What to watch in Lithuania's politics, culture, society in 2018
Here are some of the major events to watch for in Lithuania's politics, culture and society in 2018:
Three reforms. The ruling coalition faces three tests of their ability to carry out key reforms. The government is under increasing pressure to reform taxes and to improve tax collection in order to generate more budget revenue and reduce poverty. The government next spring is expected to come up with proposals to cut taxes on labor and overhaul the pension system. Decisions on merging some state universities are likely to be made this year, but critics will probably point to the lack of a systemic higher education reform. There is a chance of a British university coming to Lithuania. Discussions on a new financing model for universities will likely pick up speed. Public attention may turn in the spring to a civil service reform aimed at cutting the number of civil servants and raising their salaries, but a question mark remains as to whether Interior Minister Eimutis Misiūnas, who does not have strong political backing, will manage to push the measure through the divided Seimas.
Guests. German, Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian, Estonian and Georgian presidents, the European Commission president, and members of the Swedish and Danish royal families are expected to come to Vilnius for Lithuania's centenary celebrations on Feb. 16. Europe's two most powerful women politicians -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May -- may take part in a forum of women political leaders to be hosted by President Dalia Grybauskaitė in the summer. Pope Francis' planned visit to Lithuania in September may become a key event of the decade. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may also pay visits to Lithuania.
Warm up to the 2019 presidential race. Lithuania will hold no elections this year, but discussions about potential candidates for the 2019 presidential race and their public relations campaigns will gather pace. However, the most serious candidates will probably postpone the announcement of their decision to run for president until 2019. Saulius Skvernelis, Gitanas Nausėda, Visvaldas Matijošaitis, Vygaudas Ušackas, Ingrida Šimonytė and some other politicians will be increasingly looked at from a perspective of the presidential election.
Diplomacy. Lithuania expects to receive an invitation to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in June. In international politics, Lithuania may have to maneuver between the increasingly divergent positions of the US and the Franco-German duo. With the vision of a multi-speed Europe growing stronger within the EU, Lithuania will have to start choosing between being part of the nucleus with France and Germany, but without Poland and Scandinavia in it and staying in the periphery and free from commitments on a common eurozone budget and common taxes. Lithuania is likely to abstain if there is a vote on sanctions against Poland.
The political corruption case. A court is likely to begin hearing a political corruption case in which charges have been brought against MG Baltic, one of Lithuania's largest business groups, as well as the Liberal Movement and the Labour Party, and a group of politicians and business people. The release of the indictment and some details to the public may deal another blow to the reputation of these people and may also undermine confidence in the entire political system.
Strasbourg cases. The European Court of Human Rights may this year issue its ruling regarding allegations that Lithuania hosted a secret CIA prison. The Strasbourg will also hear a complain filed by Poland's Orlen against an anti-trust fine imposed by Lithuania.
Top posts. President Grybauskaitė is expected to decide by March if to re-appoint the current heads of the Special Investigation Service and the Public Procurement Office, Saulius Urbonavičius and Diana Vilytė, for their second terms in office. The Lithuanian Radio and Television Council will elect a new LRT director general in the spring. Audrius Siaurusevičius has not yet announced whether or not he will seek a third term as the public broadcaster's director general.
Culture. This year's culture events in Lithuania will centre around its centenary celebration program, with the presentation of the original copy of the 1918 Act of Independence found in Berlin being one of its highlights. MO, a museum of contemporary art funded by Danguolė and Viktoras Butkus, is to open in place of the demolished Lietuva Cinema in Vilnius in the fall.
Search for Ramanauskas-Vanagas' grave. The identification of the grave of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, a Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance commander, may become a continuation of last year's major discoveries, the 1918 independence declaration and the remains of the leaders of the 1863 uprising against Tsarist Russia, with archaeological research in Vilnius' Našlaičių (Orphans) Cemetery scheduled to start in the spring.
Defence. Lithuania plans to hold its largest-ever military exercise in June, which will see over 10,000 troops from Lithuania and other NATO member states training in different locations at the same time. Lithuania expects NATO's summit in July to make decisions to help beef up the Baltic countries' air defence.
Long weekends. Lithuania will enjoy two three-day weekends this year due to Feb. 16, the Day of Restoration of the State, and Jul. 6, the King Mindaugas coronation day, falling on Fridays.