority are perceived as an anti-national activity” – stated Kuolys, and he instanced the revision of Russian schools in Vilnius. As he added, it is a symbol of feeling at risk since the country has been only existing for 25 years.

“The country wants to control social processes. It is very important to return the public space. Today, if you are criticising, the authority does not want you. The country controls media on a huge scale” – Kuolys was convincing and added that public media are politicised, while the main issues are being left unsaid. According to the speaker, without the civil press, society cannot function. “Society has to be free in order to develop” – he stressed.

Translated by Anna Plebanek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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