Fighting for the minorities, marginalized and women

  • 2010-03-10
  • Interview by Francisco Javier Gregorio

Marija Ausrine Pavilioniene is one of the most combative voices in the current Seimas. She has been a member of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party since 2008, and has been MP since June 2009, although she was member of the Seimas from 2004 to 2008 with the Liberal Democratic Party (now called the Order and Justice Party). Pavilioniene is well known in the Seimas because of her social demands. She has defended the rights of different minorities, like immigrants or homosexuals, she has criticized different powers and institutions, such as the power of the Roman Catholic Church, in countries like Lithuania. “Religious fundamentalism is evident in Lithuania. Catholicism influences the political life and education,” she says. Above all, she has fought in favor of women’s rights, trying to achieve true equalization between the male and female sex. “Women in Lithuania are still discriminated against,” she declares.

Pavilioniene is also against current government policies in how it is facing the economic crisis. “[The government] has not been able to cope with unemployment, the emigration of young, professional people, ” she says.
She is member of two Seimas Committees: The Committee on European Affairs, and the Committee on Education, Science and Culture, as well as a member of three other parliamentary groups: For Society Development and Reproductive Health and Rights, the Group of Interparliamentary Relations with Spain and a similar group, Interparliamentary Relations with France.
Apart from her political career, Pavilioniene studied English philology and literature at Vilnius University. Between 1972 and 2004, she was a professor at the same university and wrote books on literature and feminism. She was married to Rolandas Pavilionis, who died in 2006, a famous and influential philosopher and politician, who was member of the European Parliament and Rector of the University of Vilnius.

The Baltic Times met with Marija Ausrine Pavilioniene to analyze the present Lithuanian political situation and the rights of the different minorities in the Baltic country.

How do you value the current Lithuanian government?
I value critically the current government of Lithuania, because it has not been able to cope with unemployment, the emigration of young, professional people. So far it has not presented to society the vision of how to overcome unemployment, how to stop poverty and the widening gap of social differences. Sixy-nine percent of Lithuanian residents have a negative opinion of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius who, according to the survey done, has no capacity for consolidating the Cabinet of Ministers.   

Do you think the government is working against the crisis in a good way?
The government is making many mistakes. One of them is its ignorance of society’s needs and opinions, ignorance of the experience of professional communities, non-governmental organizations, trade unions. Financial cuts, but not the creation of jobs, is the main way out as proposed by the government for managing the economic crisis.

How do you think the Lithuanian economy will perform in 2010?

The prognosis is that, in 2010, unemploment will reach 17 – 20 percent, that Lithuania will experience a shock in electricity prices, that inflation will grow about 0.6 percent, that petrol prices will rise more and the purchasing power will go down, that the debt of the state will increase. This means that the Lithuanian economy will experience new hardships which will stir great disappoinment with the people of the present government.

Which measures would you promote against the crisis?
The measures against the crisis might be the following: job creation; more respect to human rights; more attention to the health care system and reform, to the social needs of all groups of society, and more consideration for the opinion of the academic community in performing reforms of school education, higher education. Special attention to the policies on young people: increasing the quality of education, health care (sexual, reproductive health and the rights of the young), social care, a more active inclusion of the young generation  into political life.

What is the best solution for Lithuanian energy supply, after the end of the Ignalina-era?

After the Ignalina-era Lithuania, besides local sources, should have an alternative way of getting electricity: joining the electricity network of Western [Europe] or Scandinavia, or Middle European countries.

Apart from the economy, which are the main problems of Lithuania?
Apart from the economy, Lithuania has problems in violating human rights: xenophobia, homophobia, in not adopting a reproductive health strategy, in not passing laws on abortion, sex change, artificial fertilization, not introducing youth-friendly services in society and sex education in schools, in not passing the law of protection against domestic violence. Religious fundamentalism is evident in Lithuania: Catholicism influences the political life (the discriminatory family concept, which identifies marriage and family) and  education.

Does Lithuania have the same level of democracy that the old members of the EU have?
Lithuania has not yet reached the same level of democracy as ‘old’  members of the European Union have. The reason for this: the peculiarities of Lithuanian history (the Soviet occupation) and the intellectual weakness of the government, political corruption, moral corruption, weak, inactive and not organized enough, civil society.

What is the role of Lithuania in the current European Union?
In the current European Union Lithuania plays a diverse role. It shares its experience of successfully entering the EU with the states which are potential members of the EU, the Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and others. It cooperates with democratic forces in Belarus, houses and supports the Belarus university in Vilnius. It shares its historical lessons, being under the Soviet regime, with the Western European countries. It enriches the cultural diversity of European culture, revealing the meaning of Lithuanian, the oldest living language of the mother tongue of the Indoeuropean branch. It spreads in Europe and around the world its historical cultural heritage as the state which was the last in Europe to accept Chistianity. It strengthens different links with the Baltics and the Scandinavian states, collectivelly taking care of the Baltic Sea region.

Has Lithuania received a lot of positive results since it became a member of the EU?

Lithuania has received many positive things since entering the EU. It adopted, and adopts the laws and directives functioning in the EU, the main democratic values. It becomes a more democratic and open society. It gets European structural funds to develop different spheres of Lithuanian society. It becomes an active member of the European educational, university, and innovation systems.

How are the civil rights now in Lithuania?
Lithuania so far has not fully revealed its potential for civil society. Lithuania lacks rational organization in realizing the civil rights of its citizens. Only when the disappointment of the residents in the government reaches the limit, when social existence, the physical survival of the citizens is concerned, will people start to join the social protests and rallies.

Is there discrimination in Lithuania? Which minorities are discriminated against?
Women in Lithuania are still discriminated [against] (lower salaries, small participation in the decision making processes, hardship in combining professional work and family care, domestic violence against women). Elderly people, disabled people and sexual minorities are being discriminated [against], most of all.

Has Lithuania achieved real equality of opportunity between men and women?
I think that only in 30 years in Lithuania might there be created and realized an equal opportunity policy.

What do you think about the ban on prostitution?

I approve of the ban on prostitution, because considering prostitution as one of the forms of exploitation of women, despite the  prostitutes’ opinions that they are ‘sexual workers.’ In the 21st century people should be able to control their sexual instincts without humiliating one sex.

Is there a big problem of corruption in Lithania?

Corruption is widely spread in Lithuania: in the political, social, financial, economic, cultural life, in the management of science and education, in trade and commerce.

How would Lithuania improve if the Democratic Social Party were in the government?

It is not plausible that the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania coud be alone in the government. It might be a coalition government again, in which Social Democrats may have a decisive voice. Social Democrats have more professionally experienced individuals, more positive experience in running the country, in coping with the financial and economic crisis, in tackling the issues of education  and social, health care. However, in the context of the global crisis, nobody in the country believes in a one day miracle in changing the state. Professional, responsive people should come to rule the country in order to stir the hopes of the people, to give them new vision and prospects for a better life.