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Politics in Lithuania: Introduction

Lithuania is a democratic country since 1990. Its directly elected president may be its best known and most popular politician, but the real power is vested in Seimas (parliament) and the government. Lithuania is a unitary country, its municipalities controlling only minor local affairs.

Ideologically Lithuania is divided along several lines: leftist vs. rightist economic viewpoints; pro-Western vs. pro-Local vs. pro-Eastern value systems; authoritarian vs. libertarian opinions about personal freedoms. Moreover, a significant part of locals proudly lacks an opinion on these matters and claims to be "apolitical".

Lithuanian political parties range from "ideological" ones contesting every election (the Homeland Union, Socialdemocrats, Liberals) to sometimes ephemeral "personal" ones created, merged and folded at will by famous star politicians whose names become eponymous to such parties.

Lithuanian foreign policy aims to integrate with Western Europe into a tight European Union and keep friendly relations with USA (the "leader of NATO"). Much of this is to repulse Russia, seen as a threat because of the occupations and Genocide it perpetrated. Lithuania also seeks to consolidate Central and Eastern Europe, help the region (and itself) become completely independent of Russia and more Western-oriented. Lithuanian military is aimed to help Western allies in their battles elsewhere to secure their help should Lithuania be attacked.

Lithuanian law is largely modeled after that of continental Central Europe, although it differs on some key matters.

The tax system in Lithuania is characterized by a relatively high tax burden, especially labor taxes.

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Political system of Lithuania

According to the explanation by its constitutional court, Lithuania is a democratic parliamentary republic with elements of a semi-presidential republic. This means the parliament “Seimas” is the most powerful institution and the government is selected by the parliament. Seimas is elected by two different systems: 70 seats elected by proportional representation akin to the Italian system and the remaining 71 are elected in separate constituencies similarly to the British or US parliament.

The president (directly elected) is always a moral authority and his or her popularity almost never drops below 50% whoever he or she would be. Perhaps this is so because the president has little real power so any shortcomings could be easily blamed on the government or the parliament (these two institutions are always unpopular, whichever party would be in power).

60 municipalities (population 4000 to 550000) are Lithuania's primary administrative divisions; their directly-elected councils and mayors are responsible for local affairs. Lithuania is not a federation, however, so municipal powers are limited.

All other institutions (among them whole judiciary) are appointed rather than elected. Referendums are rare.

Since 2004, European Union has been able to legislate in Lithuania over more and more issues, effectively taking a part of sovereignty away from Lithuania. Lithuania is represented by its delegates in various EU institutions, including the EU Parliament, however, it has little influence there compared to the larger countries.

A scheme of how Lithuanian institutions are elected / appointed:

This scheme shows how the key Lithuanian institutions are elected / appointed. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Political parties in Lithuania

Two major parties dominate the Lithuanian political landscape since independence: the leftist Lithuanian Socialdemocratic Party, which is a mix of former communists and non-communist socialdemocrats, and the Homeland Union, a centrist conservative force descending mostly from the Sąjūdis opposition movement against the Soviet Union. These two parties always retain representation in Seimas and most of the 60 municipalities. Each of them receives between 10% and 30% of the national vote.

Since the early 2000s, Liberals established themselves as the third force. Characterized by laissez-faire market approach the Liberal parties gain 10% to 15% of votes, but their support is limited to main cities.

These political blocks are known as the "conventional parties", with the fragmented nationalists (supported by ~2%) also among them.

The "conventional parties", however, together receive only some 55% of the votes. The remainder of the political arena is largely filled by smaller and constantly changing political blocks, each of them centered around some particular politician or a famous person. Currently the most popular among these are Order and Justice, led by impeached president Rolandas Paksas, the Labour party, led by a Russian businessman Viktor Uspaskich and the Peasants/Greens, led by a millionaire farmer Ramūnas Karbauskis.

When people vote for these “personal parties” they usually have the leaders in mind rather than the ideology. Therefore when the popularity of these leaders plummets whole such parties fail to reach the necessary 5% thresholds, become insignificant and eventually dissolve. This is what happened to the Artūras Paulauskas’s New Union, Viktoras Muntianas’s Citizen Democratic Party and Arūnas Valinskas’s National Renaissance Party. Some of these political blocks live for up to 10 years, others do well only in single elections and loose popularity soon afterward.

The division of conventional vs. personal parties is at least as deep-rooted in Lithuania as either left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative. Supporters of conventional parties regard their opponents to be populists and lacking common views while the personal party proponents see the conventional parties as some faceless machines of corruption.

On the fringe of political landscape, there are a few radical parties, such as the far left communist Frontas. Unlike in the Western Europe, however, in Lithuania these are not popular and are almost never elected, gaining a few seats at a couple of municipalities at best.

Additionally, there are Russian and Polish ethnic parties. While the Russian parties are not very popular, the Lithuanian Poles’ Electoral Action dominates in the municipalities of southeastern Lithuania where the majority of inhabitants are Polish-speaking. It gets 3% to 7% vote nationwide.

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Foreign Relations of Lithuania

The foreign relations of Lithuania since the restoration of independence may be summed up in a sentence: “To leave the East and to (re)join the West”. However, the true situation is somewhat more complicated and not as stable.

In the early 1990s, Lithuania passionately broke ties with the former Soviet regime. It eagerly adopted capitalism and one of the few successful referendums ever (due to very strict referendum laws) requested Russia to compensate damages of the occupation. With the rise of Vladimir Putin in Russia (1999) the aims of restoring justice stalled as Russia failed to try the Soviet war criminals who murdered Lithuanians, attempted to whitewash the Soviet Genocide and refused to compensate its victims.

Initially summed up by the neologism “Euroatlantic integration” the Lithuania’s alignment to the west divulged into pro-European and pro-US stances as the agendas of the former Cold War allies separated. Under former US citizen president Valdas Adamkus (1998-2009) Lithuania was staunchly pro-American but later drifted to a more and more pro-European stance.

Plaques on Vilnius City Hall mark the city's World Heritage status (2002) and cites G. W. Bush speech he said to a crowd here during his 2002 visit to a pro-American Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian relations with the neighbors varies. While cordial with Latvia and Estonia, the Lithuanian-Polish relations are frequently marred by the issues of Polish minority in Lithuania and the Lithuanian minority in Poland. Despite this, Poland remains a close ally of Lithuania, unlike Belarus. Lithuania harbors emigrant opposition against the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, popularly known in Lithuania as the “Last dictator of Europe”. Belarus, similarly to Russia and Israel, has failed to try the people who participated in the Soviet Genocide of Lithuanians.

Under president V. Adamkus Lithuania supported the pro-democracy rallies in post-Soviet countries like Georgia and Ukraine. Remarkable relations with Georgia were developed and Lithuania positioned itself as the bridge between the Europe's East and West. Under the president Grybauskaitė (2009) this was initially supplanted by a so-called “pragmatic policy” that evaluated other countries by their economic importance rather than democracy record. The hopes that this would improve economy were left unfulfilled. Not surprising, knowing that Lithuania’s GNP per capita surpasses that of every single pro-Russian post-Soviet country, in some cases by 500%. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Lithuania re-adopted a policy more critical of Russia.

Būtingė oil terminal, one of several massive Lithuanian projects to ensure the energetic independence. Before the terminal was built, the only way for Lithuania to acquire oil was via a pipe from Russia, that would have been regularly shut by the Russians for political reasons. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Regardless of political leanings, most politicians support the goal of "energetic independence", which means costly projects to connect Lithuanian gas, power and other networks to Western Europe. For decades, many networks were integrated into the ex-Soviet system, making Russia a nearly-monopolist supplier able to sell at above-market rates as a form of political pressure.

Relations with other countries than named here are negligible, but Lithuania maintains embassies in Japan, Egypt, South Africa and the People’s Republic of China for economic ties.

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Law of Lithuania

Lithuania has a Roman legal system based on laws. Legal precedents are subordinate to laws but also recognized. Laws are drafted and adopted by the Parliament. Other institutions (including municipalities) may adopt bylaws which could not contradict the laws.

Laws of Lithuania

Nearly every law and bylaw in Lithuania has been adopted post-1990 as the country completely reversed its course after dropping the Soviet shackles. Much of the legal system has been modeled on various long-standing laws of Western European countries as the pre-occupation (1940) Lithuanian laws were deemed too dated to reinstate.

The Constitution has been adopted by referendum in 1992.

There is no single Lithuanian Code in a way there is a US Code. Instead, there are multiple codes for different spheres of law, the most important of them are the Civil Code (includes commercial law), Criminal Code, Civil Procedure Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Administrative Penalties Code and the Labour Code.

There are also many shorter laws that govern particular areas which are not covered by the Codes. For example, in the intellectual property sphere, there are separate laws for patents, trademarks, copyright/related rights, plant breeds, topographies, and designs.

Sometimes the same issues are governed by several laws in which case the least abstract one typically holds precedence.

After Lithuania joined European Union (2004) it has to adopt certain European Union-wide measures. These are set in the EU treaties (which are applicable directly), EU directives (which must be incorporated into Lithuanian laws to become fully applicable) and EU regulations (applicable directly). If the EU measures conflict with Lithuanian laws typically the EU measures apply.

Lithuanian judicial system

In Lithuania, there are two systems of courts.

Criminal and civil cases are heard by the Common courts of which there are three instances. 49 district (apylinkės) courts are the first instance for minor cases. The district court decisions may be appealed to five county (apygardos) courts which also serve as the courts of first instance for major cases. These major cases may then be appealed to the single Appellate Court (Apeliacinis teismas). And finally, there is the Supreme Court (Aukščiausiasis teismas) which is the third (cassation) instance for all cases.

The second court system is that of Administrative courts (administracinis teismas) which solve disputes against administrative (usually governmental/municipal) institutions. There are two instances: regional administrative courts and the Highest Administrative court (Vyriausiasis administracinis teismas) the later hosting appeals.

The Constitution is safeguarded by Constitutional court the decisions of which are largely political and have been criticized for limiting democracy when popular opinion oppose that of the establishment. Whenever some court or other major institution thinks a law might be in breach of Constitution it applies to the Constitutional Court for an answer.

In a similar fashion, European Court of Justice in Luxembourg may be addressed to explain the European Union law.

In addition to courts, there are prejudicial institutions which are in some cases voluntary, in others a required step in dispute resolution.

The litigation time in Lithuania largely depends on the case and varies greatly. Arbitrage may be stipulated in contracts but it is not popular even in business spheres.

See also: Lithuanian laws on major issues, Lithuanian ethics, virtues, and morale

LithuaniaLaw.com is an English website on Lithuanian law.

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Lithuanian Laws on Major Issues

These are the stances of Lithuanian law on the legal issues that divide the world:

Drugs, alcohol, and food

Recreational drugs are illegal (and this is enforced).
Alcohol is legal. However, one is not allowed to drink it in public, except for bars/restaurants.
Minimal legal age for buying alcohol is 20.
Minimal legal age for buying cigarettes is 18.
Smoking is banned in public building interiors (including restaurants, cafes) and public transport.
Pork is legal.

Sexual and marriage matters

Prostitution is illegal.
Pornography is illegal.
Homosexual relations are legal.
Age of consent is 14 (any sex under that is statutory rape), but 16 if the partner is over 18.
Marriage is between a single husband and a single wife, both at least 18 years old (but this age may be lowered to 16 by a court of law).
Divorce is allowed.

Guns and national defense

Guns are legal to own for self-defense, but only non-automatic (i.e. pistols), only for concealed carry and a local permit is needed (getting one involves having a safe, passing psychological and physical evaluations).
Conscription is practiced.


Gambling is legal although the types permitted are limited.
Legal age for gambling is 21.
Lotteries are legal but have charity obligations.

Killing and punishments

Euthanasia is illegal (albeit punished less than some other types of murder).
Abortion is legal (but limited for older babies).
Capital punishment is not practiced.
Caning is not practiced.
Torturing is banned.
Corporal punishment of children is banned.

Freedoms of religion, language, speech, etc.

Practicing any religion is free (both in private and in public), and this includes wearing any religious clothing.
Official language is Lithuanian. Other languages are permitted broadly in minority institutions (including as medium of instruction at schools) and signage for tourists (but not for official signs, e.g. town and street names).
Freedom of speech is generally respected, but voicing negative opinions on certain groups may lead to accusations of "promoting hatred" (which is a crime). Gross disrespect to the national flag, coat of arms, anthem and the European Union flag is also a crime. Communist and Nationalsocialist symbols and the denial of their 20th-century crimes are banned.

Political rights

Political system is democratic, but the Communist and Nationalsocialist parties are not permitted to be established.
Requirements to exercise political rights are at least 18 years old to vote, at least 21 to be elected to a municipality council, at least 25 to be elected to parliament, 40 to 80 to be elected president. There are no gender, ethnic, religious, property or other requirements. Only citizens could vote in all elections save for municipality councils.
Voting is not mandatory.
Referendums are severely restricted (300 000 people must call for one (~13% of total voters) for it to be held, 50%+ turnout is then required for the referendum to be recognized, in some cases 50%+ of total voters voting "YES" are required for the proposition to pass, and referendum is not permitted to question transfers of sovereignty to the European Union).

Labor, business rights, and social benefits

Private enterprise is legal as long as one pays taxes. Some forms of business require a license.
Labor strikes are permitted.
Lockouts are illegal.
Discrimination (sexual, racial, ethnic, religious, social, etc.) is banned (so-called "positive discrimination" is not practiced either). A few forms of gender discrimination against men are sanctioned, however: for instance, men have to work until a longer age than women before they are entitled to social benefits.
Free (taxpayer-funded) education is available to every Lithuanian citizen until the age of ~18 (i.e. before university) but only to the better half of students afterward.
Free (taxpayer-funded) healthcare is available to nearly every Lithuanian citizen for the more serious diseases and health checks.

Citizenship (Nationality)

Citizenship (Nationality) is acquired by ius sanguini (if at least one parent is a Lithuanian citizen) or by naturalization (10 years of legal residence and a language/culture exam). Furthermore, the members of Lithuanian diaspora are permitted to "restore [forefather's] citizenship" or gain citizenship on a simplified process.
Dual citizenship (nationality) is not permitted save for a few special cases (e.g. people who fled Lithuania avoiding the Soviet Russian or German Nationalsocialist genocides).

Intellectual property

Software patents are not available.
Copyright lasts throughout the author's life and 70 years after his/her death.

Traffic rules

Speed limits are 50 km/h (urban), 70 km/h (dirt/gravel roads), 90 km/h (most roads), 110/120 km/h (lower class motorways, winter/summer), 110/130 km/h (upper class motorways, winter/summer).
Car lights must be on day and night.
Maximum alcohol quotient is 0,04% for car drivers, 0% for bus, truck, motorcycle drivers and those having a license for under 2 years.
Driver's license may be acquired at 18 for most cars (16 for micro-cars and 20-23 for various buses and trucks).

See also the articles on Lithuanian visa, Lithuanian legal system, Taxes in Lithuania.

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Taxes in Lithuania

29% of GNP are redistributed in Lithuania through taxes (European Union average is 38%). While there are many different taxes in Lithuania only a few behemoth taxes brings in the state the most income.

Some 2/5 of Lithuania's state budget is collected as Value Added Tax. The rate is 21% and whenever you buy something in Lithuania this is added to the price (there is a mechanism of VAT return if the same thing is resold several times so that VAT is typically paid only once).

1/5 of the national budget is collected in personal income tax. This is deceiving however as much of income taxation goes to other budgets (municipal and social), some of it even formally considered to be other taxes. The true burden is big: every employer has to pay the state almost as much money as it pays the employees (i.e. 40%-50% actual income tax). While nominally a flat rate the income tax is actually progressive as the untaxed portion gradually decreases as the salary increases.

Company income tax (known as Profit tax) is 15%, with additional 20% on most dividends paid to natural persons (meaning 33% effective tax rate on dividends).

Excise duties make the third largest income for the state (1/5). Fuels, electricity, tobacco, and alcohol are additionally taxed this way. The European Union typically requires high excise duties so Lithuania was forced to increase them. For this reason, car fuel in Lithuania is nearly double as expensive as in the USA where there is no excise.

The Real Estate tax is paid only by companies and owners of real estate deemed expensive (0,3% to 3% of value annually). Land tax is paid by every owner(0,01%-4%). Municipalities decide the actual percentage but the "value" here is the official value which may be lower than the market value. There are no other property taxes.

There is no inheritance tax for the close-of-kin.

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Political ideas

"Leftist" and "Rightist" concepts in Lithuania are limited to economic policies. Leftists prefer economic equality whereas rightists choose economic freedom.

The relation between leftist/rightist economic policies and preference of some social policies does not exist in Lithuania. Social value systems common among Lithuanians may be roughly divided into "pro-Western", "pro-Local" and "pro-Eastern" groupings.

Additionally, Lithuanian public life has its authoritarian/libertarian, political/apolitical, pro-establishment and anti-establishment poles.

Economic policies: Left vs. Right

The left seeks to increase taxes, public welfare payouts, and economic regulations, while the right seeks to curb them all.

The Left has a certain image problem because of the Soviet past. Leftist economic ideas have been largely discredited by the ineffective Soviet policies whereby limitations of merit-based income meant decreased initiative to work well and peer-tolerated stealing and destroying of public property. This led the majority of Soviet people to live less well-off than the poorest classes of the West. Still, the elderly and village dwellers tend to like leftist ideas more as they had fewer gains from the post-independence economic boom. A non-numerous leftist youth has been keen to reinvent itself by distancing from the Soviet past and drawing inspiration from Scandinavia instead. However, Western-style "leftist youth protest" is unpopular, as for decades most of the protest in Lithuania has been precisely against the left. The main leftist parties are Socialdemocrats and Peasants/Greens.

The Right ideas are more popular among the youth, the educated, and the city-dwellers. They believe that economic freedom offers effectiveness as people have more initiative to work well and the economy grows. Many of the rightists had bad experiences with the public sector (corruption, bureaucracy, disrespect) and thus believe in smaller government. The main rightist parties are the Liberal Union and the Freedom Party.

Many key politicians do not delve too deep into the left or the right, however. The entire Homeland Union political party tends to stay close to the center.

Value systems: Western, Local, and Eastern

One of the most fervent divisions of Lithuanian (and Central European) political thought is into three value systems, each of them comprising ideas on global alignment, beliefs, and inspirations.

Supporters of each value system regard the other two with suspicion. All three groups are mostly moderate, but also each has radicals who argue for limiting the freedom of speech of the opposing groups. Each value system has both rightists and leftists in it.

Pro-Western thinkers seek to transplant Western European political, economic, and "human rights" ideas to Lithuania, putting a heavy emphasis on Western-style "political correctness". They believe in a European Union federation or even a single European nation, therefore promoting inter-European migration. They see contemporary Western values, lifestyles, and much else to be superior to the "outdated" Lithuanian and Eastern European ones. They promote English and (to a lesser extent) other Western languages. Supported politically by Liberals, a part of the Homeland Union, and a part of Socialdemocrats. Freedom Party is its radical wing. After the 2000s, Pro-Westerns are the dominant force in Lithuanian politics.

A poster promoting the 'Day against homophobia and transphobia' in Vilnius. Combatting these (and other things that are seen as major menaces in the Western societies) is a major goal among pro-Westerns. As the information at the bottom of the poster reveals, it has been funded by the EU and Norway. The EU institutions tend to disproportionately support pro-Western causes, leading to the programs that further these causes being the wealthiest and most visible even when they lack a popular support. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Pro-Local thinkers gain inspiration in the local history, traditions, language(s), religion(s), nature, folk art. They promote sovereignty (i.e. "decisions that affect Lithuanian life should be made in Lithuania") and closer cooperation between Central European states. They discourage economic migration. They denounce the "transplanting" of values from either Russia or Western Europe, believing that each nation should choose its way. This thought is represented by a declining part of the Homeland Union, Peasants/Greens, National Alliance, and Nationalists. Nationaldemocrats (disestablished in 2009 but still organizing minor protests) used to be its radical wing. Pro-Locals used to be somewhat powerful in the 1990s and did much of the heavy lifting for independence but were slowly sidelined since.

Grassroots independence day parades are organized by the pro-Local thinkers. During them, chants such as '[Lithuania belongs] neither to the East nor to the West! Lithuania belongs to its children!' resound. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Pro-Eastern thinkers regard Russian culture, traditions, and art especially positively. Because of the 1940-1953 Soviet genocide, truly pro-Soviet thoughts (i.e. "The Soviet Union liberated Lithuania" and similar) are largely limited to the once-privileged ethnic minorities (Russians, Russophones). However, moderate pro-Eastern thoughts are more common (for example: "Russian culture is in many ways superior to both Western and Lithuanian ones"). Pro-Eastern thinkers promote the Russian language, a "pragmatic policy" of better relations with Russia and her allies (disregarding their bloody past and present). Independence (1990) temporarily stroke off the pro-Eastern thoughts out of the political sphere; they made a comeback ~1995-2010 but lost influence once again after the Russian war in Ukraine. Until 2010s-2020s, pro-Easterns were supported by parts of the Socialdemocrats and had their own parties such as the People's Party or the radical Socialist People's Front but with the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine pro-Eastern thought has been largely pushed further into fringes.

Some values are shared between the groupings:
*Both Pro-Westerns and Pro-Locals support environmentalism and heritage protection.
*Both Pro-Easterns and Pro-Westerns tend to be critical of religion.
*Both Pro-Locals and Pro-Easterns put an emphasis on family values.

Minority nationalism is sometimes hard to classify along the above lines. Polish nationalism goes partly in line with Pro-Local thought, partly in line with Pro-Eastern and is unique otherwise. Russian nationalism goes largely in line with the Pro-Eastern thought, while Jewish nationalism goes in line with Pro-Western and Pro-Eastern thoughts.

Politicians and parties that are either minority nationalist or pro-Eastern, such as the People‘s Party, often write their advertisements in three languages: Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Freedom systems: Authoritarian vs. Libertarian

Spending 50 years under totalitarian occupation made nearly all Lithuanian intellectuals yearn for freedom, leading to especially libertarian 1990s. At the time there was no censorship, "political correctness" and definitely no possibility to lose one's job, scholarship, or child custody due to personal opinions or values, however weird or radical those would seem to peers. In that era, only direct harm would be punished by both law and superiors.

As Lithuania joined the European Union, personal freedoms became somewhat curbed. The "thought crimes" of "supporting hatred", "genocide denial", "using totalitarian symbols", and "disrespecting terrorism victims" were established and expanded and there were even calls to try authors for "radical" 1990s songs. Some parenting practices were banned, whereas the Constitutional Court limited referendum rights. These authoritarian limitations are mostly pro-Western, targeting the other two value systems. They are opposed by both libertarians and non-pro-Western authoritarians. Such authoritarian limitations increased further during the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The latter had instilled a fear of the possibility of Russia-funded anti-Lithuanian activities within Lithuania, leading to public campaigns to identify and preclude such dangers.

Despite the changes, Lithuania still trumps both Russia and Western Europe in personal freedoms.

Both libertarianism and authoritarianism get vocal support from across generations. Many signatories of the Lithuanian declaration of independence are or were vocal libertarians.

Political participation: political vs. apolitical

Merely some 50% of Lithuanians participate in elections and much of the remainder consider themselves "apolitical". Likely disillusioned by decades of violent totalitarian occupations, slower-than-expected post-independence corruption decline / economic growth, and the perceived consensus of major political parties on key issues, the "apoliticals" tend to believe that their participation would change nothing save for giving more moral ground to politicians of dubious morals. They may say "I am apolitical" with pride.

Their "political" opponents typically blame such "mass apoliticism" to be among the roots of the problems that cause disillusionment with Lithuanian politics, to begin with.

Even those who argue for participation in politics, however, often refuse to associate themselves with particular parties or politicians. Before the 2010s, US-style endorsements have been nearly non-existent in Lithuania, with famous people (who are not politicians) very rarely telling who they voted for. It became somewhat more common with the social media but to many it still seems impolite to talk about politics anywhere but on TV debates. Furthermore, because the Lithuanian political landscape is shifting rapidly and some key politicians and parties turn out to be corrupt, pledging allegiance to one of them brings a risk of becoming laughing material after a few years.

Mass apoliticism also means that real anti-government movements are small in Lithuania: those disillusioned by politics tend to stay out of it completely, including serious anti-government activities. Compared to many other countries, Lithuania tends to have much smaller demonstrations, fewer strikes, and no extreme forms of anti-government activities (such as agitation for coups, separatism, or terrorism).

A protest against a new construction in the protected Vilnius Old Town. Participants of such demonstrations are usually quite few in numbers, however, and Lithuania tends to lack protests that involve thousands. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Trust in politicians: personal vs. ideological

To many Lithuanians "star politicians" are more important than the parties or ideologies they represent. Such politicians tend to switch parties frequently, bringing almost the entire electorate of the previous party with them. Their personal appeal and non-political actions often contribute more to their popularity than their political ideas do. Those who base their vote on ideology tend to denounce such "star politicians" as populists.

Lithuanian political parties thus may be divided into "ideological" (grouped around an ideology and having multiple good leaders) and "personal" (grouped around their popular "star politician" leader and likely having members of multiple ideologies).

Star-politician Rolandas Paksas flies under a bridge during his presidential election campaign. People often vote for star-politicians based on their presumed qualities that are not actually political, making the use of other talents useful for them.

Star-politician Rolandas Paksas flies under a bridge during his presidential election campaign. Lithuanians who have personal rather than ideological loyalties often pick their politicians based on their presumed qualities that are not actually political, making the use of other talents useful for campaigning.

Belief in the system: pro-establishment vs. anti-establishment

Despite all the ideological differences at the grassroots level, the key Lithuanian politicians and parties tend to decide similarly, moving the country in a certain long-term direction. Key long-term ideological disputes amidst parliamentary parties are almost non-existent. While it is common for the opposition to criticize the government for its "unpopular decisions" that way trying to gain popularity before the next elections, if such elections propel the former opposition into power, most often it continues following the same political path as the previous government with some minor token differences.

Such a situation gave rise to the so-called "anti-establishment" scene that has no belief in "the system" altogether. They believe that "the system" effectively sidelines any person who has any different views and is ready to stand by them, therefore making the political scene eternally dominated by the same "pro-Western and slightly leftist" figures. A common saying in the camp is that "There is just a single party in Lithuania - the Government Party".

The term "anti-establishment" has been applied to various figures and causes since the 2000s and was typically used synonymously with "strongly pro-Eastern", "pro-Local", "personal trust in politicians" or similar ideological beliefs.

However, the phenomenon gained importance on its own in the 2020s due to the COVID restrictions and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On the one hand, the Russian menace made many people critical of various political trends in Lithuania not to voice their opposition anymore and even chastise those who "oppose the government". That's because they see such political criticism as weakening the Lithuanian state and increasing the Russian danger (and, whatever downsides could current Lithuania have, a Russian-ruled or Russian-influenced Lithuania would be infinitely worse). To them, outward unity is far more important than the passing of some laws they disagree with. They may thus try to chastise even legitimate criticism of the government.

On the other hand, certain highly controversial and scientifically unsound measures in combatting the COVID pandemic (e.g. hard lockdowns or the ostracism of the unvaccinated) pushed some otherwise pro-establishment or apolitical figures into the anti-establishment sphere (this included numerous famous sportsmen, TV figures and the like). Once their trust in the system was completely demolished, they typically began to doubt even the facts that are well proven. While no anti-establishment figure is influential in politics, they have a huge following in social media and alternative media, where genuine criticism of the "establishment" is often intermixed with various fringe theories. Since the 2020s, censorship, cancel culture and other reasons preclude anti-establishment figures from appearing in mainstream media or within the major political parties. Unlike the pro-establishment camp, the anti-establishment camp has varying ideologies, precluding it from unifying, and allowing its opponents to attempt discrediting the entire camp by associating even the moderate anti-establishment figures with radical conspiracy theorists who "go to the same protests".

As such, pro-establishment and anti-establishment became positions of their own. In Lithuania, a person can have beliefs very different from those promoted by the government and yet be pro-establishment, never voicing his opinions vocally beyond the circle of his friends and seeing anybody who is not outwardly pro-establishment as "playing into Russian hands". In theory, a person can also have political beliefs quite similar to those promoted by the government and yet be anti-establishment due to the perceived injustices and discriminations - however, due to the detrimental effects of an anti-establishment stance, that is less common.

It should be noted that anti-establishment in Lithuania is an opinion rather than a level of militancy. No anti-establishment groups in Lithuania resort to violence, terrorism, or similar actions.

History of Lithuanian political ideas

The current system of political ideologies largely dates to the 1990s, when the independent Lithuanian state gained ground.

During the Soviet occupation (1940-1990), the division of the society was much simpler: the anti-Soviet pro-freedom majority and the collaborating minority which largely consisted of ethnic non-Lithuanians who were fewer in numbers but had the entire Soviet machine behind them. As any vocal opposition to the regime was persecuted, many anti-Soviets tended to hide their beliefs (until the 1980s). Still, they clandestinely supported various non-Soviet institutions and these institutions generally worked together even when seemingly having incompatible beliefs (so, e.g., even non-believers used to support the Catholic church, which was regarded as a powerful anti-Soviet institution; the uniting common anti-Soviet stance was seen as more important than religious differences). After independence, much of the pro-Soviet minority emigrated to Russia while the rest was largely sidelined. However, controversially, some of those who did nothing to support the Lithuanian independence until it happened, remained powerful, often aligning with either pro-Eastern or pro-Western ideologies. Those who were the most vocal freedom supporters under the Soviet occupation are now usually pro-Locals.

Before the Soviet occupation, in the early 20th century, Lithuania and Lithuanians abroad were divided into three political groupings, each of them with their parties, youth organizations, newspapers, and more. They were much more visible than any ideological groupings are today. These groups were the leftists, the nationalists (tautininkai), and the religious. After the Soviet occupation, however, all three groups essentially came together against a common enemy (Soviet Union), with the exception of a few radical leftists who became pro-Soviet. Therefore, most of the interwar ideological differences dissipated after the Soviet occupation, although in the pre-Soviet-originated Lithuanian diaspora abroad these divisions survived until the 2000s to some extent.

In the late 19th century, during the Lithuanian national revival the key ideological division was into the "pro-Lithuanian" (called "Litho-maniacs" by their opponents) and "pro-Polish" ("Polo-maniacs") groupings. At the time, many Lithuanians, especially the elite, spoke Polish natively (or were natively bilingual) due to the long period of Polish cultural dominance in the 16th-19th centuries. The "pro-Lithuanians" sought to encourage speaking and writing in Lithuanian, while "pro-Polish" saw Lithuanian to be a "peasant language of the uncultured" and preferred a wide use of Polish, abandoning Lithuanian to history. Eventually, "pro-Lithuanians" prevailed, whereas many "pro-Polish Lithuanians" began considering themselves to be Poles rather than Lithuanians.

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Key politicians of Lithuania

This alphabetic list of best-known Lithuanian politicians provides both reasons why some people admire a particular politician and reasons why others dislike them. Only the most important politicians are listed (party leaders and holders of major posts) and only the best-known achievements and controversies mentioned.

Names colored by party: Socialdemocrats, Homeland Union, Liberal Movement, Labour, Order and Justice, Smaller parties Non-partisan.

Top Lithuanian politicians.

Valdas Adamkus [ex-President] may be too old to stay in top-level politics, but his opinion is always valued by people and media alike. A Lithuanian-American environmentalist who broke the Guinness World Record as somebody who lived the least in the country before becoming its head of state, Adamkus may also hold unofficial Lithuanian record for the time he managed to keep opinion polls about him all-positive.

Vytenis Andriukaitis [Eurocommissioner]. Among the few key older generations Socialdemocrats who weren't members of Communist Party, Andriukaitis regularly serves in "electoral frontlines". However, he had his reputation damaged in several scandals, one involving a bribe. Andriukaitis's actions as Eurocomissioner in allegedly promoting Russian interests at the expense of Lithuanian food industry made opponents to question his loyalties.

Stanislovas Buškevičius [Deputy mayor of Kaunas]. A political promoter of Straight Edge-styled policies (anti-alcohol, pro-healthy lifestyle), Buškevičius had been prominent in the 1990s. Over the time his popularity eroded and his "Young Lithuania" party remained a local phenomenon of Kaunas city.

Audrius Butkevičius [Prime Minister] may lack charisma and change opinions frequently (usually after talking to other key politicians), but this has allowed him to avoid controversies and gain few genuine haters.

Irena Degutienė [MP, ex-Speaker], appointed as Speaker during the global economic downturn, she had a personality needed to tone down major controversies. She kept high popularity even when her party was despised by the majority. However, this means there are little key decisions or proposals actually attributed to her.

Vytautas Gapšys [Deputy Speaker], the second-in-command of the Labour party, is responsible for many fiery critical speeches in parliament. Charismatic to some, populist to others he likely raised the Labour Party's popularity among younger voters (himself born in 1982 Gapšys is young as a major politician). Gapšys has been tried together with Viktor Uspaskich.

Eugenijus Gentvilas [MP]. Among the leaders of Liberal Movement hailing from Klaipėda (where the party is immensely popular) Gentvilas is the former director of Klaipėda port. He promotes laissez-faire ideas.

Loreta Graužinienė [Speaker] represents the position of Labour party in the most important places where Viktor Uspaskich himself could not. She tends to be little-evaluated as a politician on her own, but this also lets her stay out of controversies, making her approvable to political opponents for key posts such as the Speaker where a wider compromise is needed.

Petras Gražulis [MP] served as a human rights advocate and a political prisoner under the Soviet Union occupation. After Soviet breakup, he continued campaigning for oppressed nations elsewhere (e.g. Chechnya). However, he became disillusioned with the popular ideals of modern Western "rights activism", such as LGBT (which he considers to be unnecessary and drawing the attention away from more serious issues). Gražulis is also known for tongue-in-cheek campaigns that effectively established him as an icon (and meme-topic).

Dalia Grybauskaitė [President]. Both loved and criticized for her "personal-emotional approach" to politics, Grybauskaitė garners support from both centre-left and centre-right, leading to best-ever results in presidential elections. She dislikes talking about her past or private life. Numerous researchers took the mission of filling those "holes of knowledge": some of the details of their works are merely juicy (e.g. sexual orientation), yet others explain her and her parents' collaboration with the Soviet regime, stirring controversy. Grybauskaitė is staunchly pro-European; she abandoned her initial "pro-Russian / anti-US" policies after they failed to bring positive answers from Russia.

Ramūnas Karbauskis [Peasant/Green party]. Himself a millionaire farmer, Karbauskis is known for his attempts to change the image of Lithuanian village which is now arguably that of a "poor land of old uneducated drunkards". He sponsored village-themed TV series, musical festival and other ideas. He promotes ethnic culture, including classical farming, the memory of paganism, regional dialects, and a form of environmentalism that favors pristine agricultural landscape. While Karbauskis is both the face and true leader of his Peasant/Green party, he generally prefers staying with his lucrative farms rather than entering top-level politics directly.

Gediminas Kirkilas [Deputy Speaker, ex-Prime Minister] served the final Prime Minister before 2009 crisis of Lithuania. His tenure is emotionally remembered by some as a "final good time before the bust". Others argue that the bust wouldn't have shook Lithuania so violently if not for the heavy spending and taking loans under Kirkilas. Kirkilas's denial of the financial downturn even after it started later became joked about. These events likely caused Socialdemocrats to appoint Audrius Butkevičius as Prime Minister (instead of Kirkilas) after they regained the parliamentary majority.

Andrius Kubilius [Leader of the opposition, ex-Prime Minister]. His tenure as prime minister during the 2009 Financial downturn earned him many local enemies as his name became associated with worsening economic conditions. However, he became prime minister at the beginning of "crisis" and much of the problems were actually left by the previous government and couldn't have been solved quickly; that's why people more knowledgeable in economics (including foreign specialists) tend to view Kubilius in a more positive light. While widely considered a rightist, Kubilius also promoted leftist policies such as introducing real estate tax on expensive properties.

Andrius Kupčinskas [Mayor of Kaunas]. A graduate of political science, he successfully climbed the career ladder to become the mayor of the second-largest city at an age of 32. This is not that common in Lithuania where many top politicians "jumped" from other sectors of society, bringing their popularity with them. Kupčinskas's professional tenure strengthened the Homeland Union locally, although some residents may prefer seeing more improvements in the city as it continues to slide behind Vilnius.

Vytautas Landsbergis [ex-Speaker], "Patriarch of independence", is now retired, but media still seeks his interviews and Homeland Union uses his image in elections. Few politicians in Lithuania have opinions about them divided so much. Landsbergis's ideas may have molded the modern Lithuania as he led the Sąjūdis pro-independence movement and then defining Lithuania's goals for ever-increasing European Union integration even if that meant going against some Sąjūdis-era allies (see Romualdas Ozolas). Landsbergis receives most of the criticism for his handling of the early post-independence economy, although it is disputed how much of the period's troubles could have been avoided. Being among the top critics of Russian/Soviet imperialism Landsbergis is also unpopular among Russians.

Romualdas Ozolas [Center party] is an ethnic Latvian philosopher Signatory of Lithuanian declaration of independence. He is part of a band of Signatories who, initially staunchly pro-Western, eventually grew disillusioned by the modern West and "unnecessary" further European integration, supporting more sovereignty instead. However, as Landsbergis's integrationist line prevailed among Lithuanian establishment, Ozolas was sidelined from top politics, his party now effectively reduced to regional importance.

Rolandas Paksas [MEP, ex-President], (in)famous as the first European head of state to be successfully impeached (in 2004) he remained a strong "alternative" in Lithuanian politics, claiming that he was dislodged by a political conspiracy. Emphatic Paksas's resignation as prime minister protesting key political decisions gained him a reputation of somebody daring to "act against the corrupt mainstream" among his supporters, yet detractors have accused Paksas himself of illegal obligations to sponsors (or even to Russia), leading to his impeachment. As the Constitutional Court has banned Rolandas Paksas for life from most elections (something that even a Paksas-favoring European Court of Human Rights decision was unable to change) he now sits in European Parliament, participating in Lithuanian politics through key allies.

Julius Panka [Tautininkai party]. In a nation where Euroskepticism is still "politically incorrect", Julius Panka is arguably the most famous pro-sovereignty politician. He sees further European integration as unneeded and endangering the culture of smaller nations (such as Lithuanians) as it encourages migration, the prevalence of English and unnecessary all-Union laws. However, Panka supports closer cooperation with culturally similar nations, primarily Latvia.

Artūras Paulauskas. Catapulted into fame as the general prosecutor "who brought mafia to justice" in the 1990s, Paulauskas then became one of those Lithuanian "star-politicians" who cause significant numbers of people to vote for them regardless of what party they are in and what allies they choose. While supporters saw him as a young hope for reforms, detractors believed him to be an unrefined populist. Paulauskas eventually failed to win any significant elections, although he was among the top contenders in many. Paulauskas's party folded, but his still-famous name allowed to gain key position within Labour party.

Naglis Puteikis [Lithuanian List party] became famous for his campaigns against developments in Lithuanian seaside. To supporters, he is among the few genuine defenders of heritage and nature, to detractors he is a Don Quixote-esque character who opposes advancement without providing good alternatives. After his semi-successful presidential bid (2014) Puteikis gathered a team of people critical of current Lithuanian political establishment after him.

Remigijus Šimašius [MP]. Much of his (un)popularity dates to his 4 years tenure as minister of justice, which was signified both by modernization reforms and allegations of mishandling important long-term cases (such as "giving in to lobbying effort" and paying over 100 million to US-dominated Jewish organization for Soviet-nationalized Jewish religious properties, while such compensations were not available to any other ethnoreligious minority nor to the local Jewish religious communities). Like the whole Liberal Movement Šimašius is an advocate of a laissez-faire approach.

Valdemar Tomaševski [MEP, Poles' Electoral Action party]. The best-known Polish politician of Lithuania, Tomaševski has slowly-but-surely consolidated support over the past two decades: firstly among Poles and then among other minorities. He is best known for supporting minority language rights and campaigning against abortions. Controversies include his stance towards the Soviet Union, which he thinks had "a positive side" in addition to its failed cultural (e.g. atheist) policies. However, Tomaševski stayed out of corruption/cronyism-related controversies leading to a belief among supporters that he is likely among the most honest politicians of Lithuania. A Roman Catholic, Tomaševski is also the only key Lithuanian politician to regularly mention God in his speeches.

Viktor Uspaskich [MEP]. An ethnically Russian millionaire who has an image of "average Joe" (i.e. somebody who laughs at the same jokes and has the same flaws as the majority of Lithuanians). The intellectuals are less likely to support Uspaskich: some see him as an "uncultured nouveau-riche", others question whether he is loyal to Lithuania or Russia. Uspaskich has his own personal party (Labour) which has been charged by authorities for accountancy fraud (allegations which Uspaskich's supporters claim are fabricated by the conventional parties to dislodge him from politics).

Artūras Zuokas [long-time Mayor of Vilnius; Freedom Union party]. On one hand, his unconventional projects (e.g. a municipal airline), quick adoption of new technologies and publicity stunts earned him a reputation of "somebody who works and creates" (which is a compliment in Lithuania as many politicians are popularly believed to be procrastinating). For example, Zuokas even received an Ignobel prize for smashing an illegally parked car with a tank (for a video campaign against traffic violations). On the other hand, Zuokas's non-transparent relations with certain businessmen and corruption charges have decimated his popularity outside Vilnius.

If you think there are important achievements and controversies that have not been mentioned, feel free to do so in comments

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Lithuanian military (armed forces)

Lithuanian armed forces consist of some 13000 soldiers and officers.

The Primary mission of the Lithuanian military (in popular opinion) is to defend Lithuania from a possible Russian invasion. While Lithuanian military has a good public confidence (over 50%), many have serious doubts it could ever successfully achieve its goal alone (as Russia has a population 50 times larger than Lithuania).

Therefore joining NATO alliance was a key priority, successfully achieved in 2004. Every NATO country is obliged to defend every other country. As NATO includes superpowers such as the USA, Lithuania could theoretically muster a game-changing help.

After joining NATO, the main Lithuanian military deployments were in far-away lands such as Iraq and Afghanistan, primarily in the US-led operations. Lithuanian Special Forces ("Aitvaras") were instrumental in these, lauded as the crown gem of Lithuanian military and among the best such units of NATO. In a decade of foreign deployments Lithuanian military suffered merely 2 casualties.

Lithuanian Navy flag (left) and air force roundel (right).

Even though Lithuania had no direct interests in these wars, no major anti-war rallies ever took place in Vilnius. There is a rather wide consensus among Lithuanians that helping the Western allies in their wars is needed to ensure that Lithuania would not be "left alone" should it need help defending itself.

The notion popular before 2014 was that Lithuania mainly needs a small-but-modern force to regularly fight in the US-led wars, and, in return, it would be able to swiftly request tremendous NATO firepower should the "Russian peril" arise. As such, the Lithuanian armed forces were severely downsized ~2004 and conscription was abolished in 2008. Military funding went under 1% of GDP, well below the NATO target of 2%. Any political suggestions to redistribute budget typically included "decreasing military expenditures" as a possible source for additional money. The general beliefs were that "1. Lithuanian military will be incapable od standing against Russia alone regardless of funding. 2. Nobody else would attack Lithuania. 3.Small funding is enough if contributing to NATO missions is the sole aim of the military".

After the 2014 Russian aggression in Ukraine, that popular conception changed. Western inaction in helping Ukraine and not even voicing requests for Russia to abandon territories it had "easily" annexed (e.g. Crimea) made Lithuania believe that it should boost up its defensive capabilities in order to at least withstand Russian invasion longer. The new belief is that nobody (including NATO allies) would likely come to liberate Lithuania after it falls under occupation, however, they would be more likely to help Lithuania should it still be fighting for itself.

Lithuanian troops at a flag-raising ceremony in part-medieval equipment. As Lithuania was at its largest at the medieval era, Medieval concepts are used extensively in names and symbols of military units. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Conscription was thus swiftly reintroduced in 2015, mainly to boost the soldier numbers and train more men into the depleting reserves. ~3000 people are conscripted for each period of 9 months. Men 19-26 years old could be conscripted involuntary, while women and those between 27 and 38 years old may do the service voluntarily. Some have criticized such "militarization" and suggested Lithuania should avoid Russia by "keeping a low profile" instead, although continuing Russian aggression caused a decline of such opinions among top politicians.

Lithuania has replaced nearly all Soviet weaponry by Western arms. The armed forces also cooperate (e.g. operate joint battalions) with neighboring countries (Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Ukraine) that feel the same dangers.

Soldiers in Vilnius. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian land army, navy and air force

Lithuanian land forces (~3500) are the key element of the military and the ultimate line of Lithuanian defense. The full-time soldiers are supplemented by Lithuanian volunteer forces of some 4500, who serve part-time, also having civilian jobs. The weaponry is largely defensive. Vehicles are limited to personnel and freight carriers (there are no tanks).

Lithuanian navy is small (11 ships with a crew of 20-40 each, ~600 personnel), mainly doing search-and-rescue, WW2 minesweeping, and patrol duties. With a shoreline of just 99 km and no enemies beyond the seas, Lithuania is not expecting any naval battles.

Lithuanian air force (~1000 personnel) has no fighters or bombers as they are deemed too costly and unnecessary for a small nation. Instead, the Lithuanian airspace is safeguarded from foreign intrusions by NATO forces stationed in Šiauliai. Every 3 months a different NATO country takes up the mission and deploys a group of fighters in Lithuania. However, they are supported by Lithuanian-operated airbase personnel, radars, and anti-aircraft units. Lithuanian air force also owns 8 transport planes, 2 helicopters, and 5 training aircraft.

Lithuanian Air Force search and rescue helicopter showcased to people during Panevėžys city festival. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Several Lithuanian organizations have a dual purpose and would be absorbed by the armed forces in case of war - these are the 1500 anti-riot policemen and 4800 border guards. The Lithuanian Riflemen's Union ("Šauliai"), a civilian paramilitary organization, is also expected to provide troops in wartime. Having lost the prestige it had before its destruction by Soviets, it has been growing in popularity recently.

Military intelligence and counter-intelligence are provided by the clandestinely-named Second Department of Operational Services (there is no first department).

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