Anti-government rally of small traders

  • 2011-02-09
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On Feb. 7, the rally of small businesspeople, which was organized by the Association of Small Businessmen and Traders, was held in front of the Lithuanian parliament. They demanded the government revoke its decision to make cash-registers obligatory from May 1 for those who sell food in market-places under a roof. Protesters say that this would make their business more complicated, although the government guaranteed a 100 percent reimbursement of cash-register device purchases. There are 108 market-places under a roof in Lithuania. The government expects to collect some 100 million litas (29 million euros) of taxes per year due to this decision.

Both sides were quite categorical on the eve of the protest rally. “It is a disruption of small business,” Zita Sorokiene, president of the Association of Small Businessmen and Traders, said. “I don’t see any rational arguments from those who organize the rally,” Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said. This move of the Lithuanian government against the shadow economy is maybe the only one where the government has the support of the majority of the Lithuanian population, according to polls. Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte states that those traders, who already trade with cash-registers, sell about four times more of the same food item in the same market than those who trade without cash-registers and such a difference could suggest that some turnover is not reported, so as to avoid taxation.

The rally was significant because it was the first protest rally in front of the Lithuanian parliament since Dec. 8, 2009 which received official permission from the Vilnius municipality. The social tensions run high in Lithuania and officials are rather scared to allow people to demonstrate in such close proximity to the parliament.
“Anybody who will have some smell of alcohol from their mouth will not be allowed to participate in the rally,” Kestutis Lancinskas, chief of the Vilnius County Police Headquarters, said on the eve of the rally.

Only some 4,000-5,000 protesters gathered in front of the parliament, although the rally’s organizers were expecting 12,000 protesters and were calling pensioners and other people, who are fed up with their social situation, to join them. Some MPs of the Social Democrat, Order and Justice, Christian, and Labor parties joined the crowd seeking some popularity among traders. Posters in the crowd were stating such slogans as “No to Kubilism!” and “The next stage – Egypt.” However, passions did not boil up to the Egyptian level. Protesters promised that they will stage a hunger strike in front of the Lithuanian parliament and later, in front of the European Parliament in Brussels if the government will not listen to them. Some 600 policemen, including the mounted police, observed the rally. The police detained 19 persons who were drunk or were carrying knives and similar suspicious tools.

On the same day, President Dalia Grybauskaite and Kubilius gave their joint press conference in the presidential palace about Lithuania’s economic situation. They showed little sympathy for the protesters.
“I’m in favor of reducing the shadow economy,” Grybauskaite said. “The incalculable trade in Lithuania should be narrowed,” Kubilius echoed, emphasizing that the purchase of cash-registers will be compensated for to the traders “at the cost of all tax-payers.”

Asked why cash-registers will be introduced only for those who trade in market-places with food items, Kubilius answered, “Trade with food items should be especially accountable to ensure the rights of consumers.” However, the real answer could be as follows: the government wants to force the use of cash-registers on one traders’ group after another, and not all at once, to avoid their common mass protests.