Students raise their voice on Vilnius streets

  • 2005-10-19
  • By Sven Becker
VILNIUS - It must have been a unique scene for the few tourists still meandering around the streets of Old Town. On Oct. 13 more than 5,000 students from across the country marched through the capital to express indignation over a planned cut in the 2006 higher education budget.

Every year, the government calculates the exact funding necessary to provide Lithuania's students with adequate studies. In 2005, the government was just able to pay 45 percent of the needed money.

Next year they plan to drop the funding to 38 percent.

The Vilnius Police Department deployed officers to prevent the students from approaching state buildings. But other than a few incidents 's 25 students were sentenced to short-term imprisonment for drinking in public and one youth tried to enter the bolted parliament building 's the demonstration passed peacefully.

"We are happy with the behavior of our fellow students. By demonstrating, Lithuania's students have proved that we are strong members of society," said Viaceslavas Palkevicius, president of the National Union of Student Representation of Lithuania, who organized the demonstration.

He stressed that the demonstration also aimed at social problems. "The living conditions in our dormitories are horrible. We invite all politicians to spend one night there," he said.

After walking through the streets, the students gathered in front of Parliament, where they shouted for MPs to come out and comment on the issue. It took the representatives some time to meet the demands, but when Audrone Pitreniene, head of the committee for education, science and culture, finally spoke, what she had to say was eagerly welcomed.

"We will not pass the budget until Parliament takes care of your problems," she promised.

Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas was also supportive. He assured students that the government would revoke its previously announced budget.

President Valdas Adamkus could not attend the demonstration as he was visiting Lithuanian troops in Afghanistan. His deputy adviser, Nerija Putinaite, said that the president appreciated the students' initiative.

"He is in favor of the demonstration. However, we have more than just financial and social problems. Now it is time to elaborate a big reform for our obsolete system of higher education," she said.

Palkevicius agreed, but he pointed out that Lithuania's students had to be heard in such negotiations. "If they don't listen to us, we will be back on the streets."