Feisty lobbyists aim to get Lithuania to change course

  • 2000-12-14
  • Darius James Ross
VILNIUS - A good number of lobby groups with pro-technology causes seem to be popping up in Vilnius fairly frequently these days. The latest one, the Knowledge-based Economy Forum, kicked off its existence with a press conference on Dec. 12.

"We believe that the Lithuanian economy can be an equal participant in world markets only by promoting the knowledge-based economy by working with educators in technological and innovative fields," reads the first line of the group's declaration. It was signed by thirty one business managers and academics working in areas such as genetics, computer software and laser technologies. It also includes some former ministers, such as Valentinas Milaknis, and a couple of ex-prime ministers, Aleksandras Abisala and Andrius Kubilius. Kubilius himself is a physicist by training.

Their goal is to get the Lithuanian government to spend more money on education and to invest in Internet projects while working closely with the private sector and educators. "Lithuania has virtually no high value natural resources and has a continuing problem importing fuel so in my view the only really way for us to go forward is to embrace the knowledge economy," said Vytautas Naktinis, one of the forum's leaders. He said that this means Lithuania will become more independent with the added bonus that knowledge-based industries are environmentally friendly.

His company, Biotechna, is evidence of the validity of his arguments, he said. "This year we will have an income of 8 million litas ($2 million) but I can tell you that our research budget for next year alone is 14 million litas. And this is because we have something people want," said Naktinis. He is most proud of the fact that he can gainfully employ several graduate researchers who would otherwise have emigrated in search of better pay. Naktinis has very strong views on the low amount of foreign investment finding its way to Lithuania. "Look at India. They're building a second Silicon Valley. Why can't we do this? Our economy cannot be walled in like a courtyard," said. He also accused the media in Lithuania of being against foreign investment. He said that it fuels economic xenophobia in society-at-large.

His colleague, Arvydas Sekmoka of NaVision Baltic, agreed with him. "Listen, a company like Ericsson is associated with Sweden but the capital behind it is international and comes from many countries. We're talking about globalization here and we needn't be afraid of it," he said.

The forum intends to work as a think-tank that will attract the best minds in different technology fields in order to change public perceptions regarding economic globalization and technology issues and to influence government policy at the highest levels.