Viewing cable 06VILNIUS98

06VILNIUS982006-02-02 08:12:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
¶1.  SUMMARY: Ambassador Mull traveled to Panevezys, Lithuanias fifth 
largest city, on January 19 to congratulate local officials on their 
successful efforts to combat crime, lower unemployment, and develop 
local industry.  At the same time, the Ambassador expressed concern 
over the emigration of the Lithuanian workforce and the challenges of 
defending civil society, confronting "democracy fatigue", and promoti 
tolerance of minority views.  He expressed support for civil society 
a meeting with local NGO representatives, toured a business with U.S. 
ties, and encouraged young students to study and travel in America 
during a high school speech.  END SUMMARY. 
¶2. The visit to Panevezys was the latest in a series of Ambassadorial 
trips to regional cities.  Strategically located on the Via Baltica 
highway linking the Baltic capitals with Central Europe, Panevezys is 
an industrial center in Northeast Lithuania.  The city is home to 
several major Lithuanian companies, including Ekranas, a large produc 
of television tubes, and Kalnapilis, a brewery.  However, small and 
medium-sized companies remain the source of regional economic 
development.  The city was previously known as the "Lithuanian Chicag 
because of organized crime's reputed presence there, but media report 
and crime statistics indicate that the crime situation has improved i 
recent years. 
Trip Themes 
¶3. The Ambassador arrived in Panevezys bearing a message of praise fo 
political leaders and law enforcement officials for their work in 
combating crime, easing unemployment, and promoting economic growth. 
At the same time, he registered concern about the regional implicatio 
of youth emigration to points west, and inquired about rising public 
cynicism about democratic institutions.  The Ambassador also lauded 
Lithuanias transition to a vibrant, free democracy and emphasized th 
strong bilateral relationship, assuring interlocutors that Lithuania' 
close relationship with the United States would continue. 
¶4. The day in Panevezys also afforded the Ambassador the opportunity 
promote economic cooperation between the United States and Lithuania 
and consult with a local business on the regional business climate. 
The Ambassador emphasized the importance of tolerance of minorities, 
and civil society, and free expression in democracy.  Finally, even 
while acknowledging the hurdles of cost and paperwork formalities, th 
Ambassador stressed the benefits of American higher education and 
encouraged young Lithuanians to study and travel in the United States 
A City on the Road to Success 
¶5. At a meeting with political leaders from the city and surrounding 
regions, interlocutors focused much of the discussion on economic 
development and foreign investment.  Panevezys Regional Mayor Povilas 
Zagunis discussed the benefits and challenges associated with the 
location of his city along the Via Baltica, a major route linking the 
Baltic countries with Central and Western Europe.  He also cited 
Panevezys's strategic position at a crossroads of key transport links 
to the port city of Klaipeda.  Panevezys City Mayor Vitas Matuzas 
acknowledged that public officials remained concerned about the 
westward emigration of large numbers of Lithuanians, arguing that the 
shrinking workforce was an important challenge nationwide. 
¶6.  In response to the Ambassadors question on whether the area had 
seen signs of EU funds, Kupiskis Regional Mayor Leonas Apsega asserte 
that the region has not yet benefited from EU structural fund support 
Commenting that the world is getting smaller, Panevezys County 
Governor Gema Umbrasiene cited the collaborative links that her regio 
has established with neighboring countries, such as Ukraine. 
The Lithuanian Chicago Sheds Some Notoriety 
¶7.  In a city previously known as the Lithuanian Chicago because of i 
highly publicized ties to organized crime, the Ambassador congratulat 
local law enforcement officials for their progress in combating crime 
Citing reports that the crime situation has shown signs of improvemen 
in recent years, and stressing the important challenge that all 
democracies face in protecting a free society, the Ambassador praised 
his hosts for their substantial progress since his first visit to 
Panevezys in November 2003.  While recognizing this recent success, t 
interlocutors still pointed to the ongoing crime-related challenges 
they face  including the institutional challenge of losing qualified 
police officers to better-paid professions.  The Prosecutors and City 
Police Commissioner also agreed with the Ambassador on the importance 
of grappling with the vital issues of intellectual property rights an 
trafficking in persons. 
Succeeding in a Fragile Business 
¶8.  In a visit to one of Panevezys's successful glassmaking studios, 
the Ambassador inquired about the difficulties his hosts.  The owner 
and founder of Glassremis, Remigijus Kriukas, cited excessive red tap 
such as delays in obtaining permits for factory equipment.  Operating 
with American-made furnaces, Glassremis exports 82% of its total 
production; one-fifth of these exports go to the United States. 
Kriukas acknowledged the national challenge of workforce migration, b 
could not point to any adverse effects on his own business. 
A Staunch Defense of Civil Society 
¶9. The day offered an important opportunity to heighten the profile o 
civil society organizations in Lithuania.  At a roundtable discussion 
with NGO organizations, many of whom represented women, minorities, a 
youth groups, the Ambassador drew attention to the troubling media 
attacks against civil society, reaffirmed the vital role that these 
organizations played in free society, and inquired about the danger o 
declining public enthusiasm for democratic institutions.  The civil 
society representatives cited the importance of civic activism and 
raised the issue of character education as a means of fighting 
corruption.  They mentioned the scarcity of funding as a primary 
¶10. Many organizations lamented the ongoing problem of intolerance an 
discussed the challenge for minority groups to integrate while 
preserving their heritage and ethnic identities.  A representative of 
the Association of National Minorities bemoaned the waning prominence 
of Russian culture and growing apathy in the ethnic Russian community 
others challenged her view.  Virginija Vaicekoniene of the Regional 
Ethics and Leadership Institute stressed the importance of character 
education in democratic societies, arguing that the most important ke 
to democracys survival is the character of the people. 
Welcoming Lithuanian Students with Open Arms 
¶11. As he often does during his trips throughout Lithuania, the 
Ambassador stopped at a local high school to reach out to young 
Lithuanians.  Speaking before over 150 students, the Ambassador 
discussed American youth cultural trends, urged his audience to 
consider studying in the United States, and sought to allay students 
concerns about the visa application process. He presented an Embassy- 
produced DVD that welcomed Lithuanians to visit America and outlined 
opportunities available at American institutions of higher education. 
Eager students took the opportunity to ask the Ambassador about the 
qualifying exams that U.S. universities require, the Visa Waiver 
Program, and the differences between American and Lithuanian 
educational systems. 
Media Coverage 
¶12. The visit attracted wide media coverage from local media sources. 
The Ambassador responded to questions from local newspapers and 
television news.  In an exclusive interview with a leading city 
newspaper, the Ambassador focused on the strength of American- 
Lithuanian friendship and cooperation, commented on Lithuanias 
impressive economic growth, praised GOLs efforts to promote democrac 
in neighboring countries, and complimented Panevezys on its law 
enforcement successes.  He also responded to questions on the Visa 
Waiver Program, emphasizing our goal to welcome as many legitimate 
Lithuanian visitors as possible to study and travel in the United 
¶13. Emerging from a rocky period of "Chicago" crime references and a 
painful post-independence privatization process, Panevezys appears to 
have turned a corner.  Regional leaders will remain busy guarding 
against a resurgence of crime, dissuading young workers from leaving 
town, and attracting foreign investment.  The citys diverse NGO sect 
is an encouraging sign, as civil societys bright and active leaders 
battle to spur civic participation and tolerance.  This undercurrent 
intolerance remains an impediment to democratic development; civil 
society groups face an uphill road ahead as they work to raise the 
profile of this important issue.  End comment.