Support independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe.
Donate to TOL!
Central Europe has a plentiful supply of political scandals and other evidence of how hard it is to make the post-communist transition to liberal democracy. But what if we instead reverse things to look at mostly positive stories, leaving aside the negative news? If the negatives weren't a distorted picture, perhaps the positives aren't a misrepresentation, either. Can this method show us anything new, anything inspiring?
I decided to try this exercise on Lithuania, which I recently visited on a short reporting trip. It is not that Lithuania, its politics, economy, and society are perfect; but there might be new things to discover by using different optics.
Let's start with fake news. Lithuania is on the information-warfare frontline: the country is a prime target for Russian propaganda, so it has had to come up with a response.
One such countermove is StratCom – a strategic communications initiative of the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Lithuanian armed forces.
StratCom also cooperates with another superb new tool, used to debunk fake news before it starts to spread and cause damage. The analytical tool Demaskuok.lt – which in Lithuanian means debunk – uses multiple, artificial intelligence algorithms to spot disinformation within two minutes; meanwhile, “elves” (volunteers) verify claims, and journalists can access the facts.
The project (see debunk.eu for the English version) came out of secret research by a group of young enthusiasts and the local media group Delfi, and was supported by a Google grant.
Delfi has been using the Demaskuok.lt tool for some time already, but a new alliance of Lithuanian media outlets – in theory covering up to 90 percent of the population – was formed in September, and has agreed to use the tool. The Demaskuok.lt team is now training their journalists on its usage. This enthusiastic take-up is an example of how young Central European democracies can effectively fight an information war, one of the most dangerous forms of Russian hybrid warfare.
Then there is the story of the new MO Museum of modern art in Vilnius, which is a combination of business success, passion for art, and love for one's mother country.
Biochemist Viktoras Butkus made a fortune when he sold his company stake in 2010. He and his wife Danguole Butkiene decided to start collecting Lithuanian modern art, which had been more or less prohibited during Soviet times, and then neglected by cash-strapped state institutions after the country's independence.
The couple also put money and energy into the museum's building, designed by the famous American architect Daniel Libeskind and constructed on the site of a demolished Soviet-era movie theater. It opened in mid-October.
This was a strictly private-sector project, based on private money, membership, and other fundraising activities – all familiar ideas to those living in Western liberal democracies, but still new on the eastern edge of the EU.
According to director Milda Ivanauskiene, MO Museum not only wants to exhibit art, but also to create space for private activities, to show that if people can be active citizens, there is profit in that for everyone.
The atypical – for Vilnius –building, the collections inside, and the possibility of organizing parties there, have all attracted enormous interest, Ivanauskiene said.
And then there is the proudly named Independence. In four years of operation, this floating LNG storage and regasification unit (LNG FSRG), based at the port of Klaipeda, has become a strategic asset not only for Lithuania but for the whole Baltic region as well.
Lithuania used to have the highest, or second-highest, household gas prices within the EU member states. However, when the FSRG ship – which is used as an import terminal, in conjunction with a berth and a gas pipeline – started deliveries that eased the country's dependence on Russian gas; prices went down, and now, according to European Commission statistics, prices are comparable to those of any other EU country.
Lithuanian now wants to use the experience gained in other ways – first, by helping companies and cities with deliveries if they are not connected to the grid or are experiencing temporary supply difficulties; those small-scale deliveries will help boost the overall use of LNG.
The terminal manager, state-owned Klaipedos Nafta, is also now using its know-how in building and managing LNG terminals in other regions of the world, particularly South America.
This is not a perfect country: populists are in the government and its population is shrinking as a result of mass emigration for work. However, Lithuania offers some of the positive inspiration that is there to be seen – if only we take the trouble to look around our post-communist neighborhood from time to time.
Transitions magazine = Your one-stop source for news, research and analysis on the post-communist region. Sign up for the free TOL newsletter!
Sign up for the free TOL newsletter!
The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.
This innovative approach to story telling gives voice to ordinary people and takes the reader on the virtual trip across Moldovan rural and urban landscapes.
It is a unique and intimate map of the nation.