OLD POLITICS VERSUS THE “NEW.”
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 157
Opinion surveys in Lithuania suggest that left-of-center opposition parties will triumph over the governing Conservatives in the parliamentary elections this coming October. The New Union/Social Liberals (NU/SL), led by social demagogue and consummate tactician Arturas Paulauskas, looks set to win a plurality of the vote and of parliamentary seats. NU/SL and other left-of-center parties are controlled by offshoots of the reform-minded nomenklatura of the 1980s. Despite internal differences, these groups sharply question free market economics and the exclusively Western orientation which the Conservatives and President Valdas Adamkus–a Lithuanian-American–have pursued while in office since 1996 and 1998, respectively. An electoral lurch to the left carries the risk of derailing Lithuania’s policies, with serious complications for NATO and the European Union enlargement strategies in the Baltic region.
Hoping to forestall that leftward lurch, Adamkus and his advisers have come up with a strategy of taming and coopting the potential winner, NU/SL. The president has lent his sponsorship to a four-party bloc, within which the NU/SL is flanked by right-of-center parties. Those are: the pro-business, free-market Liberal Union, formerly a coalition partner of the Conservatives; the Center Union, Adamkus’ initial political vehicle upon his homecoming; and the Modern Christian Democrats, who recently split off from the Christian-Democratic Party because of the latter’s coalition partnership with the Conservatives. The presidential strategists have dubbed this four-party bloc “New Politics,” the basis of a new parliamentary majority and government for the next quadrennium (see the Monitor, July 6).
Besides reining in the NU/SL, the presidential team hopes to capitalize on rivalries among the left-of-center parties and leaders. Indeed on August 3, the other parties of that type joined forces in an electoral bloc, “Let’s Act Together” (LAT), which will inevitably compete with the NU/SL for votes on the same segments of the electoral spectrum. LAT might warrant the label “Old Politics” because it brings together the governing parties and leaders of yesteryear. LAT is chaired by Algirdas Brazauskas, the former leader of the Lithuanian Communist Party, who sided with the independence movement in 1990-91, was president of the country from 1993 to 1997 and retains great personal popularity.
Brazauskas’ charisma should boost the electoral fortunes of LAT’s parties, some of which rank much lower than he in the public esteem. LAT consists of: (1) the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), which originated as the Brazauskas wing of the Lithuanian Communist Party, quit that party, governed the country from 1992 to 1996 and is now led by the parliamentary chairman of that period, Ceslovas Jursenas; (2) the Social-Democratic Party led by Vytenis Andriukaitis; the New Democracy Party–recently rebaptized from Women’s Party–of former Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene; (3) the Union of Russians; and (4) the Polish Electoral Action of Lithuania. The DLP has only recently begun to recover from its political disaster of 1995-96, when its government collapsed amid economic mismanagement and corruption scandals.
The DLP bears most of the responsibility for Lithuania’s slow start on economic reforms and reluctance to privatize state property. It bequeathed severe economic problems to the successor government, and is now campaigning–under “social justice” slogans–to stop or reverse the Conservatives’ privatization policies. Brazauskas, the DLP and other components of the LAT bloc are believers in state ownership of “strategic” enterprises and in “national” in preference to “foreign” capital investment. Their record is more encouraging on foreign policy. DLP’s long-serving Foreign Affairs Minister Povilas Gylys, and Brazauskas himself as president, actively promoted Lithuania’s candidacy for NATO membership.
Prunskiene has long been struggling to recoup some of the popularity she lost as prime minister in 1991, when she campaigned against her country’s parliamentary leadership and against Vytautas Landsbergis personally during a crisis unleashed by Moscow. Those who had begun to forget that nine-year-old event were reminded of it last week, when Prunskiene on a visit to Moscow attacked the Lithuanian Conservatives’ foreign policy and described herself as a “constructive partner to Moscow… to the Russian government and to Russian business” (Vek, July 28).
Quite apart from New Politics and any old politics, some ancient politics are beginning to haunt Lithuania. Adamkus and his advisers may find themselves, sooner or later, compelled to deal with the implications of their ad-hoc ally Arturas Paulauskas’ independent activities. Paulauskas’ left-of-center party, New Union/Social Liberals (NU/SL), has agreed to join with three right-of-center parties in the presidentially sponsored bloc “New Politics.” Outside that bloc, however, Paulauskas and his party seems to be working hand-in-hand with radical populist, anti-Western and self-confessed Nazi groups. NU/SL organizations have made such alliances in Kaunas and in Siauliai, Lithuania’s second-largest and fourth-largest cities, respectively.
In Kaunas, NU/SL’s support was crucial in securing the election of Freedom Party leader Vytautas Sustauskas as mayor in April of this year. Sustauskas, dubbed a “street politician,” is a fiery opponent of Western capital investment and also has a record of making anti-Semitic statements. His party’s influence is limited to that city. Last month, NU/SL helped Sustauskas thwart the privatization of Kaunas’s ailing municipal utilities by Western companies. Palauskas’ and Sustauskas’ groups are working together on the City Council against Conservatives and, equally, against the parties which are allied with the NU/SL in the New Politics bloc.
In Siauliai, Mayor Vida Stasiunaite of the NU/SL has struck up a local alliance of convenience with the unregistered National Socialist Party of Mindaugas Murza. That small party has been denied legal registration because of its Nazi-style program and activities. Nevertheless, Stasiunaite last week tried to organize a demonstration jointly with National Socialist supporters outside the parliament in Vilnius as a protest against the Conservatives’ policies (BNS, August 2, 7-9; ELTA, August 1, 7, 9; Vilnius Radio, August 4; Ziniu Radio, August 7; see the Monitor, March 28, July 6, August 4).
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