9 May 2016

Lithuanian supermarket chain suspects Russian provocation behind customers’ boycott

Lithuania’s supermarket chain Maxima that is present in all the three Baltic states as well as in Poland and Bulgaria and is also the biggest retail chain and the largest employer in the Baltic States was considering to turn to State Security Department (VSD) in connection with the boycott of retail chains organised to 10-13 May.

photo by www.la.lv
 The spokesperson of Maxima told Baltic News Service on Friday that the company was currently preparing the documents they are planning to submit to VSD because they were suspecting that the civic action is organized by powers that aim to create unrest, rather than to express civil position. According to R. Saulytė, the company was collecting their observations about the issue as they have the impression that powers adverse to Lithuania try to cover themselves with a peaceful action and the wish to express opinion in order to incite people. Later that day, the head of the company stated that they are not going to contact the security services and apologized for the earlier statement.

According to the spokesperson, their suspicions were based on what they see on social networks and among some of their employees that – as they suspect – these forces are trying to invoke to carry out the action. Maxima was especially concerned about the fact that some of initiators of the action are people mentioned in the VSD’s security assessment report Assessment of Threats to National Security. One of them, Laurynas Ragelskis has been active in public domain with anti-state statements. The report tells about Ragelskis that he is the editor of an Internet platform publishing anti-Western and pro-Russian articles in Lithuanian, Ldiena.lt.

According to Maxima, that is the reason why they were suspecting provocation behind the peaceful action. When asked if it was not an attempt from the company to suppress the civil dissatisfaction with high prices, R.Saulytė said that the aim is to ensure security and raise awareness about possible provocations. She also added the in the course of time, the rhetoric about the boycott has changed, becoming ever more aggressive. There have been also Internet trolls on social network sites spreading the photos of the head of the company and other provocations.

The company has consulted the Ministry of Defence and also contacted the police and local governments that issue permits to organize pickets. The executive director of the Lithuanian trade association Laurynas Vilimas did not rule out the possibility that the umbrella organization uniting all of the major retail chains would contact the relevant departments if it is demonstrated that it is possible that the calls not to buy in supermarkets will evolve into public threats.

When asked about the submission, the spokesman of VSD commented that they have not received it yet, but if they receive, they would evaluate it thoroughly.   

About 100 000 people are expected to take part in the boycott. According to PR specialists, publicizing the appeal was a communication mistake as it can trigger even bigger protest. It may be the explanation why the company later said it gave up the plan.

Cauliflower scandal

The boycott is organised because of the rapidly rising food prices. In April, public discontent appeared on online platforms because of the high prices of vegetables. One customer was complaining because of the price of a cauliflower bought at Maxima – 3.50 €. Another reader drew attention to the fact that in a supermarket chain in the UK, cauliflower costs only 89 pence (1.15 €). After this, the site was flooded with comments on lower prices of vegetables in Western European countries (Ireland, Germany, Italy). High vegetable prices were explained by retailers and business analysts with the bad weather conditions, long transport distances and with the fact that prices on small markets always tend to be higher because of the smaller numbers of customers and retailers. The law on price regulation in Lithuania ceased to be in force last year.