BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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European Elections in Lithuania, 2004
HITS: 2064 | 8-09-2004, 13:32 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

Enter the Labour Party: On 13th June, Lithuania also held its first elections to select 13 MPs to the European parliament. From the established parties the Social Democrats won 2 seats, the Liberal-Centrist Union, 2, Homeland Union 2, Liberal Democrats, 1, Farmers and New Democracy, 1. Although Paksas’s Liberal Democrats might have expected to gain support after the acknowledged unpopularity of the impeachment process, the main winner was the upstart Labour Party led by Viktor Uspaskich, a former Social Liberal MP, which won 5 seats.
Lithuania’s Labour Party is a classic jack-in-the-box creation which suddenly appeared in October 2003 and immediately took a lead in the opinion polls. It mirrors similar parties that have emerged, seemingly from nowhere, in several former Communist countries. For instance, the Smer (Direction) party in Slovakia and Bulgaria’s National Movement for Simeon 11 were created to drain support away from genuine opposition parties – in the case of Slovakia, from Vladmir Mečiar’s HZDS and in Bulgaria, from the Socialist Party (BSP). As Paksas continued to attract large numbers to his meet-the-people sessions the possibility presented itself that large numbers would vote Liberal Democrat in parliamentary elections scheduled for October, 2004.
In the circumstances it is not surprising that Lithuania’s new Labour Party should arouse suspicions.
Although tailored to attract those who have lost out on the benefits of reform, Labour is led by a multi-millionaire businessman, Viktor Uspaskich, who the media tells us is “very “popular”. According to a reliable source close to the American political establishment, The Jamestown Foundation, [1] “veteran U.S. Democratic Party campaign consultant Joe Napolitano helped advise LP’s campaign”, advice that will not have come cheaply. On top of this, the same media that denounced Paksas (and, later Prunskiene) for cultivating contacts with “the east”, makes no comment on Uspaskich’s Russian background. According to The Jamestown Foundation “he moved to Lithuania from Russia”.[2] In fact, Uspaskich receives jocular write-ups in the press for owning a large gherkin factory. Contrast this with Paksas’s campaign funder, Yuri Borisov, who was denounced for his Russian ethnicity and is still threatened with expulsion from Lithuania where he was born and where he has lived for most of his life.
Uspaskich is very much in the same mould as Bogoljub Karic, a Serbian entrepreneur, who was recently bounced into the Serbian presidential election as the candidate whose riches would rub off on ordinary Serbs. Like Karic, Uspaskich has promised a huge hike in pension payments for Lithuania’s large number of elderly, impoverished residents if he wins the parliamentary election in October 2004. Of course, the real purpose of Karic’s candidacy was to take votes away from the West’s nemesis, Radical Party candidate, Tomislav Nikolic, which he probably did. Ukraine’s Yulia Timoshenko is from a similar mould - the entrepreneur with the popular touch.
The image of the benevolent magnate with only his employees’ interests at heart is a crude reversal of the voracious Capitalist portrayed in Communist propaganda of old. However, much of the old Communist propaganda has stuck and most ordinary people in the east do not buy into the businessman-with-a-heart-of-gold model. The unfriendly reception given to Russia’s oligarchs is the most egregious example of such hostility.
None of this will alter the fact that Uspaskich and his party of fiery fighters against graft and corruption will be foisted on the Lithuanian public by fair means or foul in the October poll. Apart from Ona Jukneviciene who worked at one time for the World Bank, none of the candidates on the Labour Party’s European election list was known to the public. And, as if to underline its bogus left-wing credentials, Uspaskich himself supported (right-wing) Austruvicius in the first round of the presidential election. He has since refused to deny speculation that, should Labour win the October poll, he would offer the post of prime minister to Austrevicius “I would be pleased to see him in government” he said.[3] At the same time, he announced that the president elect (the right-wing Adamkus) “would find it easiest to work with the Labour Party because their manifestos contained a large number of similar provisions”.[4] The party was remarkably coy about which faction it would join in the European Parliament, where it has since been welcomed into the Liberal Democrat fold.
As the Labour Party will likely power to victory in the Autumn parliamentary election, BHHRG noted with interest that the party had deployed large numbers of observers in polling stations on 13th June, always a sign that there are deep pockets to pay for a fleet of retainers. The 22nd June police raids on the old established Conservative and Social Liberal parties will only serve to bolster support for the new, squeaky-clean team or, at least give the authorities a reason to explain its sudden success with a reportedly jaded public.

Conclusion

Unlike its supine Baltic neighbours in Latvia and Estonia, Lithuanians have put up something of a fight as they are dragged into the brave new world of ‘reform’. The extreme measures resorted to in order to silence Rolandas Paksas demonstrate how far the anti-democratic forces that run the country will go to silence dissent and cut out those who do not belong to the magic circle that took power during the collapse of Communism in the early 90s.
In the June elections, the authorities in Lithuania used various tactics to shore up support for the bogus democratic process - like the widespread use of postal voting which serves to inflate participation in the election process and, at the same time, deliver the ‘right result’. A new populist party was also created in Autumn 2003 to finally eliminate Paksas’s support base, including his Liberal Democratic Party. The new Labour Party promises to increase social benefits for the poor while aligning itself with the most free market politicians in the country, like Mr. Adamkus. Genuine oppositionists, like Prunskiene or Rolandas Pavilionis, an academic and Paksas supporter who has launched his own election bloc For Order and Justice in time for the October poll, are denounced as Soviet throwbacks by the overwhelmingly pro-regime Lithuanian media.
Meanwhile, large numbers of young people are leaving Lithuania - the numbers have increased since the country entered the EU in May 2004. The situation facing those seeking work is such that many educated young ladies prefer to work as table dancers in the industrial north of England rather than chance their luck in the precarious job market at home.[5] They, like many of their countrymen vote, but in one way only – with their feet.


[1] www.jamestown.org/publications_details,
[2] ibid.,
[3] “Lithuanian Labour Party leader keeps eyes on premiership”
www.bbcmonitoringonline.com 3rd July 2004,
[4] ibid.,
[5] See a typical advertisement on page 7 of The Baltic Times for “ Table Dancing Operator” who can “Earn in excess of 1000 euros per week”
www.baltictimes.com 1st-7th July, 2004.

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