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Lithuania’s claim to be open

Lithuania wants to be an information society. Over and over again this objective is declared in various visions like “Lithuania 2030”, etc. Some time ago our Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius stated that: “One of the most important activities stays the same – to make Lithuania move into direction of modern economy. That in the nearest future it would become the Northern Baltic high-tech service center. We are dedicating a lot of attention for this.”
Information society is described as an open, educated and always learning. And while the latter two are mostly connected to the education system of the country, the first one has many areas of influence.

Open means transparent
In 2010 Lithuania’s corruption perceptions index was 5 (out of 10, where 10 means no corruption). This index, published by the Transparency international, shows “the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians”. At the moment we are sharing the 46th place with Macau and are in between Cape Verde at 45th and Bahrain at 48th.

It is no surprise that there is corruption, specifically, the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, in Lithuania. Ugnius Trumpa from the Lithuanian Free Market Institute states that: “One of the major historical and cultural reasons for corruption and its scale in Lithuania has been the Soviet approach to personal property.” And even though the Soviets are long gone the two trends of corruption: nomenclature (state officials use public property as their own) and theft have stayed.

Another widespread form of corruption in Lithuania is nepotism. In a small country human relationships are very interconnected and this becomes a pretext for “helping” friends and family. There is a joke that “Lithuania is a country of brothers-in-law”, however every joke holds some truth.

Open means free access to information
In the age of Wikileaks the information which earlier was considered secret now becomes public. However, it would be naïve to believe that society can know whatever it wants. The historical archives of Soviet era are still under close watch in Lithuania and the present-day documents are even more confidential.

Every now and then we hear about politicians that mix public and private interests, though every each of them has to declare their private interests when they start working. The most recent example is the Minister of Economy Dainius Kreivys story.

When a scandal breaks out the PR starts to work and tries to cover up the politician with various methods. While this can bring out some useful information, like the “famous reference” in Dainius Kreivys case, the society is still misinformed more often than not.

Open means good journalism
Some journalists call themselves agents of the Fourth Estate, working for the interest of public. While this holds some truth, only ethical and professional journalism should be considered to be that.

For many years now the news media is a form of business. The sad part about this is that it acts upon the same rules which are applied to any other one. Profit is the most important thing and occasional misuse of power for public opinion is tolerated (not everywhere, but some news organizations are quite famous for that).

Of course, the media is not the only one to blame. When public officials tend to use rhetoric which only consumes time and do not answer the asked questions, many journalists become cynical and demotivated about their work.

How to become more open
Even though there are many dark corners in Lithuania, the overall situation is not bad. According to the Press Freedom index, Lithuania is at the 11th place, sharing it with Denmark and Japan. Over the last decade it has grown steadily. In a country where there is freedom of speech the possibility for an open information society to thrive is quite good. Of course, the government has to play its role too. Fewer visions and more strategies (in a form of laws) would be a good starting point.

EBN Reporter Edgaras Savickas