Monday, 24 October 2011

Life in Lithuania II

There's a lot of talk about education reform in Lithuania now.  Various ideas have been put forward.   The current Minister of Education and Science says that a lot has been accomplished.  Others say that very little of substance has been accomplished.  One idea that is often mentioned is reducing the number of post-secondary institutions.

I have to say that I can't get very interested in the discussion.  Perhaps something such as what is mentioned in the preceding paragraph needs to be done.  I'm more interested in the view that I receive of post-secondary education however.

Did you know that if you are a university student and your mother is a member of the Lithuanian parliament, you will be able to regularly drink coffee with the dean of the Faculty of Medicine and get passing grades no matter how little you do or how poor the quality of your work is?  Did you know that if your father is a professor in the Faculty of Medicine and you are not passing an introductory class in that faculty, you can transfer to another introductory class where the teacher is more easily persuaded to give a passing grade?  Did you know that the Lithuanian doctor who could now be treating you or a loved one (or making medical policy as a member of the government) may not have passed one class without cheating?

That's just a glimpse of the view I have of Lithuanian post-secondary education.  It's the same problem that can be found in much of Lithuanian society: lack of moral/ethical standards by a large percentage of people and plenty who feel that such a situation is none of their business or don't care to get involved.  Oh, there are a few, a very small minority (by my calculations), who would like to do something, but they are so afraid that they rarely raise their voices.  Those who do make waves often have their careers derailed by both the guilty parties and the many who hold the idea that conformity is sacred and the whistle-blowers are the real criminals.  As in many other parts of the world, these same people hide behind patriotism and church/family/loyalty to superiors/etc.

So, yeah, education reform in Lithuania:  I just don't think that anything meaningful is really going to happen.  Those rotten parts of the system are encouraging more rot by helping put their children and other family members into positions of authority.  And that problem is one that I haven't seen anyone in Lithuania address seriously in the 16 years I've been here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Life in Lithuania I

I read an article yesterday on, a Lithuanian news portal, that pretty much perfectly sums up what is wrong with Lithuania.  I've just got to pass it on.  The original story appears here.

Actor Juozas Bindokas, who works at the Siauliai Drama Theatre, had a very curious experience.  A police officer responding to the actor's call for help advised him to compensate the "damages suffered" by the drunken youths who were hassling him.

Saturday (2 October) evening, around 9 p.m., 60-year-old Juozas Bindokas, who had appeared in two plays that day, was driving home.  On the way home, he decided to stop by a shop.  Bindokas pulled off the main road onto a drive leading to the parking lot of the store.   There he was forced to stop by three young men who were drinking alcohol and blocking the road. They moved out of the way reluctantly after being asked by the actor.  Very shortly after Bindokas began driving again he heard his left rear wheel run over something.

"As soon as I heard the noise, I stopped the car and turned on my hazard lights.  The young men who were drinking pointed out that I'd run over a can of beer and immediately demanded that I buy them another one.  I refused to do that and then one of them began yelling and saying that I'd run over his foot. I understood that nothing good could come from this situation, so I called the police", Bindokas reported.

The actor said that the young men were quite happy to hear that the police were coming.  "They continued to berate me for not buying them some beer.  While we were waiting for the police to come, they threw the other cans that were lying around into a nearby trash bin.  A policeman arrived shortly thereafter and tested the drunkeness of the young men", Bindokas said.

The young men told the police that the actor "hadn't signaled or flashed his lights".  Otherwise they would have had time to get out of the way.  "They said that they had put their money together and only had enough to buy that one can of beer.  They then said that they had set it on the road because they wanted to smoke a cigarette.  And I, jerk that I am, went and ran over it", Bindokas said, not hiding his irony.

The policeman then advised Bindokas to buy some beer for the young men who had "suffered a loss", because that would solve everything.  "I was shocked by his suggestion.  But he told me that I was better off to give them several litas now than to have to go through a court hearing later.  I had to give in, but I really didn't expect such a reaction from the policeman," Bindokas said with disappointment in his voice.

According to the actor, it was interesting that the policeman completely ignored the story about one of the young men getting his foot run over.  "The young man whose foot I supposedly ran over left the scene after a while.  The others then said that he had a very good lawyer.  And the officer didn't even question the person who was working in the shop and who saw the entire situation", Bindokas reported.

Gailute Smagriuniene, a spokesperson for the police in Siauliai, told Lietuvos Zinios [a Lithuanian newspaper] that a police officer reponded to a call at approximately 9 p.m. yesterday.  "A young man stated that his foot had been run over.  The officer determined that hadn't happened and that the driver of the car had only run over a can of beer," she said.  When asked whether it would be possible to talk to the police officer who had responded to the incident, she stated that he was sleeping after working the night shift.

A little slice of life from Lithuania.  I admit that the actor shouldn't have given those punks any money (or bought them beer--whatever he eventually did) and he shouldn't have been scared to pursue the matter (even though it might have meant going to court), but really what can a person do in such a situation?  It's clear that calling the police doesn't do any good.