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Lithuania (from the Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe, 2nd edition)

Lithuania (from the Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe, 2nd edition)
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  5.Lithuania Kjetil Duvold and Mindaugas Jurkynas  ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– Lithuanian politics came to be regarded as comparatively stable throughout the politically, socially and economically turbulent 1990s. In the first edition of  The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe , Darius Žeruolis notes, ‘Lithuanian party and electoral politics have entered a “dull” stage’ (Žeruolis 1998, 121). Five yearslater, the picture looks somewhat different. New actors have emerged on the politicalstage and a more fluid centre-ground has replaced earlier bipolar tendencies of themoderately fragmented party system. In this chapter we will attempt to explain thesechanges by looking at electoral and party system dynamics, before we sketch out someunderlying conditions for the overall political development of Lithuania, such as socio-economic differentiation and general political attitudes.Fifty years of Soviet domination disrupted independent state- and nation-building inLithuania and put an end to all possibilities to revive the path to democracy. Soviet-stylemodernization, combined with repression, deportations, emigration and, obviously, passing generations, changed society beyond recognition. Consequently, the beginningof the 1990s represented a tabula rasa for Lithuanian politics. 1 Ties with inter-war Lithuania were at best weak, based on memories rather than individuals or institutions, but rather frequently they were merely invented. Like all post-communist countries,Lithuania emerged from communist dictatorship as a ‘flattened’ society (Wessels andKlingemann 1994). The Soviet regime did a thorough job in wiping out relevant socio- political divisions by monopolizing all organized and collective activities and,accordingly, deprived society of the type of structural divisions that characterizeestablished democracies. Most ironical was the absence of division between capital andlabour. The single most important cleavage in virtually every West European polity andthe basis for ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ lacks roots in Lithuania and other Central and EastEuropean countries because the property-owning classes were absent. Nevertheless, political parties emerged as an integral part of democratization in most post-Communistregimes, and acted as entrepreneurs for emerging political dimensions. Partycompetition in new democracies is essentially shaped and driven by parties and partyactors (Sitter 2001, 87). Such competition, in turn, presumes the presence of an axiswhere voters and political actors can identify different parties. Left and Right providethe most usual basis for party placement – at least on the semantic level (Kitschelt,Mansfeldová, Markowski and Tóka 1999). What ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ actually mean, caneither be historically derived or appear as basically speculative terms. In the former case,  they have evolved out of specific conflicts between social movements and political parties (Bobbio 1996, 1). In the latter case, they appear merely as ‘empty boxes’, inwhich country-specific  problematique fills up the boxes (Sartori 1976, 337). Dominantdivides are politicized by party actors and tend to become configured along theLeft/Right axis. 2 Political discourses inform us about the relevant political, societal andeconomic  problematique at a specific point in time. The emergence of parties prior tosignificant stratification of society enables us to study such discourses as independentexpressions from political actors, which, in turn, affect the development of politicalconflict. In the following, we will discuss how, in Lithuania, these boxes became filledwith value-laden – or regime-oriented – conflict, and how these have gradually beentransformed into a more classic dimension based on socio-economic issues. 3 The processalso reflects a shift from a bipolar party system with centrifugal tendencies to a moderate pluralist system with a much higher degree of coalition-potential. Patterns of politicalconflict and numbers of party splits and mergers might reveal to what extent there is asound potential for coalescent practices. However, the emergence of new parties, actorsand issue dimensions might obviously break existing patterns. Such changes have tosome extent taken place in Lithuania over the last few years. The Emergence of Bipolarity The embryo of a multiparty system in Lithuania emerged in the late 1980s, during thenational revival (  Atgimimas) and collapse of Soviet one-party rule. 4 The very first party-groups appeared under the Popular Front – or  Sąjūdis  – umbrella. While the actualnumber of organizations mushroomed, they failed to develop coherent networks acrossthe country. Only between 1990 and 1992, a period of fragmentation and increasingtensions within the Sąjūdis , did parties begin to develop coherent organizations and seek more stable electoral footholds. Cultural or value-laden politics, related to independenceand Soviet domination, stood above interest politics, and the inter-war period providedscant material for emerging cleavage structures. The political parties did not yet serve asrepresentatives of different economic and social interests.The initial core parties emerged over two brief periods. The first stage, between1989–90, took place when informal affinity groups developed into political parties.Established in June 1988, Sąjūdis was the first political movement to emerge outside theframework of the Lithuanian Communist Party ( LKP ). Sąjūdis was registered as a socialmovement in support of   perestroika, as the Soviet constitution banned any politicalorganizations other than the Soviet Communist Party. 5 Nonetheless, there were clearly  political  objectives involved in the movement, although they ranged from modest claimsfor autonomy to full independence. Other proto-parties included the Social Democrats,Christian Democrats, Nationalists’ Union, Greens, Humanitarians and Union of PoliticalPrisoners and Exiles. Some of them claimed to have roots in inter-war politics or evenearlier. They were all characterized by lack of organizational stability and ideologicalcohesion, and apart from their names there were no actual links to any pre-Soviet partiesin terms of organizational or human resources.The second wave of political parties surfaced with the dissolution of the Sąjūdis andthe fragmentation of the Supreme Council/Constitutive Assembly between 1990 and1992. The  Law on Political Parties and Political Organizations in 1990 provided legal  setting for party development. The Liberal Union ( LLS ) and the Centre Movement (theCentre Union [ LCS ] from 1993) entered the political arena at that time, although the Sąjūdis as a broad political movement remained the key platform for opposition to theSoviet regime. The overall goal of national independence and the prevalence of fairlymoderate forces within the Sąjūdis  put a lid on political polarization in the period up tothe declaration of independence in March 1990. Sąjūdis and most other politicalgroupings, including large sections of the reformed Communist Party (the LithuanianLabour Democratic Party [ LDDP ] from December 1990) endorsed the idea of nationalindependence. So did the overwhelming majority of the population, which wasconfirmed in a national plebiscite in February 1991. 6 The first free and constitutiveelections vested political powers in the Sąjūdis umbrella, which shows that theindependence question was the common denominator for electoral support at the outset.The Constitutive Assembly of 1990–92 saw rapid escalation of political animosity.S ąjūdis became increasingly radicalized, leading to political fragmentation. The value-laden political climate in the Seimas added to the polarizing and centrifugal tendenciesin the nascent party system. A certain polarization might perhaps occur in any settingsmarked by severe conflicts, but the emotional assessments of the Soviet regime penetrated nearly all political issues in Lithuania, thus making compromises between theLabour Democrats on the Left and Sąjūdis on the Right virtually impossible. Evenideologically kindred parties like the Labour Democrats and the Social Democrats keptdodging each other. Sąjūdis -leader Vytautas Landsbergis bore a clear imprint on theradicalization of politics, as he and his closest political entourage ascribed ‘communist’or ‘Moscow’ labels to a wide range of opponents on the ‘Left’ of  Sąjūdis . Theemotionally charged atmosphere also affected society profoundly. Although socio-economic interests began to crystallize, value-laden issues hindered them from affectingvoting preferences and party competition. Few other parties had sufficient organizationalcapacity or coherent party programmes, which made it difficult for them to break the patterns of conflict, set by Sąjūdis and Labour Democrats. Nevertheless, polarizationactually gave birth to smaller parties like the Liberal Union, Centre Union and others,squeezed in between the Left/Right poles as they were. But it would take several years before credible alternatives were in place. Each side of the Left/Right divide agreed onessential macro-economic choices, although they may have parted somewhat in terms of  pace and priorities. To a much larger extent than in Estonia and Latvia, the economic priorities of the main parties mirrored a leftover from Soviet times, with an emphasis onegalitarian values and an active role of the state in the economy (Lieven 1994, 269).The political climate mellowed somewhat by the time, as agreements over constitutional and electoral questions were reached. New parliamentary elections, usingnewly adopted electoral rules, were launched. The 1992 elections represented asubstantial change in the sense that political parties for the first time became the mainvehicles of electoral choice. In 1990, all parties (save a few hard-line communists)advocated similar macro-strategic objectives – independence, democracy and marketeconomy. In any event, coalition practices during the election campaign were meagre.Major parties failed to cooperate and only two right-wing parties (or party coalitions),led by the Sąjūdis and the Christian Democrats, overcame the 4 per cent electoralthreshold for representation. 7 The electoral outcome was, on the other hand, highlyfavourable for the Brazauskas-led Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party, which  astonished observers and pollsters by winning an absolute majority of parliamentaryseats and, thus, needed no coalition partner to form a government. 8   Sąjūdis lost itsleading position largely due to internal fragmentation, but also due to its focus on value-laden issues and its confrontational approach to political opponents. It graduallyalienated several actors who stood in opposition to Landsbergis. It also experienceddifficulties in transforming itself from a mass movement into a political party. The corenationalist elements within the Sąjūdis , led by Landsbergis, turned the party into theHomeland Union – Lithuanian Conservatives ( TS [ LK  ]) in May 1993. 9 Nevertheless, theensuing battlefields in the Seimas continued to focus on the same old issues. Theopposition focused their ammunition on the alleged ‘Soviet-mentality’ of the newgovernment, ‘ nomenklatura  privatization’, murky business deals and related topics.Public trust in the political class dropped accordingly. Despite their common ‘anti-communist’ position, collaboration practices were poorly developed within theopposition. No political forces outside the quadruplet of the Labour Democrats, theSocial Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Homeland Union entered the political playground. There was simply no space for new parties in the black-and-whiteworld of Lithuanian politics in the early 1990s. Besides, the organizational strength of the Labour Democrats and the Homeland Union – inherited from respectively theLithuanian Communist Party and the Sąjūdis – played an important role in preventingthe emergence of new parties. Although fragmentation remained moderate, theLithuanian party system must be classified as highly polarized in the early 1990s(  Figure 5.1 ).Although the Lithuanian president is supposed to refrain from party politics when inoffice, the political parties try to promote their preferred choices all the way up to thesecond round of voting – a practice which tends to reinforce the bipolar patterns of Lithuanian politics. In 1993 only two candidates, Labour Democrat leader AlgirdasBrazauskas and diplomat Stasys Lozoraitis, patronized by the Right, ran for the office. 10 The election campaign confirmed the same old division-line between ‘communists’ and‘anti-communists’. The centre/right threw its support in favour of Lozoraitis in order to prevent the ‘communists’ from winning. Ironically, even the leftist Social Democratssupported Mr Lozoraitis due to their perennial rivalry with the Labour Democrats. As itturned out, Mr Brazauskas won rather convincingly, with 60 per cent of the votes, thusentrenching the Labour Democrats’ grip on power.  Figure 5.1: Seats and votes of   LDDP  * and Sąjūdis/  TS  [   LK   ] combined, 1992–2000 (%) 62.239.339.772.559.942.6020406080100199219962000 Votes received via party listsSeats in the parliament * LDDP and LSDP formed an electoral alliance for the 2000 elections and formally merged into theSocial Democrats ( LSDP ) in January 2001.  Anti-communist The parliamentary elections of 1996 also bore out bipolar tendencies, although theelectoral pendulum – in terms of electoral outcome – had swung back to the Right. 11 TheHomeland Union, still led by Vytautas Landsbergis, won an absolute majority of seatsand formed a new government. 12 Although they did not actually need coalition-partners,the Christian Democrats and the Centre Union were invited to join the government. 13 The election results showed the prevalence of the old value-laden conflict, but perhaps amore important conclusion is that the electorate tended to vote against the existinggovernment. 14 Turnout plummeted drastically, and it appeared that many likely Labour Democrat voters simply abstained. Compared with the municipal election just one year  before, the combined votes received by the Labour Democrats, Social Democrats,Christian Democrats and the Homeland Union shrank from 67.1 to 55.8 per cent, whichindicates that the old conflict patterns were slowly ebbing out. Significant support for the Centre Union may also be interpreted as a sign of a new opening of the electoralmarket.With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the main bearers of bipolarity and value-laden conflict – the Labour Democrats and the Sąjūdis /Homeland Union – have lostsupport after each consecutive parliamentary election.The presidential election in December 1997 turned out to be a symptom of changes tocome. The perpetual opponents from the Left and Right, Algirdas Brazauskas andVytautas Landsbergis respectively, either did not participate at all or lost in the firstround. 15 Instead, two independent candidates attracted 72.3 per cent of the votes alreadyin the first round. 16 The atmosphere of the campaign was less tense than the rather heatedcampaigns of previous elections. The winner, American-Lithuanian Valdas Adamkus,managed to stay aloof from the old regime division. But that did not change the fact that party configuration in the Seimas stayed intact all the way up to the parliamentaryelections of 2000. Overall, the period between 1990 and 1997 disclosed meagrecoalescent behaviour among all major actors, both in terms of electoral campaigning andcooperation in parliament. The Homeland Union and the Christian Democrats wereinclined to collaborate, but – as before – essentially on the basis of ‘anti-communism’.Moreover, party mergers were absent and, with the small exception of the Centre Union,no new parties emerged. The four main parties – the Labour Democrats, SocialDemocrats, Christian Democrats and the Homeland Union – received on the average 69 per cent of the votes between 1992 and 1997. Although party system fragmentationremained fairly moderate, the nature of party competition was decidedly centripetal. 17  Figure 5.2: Distribution of relevant political parties along the value-laden/ideological dimension, 1990–1998 18   To sum up thus far, the bipolar structure of the Lithuanian party competition Communist LDDPLCJ/LCSLKDPSąjūdis/TS[LK]LVPLSDP
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