Unpaid vacations for military to cut costs

Lithuania’s Defense Ministry is offering staff additional unpaid leave as extra measures to cut spending, while the country registers its largest drop in GDP in 16 years.

Now servicemen will have to choose an additional five days in a year to add to their vacations.

The country’s defense minister Rasa Jukneviciene calls this a last resort, which will not harm the country’s security. On the contrary it will strengthen it.

“These days will be unpaid. So we will save around seven million Litas. This is something and it is better than reducing our staff, our military. From all possibilities we have, this is less painful,” he commented the decision.

The army is not alone in such initiatives. Civil servants in many other ministries have also been offered similar schemes.

Policemen in the Lithuanian city of Ponevezhac are facing some hard work ahead of the approaching summer. For the seventh straight year, their precinct has urged them to carry out their patrols under pedal power.

This year, their bicycle mission has taken on an additional meaning. As the financial crisis tightens its grip on the Baltic state, their station will thus be able to save some money on petrol.

Police officer Raimondas Baranauskas says he still can’t get used to the switch.

“It’s not that hot on a bike in the summer, but when it starts to rain of course I would want to be in a car. Patrolling in a car is of course more convenient,” he explains.

Lithuania has joined Ukraine and Iceland in the list of countries most affected by the global credit crunch.

After its accession to the EU, Lithuania, among other Baltic states, was labeled Europe’s economic tiger. Last year its economy grew by more than 3%. Ever since the world financial turmoil came to town, it's reduced by almost 5%.

Many analysts describe the Lithuanian crisis as unique.

“The difference is very great. We had 10% growth of GDP and now we see a 12% decrease. I don’t know any European country with such figures. And I would say this is just the beginning,” said Arturas Racas, Editor-in-Chief of the Baltic News Service.

Despite clear measures by the country’s government to pull itself out of trouble, public discontent is growing. In January there were up to 10,000 staged protests in front of government buildings, which led to clashes with riot police.

Algerdas Paleckis leads the leftist party Frontas, which was blamed for inciting the disorder. He says the mood has calmed for now, but this may well be the quiet before the storm.

“We are going bankrupt. And people are feeling it. There is a general feeling of uncertainty about tomorrow. We have an active government, but our government introduced higher taxes. And I believe there will be a repetition of public discontent in the autumn,” he believes.

Even the most optimistic forecasts say Lithuania will only pass through the financial turmoil in two years. Given the uniqueness and seriousness of the situation, some analysts fear this may take up to three times longer.