UNCLAS VILNIUS 000118
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KWMN XH LH BE
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR ENGAGES ON WOMEN'S ISSUES IN UTENA
REF: VILNIUS 64
Â¶1. Summary: A cross section of municipal, business, and civil
society leaders in Visaginas and Utena told the Ambassador on
February 10-11 that the recession continues to hit the region
hard, with negative impacts on families and communities and
prompting increased immigration. The closure of the Ignalina
Nuclear Power Plant coupled with the economic downturn is
giving local governments and socially focused NGO's more than
they can handle without additional funding. The GOL itself
is not a big player in financing local NGO's, therefore these
groups must rely on help from local governments, who are cash
starved themselves, and intermittent donations from abroad.
Â¶2. The NGO's, largely run by women, welcomed not only the
news of the April visit of Ambassador at-Large for Global
Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer, but also the announcement of
the new Community of Democracies working group on women's
issues, to be co-chaired by Lithuania and the United States.
Â¶3. Visaginas Mayor Vytautas Rackauskas is dealing first hand
with the twin problems of an economic slowdown and the phased
closing of the local Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP).
Unemployment remains in the low double digits but Rackauskas
is prepared for the situation to get worse before it gets
better. He noted that the incremental privatizing of land in
the region appears to him to be hindering investment because
new owners are not necessarily interested in leasing to
factories or other large scale business operations. The
Ambassador also traveled to the INPP itself, met with
longtime Director Viktoras Shevaldinas, and received a
briefing on the plant and its decommissioning process, spread
out over the next 15 to 20 years and costing between one and
two billion EUROS.
Â¶4. In Visaginas February 10, the leadership of Third Age and
Visaginas Community Foundation, along with the Social Support
Department of the Visaginas Municipality, described the human
story behind the INPP closing. Many times the 'earner'
leaves his family and seeks employment in major cities or
abroad, leaving broken families. The demand for social
services from the city government, even for basics such as
the heating bill, is also on the rise. Jolita Zabulyte, the
chief specialist for the Visaginas Social Support Department,
serves as the link between the city and the NGO community.
She said generally NGO's are involved in community activism,
for instance Third Age retrains mid career professionals left
unemployed by the closure of INPP. The city, on the other
hand, aims to reach out to the vulnerable -- children in
orphanages or elderly in day care or homebound. The city
budget for this outreach however is very tight and may get
cut again in 2011.
Â¶5. In Utena February 11, board members of women's issue
umbrella NGO "Ievos namai" (House of Eve) described a similar
financial and social situation in their city. Lolita
Kaminskiene said "Ievos namai" is getting funding from the
government of Norway however the board members are now
looking for money in France and Italy because the Norwegian
support may be ending this year. She also characterized the
instances of single motherhood and domestic abuse as high as
they have ever been, underscoring that there is need for both
legislation and education to curtail domestic violence. The
police are reluctant to get involved in domestic problems.
(Note: the city of Utena, according to its Mayor Alvydas
Katinas, is weathering the economic recession, however that
is not translating into increased funding for these NGO's.
End note). The NGO members were delighted to hear of USG
interest in women's issues, the appointment of Ambassador
Verveer, and Lithuania and the U.S. co-chairing a group on
women's issues in the Community of Democracies. They sought
USG assistance in establishing links with women's NGO's in
the U.S. working on issues similar to theirs, especially
Â¶6. Ambassador also paid a visit to Amcit and longtime
Lithuanian resident Sister Dolorita Butkus, who manages Saint
Clare's Patient and Respite Hospice in Utena city. Sister
Butkus gave the Ambassador a tour of the facility, which is
also suffering from a lack of adequate funding. She said the
GOL has cut its funding to hospice care nationwide by 11
percent. Saint Clare is funded primarily by donations from
the Lithuanian-American community in the U.S.
Â¶7. Note: Sister Dolorita made a specific request for used bed
sheets, pillows, and wheel chairs and assistance in
renovating a floor of an adjacent building, which the hospice
recently received from the city government, possibly from the
U.S. armed forces. Ambassador has relayed the request to
EUCOM and the Pennsylvania National Guard, Lithuania's State
Partnership Program partner. End note.
Â¶8. One group of entrepreneurs attempting to buck the trend of
young people leaving the region operate out of the Visaginas
Regional Business Incubator (VRBI) complex. They have chosen
to stay and, benefiting from the discounted rent offered by
the VRBI leadership, are building IT and marketing start-up
companies that reach across Europe. One owner, Genrih
Sarbaj, reported problems dealing directly with U.S.
suppliers, who generally point him to their European
headquarters operating in Western Europe, and from whom he
receives only tepid interest in exporting to Lithuania. The
young entrepreneurs expressed great interest, however, in
establishing contacts with young entrepreneur groups in the
United States, to establish organizational and potential
business links, and sought USG assistance to find interested
Â¶9. While in Utena, the Ambassador donated English language
children's books, part of the USG "1,000 Books for
Lithuania's Millennium Program," to the Utena Public Library.
Â¶10. The head of Lithuania's Ethno-cosmology Museum, which
hosts one of the largest telescopes in Northern Europe,
outlined the Museum's plans to host a major exhibition on
"Cosmic Achievements," and sought a contribution from NASA of
an exhibit or educational materials relating to NASA's work
in space (information relayed to NB, we appreciate your
passing on to OES for appropriate action).