Dr. Vita Juknevičienė Delved into the Practice of Democracy Implementation in the USA
At the beginning of November, Vita Juknevičienė, a lecturer of the Department of Public Administration in the Faculty of Social Sciences of Šiauliai University, returned from a scientific secondment in Kent State University in the USA. The scientist, whose interest are modernisation of public administration and innovation management and regional development talked to her colleagues in Kent State University, looked into the processes of the formation of public policy on the autonomous and the national levels, read and attended lectures, met with the heads of the city of Cleveland and representatives of various non-governmental organisations.
– What was the purpose of your secondment in the USA?
– There were several purposes of my secondment. One of them was to establish relations with the colleagues from the Department of Public Policy in Kent State University. We have very nice relations with the University of Nebraska in Omaha, so we would like to expand our contacts and the opportunities of cooperation with our colleagues in America because we often get offers for international projects that would be attended by our partners from the USA and other countries. My other purpose was to get more acquainted with the practice of the realization of democracy in the USA, so my activities were not related only to Kent State University. I am glad that I got the opportunity to extend my knowledge about the practice of public administration in a country that has got a democracy experience consisting of hundreds of years while visiting meetings at the Finance Committee of the Municipality of Cleveland, as well as its council meetings, a meeting of the council of the Cuyahoga County, meetings with the local representatives of public administration institutions – F. G. Jackson, the Mayor of Cleveland; M. D. Polensek and D. Brady, members of the city council; V. J. McCall, the head of Government and National Affairs of the Municipality of Cleveland, the commissioner F. S. Szabo (representing the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport).
We went to various meetings with heads and representatives of various organisations that have influence on public policy on local and national levels in order to analyze the peculiarities of the societal impact on government decisions.
To identify what teaching tools the USA lecturers use during classes I attended sessions in Kent State University. It was a great opportunity to observe how the professors work with the students, what methods they use, how the students discuss and are active and so on.
– What organisations have the biggest impact on the public policy in the USA? How to they influence the public policy?
– I came to realise that democracy in the USA practically works through certain citizen associations and organisations. People voluntarily unite into organisations that represent certain groups, for example ethnic minorities, various communities or representatives of certain professions. Those organisations have the so-called executive directors that are like intermediaries between the community and the organisation, which implement certain projects, and the politicians. I think that desired results are achieved only when these so-called intermediaries are professionals do their duties responsibly.
I was very impressed by the volunteering. People try to get involved in various activities, they try to get as much experience as possible, and after that, they seek certain careers in non-governmental organisations.
The biggest influence on public policy can be done by the social initiative of various civic organisations. Many of the initiatives are financed by the members of the organisations themselves. People fund certain activities of the organisations so that they can implement various projects, put pressure on policy makers to get feedback in the form of various laws and resolutions so that their social problems are solved. This kind of system took many years to form, of course.
No matter how developed a country is, social problems are very important, especially those that are related to families with low income, their poor opportunities to get higher education etc. Representing the interests of these people in various institutions in the USA is still very relevant.
I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Finance Committee of Cleveland where I saw how democracy works in a local government. The meeting was attended not only by the members of the council, but also by representatives of an organisation asking for funding that argued about why certain financial help is needed, answered various questions of the council members, gave statistics. The members of the community have a right to speak up about the questions at hand even during the city and county council meetings. It does not happen often in our country.
– Are the Americans familiar with the situation of public policy in Lithuania and Eastern Europe? What do they think about it?
– The Americans asked me to prepare a presentation called “Opportunities, challenges and dynamic post-dynamic change of post-Soviet Lithuania”. It had to be 20 minutes long, but because of a lot of questions asked by the students and the lecturers it lasted for about an hour. I came to realise that for some Americans, Lithuania is still a completely unknown place. Some of them cannot even find it on the map. However, there are plenty of people, especially doctorates, who are very familiar with what is happening in Lithuania, the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine. They were interested in what the Lithuanian society’s opinion on NATO is, what the relationship between the Lithuanian and the Polish people is, what ethnic minority problems do Lithuanian government institutions encounter and what decisions they make. They were asking me what the Lithuanian government’s view on V. Putin’s decisions and his foreign policy is.
I attended lectures, during which we talked about the themes of regionalism, and the students had the chance to talk about various regions of Russia. I talked in detail about the situation of Kaliningrad Oblast. For some of the American students it was news that Lithuania is the country separating Kaliningrad Oblast and Russia. Like I said, the doctorates are very well-read in the international geopolitical situation, and they asked me about our opinion on the Ukraine and the Syria situation.
– What do Americans think about the events of Ukraine and Syria? What is their view on the EU decision to take in refugees from the southern regions?
– We talked about the refugees during and after the lectures. In America, there were and still are big discussions on this. President Obama is leaning towards taking in a part of the refugees from Syria into the USA, but the electoral campaign that has started overshadows this issue. The American society is very actively following the debates because at this time people are voting for the candidates for local governments. One of the presidential candidates’ positions is that the USA should not take in refugees from Syria or the European countries because that is Europe’s problem. On the other hand, America itself is a multicultural country. In Kent State University and in Cleveland many people of various nationalities are studying and living. They ask how Europe is going to deal with this many refugees from Syria. In my opinion, when we speak about the refugee situation, we have to remember that Europe is getting old very fast. In a few years, we may encounter a situation where we will have more retired people than working people. In the opinion of the USA government the society needs to be renewed, that is why they are trying to integrate a large number of emigrants from Latin America into the country. The Europe situation also needs to be tackled. Soon, we will surely have to deal with many problems concerning the integration of refugees into the society, but in the long run they will be the people that will help to create economic and social welfare in Europe. The Americans also think that ethnic minorities will eventually surely contribute to the creation of economic and social welfare.
– In that case, does a small country like Lithuania not face the threat of losing its cultural identity?
– I visited the community of Lithuanians in Cleveland. I find it really nice that they have their own parish, the Lithuanian club, national ensembles, dance companies for children, that they organise various Lithuanian days, make Lithuanian dishes, still speak Lithuanian very well, and that there is a network of Lithuanian schools all across America. It means that there is no loss of identity, even if they live in a multicultural environment. Maybe that even helps to become more liberal and open in the society.
– What projects are you planning to implement with Kent State University?
– The best thing is when information is passed on by word of mouth. Kent State University is obligated to take two bachelor or master students from Šiauliai University for one semester studies or one student for the whole academic year. This university will cover the study expenses. When I came back to my university and met with the public administration students I spread this information, and a few students have already expressed their interest. After a lecture in Kent State University, some doctorates were very interested in Lithuania and the opportunity to carry out research in Eastern Europe.
Cooperation between scientists can only begin when invitations to give applications for new projects and funding are published, and when projects are won. We will have to wait for a while. But prof. Andrew Barnes, the head of the Department of Political Sciences in Kent State University, as well as other scientists, are always open to suggestions to prepare publications about common research topics together.
Kent State University has branches in Italy and Germany. There is an opportunity to give lectures in summer camps that are organised in these institutions. It is a particular international experience, which expands one’s competences, teaches a lecturer to be more open, to convey the knowledge to the students in a better way. Cultural differences that exist between different countries do have an impact. Scientific secondments and placements abroad give an opportunity to look more closely into the newest tendencies in the world of science, all the while realising how processes happen in developed countries. A scientist should not only sit at his computer or at the library, but must always interact with students and colleagues in other countries.
In pictures from the personal archive of V. Juknevičienė:
V. Juknevičienė (third on the left) with Dr. Viktoras Stankus, Valerie J. McCall, the head of Government and National Affairs of the Municipality of Cleveland and Frank G. Jackson, the Mayor of Cleveland; with Michael D. Polensek, a member of the Cleveland City Council and Dr. Viktoras Stankus; next to Kent State University. In the library of the Club of the Lithuanian Community of Cleveland.