Lithuania is bound to confront one more challenge that arises from its domestic political clashes and cleavages. The center populist Labor Party, and the no less populist but rightwing the Order and Justice Party, have decided to merge, thus forming what they perceive as the third major political party in Lithuania capable of sharing the power structure and competing with the conservative Homeland Union and leftwing Social Democratic Party.
What’s next, then? A year or so ago no Lithuanian policy maker or commentator would have predicted this to happen. No matter how hostile to the two aforementioned major political parties both populist formations are, their mutual animosities and incompatibility are a public secret. The former president of Lithuania Rolandas Paksas, impeached by the Lithuanian Parliament for violation of his presidential oath and Lithuanian law, and the former Minister of Economics Viktor Uspaskich, are two political actors who have absolutely nothing in common.
Populism is not the most accurate and sufficient term to describe their political biographies and passions. Fiercely nationalistic and far rightwing Paksas, who as an MEP joined the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group, the political family of Euroskeptics in the European Parliament, is much more opinionated and predictable than the skilled theatrical demagogue Viktor Uspaskich, a tycoon from Russia who made a fortune in Lithuania as a proxy of Gazprom and then set up a pocket political party for himself and his accomplices in the region.
Moreover, they are, or at least were, up to now irreconcilable rivals competing over that same segment of the least unfortunate and educated Lithuanians who make up the largest percent of protest voters in the national and EP elections. One of the well-to-dos of Lithuania, Uspaskich has always committed himself to political shows promising the miracles of the right and the left at one and the same time – the growth of the economy and cuts in taxes miraculously combined with welfare-based reasoning and attention – in theory and rhetoric, rather than in reality – to the most vulnerable Lithuanian citizens. However, Paksas’ party is much more attentive to conservative the impulses and patriotic urges of its electorate. Ultimately, both pay little, if any at all, attention to human rights and European matters. The only concern remaining is how to win European funds and benefits.
Both have skeletons in their closets. Shadowy stories of Paksas’ presidency in 2002-2004 related to Russian spin doctors, PR companies, and scandalous figures that acted behind Lithuania’s political scenes are richly reciprocated by Uspaskich’s legacy of political scandals, court stories and high treason. Yes, it is impossible to describe what he did once in Moscow with his party otherwise than high treason and a slap in the face to his country. Several years ago, Uspaskich fled to Moscow out of fear to be trialed and jailed for tax evasion. In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the former minister of economics from an EU country, surrounded by his party members and even MEPs who came there all the way down from Brussels, went so far as to organize a press conference on how his human dignity, fundamental rights and civil liberties were severely violated in Lithuania.
This travesty was continued in the European Parliament, whose member Uspaskich was until 2013. After the parliamentary elections, he decided to terminate his mandate as an MEP pursuing his activities in Lithuania, where he was and continues to be on trial. Having failed to secure his EP immunity, of which he was effectively stripped, Uspaskich got back to the old track reestablishing himself as a TV political show star and buffoon. Deprived of the possibility to serve as a member of cabinet (due to his trial), he decided to win more time maneuvering and awaiting a happy moment of discord between the Homeland Union and the Social Democrats, which was the case in the past more than once guaranteeing for him a safe retreat and comeback.
Yet this time things seem to have gone too far. Uspaskich is still facing a possibility of being sentenced for tax evasion and fraud, and his party dissolved as a criminal organization that violated Lithuanian law. Paksas, for his part, is in a desperate situation as the leader of the party, as his mandate as an MEP terminates in 2014 without any chance to be elected to the Lithuanian Seimas – such was the verdict of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania. This makes his situation impossible as a long-standing leader of the party, since no political party would be content with a dysfunctional, if not fictitious, leader. Add Russia’s stratagems underneath, and you will have the complete picture.
To cut a convoluted and long story short, we have a Deus ex machina effect: here comes a new political party which turns out to have nothing to do with the vices and troubles of the past, linked to two former political parties doomed to sink into oblivion for the sake of the resurrection of two popular heroes – a stubborn and fearless fighter against the establishment (that’s the way in which Paksas chose to position himself in Lithuania), and an enchanting next-door guy who speaks with a heavy accent, yet who talks sense and eye-opening stuff to every angry and frustrated small town-dweller. To set aside all humorous aspects of this story, both are close to genius when it comes to squeezing a painful story of the underdogs into a couple of jokes or winged phrases.
Politics, this blessed art of organized forgetting, is at its best in present Lithuania. There was a time when men and women of letters used to begin their discourse from a passionate evocation of Mnemosyne, the personification of memory in ancient Greek mythology. For now, politicians start theirs from a no less passionate appeal to Lethe, the river of forgetting. Its waters generously give the new incarnations and lives to politicians in the epoch of willful oblivion.
Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament. © 2013 The Baltic times. All rights reserved.
Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.
© 2013 The Baltic times. All rights reserved.