PRUNSKIENE TAKES A DEEP FALL.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 57

On March 20, twelve members of the Lithuanian parliament endorsed draft anti-NATO legislation, under which Lithuania would have declared itself a neutral country and renounced NATO membership. Parliament, however, voted overwhelmingly against placing the bill–the first of its kind in a parliament of a Baltic state since the three states became aspirants to membership in the alliance–on the current session’s agenda.

As NATO’s next summit and the prospects of its Baltic enlargement draw closer, the three states’ parliaments may see more anti-NATO initiatives, purporting to advocate neutrality as an alternative to joining the alliance. The initiative in Lithuania’s parliament and the composition of the group behind it may be seen as a paradigm for similar moves by out-of-power, left-leaning groups in Riga or Tallinn.

The formal author of the abortive Vilnius bill is Julius Veselka, the sole MP for the Union of the Lithuanian People for a Fair Lithuania. This fringe party is often misperceived as “right-wing” because it uses some of the rhetoric common to Central and East European nationalist movements of the interwar period. At present, however, groups such as Veselka’s are at one with the hard left in opposing market economics, Western investment and more generally Western political and cultural influences. Implicitly or explicitly, these basically leftist groups–including pseudonationalist ones like the Union of the Lithuanian People for a Fair Lithuania–look to Russia to offset the impact of Western modernization on the post-Soviet countries.

The best-known figure among the bill’s sponsors is former Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene, currently heading a three-member parliamentary group called New Democracy, and making up a parliamentary caucus with the leftist-populist Peasant Union. Prunskiene had headed the government in 1990-91 after Lithuania had proclaimed the restoration of state independence. But in 1991, she quit and attacked her country’s elected leadership during a crisis unleashed by Moscow. Ever since, Prunskiene has struggled to recoup some of her once-high popularity. But she slipped again last year by going to Moscow to criticize Lithuania’s foreign policy and to offer herself as a “constructive partner to the Russian government and Russian business” (interview in Vek (Moscow), July 28, 2000).

Residual loyalties to the Russian state also seem to play a role. The sponsors of the abortive bill included the parliament’s three Russian members, two of whom represent the Russian Union in Lithuania. That Union officially called for “neutrality”–as opposed to NATO membership for Lithuania–during last year’s electoral campaign. Among the twelve sponsors of the bill are seven MPs of the recently reunified, now forty-eight-strong Social-Democrat opposition bloc. Those seven include the authors of a recent initiative to establish interparliamentary relations with the Belarusan parliament as created by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. That initiative has been sidetracked by the Lithuanian parliamentary leadership, which pointed out that the Belarusan parliament is not recognized as democratic or legitimate. Nevertheless, several deputies including those of the Russian Union went to Minsk on their own last month to fraternize with Lukashenka’s deputies.

The Social-Democrat leaders fully support the national goal of joining NATO. Most deputies in that bloc helped quash the anti-NATO initiative of their colleagues. Yet those leaders are not known to have disciplined their MPs for violating party policy. Prunskiene, for her part, abandoned her initial allies, the Social-Democrats, and concluded a cooperation agreement with the governing coalition late last year. The government and the opposition camps are almost evenly balanced in the Lithuanian parliament. As a result, parliamentary leaders in either camp cannot afford losing MPs. That situation offers leeway for independent action by deputies with agendas of their own, with minimal risk of disciplinary action by their parties.

The timing of the anti-NATO move seems to have been carefully calculated. The March 20 initiative coincided with the prescheduled March 18-21 visit to Lithuania by a Russian Duma delegation. The bill in Vilnius, moreover, was submitted just ten days ahead of President Valdas Adamkus’ official visit to Moscow. That long-sought visit aims to demonstrate that Lithuania’s NATO aspirations are irreversible and, at the same time, fully compatible with good-neighborly relations between Lithuania and Russia. Apparently, the sponsors of the anti-NATO initiative in Vilnius would like to suggest to Moscow that it has more than one interlocutor in Vilnius.

The move failed, not only because it was voted down heavily, but–even more important–because the Lithuanian government and military are currently redoubling their efforts to qualify for an invitation to join NATO (BNS, ELTA, March 19, 20; see the Monitor, August 11, October 9, November 7, 21, December 21, 2000, February 6, March 16).

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