- September 19, 2019
Ludkowski: Plans for a joint Polish-Lithuanian government meeting
“There are plans for a joint meeting of Polish and Lithuanian governments,” says Artur Ludkowski, director of the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius. A guest of our ‘Political Salon’ added that it would be the first joint meeting of Polish and Lithuanian governments in the history of both countries. According to the Prime Minister’s advisor, relations between the two countries are now experiencing a golden age, and this is mainly thanks to the Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and President Gitanas Nausėda.
—— [transcript of the interview below, TN] ——
Renata Witman: Renata Witman, welcome after a short holiday break. Our guest today is Artur Ludkowski, director of the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius and advisor to Prime Minister Skvernelis. Good morning, welcome. How do you like the broadcast of TVP Wilno?
Artur Ludkowski: It has only just begun, so we are yet to see.
RW: But have you seen it? Do you watch these shows?
AL: I watched the opening, the very first programme. It was good. I am very happy that there is a good crew and – what’s most important – that almost 100% of people there come from the Vilnius region, the majority of them are Poles. So the team is solid. Maybe even [unintelligible] the editor works there, so in my opinion, the prospects are very good, and I wish them all the success. It depends a lot on the financial support from Poland as well, because it is a costly project. But in my opinion, it is a very good start and I hope that it will keep growing.
RW: Have you watched it on your own TV?
AL: No, I haven’t watched it on mine.
RW: Why not?
AL: I’ve watched it in the Polish House because it’s analogue…
RW: But have you tried to find it on your own TV?
RW: Because you had no time or no interest…?
AL: I had no time, but as far as I understand, you need to adjust your TV to analogue.
RW: Even now the listeners call us, those that have a terrestrial antenna. They cannot watch the broadcast, there are technical issues.
AL: These technical issues will certainly be solved in the future. And I think that it is important that this broadcast exists. I am not sure how exactly it’s going to work, because there were talks about it being an insert into TVP Polonia, and then it turned out that there will be a separate TVP Wilno. Now there are mainly news segments but there will be more and more programmes. Technical issues, glitches are always there at the beginning…
RW: But the people, do they have enough information on how to overcome these issues?
AL: There was broadcast with a commentary on how to do it. In my opinion, this channel should also be available on cable television.
RW: Do you think this is realistic in the nearest future? And if it won’t come to cable television, then what?
AL: You can still watch it on analogue…
RW: Which restricts the viewers.
AL: I think it all can be solved.
RW: The main goal is to pull the viewers from the Vilnius region away from Russian television. Do you think it’s possible?
AL: I think that everything will happen gradually. Five channels have been created, they say the ratings are low, but let’s do it slowly, step by step. Let’s point out that the aim of the programme is to show news with current topics from the Vilnius region. When I spoke with the management of TVP Polonia, they said there are supposed to be news from abroad and from Poland, but first of all, they are to be built around local topics. I think that everyone will be eager to watch the news from their own town, their own region. So the prospects are good.
RW: If we quickly manage to solve the technical issues – decoders and whatnot one needs to buy to make it work… Let’s change the topic. Are there plans for a joint Polish-Lithuanian government meeting?
AL: Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis proposed it during the last meeting with Prime Minister Morawiecki. That if there will be no changes in Poland, and the Prime Minister is confident that most likely there won’t by any…
RW: After the elections that are right behind the corner?
AL: Yes. Then the Lithuanian Prime Minister would invite to a joint assembly of the Polish and Lithuanian governments. For example, somewhere in the borderlands. The meeting would allow two cabinets of ministers to get to know each other – not just the Prime Ministers, who already are on very good terms – but also the ministers from different departments. It could greatly influence the speed of decision making between the states. Personal relations always influence decisions. So this idea is very good and I think they will make it happen.
RW: And this would be the first joint meeting of this sort or was there something like this before?
AL: I haven’t heard about anything like that. There is an interparliamentary Polish-Lithuanian group, they have been having joint meetings for a long time now, but…
RW: There were also working groups between the Polish and Lithuanian governments once.
AL: There were, but I haven’t heard about the whole cabinets meeting. So in this sense, this will be the first time in history full cabinets will meet.
RW: And the working groups of the Polish and Lithuanian governments, will they be relaunched, or do they still work?
AL: The interparliamentary groups work.
RW: Interparliamentary ones, yes, but the working groups?
AL: There’s more work between ministries happening now, for projects regarding energy, transport, cultural exchange, etc. So in my opinion, this venture will tighten Polish-Lithuanian relations even more.
RW: Are the Polish-Lithuanian relations in their golden age now, in your opinion?
AL: Yes, I think so. Just like many commentators say, four years ago one couldn’t say we had any relations at all, we were in a sort of a cold war. This is why everyone nostalgically remembers the presidency of Adamkus, when we did have a golden age in [Polish-Lithuanian] relations. According to many commentators and in my opinion as well, these relations are now either at the same level, if not on a better one. This improvement, to a large extent, is thanks to the Prime Minister of Lithuania, who initiated the first meeting with the Polish PM, with the leaders of the ruling party, and gradually it transformed into an overall thaw in our relationship.
RW: Is President Nausėda also an important partner part of this?
AL: Yes. Both the president and the Seimas. We have recently had an interparliamentary assembly and we can see, in how many topics we can find common ground and how many issues can be solved, which not too long ago seemed too strange, too difficult to tackle…
RW: What issues are being solved now that couldn’t be solved before?
AL: For examples those related to education. The issue of Polish studies took about 2 years to be solved. To obtain accreditation for the Konarski school, because there used to be three schools, back in Fabijoniškės, and then Pushkin, the changes in the concept behind the ministry, etc. – that all took about 2 years. Now we are heading in the right direction, step by step.
RW: And when will there be Polish classes, do you know? When will we have them in Antakalnis, because it was said that we would…
AL: This is a matter of the local government, though I do think that they have opened a primary school in Antakalnis. But don’t take my word for it, cause as I said, this is a question for the local government.
RW: Media say that the example of Poland has inspired Lithuania to introduce new taxation. Do you know what new taxes will there be?
AL: This is still a matter to be discussed and the decision is made by the Seimas.
RW: Yes, but it is the government’s initiative and they have support in the Seimas, so it’s certain that it will be introduced.
AL: No, this is still only an initial phase, so it’s too early to talk about anything certain. What I like about this idea is that once again – as underlined during the meeting between the President and the Prime Minister – Lithuania will strive for a balanced budget. It will be the third time in a row, which greatly surprised the representatives of Poland, since they only managed to do it for the first time this year – and we’ve been doing it for three. I think we have learnt from the crisis of 2008 that spending more money than we can allow ourselves to, can have various consequences. So the announcement of the President of Lithuania about the MPs, and we know that we are in a pre-election year and every MP will be automatically [unintelligible] suggested ends up and is approved by the Seimas. There are automatically many MPs, there are constituencies, the voters…
RW: And everyone wants to stand out. Will there be skirmishes?
AL: The president’s stance, as far as I’ve heard in the media, is categorical. So far, it hasn’t been used in Lithuania, but can be introduced with the rule fo 1/12, i.e. should there be drastic changes to the budget, it means that every month of the next year we will use 1/12 of the future budget. This system has been introduced in the United States already several times, as there’s been some struggles between the President and the Congress. We haven’t had it yet, but the declarations of the ruling politicians are rather clear, that we need to exhibit fiscal discipline.
RW: They are supposed to introduce a bank tax and a new tax on shopping centres. This is in the context of the Polish side inspiring the Lithuanian government. What do you think about the introduction of such new taxes?
AL: I think that the rich always have to pay more, so it’s normal…
RW: Won’t it turn out that the costs of this new, bigger tax are on the shoulders of consumers and bank clients?
AL: I don’t have detailed data on this, but it is necessary to introduce some taxation on the banks. I remember that for a long time – I can’t remember now how long – banks’ taxes were on a minimal level. They have been running under a bill approved years ago and they would report losses suffered 10 years ago as their current expenses in order to increase their spending. So if you look at the taxes paid by banks, they are very minimal. On the other hand, the costs of the regular people, of everyone who uses banks, rise proportionally every year. It might be linked to the fact that there is virtually no competition among banks in Lithuania. We have merely a few banks, most of them Scandinavian, and the prices of transfers, costs of administration, they are rising. Since we are a rather small country, it would be ideal if we had a new competitory bank. A bank from Poland would be best.
RW: Do you think that the new bank tax is realistic?
AL: I think that everything is. This will become a matter of the Seimas, which is responsible for passing regulations.
RW: Yes, yes, and now the President suggests that next year 100 mln euro more will be spent on social objectives. And to get this money, the President suggests lifting the benefits on [unintelligible] for agricultural businesses and to increase taxes on sole proprietorships. Do you think this will happen?
AL: I don’t know. That’s why I’m saying that all these questions are in the hands of the Seimas.
RW: Because there are two issues at hand – one is that we should look for funds to cover increased social spendings, and one option is to impose taxes on banks and shopping centres, yet another option, proposed by the President, is to deplete the funds for agriculture.
AL: I think that the introduction of new taxation by the Seimas, during the election year, will be problematic. Most likely the MPs won’t be eager to change anything drastically. There have been new changes, jostlings, partisan shifts, everyone is most likely confused…
RW: Today they are supposed to sign an agreement.
AL: Some factions disappear, new ones are being created – this is normal turbulence.
RW: Though it helps to have a solid parliamentary majority.
AL: But we know that in pre-election years, decision making takes a lot of time in the Seimas.
RW: Yes, but now, these are real promises, an increase in spending…
AL: One thing that we know is that this is a proposal of the President. The government agrees with most of these taxes, but let’s be realistic – in the end, the decision will be taken by the Seimas.
RW: Prime Minister Skvernelis said that with the President they managed to find a compromise regarding the changes in taxation.
AL: As I said, there is a compromise regarding the taxes, but let’s not forget that the final decision lies with the ones chosen by the nation – the Seimas.
RW: Do you think that that this term’s Seimas will be able to find an agreement regarding the social policy?
AL: I hope so, but we’ll see. So far my impression is that they are best for launching commissions for all types of investigations, rather than taking decisions related to our lives.
RW: What are all these investigating commissions for?
AL: In my view, this is a tactic of stirring the pot. I do not remember when was the last time that anything was completed. But this is the parliamentary reality.
RW: It takes practice, right? To distract from the important [issues], to simulate work…
AL: In my opinion, I would care more about [unintelligible] the Seimas to pass bills on regular life issues, like taxation, social benefits, and others. But after all, politicians are politicians, there will always be skirmishes. I just hope that there will be less and less.
RW: Thank you very much for participating in our audition.
AL: Thank you.
RW: Our guest was Artur Ludkowski, director of the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius and advisor to Prime Minister Skvernelis.
—— [end of the transcript, TN] ——
Translated by Marta Bednarczyk within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.