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2020 Lithuanian parliamentary elections 2nd round results

2020 10 26 The remaining 68 seats of 141 were elected to the Lithuanian Parliament in the second round of the election today.

In Lithuania's dual electoral system, every person has two votes, one of which he gives to a party (and the parties share 70 seats according to these votes by the proportional system) while he gives the second one to a particular politician in his constituency (similarly to UK or USA). If such a politician gets 50%+1 of votes there, he is elected. However, this is rare, and if no politician scores 50% in the first round, a runoff (second round) is held. During this election, only 3 seats were won in the first round with the remainder contested in the second round today.

More information about the parties that contested the election may be found in our first round report, while the value systems explained here.

2020 Lithuanian parliamentary election results by seat

2020 Lithuanian parliamentary election results by seat

Constituency results

As usual, the results of the second round divided Lithuania rather neatly into the main cities and the countryside/towns.

The cities generally voted for rightist and centrist politicians, while the countryside (where Lithuania's post-1990 economic miracle is less felt) mostly voted for the left. With a multi-party system, though, both right and left are also divided along the lines of value systems and personal loyalties to particular star-politicians. Therefore, merely saying that right or left has won tells little.

Homeland Union won 27 seats in the constituencies. Together with 23 proportional seats, they will have 50 seats which is short of a majority (71) but enough to make them clear leaders in forming the coalition. In constituencies, Homeland Union prevailed in Vilnius and Kaunas, where they won 18 seats out of 20 available. In Vilnius, they mostly fended off challenges from the newly-formed radical Freedom Party (promoted by the mayor of Vilnius). In Kaunas, they fended off the ruling Peasants/Greens. Historically, Kaunas is the largest stronghold of Homeland Union, but a miscalculation 4 years ago led Homeland Union to field weak candidates in Kaunas expecting them to win anyways there. This election, however, Homeland Union did not repeat the mistake and fielded some of their leaders in Kaunas.

Peasants/Greens won 16 seats in the constituencies. Together with 16 proportional seats, they will have 32 seats. Peasants/Greens were generally forced to retreat into their traditional countryside and Šiauliai region heartland but there they remained strong, remaining both the strongest leftist party in Lithuania and the strongest party outside of the two largest cities. In general, the main difference between 2020 and 2016 election runoffs is the switch of the places between Preasants/Greens and Homeland Union: the latter replaced Peasants/Greens in the city constituencies Peasants/Greens managed to take by surprise in 2016, and so the total number of seats won by Peasants/Greens in the constituencies halved while those of Homeland Union more than doubled.

Liberal Movement won 7 seats in the constituencies. Together with 6 proportional seats, they will have 13 seats. That way, they overtook Freedom Party in the number of seats in what was a derby among this traditional liberal party and a new break-away Freedom Party. Historically strongest in the cities, this time Liberals grabbed seats here and there all over Lithuania, including towns and countryside (but mainly in Western Lithuania), mostly based on personal trust some of their politicians gained in their regions rather than support for the party policies.

Socialdemocrats won 5 seats in the constituencies. Together with 8 proportional seats, they will have 13 seats. While avoiding the total defeat through some strong politicians they have, Socialdemocrats will remain the second leftist party after Peasants/Greens. They won each of their seats in the countryside and small towns. While this is common for leftists in Lithuania to be stronger there, Socialdemocrats still used to score in some of the city constituencies - yet this time the largest town they won was Kėdainiai of 22 000 inhabitants (this trend was similar in 2016).

Freedom Party won 3 seats in the constituencies. Together with 8 proportional seats, they will have 11 seats. Part of Freedom Party's proportional vote success was rooted in protest votes. This regular group of Lithuanian voters typically vote for the strongest "new" party believing its "clean" politicians will change the face of "corrupt" politics. While this group is large, arguably in no constituency it ever makes up 50% of voters or more. Thus, while it is easy for such parties to pass 5% of the vote necessary to get proportional representation, it is next to impossible to gain 50% of the vote anywhere. Yet, Freedom Party is not simply a protest party as it also has a unique agenda that genuinely appeals to some (especially those most Westernized). It gained a few seats on that or the local popularity of some politicians.

Labour Party won just 1 constituency despite having won 9 seats in the proportional system, taking 10 seats in total. Labour Party is heavily centred around its star-politician leader Viktor Uspaskich and thus nearly lacks other politicians famous enough to win constituencies.

A few additional parties won seats in the constituencies despite winning no seats in the proportional system.
Pole's Electoral Action won 3 seats in the Polish-majority regions.
Socialdemocratic Labour Party that consists of famous politicians who left Socialdemocrats over disagreements over participation in ruling coalition won 3 seats.
Freedom and Justice won one seat by a locally strong politician.
Green Party won one seat, however, it was won by a former prime minister Butkevičius who transferred to Greens from Socialdemocrats rather than by any historically Green candidate.

Furthermore, 4 seats were won by independents.

As an interesting side note, in Utena constituency, two candidates won an equal number of votes - Gintautas Paluckas (the leader of Socialdemocrats) and Edmundas Pupinis (Homeland Union) received 7075 votes each. According to the Lithuanian law, the older candidate will be declared the winner, this being Pupinis. However, in reality, this may change after a vote recount.

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Lithuanian parliament election 2020 analysis

2020 10 13 With the Lithuanian parliamentary elections (2020) 1st round results already in, we provide the extensive analysis of the election through various lenses of the divisions that define the Lithuanian political background (right/left, Western/Eastern/Local value systems, etc.) and comparisons with the 2016 results:

2020 election results by party

Homeland Union - 24,82%, 23 seats (2016 election – 21,7%, 20 seats); center, Western/Local values. To many Lithuanian voters, Homeland Union is the safe bet for a party that is established, not pro-Eastern (pro-Russian) value-wise and not deviating economically too far to the left or to the right. Homeland Union is also seen as a descendent of the Sąjūdis movement that won Lithuanian independence in 1990 (in fact, the Homeland Union‘s current leader is the grandson of Sąjūdis leader Vytautas Landbergis, something seen as „stability“ by supporters and „nepotism“ by detractors). As such, Homeland Union retained a nearly constant share of the vote from the previous election, albeit its stance as the most credible opposition during the 2016-2020 parliament increased its popularity among the detractors of the recent government. Long standing on two ideological value pillars – the pro-Local and pro-Western one – Homeland Union has been moving strongly towards the pro-Western pole under the guidance of Gabrielius Landsbergis although many pro-Locals would still vote for the Homeland Union out of tradition. As usual, the Homeland Union fared the best in Vilnius and Kaunas (surpassing 40% in some Vilnius constituencies), as well as diaspora and less so in the small cities and countryside.

Peasants/Greens - 17,5%, 16 seats (2016 – 21,53%, 19 seats); centre-left, Local values. The largest Lithuanian electoral success story of recent years continues even if not as spectacularly. Before 2012, Peasants/Greens were a party representing the farmers, its popularity limited to certain countryside constituencies, and the party never able to pass the 5% threshold. In 2016, however, Peasants/Greens managed to essentially win the elections (if adding up the seats they won in the second round) by consolidating a wider electorate. Its millionaire-farmer teetotaller leader Ramūnas Karbauskis (famous for a Lithuanian village-themed TV series and pagan-inspired park in Naisiai, both funded by him) was then seen as not only showing the „good way“ for the Lithuanian village (long seen as aging, alcohol-addicted, and extremely poor) but perhaps for Lithuania as a whole: a way aimed at the Lithuanian nature, hard work and traditions, with a certain amount of center-left-style redistribution. While the initial Karbauskis‘s glam has faded after Peasants/Greens spent 4 years ruling Lithuania in various coalitions where far from every 2016 electoral goal was possible to fulfill (and those who voted for Peasants/Greens as an „unstained protest party“ in 2016 now putting their votes elsewhere), ultimately, the Peasants/Greens first-round result was mostly repeated and the party did not „fade back to the obscurity“ as many such „one-election wonders“ did in the past. Therefore, even the loss of 3 seats in the first round could be seen as a victory in the Lithuanian political landscape that tends to rapidly propel new parties to victory and then just as rapidly bury them in the next elections. A lot of it depended on the COVID-19 that stroke the world in the end of Peasants/Greens tenure. Aurelijus Veryga, their health minister who is arguably better known than the president by now, and his early-lockdown-strategy (introduced when Lithuania had under 20 known COVID-19 cases) was hated by some yet loved by others (as it curbed personal freedoms but arguably helped to achieve some of the lowest COVID death rates per capita in Europe). The latter likely voted Peasants/Greens. While Peasants/Greens still have their heartlands in the countryside and smaller cities, where their support is often at 30-40%, just as the previous elections, Peasants/Greens stayed popular in the „patriotic“ Kaunas with ~20% support, and even in Vilnius, where its position is the weakest, it is still a relevant party (~10% support).

Labour Party - 9,46%, 9 seats (2016 – 4,68%, 0 seats); personal party. Labour Party has rebounded after many had already talked about its end after a major defeat in the previous election. Even more so – it has remained the only of the Lithuanian peculiar „personal parties“ still standing strong. As is typical for the personal parties, Labour Party rallies around its single star-politician leader right from its inception – in this case, Viktor Uspaskich as a „prime minister candidate“ even if Uspaskich does not a candidate in the parliamentary elections as he would then have to abandon his member-of-European-Parliament position (in Lithuania, the prime minister is not required to be MP, even though he generally is). Through its joyful youth organization (arguably the most active among the Lithuanian parties), advertising, and a „mercenary“ star politician poker player Antanas Guoga (who has been switching parties nearly every election) joining its side, Labour Party amassed popularity beyond the fans of Uspaskich, even though (as is typical for Lithuania‘s „personal parties“) the exact political ideology of the Labour Party is not very clear, while its electoral promises typically concentrate on popular messages and ideas that may be impossible to achieve all at the same time (often they include promises for higher earnings nearly every Lithuanian would supposedly get if they would elect Labour Party, without specifying plausible ways to achieve that). Such ideas make the Labour Party more popular in the countryside, with its detractors from the cities claiming that Labour Party voters are uneducated and unable to understand politics. The Russian ethnicity of Viktor Uspaskich also adds the appeal of the Labour Party to ethnic Russians, even though it is not a minority-rights party. In the „province“, Labour Party attracted 10%-20% of the vote, peaking with 27,46% at Uspaskich‘s home region of Kėdainiai. In the smaller main cities, the support stood at 9% with ~5% in Kaunas and most of Vilnius (although the constituencies of Vilnius with the largest ethnic minority populations voted 10% for Labour Party).

Socialdemocrats - 9,26%, 8 seats (2016 – 14,42%, 13 seats); left, Western/Eastern values. For a long time the unquestionable leaders of Lithuanian left, Socialdemocrats have been unable to retake that spot from Peasants/Greens as they may have expected, and, actually faded even further. The party is a descendent of the Lithuanian Communist Party and, for decades, has been divided between pro-Eastern and pro-Western ideologies. However, it took a pro-Western stance recently, clarifying its support for Western-inspired ideas such as the LGBT movement or green policies, essentially slowly becoming a more typical western leftist party rather than the „big tent center-left “ it was before. This has failed to alter the recent electoral trends, though. The problem may be that in Lithuania (unlike in most of the West), such „Western values“ are typically promoted by the people with rightist economic beliefs, as both groups are usually held by younger and urban people who often believe that „leftist“ ideas lead to mismanagement, laziness, and collective poverty, as happened during the Soviet occupation. On the other hand, leftist economic beliefs are more popular in the Lithuanian countryside among those that reaped fewer benefits of the post-Soviet Lithuanian economic progress - but there Eastern and Local values are more popular than Western ones. As such, most of the political parties in Lithuania promoting Western values are rightist (Liberal Movement, Freedom Union, etc.). There certainly may be a niche for a leftist party like that (growing perhaps, as the memory of Soviet mismanagement and persecutions fades) but it remains to be seen if that niche is big enough for Socialdemocrats who are used to a much more significant than niche support. Socialdemocrats gained up to ~15% vote in the „province“ (although fewer than 10% in the Peasant/Greens heartlands) and

Freedom Party - 9,26% (new party); right, Western values. The only newly-established party to win seats in the Lithuanian elections of 2020, Freedom Party has been established by Remigijus Šimašius, mayor of Vilnius elected on the Liberal Movement list. Staunchly ideologically Westernizing, Freedom Party essentially formed its agenda out of tenets which are now popular in the West but have not been accentuated so much in the Lithuanian political sphere beforehand, including gay marriage and legal marijuana. Remigijus Šimašius became a polarizing figure in Vilnius for ordering the destruction of a commemorative plaque for a Lithuanian anti-Soviet figure, renaming a street named after another one, and building an improvised beach where a new Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan memorial was meant to be and where the Russian Empire used to execute Lithuanian and Polish political prisoners. However, that too may be seen to be in-line with Freedom Party‘s Westernizing agenda: what is traditionally unique in Lithuania or Central/Eastern Europe is seen by its followers as either unimportant or detrimental, with a maxim „it is the most useful to simply follow the advanced Western countries in every sphere“ summing up its political course, with „joy“ and „good image“ being more important than respect to the traditional historical figures. Freedom Party is the most popular among the youth (indeed, most of its key candidates are in their 20s or 30s) and emigrants to Western Europe, both groups having formed their opinions under the European Union. However, the Freedom Party electoral success may be explained not only by its ideological support but also by it attracting a lot of „protest votes“ as it is a new party and its young members still „unstained“ in the political turmoil (Šimašius himself was not a candidate, as he stays Vilnius mayor). So, while Freedom Party‘s genuine support mainly came from Vilnius (where it received over 15% of votes in some constituencies) and Lithuanian abroad (23,29%), it has attracted a surprising number of votes all over Lithuania (~5-9% in nearly every constituency), even in the countryside where rightist economic ideas and Western values are spectacularly unpopular (but protest votes are common every election). Such protest votes are, however, typically „gift of the first election“ that quickly dissipates and it is the support in the cities and diaspora that Freedom Party will have to rely on further on.

Liberal Movement - 6,79%, 6 seats (2016 - 9,06%, 8 seats); Western values. The „historic“ Liberal party of Lithuania, representing classical liberalism of free market and for long the only truly rightist party in Lithuania. Compared to the Freedom Party, Liberal Movement arguably concentrate more on economic freedom and less on promoting Western cultural values, even if the basic ideology of both economic and personal freedom remains the same for both parties. The supporters and main members of the Liberal Movement are typically somewhat older than those of the Freedom Party. Yet another reason for the separation of Freedom Party was the corruption scandal Liberal Movement faced – however, it seems the scandal and secession of the Freedom Party have failed to sink the Liberal Movement as it did not lose even nearly as many voters as the Freedom Party gained, losing just 2 seats in the first round.

Lithuanian Poles‘ Electoral Action - 4,82%, 0 seats (2016 – 5,48%, 5 seats); minority-rights. 2020 elections became first since 2008 when this ethnic-minority-rights party (representing mainly the Poles but also often preferred by Russian-speakers) failed to cross the 5% threshold. It is a logical continuation of its slow decline though, probably attributable to the new generations of ethnic minorities being more integrated and no longer voting along the ethnic lines, some of its „heartland“ voters not voting at all (as the turnout there declined), or ethnic Russians, who supported Lithuanian Poles‘ Electoral Action at its peak, switching to the other parties (e.g. Labour Party). With ethnic Poles making just 6,65% of the Lithuanian population, the Action needs either to attract nearly every Polish vote or to attract a wider electorate from beyond ethnic Poles to vote for a party that is both named and caters mostly to the Polish rights. Almost miraculously, it seemed to be able to do just that for years (their vote even surpassing 7% in some European Parliament elections) but the miracle has now seemingly ended. Still, the Action has won some seats in the first-past-the-post area.

Socialdemocratic Labour Party - 3,17%, 0 seats (new party). A regular cautionary tale in Lithuanian politics. Quite often, MPs would leave the large political parties for temporary gains in influence (e.g. a chance to exchange opposition to a ruling coalition). Sometimes, they would be able to establish their own strong „personal parties“ (that concentrate on different personalities rather than different ideologies). More often than not, however, the new parties they establish fail to gain traction and the next elections force such experienced politicians out of the political field. This is precisely what happened with the Socialdemocratic Labour Party, established by some MPs of the Socialdemocratic Party and Labour Party after they disagreed with their party decision of leaving the ruling coalition. Many of those politicians would likely be elected if they stayed in their original parties (indeed, many served in numerous parliaments before and were among party leaders with Linas Linkevičius, for example, managing to serve as Lithuanian Foreign Minister in 2012-2020 during different coalitions), but now they gained no seats.

Center Party – Tautininkai - 2,28%, 0 seats. Tautininkai may be one of the oldest political parties of Lithuania, having led Lithuania in the 1926-1940 period. They, however, failed to find their place after the 1990 independence, having been slowly relegated to a force that never gains parliamentary seats. Typically representing the pro-Local, economically leftist ideology an accentuating the idea that the decisions concerning Lithuania should be taken into Lithuania, Tautininkai attempted to rise from the obscurity by attracting „star-politicians“ Naglis Puteikis and Kristupas Krivickas, who previously participated in elections with their own „personal coalition“ (6,06% in 2016 but 0 seats due to Lithuania having 7% threshold for coalitions) and have an avid if fading following. Still, this grouping of ideologically consistent Tautininkai and „populist“ star-politicians may have seemed too weird to attract many votes, even if the result outflanked the usual Tautininkai results. Many of the traditional Tautininkai supporters may have drifted to National Movement or Peasants/Greens, while many Krivickas/Puteikis fans do not necessarily care or like the patriotic ideology of Tautininkai.

National Movement - 2,13%, 0 seats. Led by political sciences professor Vytautas Radžvilas, this is the sole ideological truly Euroskeptic party in Lithuania, arguing for no additional transfers of sovereignty from Lithuania to the European Union. As previously, however, Eurosceptic ideas remain unpopular in Lithuania, even though the recent troubles in the European Union have somewhat increased their support (previously Euroskeptic parties would typically fail to get even 1% of the vote). Charismatic Vytautas Radžvilas, who has strong political and legal arguments in favor of his ideas instead of relying on fearmongering or difficult-to-achieve promises, may have also helped to get a more intellectual urban support. In comparison, the main Euroskeptic party of the 2016 elections got just 0,54% of votes.

Freedom and Justice - 1,99%, 0 seats. An example of a declining „personal party“, or, more correctly, three personal parties declining together. Its precursor Order and Justice was seen as the personal party of Rolandas Paksas, the impeached president of Lithuania, with many voters casting a vote for it actually casting a „vote for Paksas“ in their minds. Despite the European Court of Human Rights declaring his human rights to be breached by this, Rolandas Paksas has been banned-for-life from being elected to the Lithuanian parliament. His party remained strong for long, however, promising to reinstate his electoral capabilities; conspiracy theories ran around his removal. However, Order and Justice slowly faded together with the star of Paksas, who worked as a member of the European Parliament, the only post he was permitted to be elected to. After disappointing 2016 election results (5,33%, 5 seats), in a last-ditch survival attempt, the party merged with a similar declining „personal party“ Freedom Union, centered around another star-politician Artūras Zuokas (2,14% of the vote in 2016 and 0 seats), and also included yet another faded star-politician Artūras Paulauskas in its list (whose „personal party“ New Union has long since vanished). They consolidated into „Freedom and Justice“ before this election but that didn‘t permit them to even get close to the necessary 5% of the vote. It remains to be seen if the party will enjoy a Labour-Union-like revival or if it will disintegrate, its star politicians moving the remainders of their glamour and support to other political parties.

Green Party - 1,65%, 0 seats (2016 – 1,95%, 0 seats). Initially established as a Western-style environmentalist party (without the emphasis on Lithuanian traditions and agriculturalism of Peasants/Greens), the Green party continues failing to gain traction, with many potential followers probably voting for the larger parties that have more chances of being represented (either Peasants/Greens or Freedom Party). Still, classical Western-style environmentalism has enough avid followers for the party to attract some 2% voters every time and not fall into oblivion and party mergers which is typically the fate of many similar smaller parties.

The other parties received less than 1,5% votes each.

First-past-the-post system and the second round

The first round allocated 70 of the seats of the parliament proportionally to the parties.

The remaining 71 are allocated in the first-past-the-post system in 71 single-member constituencies.

In 3 of these constituencies, the MPs were elected in the first round (achieving a 50% result or better): two seats went to Lithuanian Poles‘ Electoral Action (in Polish-majority regions) and one to Ingrida Šimonytė, the former presidential candidate who represented Homeland Union.

In the remainder, the second round will be held between the top two contenders.

The leading contenders represent the Homeland Union (35), Peasants/Greens (13), Liberal Movement (5), Socialdemocrats (4), Socialdemocratic Labour Party (2), Labour Party (1), Green Party (1), Freedom Party (1), Freedom and Justice (1), independents (4), although „underdogs“ will most likely prevail in at least some constituencies.

Typical runoff pairs will be Homeland Union vs. Freedom Union in Vilnius, Homeland Union vs. Peasants/Greens in Kaunas. In Klaipėda, Liberals are traditionally popular, while in the rest of the country, Peasants/Greens, both Socialdemocrat parties and Labour party are strong.

Typically, the second round is favorable to the best-known-politicians, however, in the constituencies lacking such a politician, people vote for whoever‘s party they prefer. As such, often the most seats are won by the most popular (or rather least-hated) party at the time.

In the previous elections (2016) Peasants/Greens swept the 2nd round, however, with them no longer being the „unstained underdogs“, it is possible Homeland Union will now sweep through. Even if so, though, it will be impossible for them to rule without forming a coalition.

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Lithuania at the forefront of anti-Lukashenko activities

2020 08 16 Lithuania became the first country to officially claim it does not recognize the current regime of Belarus, led by Alexander Lukashenko.

According to the official results, the elections were won by long-time president Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994. He received 80,1% percent of the vote with his largest opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya received 10,12% of the vote. She had become the key opposition candidate after the more famous candidates, including her husband, were disqualified from the elections.

After her defeat, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya took refuge in Lithuania, which now put its official support behind the Belarusian opposition. Meanwhile, protests and strikes have been continuing in Belarus since before the election, in protest against Lukashenko. Protests also took place in Vilnius, where many Belarusian opposition figures have traditionally taken refuge and a mostly pro-opposition Belarusian university freely operates.

A protest in front of the Belarusian embassy in Vilnius. Protesters use the old white-red-white Belarusian flag that was official in 1991-1995 before president Lukashenko consolidated his power

A protest in front of the Belarusian embassy in Vilnius. Protesters use the old white-red-white Belarusian flag that was official in 1991-1995 before president Lukashenko consolidated his power. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Since 1994, Belarus is sometimes called "Europe's last dictatorship" in the West, and what happens there resonates in Vilnius more than in any other capital of Europe given that Vilnius is merely 30 km from the Belarusian border.

That said, Lithuanian positions vis-a-vis Belarus had often been less clear than vis-a-vis other ex-Soviet states that have been recently undergoing "democratization" movements.

That is because in these other countries (especially Georgia and Ukraine), there was clear competition between the opposing values: pro-Eastern (pro-Russian) group on the one side, and pro-Local / pro-Western group on the other side, with democratization promoted by the latter. In wars such as that of Georgia 2008 and Ukraine 2015 Russia would support the mostly outnumbered pro-Eastern / pro-Russian value groups through military force, and it was only such force that allowed such groups to maintain power and influence disproportional to their numbers.

As Lithuania lived through a similar period of Russian intervention in 1991, Lithuanians are typically very sympathetic to nations in a similar situation. Furthermore, many Lithuanians believe that allowing Russia and its influence to advance further westwards would eventually put Lithuania in danger as well, as it would be the next one in line.

A Georgian postcard of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war times depicts the common feeling among the pro-Local and pro-Western Central/Eastern Europeans of Russia as a bully who or serial criminal who regularly picks her victims from the regional countries

This Georgian postcard of the 2008 Georgian-Russian war times depicts the common feeling among the pro-Local and pro-Western Central/Eastern Europeans. Russia is seen as a bully or a serial criminal who regularly picks her victims from the regional countries and must be stopped

Belarusian situation, however, is very different from those of Georgia and Ukraine. In Georgia, for example, most people (87%) speak Georgian natively and in Ukraine, a weaker majority (68%) speak Ukrainian. In Belarus, however, the Russian language has mostly displaced Belarusian in a similar fashion as English did displace Irish Gaelic in Ireland (24% of Belarus's population speak Belarusian at home and 70% speak Russian). This is just an example of a larger trend, whereas Russian culture is far more internalized in Belarus than in all the other nations of the former Soviet Union (except for Russia itself). To many Belarusians, even those without Russian origins, the Russian culture does not seem to be as foreign / non-local, as it does to western Ukrainians, Georgians, or Lithuanians.

Because of this, the Belarusian opposition is also not rallying around a typical pro-Western stance that characterized the post-Soviet democratic political discourse in much of Eastern Europe. Thus any support for Belarusian opposition in Lithuania often used to be met with skepticism, with claims such as:

*The status-quo in Belarus is not bad for Lithuania. While Lukashenko sometimes speaks in favor of Russia and even sought to create a Russian-Belarusian confederacy in the 1990s, he has actually sternly maintained the independence of Belarus since. He did not support the Russian invasions of its neighboring countries and did not recognize the Russian-established statelets of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, unlike some other Russian allies such as Venezuela or Syria.
*The conduct of the opposition is not anyhow different vis-a-vis Russia than that of the Lukashenko's regime. In fact, some key opposition leaders are arguably even more pro-Russian than Lukashenko himself. This raises the worry that a regime change in Belarus may actually mean increased Russian influence there or that the shelved idea of "Russian-Belarusian state" would be brought into political realm once again.
*The group of Belarusian opposition that is definitely not pro-Russian is the pro-Local group (often called "Belarusian nationalists") but that one is problematic to Lithuania as well due to its belief that Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a Belarusian state and Vilnius a Belarusian city. Lithuanian coat of arms is widely used by the Belarusian pro-local opposition as a Belarusian symbol. While claims such as "Belarus should be renamed Lithuania, and Lithuania should be renamed Samogitia" or "Vilnius should return to Belarus" are now limited to fringe internet forums in part due to curbs on this type of "Belarusian nationalism" by Lukashenko's regime, it is possible they could get wider attention should the Belarusian regime change (Lithuanian coat of arms was, in a slightly different design, also briefly made the official Belarusian coat of arms before Lukashenko came to power, and would likely be restored again). Thus, the increase of the influence of this camp could potentially lead to Lithuanian-Belarusian diplomatic disputes similar to the ones between Greece and (North) Macedonia.

Belarusian coat of arms official in 1991-1995 (left) and Lithuanian coat of arms (right), both are differently modernized versions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania coat of arms

Belarusian coat of arms official in 1991-1995 (left) and Lithuanian coat of arms (right), both are differently modernized versions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania coat of arms

After the crackdown on the post-election protests in Belarus, however, it seems Lithuanians are increasingly moving towards the pro-Belarusian-opposition camp or at least believing that a regime change could not be for worse. After all, the tacit support of status quo in Belarus among some of Lithuania's population was largely based on the idea that even though Lukashenko monopolized the political sphere, the general life in Belarus remained quite safe and free (compared to that of the 1980s Soviet Union or Putin's Russia, for example).

This notion was seriously challenged as the arrests and stories of protesters being beaten up mounted.

Yet few in Lithuania could predict what exactly could a new regime in Belarus bring: unlike in the Ukraine or Georgia, there are arguably no important Belarusian political figures whose views resonate closely to those of Lithuania. And, unlike Ukraine whose recent history may be described as a tug of war between clearly defined pro-Eastern, pro-Western, and pro-Local groupings, the Belarusian political life was in single hands for too long to understand well what is beyond that.

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Lithuanian quarantine ended? Coronavirus stats

2020 06 20. Coronavirus quarantine has been ended by the government of Lithuania formally. On the ground, this was more of a symbolic decision though as little did change on a particular day. Nevertheless.

National quarantine, which was sometimes translated as a lockdown, has been introduced in Lithuania three months ago, in mid-March. At the time, despite Lithuania having merely 9 cases of coronavirus and the lowest coronavirus rates in the EU, the government applied tough measures by closing down most institutions and businesses, with only the food stores and pharmacies remaining in operation.

Afterward, every two weeks or so, the quarantine would be eased by adding more businesses that were allowed to be operated. For example, the restaurants were initially allowed to open only the outdoor zones, transforming Vilnius city Old Town streets into an outdoor restaurant zone. Then, they were permitted to do business inside with patronage limited and eventually were permitted to open completely.

By May, the situation in Lithuania already not that much lockdown as a set of restrictions, although the same name "Quarantine" still applied.

Coronavirus-wise, Lithuania did rather well, although comparable to other nearby countries. In general, the coronavirus pandemic has so far been weaker in Central Europe than it was either in Western Europe or parts of Eastern Europe. As of 2020 06 20, Lithuania has 1792 coronavirus cases, which means 658 per million (89th worst situation among some 200 countries worldwide).

Lithuania coronavirus statistics (2020 06 20)

In the regional countries (the eastern part of the European Union), the situation is the following:
Estonia - 1492 cases / million
Czechia - 972 cases / million
Poland - 827 cases / million
Lithuania - 658 cases / million
Latvia - 588 cases / million
Hungary - 422 cases / million
Slovakia - 289 cases / million

The coronavirus clock from official state website for the crisis

The coronavirus clock from official state website for the crisis

The situation is about ten times worse in much of Western Europe (Spain - 6259, Sweden - 5550, UK - 4447, Italy - 3936, France - 2443, Germany - 2276) and parts of Eastern Europe (Russia - 3899, Belarus - 6067).

Lockdown and testing - what has helped?

Interestingly, neighboring countries have adopted contrarian policies to combat coronavirus with Latvia not adopting lockdown unlike Lithuania and yet ending up having fewer cases. The positive aspects of the lockdown may thus have been overestimated, although it hit the Lithuanian economy hard. That may be the reason why the lockdown has been quickly eased after its original introduction in mid-March.

What seemingly worked in Central Europe was its massive testing, with Lithuania conducting 5000 tests per day, that is, testing 0,2% of its entire population every day and already testing some 10% of its population by now. By tests per population, Lithuania holds 3rd place in the world among countries with over 1 million inhabitants, yielding only to the United Arab Emirates and Denmark. It surpasses the USA nearly twice.

The ability to test their citizens on time may have significantly helped the Central European coronavirus fight. While in Western Europe, the disease came at a time the region was ill-prepared and there was a global shortage of tests (February 2020), by the time the disease came to Central Europe (March-April 2020) there was already more experience and more tests available.

Although the Quarantine now has formally ended, in reality, this is more of a regular stage of easing of restrictions, with some restrictions remaining in place (such as the limitation of participants in events, although the limit number has now reached 150 inside and 700 outside).

Some of the stringent measures are related to the entry of foreigners: non-EU foreigners are still not allowed to enter (unless they live in Lithuania), while some EU foreigners are not allowed either, although the criteria when a country is considered dangerous is rather lenient (25 cases per 100 000 inhabitants per 2 weeks), meaning that the only EU/EEE countries considered dangerous now are United Kingdom, Sweden, and Portugal. There is also a list of 45 countries worldwide Lithuanians returning from which are suggested to take a 14-day quarantine at home, although this is no longer mandatory.

Flights and travel bubbles

The flights to Lithuania are being reintroduced after being banned altogether for a while, although they are still subjected to controls. Initially, a Lithuania-Latvia-Estonia travel bubble was opened in early June as all three countries had similar success battling the coronavirus. Travel bubbles meant not only that Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians were permitted to freely travel to the other two countries but that they would also be able to do so without facing a 14-day quarantine on either arrival or on return.

By mid-June, such a travel bubble was essentially expanded to cover much of the European Union as the EU campaigned heavily to reopen its internal borders. Such demands are also controversial, however, as the coronavirus pandemic situation varies so greatly within the EU and while some countries, like Lithuania, are above the global average and report merely a few new cases every day, the situation is still significantly worse in parts of Western Europe. Some people in Lithuania fear that returning flights and European travelers could lead to a resurgence of the virus and - potentially - another costly lockdown. Yet others, however, have eagerly waited and the first flights to Milan, once the global epicenter of coronavirus after such epicenter moved out of China, departed with well over 100 of people on board.

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Lithuania under lockdown (though virus rates lowest in EU)

2020 03 15. The government of Lithuania has decided to put Lithuania under lockdown due to the spread of coronavirus in the other countries of the European Union. The lockdown gradually, decision-by-decision, was introduced over a period of several days.

The schools and universities were closed and the main public events banned several days ago. This is to be followed by a ban on all public events and non-essential shops operations and restaurant/bar operations, leaving only food stores, pharmacies and veterinary pharmacies in operation.

Furthermore, the borders of Lithuania are to be gradually closed and airports closed down as well. Only cargo and similar "essential services" would be allowed to pass the borders, as well as returning citizens and permanent residents of Lithuania. Other nearby countries also enacted similar measures (primarily Poland) but, until the 19th of March, the return of Lithuanians through Poland should still be permitted.

The strict measures were adopted despite the fact that Lithuania, so far, has just 9 recorded cases of coronavirus, all of them imported, with no documented community transmission. This is the smallest number of cases among all the European Union countries. Still, a few people out of those 9 have not immediately self-isolated after returning from abroad, making it possible that the community transmission already took place. Furthermore, the existence of the Schengen treaty and open borders within the EU mean that an unknown number of people have arrived to Lithuania in recent weeks from Western Europe that is hit by a virus: it is thus impossible to check them all and find out if any one of them has symptoms.

Therefore, knowing that the situation in Italy, Spain, and other EU countries have shown, such transmission may easily make the number of cases grow exponentially, the government of Lithuania decided to take some of the harshest measures so far among the countries with similar infection level.

Informational sign several days before the lockdown

Informational sign several days before th elockdown advising those who returned from the infected countries call the emergency number in case they feel any bad symptoms instead of walking in a hospital

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Lithuanian heritage map to expand into Canada

2018 08 05. "Destination Lithuanian America" Lithuanian heritage map will be expanded into Canada.

Launched in 2017, the map now covers ~550 Lithuanian sites in New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest regions (17 states). After the expansion, the map will include some 600-700 Lithuanian sites and cover ~90% of the total eligible Lithuanian locations in North America. The map is interactive and thus offers not just the exact locations but also pictures and detailed information about each site, aimed at tourists and locals alike.

Eligible locations marked in the map include Lithuanian churches, Lithuanian cemeteries, Lithuanian clubhouses and museums, Lithuanian monuments, graves of the famous Lithuanians, locations named in Lithuanian, etc.

Sites to be added to the map

The 2019 expansion will cover Canada as well as the western parts of New York state.

The map of the 2019 expedition (left)

The map of the 2019 expedition (left)

Some of the famous locations that will be marked and written about include:
*Churches of the Lithuanian refugees who fled the Soviet occupation: out of 13, 7 still offer Lithuanian mass
*Lithuanian-Canadian cemetery in Toronto that has some well known Lithuanians buried there
*Historic Lithuanian House of Toronto
*Wilno town, named after Vilnius, Lithuania
*Lithuanian heritage in the Western New York state and on both sides of Niagara Falls
*Delhi town of merely 4000 that has a lively Lithuanian community and church
*Lithuanian-Canadian archives
*Lithuanian camps in the Canadian woods
*Wasaga Beach that became a Lithuanian resort in Canada
*The grave of Charles Bronson, the famous Hollywood actor with Lithuanian roots

You may follow the expedition on Facebook "True Lithuania".

Augustinas and Aistė by the grave of Lithuanian president Antanas Smetona during the 2018 expedition

Augustinas and Aistė by the grave of Lithuanian president Antanas Smetona during the 2018 expedition

Massive work done already

The map is being created by Augustinas Žemaitis, the owner of True Lithuania, joined by his wife Aistė Žemaitienė. This year it is partly supported by the Lithuanian Foundation of the USA as well as private money. In order to create the map, Augustinas visits every location, marking its GPS coordinates and taking photos. Local Lithuanians also tell the stories of the Lithuanian heritage sites which are written down and added to the "Global True Lithuania" encyclopedia of Lithuanian-American sites. In 2017, the expedition took 16 days and some 200 people helped and in 2018, it took 25 days and some 300 people helped. This year, it will take 21 days.

In previous years, the mapping garnered significant attention in Lithuanian, Lithuanian-American, and American press.

The expanded map will be published online before December 2019. The Global True Lithuania articles on Lithuanian heritage will also be updated by then.

The results of the previous-years project may be read at the online encyclopedia of Lithuanian-American sites in articles for each location. Connecticut, Illinois (Chicago, Kewanee, Spring Valley, Springfield, Rockford, Waukegan, West Frankfort, Westville), Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachussetts (Athol/Gardner, Boston, Brockton, Merrimack Valley, Springfield, Worcester), Michigan (Deroit, Grand Rapids, Custer, Manchester, Muskegon), Missouri (St. Louis), New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York (New York City, Upstate New York), Ohio (Cleveland, Dayton, Akron, Youngstown), Pennsylvania (Coal Region (South), Coal Region (North), Du Bois, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh), Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington (DC), Wisconsin.

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Lithuanian president and European parliament elections, 2019

2019 05 27. Lithuanians have elected the president (Gitanas Nausėda) and 11 representatives to the European Parliament. Two weeks before, there were also two failed referendums. Here is the analysis of the candidates and results.

Lithuanian presidential elections

Both candidates of Lithuanian presidential elections that made it through to the second round were surprisingly similar in beliefs, leading many voters to chose whom to vote for based on the mostly unrelated-to-ideology personal qualities of the candidates. In these, apparently, Gitanas Nausėda won: despite coming second to Ingrida Šimonytė in the first round, he managed to collect most of the votes who went to the other candidates in the first round and thus won the second round by a landslide: 66,72% to 33,28%. Among the perceived personal qualities of Nausėda in public discourse are his family (Šimonytė is unmarried) and banking career. Among Šimonytė's qualities is her association with every-popular Dalia Grybauskaitė (the outgoing president) who has introduced Šimonytė to politics, as well as a political experience (lacked by Nausėda). However, her political experience may have also hampered Šimonytė's chances, as her association with unpopular Kubilius's government may have been seen as detrimental by many voters who saw Nausėda as unstained by association with unpopular figures.

While claimed by some foreign and local analysts to be rightists, both candidates actually have many or most beliefs traditionally associated with the left. Nausėda promised to support a welfare state in a first-round election night interview.

In the portal "Mano balsas" which asked the same questions to all the presidential candidates, for instance, Šimonytė replied this way:

Šimonytė answered "no opinion" to questions "Should the state be less involved in economics?", "Should it be easier for the companies to fire employees?", "Should the public worker salaries be increased at the expense of higher taxes?", "Free market in healthcare means better services?". The only actually rightist claim she made in the questionary was a "somewhat disagree" answer to the question "Should the wealth of the rich be redistributed to the poor?".

Nausėda answered "somewhat agree" with the tenet "Should the wealth of the rich be redistributed to the poor?" and "somewhat disagree" to the tenet "Should it be easier for the companies to fire employees?". Yet, he said "somewhat agree" to "Free market in healthcare means better services" and "The state should be less involved in economics".

In terms of the Russian threat, both candidates promote a strong pro-Western stance, however, Šimonytė's answers are generally stronger than Nausėda's (both candidates "strongly agree" that sanctions for Russia cannot be repealed, however, Nausėda also somewhat agrees that the Lithuanian rhetorics against Russia are too radical).

In terms of the European Union, both candidates support further integration although "somewhat disagree" with the idea that the EU should turn into a single federation.

Both candidates are in favor of legal abortions (i.e. retaining status quo where abortions in Lithuania are legal but limited in terms of time that passed since conception). Šimonytė is more in favor of homosexual partnerships than Nausėda, while Nausėda, although male himself, is more in favor of establishing female quotas in leadership. Nausėda "strongly agrees" that nature is more important than economic growth, while Šimonytė answered no opinion and claims to see no clash between economic growth and natural conservation.

Full answers to the same questions by Ingrida Šimonytė and Gitanas Nausėda (in Lithuanian).

Every Lithuanian municipality voted for Nausėda rather than Šimonytė, with even the traditional Šimonytė's strongholds in cities voting for Nausėda this time, albeit the difference between candidates there being rather small.

The only third realistic contender for the position of President of Lithuania was Saulius Skvernelis, then prime minister, who came in third. In the first round, Nausėda received 30,94% of the vote, Šimonytė 31,31% and Skvernelis 19,58%, all the other candidates getting less than 5% each.

European parliament elections

Emigration and EU expansion meant that the number of Lithuanian representatives in the European Parliament has been decreased once again (to just 11).

This meant that while the elections are proportional (as required by EU regulations), actually most of the political campaigns were personal: most political parties expected only the leader of their list to get through at best, and thus put all their cards on that leader. A new phenomenon was a number of non-partisan "electoral blocks" created just for this election and named after their leader. Some star politicians switched allegiances for this election just to become a leader of some small party and thus the first one in the list.

The leaders who managed to get through were Aušra Maldeikienė (an outspoken far-left-leaning activist, 6,45%), Valdemar Tomaševski (ethnically Polish minority-rights activist, current MEP, 5,54%), Viktor Uspaskich (ethnically Russian businessman, current MEP, 9,04%), Petras Auštrevičius (a negotiator for Lithuanian EU membership, 6,55%).

The leaders who failed to get through this time despite being leaders were Rolandas Paksas (ex-president, outgoing MEP, 4,01%), Vytautas Radžvilas (eurosceptic political law professor, 3,35%), Antanas Guoga (a poker player noted for lively electoral campaigns, outgoing MEP, 5,13%), Valentinas Mazuronis (outgoing MEP), Gediminas Kirkilas (ex-PM, 2,37%), Artūras Zuokas (long-term mayor of Vilnius, 1,91%), Artūras Paulauskas (ex-speaker, 1,33%).

Merely three political parties managed to win more than a single European Parliament seat. Homeland Union (centrist) won three, to be filled with Andrius Kubilius (ex-PM), Rasa Juknevičienė and Liudas Mažylis (made famous by his discovery of the original of the Lithuanian act of independence). Socialdemocrats won two, to be filled with Vilija Blinkevičiūtė and Juozas Olekas. Peasants/Greens also won two, to be filled with Bronis Ropė (current MEP) and Šarūnas Marčiulionis (a former NBA basketball player).

Election results from website. From left to right: presidential election first round, second round, and European Parliament election

Election results from website. From left to right: presidential election first round, second round, and European Parliament election

Referendums on citizenship and MP number

Lithuanians have also voted on two referendums. In both of the referendums, Lithuanians overwhelmingly voted "for", however, the Lithuanian referendum laws - some of the tightest in the world - made both referendums not to pass.

The first referendum sought to expand dual citizenship to more Lithuanian emigrants. The referendum had the support of 72,35% voters but did not pass as it required the support of 50% total voters. With many voters emigrated and Lithuania having an especially large number of people who are apolitical with pride and do not ever vote, such result was impossible to reach. In fact, Lithuanian turnouts barely surpass 50% (and never surpass 60%), so, nearly 100% of those participating have to vote in favor for such a threshold to be passed.

The second referendum sought to lower the number of members of parliament from 141 to 121, to conform with the declining population. This referendum had 73,77% voters in favor and it had an easier threshold of 50% "of those voting in favor" - however, it failed to reach the necessary 50% turnout, with a turnout of just 47,79%. Interestingly, the few percents of people who were needed to achieve turnout did actually came to vote as they voted in the first round of the presidential election the same day (where the turnout was 56,96%). However, they understood that, if they would vote "against", the referendum proposition would have passed - as the necessary turnout would have been reached. Therefore, some voters decided not to vote at all instead, that way putting the referendum in jeopardy. This once again led observers to note the seemingly illogical Lithuanian referendum laws whereby the same number of votes "in favor" would have been enough for the proposition to pass simply if there would have been more votes "against" (if every person who refused to vote at referendum but voted at the elections that day would have voted "against" in the referendum instead, the referendum would have passed).

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Lithuanian municipality and mayor elections 2019 results

Lithuanian election marathon began on 2019 03 03 with the Municipal Council and mayor elections.

The popularity of the non-partisan electoral committees has severely strengthened as they took 26,76% of the total votes (up from 10,59% in the 2015 elections) and won in all 5 main city municipalities. Many regular party member politicians, including incumbent mayors, decided to form their own ad hoc committees for this election rather than run on their party lists. In Lithuania, parties are generally mistrusted as "machines of corruption" by parts of the population, leading to massive support for non-partisan lists. Still, until the 2015 election, only parties were allowed to field candidates for the municipal councils.

As the major parties lost some key politicians to the committees, their results plummeted. Still, the Homeland Union (centrist) managed to strengthen its result (16,05%, up from 15,72%).

Socialdemocrats (centre-left) declined to 13,24%, coming second (19,05% in 2015).

Peasants/Greens (centre-left, agriculturalist), on the one hand, strengthened their result significantly to 11,16% from 6,82% four years ago. However, their result is likely more worrying than joyful for them as in the parliamentary election of 2016 they were the first in the number of MPs election while now they are third among the parties. Peasants/Greens mostly swept the largely rural municipalities but now they also gained a foothold in some cities.

Liberal Movement ended up fourth among the parties but, with just 5,89% of the vote in place of 15,54% four years ago, it became the big loser, mostly due to the defections of key politicians. Liberal Movement essentially lost its strongest bases of Vilnius and Klaipėda as popular mayors of both cities defected to their own electoral committees as their party was marred in corruption scandals and increasingly abandoned the libertarian ideology for more US-style liberalism.

Labour Party continued its decline, now gaining 5,09% of vote instead of 8,42% 4 years ago, although achieving some key victories.

Poles' electoral action (Tomaševski's), long increasing its voter numbers by also attracting the other minorities (especially Russians) and trying to attract religious Christians who are also essentially a minority after the Soviet occupation (even naming the coalition "Union of Christian families"), now suffered a small blow as well. Their support dwindled from 7,76% to 5%, largely due to numerous minority-oriented non-partisan committees taking part of their traditional electorate and certain parties also attracting it.

Lithuanian municipalities by the leading party in the 2019 municipal elections

Lithuanian municipalities by the leading party in the 2019 municipal elections

The last three parties essentially became regional parties as they did not even seriously contest many municipalities, preferring to concentrate forces on where they are strong. While the Poles' Electoral Action always was, by nature, regional (strong only in the minority-majority areas), Liberal Movement and Labour Party both were once strong nationally. Two additional such once nationally-powerful but now essentially regional parties are Order and Justice and Freedom Union, faring well only in the few municipalities were they are historically strong (and winning the elections there).

2019 Lithuanian municipal election results in the main municipalities

In the major cities, the incumbent powers fared well which is quite rare for Lithuanian politics where people often tend to vote out the incumbents and being an incumbent is usually considered a weakness rather than strength as any unpopular-yet-unavoidable decisions strains the popularity and increases that of the opposition. As the Lithuanian economy is now strong, however, the need for the unpopular decisions has been lower than usual.

Below are the election results in the 6 main municipalities (each with a population of some 100 000 or more).

Vilnius city

In Vilnius, the forces of the incumbent mayor Remigijus Šimašius prevailed, albeit now under an independent committee flag rather than under that of the Liberal Movement. They gained 15 seats (17 seats four years ago).

The arch-opponent and eminent figure of Vilnius political life ex-mayor Artūras Zuokas made somewhat of a comeback, however, with his committee called "Happy Vilnius" now taking 10 seats (his party won 6 seats 4 years ago).

Šimašius (37,8% of the mayoral vote) and Zuokas (22,99%) will also face each other in the second round of the mayoral elections, repeating the battle won by Šimašius 4 years ago. In the second round, Šimašius won, albeit with a smaller percentage than four years ago 60%-38% this time.

Among the parties, Homeland Union increased its presence from 8 to 9. The big losers were the Valdemar Tomaševski's block which lost much of their electorate, declining from 10 to 6 seats. The reason for that is the establishment of several minority-oriented electoral committees (which did not gain any seats) and the masterstroke of the Labour party which sent their ethnically Russian leader Viktor Uspaskich to lead the Vilnius list and candidate in the mayoral race.

While Uspaskich had little chance in becoming a mayor of Vilnius where Labour Party never was strong (he came up third with 10,9% of the vote), his name attracted numerous Russian voters away from the Polish-dominated (albeit officially representing all minorities) Tomaševski block. Labour Party thus managed to win 5 seats in the municipal council while previously it had none.

Peasants/Greens took the remaining 3 seats while the Liberal Movement, Order and Justice, Lithuanian List, and Socialdemocrats will no longer be represented.

Kaunas city

In one of the largest landslides of the Lithuanian electoral history, the incumbent mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis had totally swept away all the opponents. He was reelected in the first round as a mayor, gaining a sweeping 79,59% of the popular vote. His electoral committee now gained an absolute majority - 32 seats out of 40, with Homeland Union forming the sole opposition with the remaining 8 seats.

4 years ago, Matijošaitis faced much more of an uphill struggle with just 36,85% of the votes in the first round and just 16 out of 40 seats in the council, necessitating a coalition.

Previously a businessman, he quickly became one of the most popular mayors in Lithuanian history and is credited for reversing the status of Kaunas as a provincial city well behind Vilnius and even Klaipėda according to the most statistics, attracting foreign investment, combatting corruption, etc.

Matijošaitis was even seen as a likely next president of Lithuania in the 2019 May elections - however, he chose to run for Kaunas mayor instead.

Klaipėda city

In the traditional Liberal bastion of Klaipėda, the liberal mayor Vytautas Grubliauskas fared well enough, albeit now under his own committee flag rather than that of the Liberal Movement.

Grubliauskas's committee gained 9 seats and the Liberal Movement gained 3 (11 last year, when Grubliauskas was still in the Liberal Movement). In the mayoral elections Grubliauskas will have to stand in the second round against Arvydas Vaitkus of Peasants/Greens. This party won 7 seats while it did not even contest the previous election in Klaipėda, showing the massive increase-in-power of Peasants/Greens in the recent years as the party turned from representing just the interests of the peasants to have a wider appeal for those who like Lithuanian traditions, are against alcoholism, support protecting nature and such.

Homeland Union gained 6 seats (up from 4), Center Party 3 seats and the Russian-interests electoral committee Titov and Justice gained 2 seats, replacing Tomaševski's block (and its Russian Alliance), as well as the Russian Union as the representatives of the Klaipėda's Russian minority in the municipal council.

Grubliauskas retained the mayoral seat in the second round in the tightest race among the big cities, defeating the peasant representative Arvydas Vaitkus 55%-44%.

Šiauliai city

Šiauliai became yet another city where the present mayor has strengthened positions. Visockas's list gained 15 seats instead of 5 it had the last election, coming just 1 short of absolute majority.

Visockas himself was re-elected in the first round (52,98% of the vote instead of 16,65% last election).

The fragmented opposition will consist of Peasants/Greens (3 seats), Homeland Union (3 seats), Šimulik electoral committee (3 seats), as well as Socialdemocrats, Labour party and Liberal Movement with 2 seats each.

Panevėžys city

While the incumbent mayor Rytis Mykolas Račkauskas has also dominated the Panevėžys elections (with 8 seats and 28,62% of the mayoral vote), here he had to face a strong opposition of his former ally anti-corruption activist Povilas Urbšys, whose electoral committee Račkauskas has left in order to found his own one.

Urbšys's committee gained 4 seats and Urbšys himself 18,01% of the mayoral vote, pitting him against Račkauskas in the second round. Račkauskas won the second round as well, however, 59%-38%.

In 2015, the then-united Urbšys's and Račkauskas's movement won 7 seats.

Panevėžys municipality will also have 5 Homeland Union members, 3 Peasants/Greens, and 2 each Socialdemocrats, Greens and Liberal Movement politicians.

Vilnius district

In Vilnius district, the hegemony of the Tomaševski's Poles' electoral action continued without facing the struggles it did elsewhere.

However, it suffered a small decline from 20 to 18 seats. Such decline happens almost every election and is likely attributable to the changing demography in the region as many ethnic Lithuanians move in from Vilnius city due to suburbanization and they usually don't vote for the Tomaševski's minority-rights block. Still, the district likely remains minority-majority for now and so are its councils.

The opposition will consist of Center-right coalition (6 seats), Socialdemocrats (4 seats) and Labour party (2 seats).

Mairja Rekst was re-elected in the first round (52,48%). She continued to be the female mayor that rules the largest municipality population-wise.

Upcoming elections and referendums

In the upcoming three months, Lithuanians will vote in the second round of the mayor elections (in the municipalities where noc andidate received 50% of total vote in the first round), the European Parliament election, the president election and the referendum on dual citizenship expansion.

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Partisan leader Ramanauskas-Vanagas buried amidst fanfare

2018 10 06. Amidst one of the biggest state funerals in Lithuania, the leader of Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas has been buried in Vilnius today. Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas was effectively the leader of the Lithuanian partisan movement since 1951.

While Ramanauskas-Vanagas was tortured, mutilated and then murdered by Soviets back in 1957, Soviets buried him in an unmarked grave so he would never become a target for reverence. The Soviets have failed, however, as this year the remains were located and identified using modern technologies and DNA testing. They were now reburied in a much more respected location.

Troops leads Vanagas's coffin in Antakalnio street

Troops leads Vanagas's coffin in Antakalnio street

The funeral took two days, with Ramanauskas-Vanagas coffin being held in St. Johns church the first day. Then, on Saturday, a Holy Mass was held in Vilnius Cathedral followed by a funerary procession to Antakalnis Cemetery where several thousand soldiers, priests, and ordinary people have participated.

In a graveside speech today, president of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė has also condemned all the ongoing attempts to smear the Lithuanian freedom fighters and expressed her gladness that so many people came and, with their numbers, proved that they understand the Lithuanian freedom fighters for who they were - fighters against the occupation of Lithuania.

The mass of people that follows the coffin

The mass of people that follows the coffin

The "fight for the memory of partisans" explained

The main story that influenced this Grybauskaitė's remark was that of controversial writer's Rūta Vanagaitė's accusations earlier this year that Ramanauskas-Vanagas was collaborating with the Soviet regime (she attacked many other Lithuanian freedom fighters in a similar fashion). Such accusations drew a widespread condemnation from public figures and historians alike as completely unfounded - however, there were similar attacks against other Lithuanian key partisans as well.

How could these smear-campaigns against partisan leaders be happening at all though? There are numerous reasons.

1.Forged Soviet documents and false-flag attacks

Firstly, the Soviet Union was inclined to portray Lithuanian pro-freedom activist leaders as collaborators with either Nazi German regime or the Soviet regime itself, that way casting a doubt among Lithuanians and others in these partisans. This way, they hoped to make Lithuanians less likely to support the guerrilla war. In order to achieve this, the Soviet Union used to fabricate documents and disseminate them locally and abroad, sponsor false-flag operations in Lithuanian villages and report their own atrocities as partisans'. Some of these Soviet documents and reports about such operations are still used as a basis for conclusions, especially by people who are not historians and are not knowledgeable in KGB/NKVD methods, and especially by foreigners.

Such forged KGB/NKVD documents and actions would typically "assign" things such as betrayal of Lithuania, war crimes, murders of civilians to the partisan leaders.

Vanagas's coffin is taken off from the artillery trailer

Vanagas's coffin is taken off from the artillery trailer

2.Seeing the entire World War 2 through a Western-Front lens

Secondly, some Westerners, many Russians, and Israelis have an oversimplified view of World War 2 as a conflict between "Good" (Allies) and "Evil" (Axis), with no third factions. This belief, however, is based solely on the Western Front situation, where independent nations fought against the onslaught of Nazi Germany.

In Central-Eastern Europe, however, Lithuanians and many other once-independent nations were essentially caught between two foreign genocidal occupational totalitarian regimes, representing both the Axis (Nazi Germany) and the Allies (Soviet Union). An underground third-force, therefore, arose in Central-Eastern Europe, opposing both invaders and seeking to restore their own independent countries as they were before World War 2. Lithuanian partisans were that third force in Lithuania.

Those who over-simplify World War 2 into a war between two global alliances, however, typically "assign" the entire movements of Central-Eastern Europe's pro-freedom partisans to either the Soviet or Nazi German regimes, depending on whom-for their actions were supposedly more convenient at a given time. In Russia, for instance, all those who fought against the Soviet Union are typically equated to fighters of Nazi Germany ("fascists"), that way positioning the Soviet Union as a "just liberator" of Eastern Europe - a notion fervently denied in nearly every Eastern European country. In Eastern Europe and on the whole, the Soviet Union was more deadly regime than Nazi Germany (Ukraine's Holodomor alone killed 7 million, for example) - therefore, in the view of most locals, it is just as illogical to see the Soviet Union as having been "good" because it was allied with a democratic USA or UK, as it would be illogical to claim Nazi Germany was good because it was allied with a democratic Finland. Moreover, such notions are seen as greatly disrespectful for the victims of the Soviet regime (as they regard their lives as less important than those of Nazi Germany's victims) and, in turn, a kind of "hate speech" against the entire ethnic and religious groups targetted in the Soviet genocides.

The prominence of such over-simplification of World War 2 Eastern European theater is because of three main factors:
a)Naturally, humans subconsciously see the victims and events of their own nation, city, family as more important than those of others. As such, the nations that lost the much more from the Nazi actions in comparison to Soviet actions (Jews, French, British) tend to concentrate their history research on the Nazi crimes and care less about the Soviet crimes. The evils of the Soviet crimes and genocides may even be subconsciously compensated to them by the fact that Soviets also fought against the Nazis, whose crimes and genocides "touched more directly" and thus seemed as worse. However, the beliefs that essentially claim that "Central-Eastern European partisans should not have fought for their lives and freedom, because that may have made a fight for our freedom somewhat harder" themselves are effectively ultra-nationalist. It is understandable to subjectively remember "one's own" victims the most (e.g. by building memorials in the cities where their relatives still live), however, if we treat all human lives as equal, it is illogical to see some lives and victims to have been objectively more important solely due to their nationality, ethnicity, place-of-abode or religion (or the nationality, ethnicity or religion of their killer).
b)For decades, Central-Eastern European historians were heavily censored behind the Iron Curtain and were not able to present their own histories to the Western audiences. Even today, the limitations of language-knowledge and lack of networks often preclude them from this. As such, the history of Eastern Europe (as it still exists in the popular conscience of the wider world) was written by people who lived far away from the region.
c)Simpler versions of history and science are generally more popular than more complex explanations.

Still, despite a clear need for that, there are few coordinated efforts by the Central/Eastern European nations to teach the rest of the world more about the role of Soviet Union in the Central/Eastern Europe of 1930s-1950s and during World War 2, leading the old misconceptions to persist. Arguably, today that situation is even lesser known in the West than 30 years ago, when the Cold War still raged on and the Soviet Union was widely presented as an "Evil Empire".

It should be noted that when the term "collaborator" is applied to a Lithuanian partisan in this sense, it does not mean somebody who participated in a genocide or war crimes - rather, it means that somebody fought against one totalitarian regime at the same time as the other totalitarian regime did. Such claims of collaboration are based on this logical fallacy of undistributed middle:
Nazis fought against the Soviets
Lithuanian partisans fought against the Soviets
Therefore, Lithuanian partisans are Nazis.

The burial place of Vanagas

The burial place of Vanagas

3.Increased Russian influence

Thirdly, for a decade or more after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was pretty much on the sidelines of the global sources of information, abandoning any influence in the non-nearby foreign countries the Soviet Union once had. These days, however, Russia took an active role again to disseminate its beliefs to the entire world, establishing English-language media and using other means.

To Russia, the smearing of pro-freedom partisans of Central-Eastern Europe is important, as it helps to equally smear the modern campaigners against the Russian influence in the region. The conflict where that was used the most spectacularly was the War in Ukraine, where Russians regularly claimed that they are fighting "fascists" in Ukraine because Ukrainians would honor their own World-War-2-era pro-freedom partisans, regarded by Russia to have been fascists.

Sometimes, including during the Ukraine war, Western media reprints these Russian allegations inadvertently: not knowing the background of the situation themselves, Western journalists often just "present both viewpoints", giving half of the space to the Russian "viewpoint", believing that means they have written a neutral article. However, as Russian claims are often based on purposefully fabricated falsehoods, the mere fact that they are treated as "legitimate claims" alone is useful for Russia, as that puts them on an equal basis with what Russia says are "Lithuanian claims" or "Ukrainian claims" or, often, "fascist claims".

Just like during the partisan wars of the 1940s-1950s themselves, such allegations are useful for Russia in helping to erode support for its opponents in Central-Eastern Europe as, when doubt is raised, many "outsiders" choose not to support factions that "could be fascist" and put their effort elsewhere.

4.A change in generations

Fourthly, the generation that remembers Lithuania's doomed fight for freedom in the 1940s and 1950s is now passing away. Previously, whenever an unfounded attack was made, witnesses would soon come and explain the reality, while today Lithuania has fewer and fewer witnesses with each year. Accusations and misinterpretations thus fall on the ears of people who just heard those stories from their grandparents, at best (however, even that is unlikely for many Lithuanians as most of the partisans were killed and those who survived often feared to tell their stories well until the 1990s). Some of them have formed their own opinions based on foreign (e.g. Russian) media rather than on the local "collective memory".

Therefore, it is possible that these days are crucial as they will determine what history will be written about the Lithuanian partisans and how will they be seen by those who never will be able to meet them and talk to them. The grand funeral of Ramanauskas-Vanagas may thus be seen as part of that "fight to liberate Lithuanian history", and that's likely one of the reasons why so many people came to Ramanauskas-Vanagas funeral.

What is the difference between the smear campaigns and real investigations?

Just like in any military force, there have indeed been some Lithuanian partisans who collaborated with the occupational regimes or betrayed their own colleagues. With so much time passed, however, many of these traitors are already well-known. There are Lithuanian institutions specifically established to investigate the resistance, occupations, and genocide, to compile the lists of both victims and perpetrators, and these institutions continue that work for decades.

What makes these smear campaigns different from actual investigations is that they are often based on the same well-known-to-researchers documents and facts, essentially putting a media spin on them so it would seem that they prove something which they don't prove. As a side note, they usually disproportionally target key well-respected partisans, that way attempting to discredit the entire partisan movement and attract attention, whereas the real collaborators were generally much lower in rank.

Real investigations, on the other hand, could only be triggered by uncovering a new, previously-unknown document by a researcher that would genuinely show some partisan (or any other person for that matter) in a new light.

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Pope Francis completes his visit to Lithuania

2018 09 23. Pope Francis has completed his visit to Lithuania today.

The visit to Vilnius and Kaunas took three days and was the first papal visit in Lithuania since 1993 when John Paul II visited the then-newly-independent country.

Back then, the papal visit had dual meaning to Lithuanians: in addition to the typical religious one, it was also part of the global recognition to Lithuania, with Pope being the first so important person to visit Lithuania after independence.

Today, Lithuania is already mature but people still greeted Pope enthusiastically, with some 100 000 people visiting the mass at Kaunas and the streets where pope passed by enclosed by groups of people.

Lithuanians line up to greet pope along the famous St. Ann church in Vilnius

Lithuanians line up to greet pope along the famous St. Ann church in Vilnius

Such reverence during the major event of Pope visit is signifying the Lithuanian-style religiosity. After decades of Soviet occupation, most Lithuanians are effectively "semi-practicing Catholics": they declare themselves to be Catholic and they complete the major Catholic rites (Catholic wedding, baptizing children, burials, celebrating Christmas the religious way) but they do not turn up at churches on "regular" Sundays. During the Soviet occupation, such lifestyle was a necessity as, on the one hand, each church visit was risky for career prospects in the entirely-Soviet-atheist-controlled economy, yet, on the other hand, distancing oneself from religion felt equal to betraying Lithuania in a time of peril, as Catholic traditions were always important to the Lithuanians and were persecuted by the Soviets, while the Roman Catholic Church stood at the frontlines of anti-Soviet activities.

Even though the Soviet occupation has ended, the Lithuanian relation to religion established back then has arguably continued. Among the European nations, Lithuania has very few people who say to "never visit a church", yet even fewer people do "visit the church at least once a week". During the last census (2011), almost 86% of Lithuania's population declared themselves to be Roman Catholic and just 6,8% of the population declared themselves irreligious. This makes Lithuania the second most-Catholic country in Europe (after Poland), if excluding the European microstates.

Lithuanians squeeze to go nearer the Cathedral square where the Pope said a speech

Lithuanians squeeze to go nearer the Cathedral square where the Pope said a speech

Such numbers may seem strange to an outsider when one sees the rather empty city churches on Sundays but few would doubt them during the major Catholic events, among which the Papal visit is likely the most important in years. It is probable that more people have participated in the Papal mass alone than in all the Lithuanian churches combined on any given non-Christmas and non-Easter Sunday.

Unlike in some Western countries, the Roman Catholic church has few image problems in Lithuania and those that exist were generally imported from the West through media. Unlike in some Western countries, the church in Lithuania spent most of the 20th century being persecuted and using its machine to help Lithuanians fight for their human rights. There was no priest misbehavior scandal in Lithuania that could be comparable to those in some Western countries, making the Papal visit there much easier.

The one-second glimpse of the pope many Lithuanians spent an hour or so to see

The one-second glimpse of the pope many Lithuanians spent an hour or so to see

In a sense, Pope Francis did in Lithuania the same things as most Catholic priests have done before: condemning the Soviet and Nazi German occupational regimes that murdered hundreds of thousands of Lithuania's people. The same regimes Roman Catholic clergy of Lithuania was instrumental in opposing through hiding the potential victims, helping them to speak out, and helping to import the real news from elsewhere in the world. Back during the occupations (1940-1990), however, many Lithuanian priests were murdered for just these actions; today, such messages could be said openly and receive nothing less than applause.

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Lithuanian-American heritage map to double in scope

2018 08 23. True Lithuania's interactive map of Lithuanian-American heritage sites will soon also include the entire Midwest, doubling in size.

Launched in 2017, the map now covers ~340 Lithuanian sites in New England and Mid-Atlantic regions (11 states). After the expansion, the map will include some 600-700 Lithuanian sites and cover ~80-90% of the total eligible Lithuanian locations in the USA. The map is interactive and thus offers not just the exact locations but also pictures and detailed information about each site, aimed at tourists and locals alike.

Eligible locations marked in the map include Lithuanian churches, Lithuanian cemeteries, Lithuanian clubhouses and museums, Lithuanian monuments, graves of the famous Lithuanians, locations named in Lithuanian, etc.

States and locations that will be added to the map

The Midwest extension will cover the states of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Indiana.

The map of the 2018 expedition (left)

The map of the 2018 expedition (left)

Some of the famous locations that will be marked and written about include:
*Lithuanian Plaza district of Chicago that once housed some 30 000 Lithuanians thus being the largest Lithuanian district outside Lithuania. It has the largest-outside-Lithuania Lithuanian church, Lithuanian monastery, Darius-Girėnas monument and more.
*"Draugas" publishing house that publishes the oldest Lithuanian-language newspaper in the world (Chicago).
*The house where the longest-serving Lithuanian president Antanas Smetona was killed and his grave (Cleveland).
*An East St. Louis Lithuanian church that is one of the best examples of "Modern Lithuanian" style that Lithuanian-Americans invented - so good it is considered a heritage by the county.
*A Spring Valley Lithuanian cemetery widely claimed to be haunted.
*The largest Lithuanian museums of America and their spectacular art collections (Chicago).
*Lithuanian cultural garden in Cleveland where sculptures for the most famous Lithuanians have been constructed.
*Chicago's St. Casimir Lithuanian cemetery that is so great that it has been included in the "199 cemeteries to see before you die" book alongside such cemeteries as Paris's Père Lachaise and the Arlington National Cemetery.
*Holy Cross, The most elaborate Lithuanian church of Chicago that is included in the city's architectural guides.
*The sites related to the "Jungle" novel and the Chicago stockyards where many Lithuanians worked at.
*The graves of many famous Lithuanian artists and novelists who were forced to flee Lithuania due to the Soviet occupation.
And much more.

You may follow the expedition on Facebook "True Lithuania".

Destination Lithuanian America team: Augustinas Žemaitis and Aistė žemaitienė

Destination Lithuanian America volunteer team: Augustinas Žemaitis and Aistė žemaitienė. In the USA, they will be joined by some 200 Lithuanian-American volunteers.

Expedition to be more extensive

The map is being created by Augustinas Žemaitis, the owner of True Lithuania, and supported by the Lithuanian government as a part of Lithuanian centenary celebrations. In order to create the map, Augustinas visits every location, marking its GPS coordinates and taking photos. Local Lithuanians also tell the stories of the Lithuanian heritage sites which are written down and added to the "Global True Lithuania" encyclopedia of Lithuanian-American sites. Last year, the expedition took 16 days and some 200 people helped and this year that number is expected to increase as the expedition will take 25 days.

Last year, the mapping garnered significant attention in Lithuanian, Lithuanian-American, and American press, however, a question often lingered why such areas strong in Lithuanian history as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit were not included. As Augustinas Žemaitis explained back then, this was due to limited funding but, if the first project would be successful, another expedition would be made to Midwest.

Indeed, not only the original sponsors and volunteers have returned for this year's expedition but the success of the first expedition attracted numerous private sponsors, among them Lithuanian-Americans Donatas Januta, Algirdas Avižienis, Darius Vaškelis. This made it possible to expand the scope of the expedition further by including also some areas of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, skipped by the 2017 expedition. Support from the Lithuanian national TV will make it possible to cover the expedition in a series of videos to be aired.

The expanded map will be published online before December 2018. The Global True Lithuania articles on Lithuanian heritage will also be updated by then.

The results of the previous-year project may be read at the online encyclopedia of Lithuanian-American sites in articles for each location. Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachussetts (Athol/Gardner, Boston, Brockton, Merrimack Valley, Springfield, Worcester), New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York (New York City, Upstate New York), Pennsylvania (Coal Region (South), Coal Region (North), Du Bois, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh), Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington (DC).

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Lithuania celebrates its 100th birthday

The Republic of Lithuania is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1918 independence declaration today. To commemorate this, there are many events all over Lithuania. Many of the projects meant to commemorate the centenary have been already completed beforehand, including the True Lithuania's "Destination America" project that has created an interactive map of the Lithuanian sites in the USA.

Seemingly just as many are about to take place today, ranging from state-sponsored ones to private actions of people and companies. Many of those who did not create an event or a unique commemoration themselves would at least mount a Lithuanian flag. While typically one flag per building is considered enough for holidays, today many additional flags are flown at numerous windows.

A 100 sign being constructed in the town of Šilutė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Many anniversaries of Lithuania

While the Republic of Lithuania 100th anniversary is often portrayed as Lithuania's 100th birthday, the reality is more complex. Having had a sad and turbulent history, Lithuania has not one but several days of its creation (or, re-creation after occupation).

1918 02 16 was the day when Republic of Lithuania was declared, ending the 120+ years of Russian Imperial occupation that even had Lithuanian language banned. However, the Russians have since occupied Lithuania again in 1940 (as the Soviet Union). Therefore, to many foreigners, 1990 03 11 is the most well-known independence date: the day when Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviet Union (and was not ever occupied again).

Around midnight before the centenery, a Lithuanian airline used its plane to draw '100' with its route

Around midnight before the centenery, a Lithuanian airline used its plane to draw '100' with its route

In reality, however, Lithuania is much older even than 1918 as it exists since at least the 13th century. Back then, it used to be a Grand Duchy. Its exact date of founding is unknown, therefore, July 6th has been chosen as a national festival as it coincides with the presumed date the Lithuania's first king Mindaugas was crowned.

Many still remember, however, that Lithuania celebrated its millennium in 2009 and the reason for that was that the name of Lithuania was first mentioned in a written source in 1009, some, therefore, considering 1009 to be the date of Lithuania's foundation.

Amphibious vehicle that transports people over the flooded section of the Šilutė-Rusnė road adorned with flags of Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

There are also numerous less-popular foundation dates, e.g. the June 23rd, when Lithuanians deposed the Soviet regime in 1941 (but were occupied by Nazi Germany the same week), or the September of 1991 total collapse of the Soviet Union when Lithuania was recognized and Lithuania joined the United Nations.

In any case, Lithuanians surely have many dates to celebrate, and therefore many anniversaries. For instance, 2020 will mark the 30th year after the 1990 independence restoration.

A typical window flag in Vilnius. Lithuanian flag sales soared this month. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

See also: 20 key moments of Lithuanian history

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Lithuanian-American heritage map is published online

Do You imagine where in America the Mindaugas Castle is located? Where is the place Darius and Girėnas took off from? Where can you find memorials for Lithuanian freedom fighters, Lithuanian art museums, and a Lithuanian-themed guest house?

More than 300 Lithuanian-American sites have now been marked on an interactive online map, the first of such kind! It is accessible for free at .

The map has been created by the “Destination – America” team, as a result of the September – October 2017 campaign across 11 northeastern USA states. During the journey, “Destination – America” have made over 8000 pictures of the Lithuanian sites there, collected their stories from some 200 locals, and marked their exact GPS coordinates. All this now makes the basis for the “Destination – America” map, government chancery funded the centenary of Lithuania.

 Interactive map „Destination America“

Interactive map „Destination America“

Lithuanian-American sites have astonished even the map team

The ambassador of Lithuania in the US Rolandas Kriščiūnas said that this interactive map is just what was needed to all the Lithuanians – not only to those who live in the US, but also the ones who travel to US from any other country. “As I live here in the US, I can see the footprint Lithuanians left here is just impressive – this can easily be seen by the amount of Lithuanian heritage. I strongly believe this interactive map will help everybody to find out more about these places and get a full impression of them”, Rolandas Kriščiūnas said.

 A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at Kennebunk Lithuanian park which now attracts American tourists as well

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at Kennebunk Lithuanian park

The head of the “Destination – America” project Augustinas Žemaitis said that even the people who provided the stories of Lithuanian heritage for the “Destination – America” project often said they hope the map will be useful to them as well. “Although most of them know about the places in the cities they live, many have been pleasantly surprised to learn of such locations like a Lithuanian-named lake in the suburbs or even a Lithuanian coat of arms that is engraved on a downtown facade. To tell the truth, even though I have already been researching Lithuanian heritage for 5 years now, I was sometimes surprised by the magnitude of the Lithuanian places in America. We also “discovered” new sites that just never had been written about in accessible sources. At the beginning of the project, I hoped we could mark at least 100 sites, 150 at best. However, the reality appeared to be much more impressive and now our interactive map consists of more than 300 sites”, Augustinas Žemaitis said.

 The map of DESTINATION – AMERICA volunteer expedition

The map of DESTINATION – AMERICA volunteer expedition

Stories and images included

“Destination - America” map is not merely a list of places. By clicking on the markers you may also get the site descriptions and images. Under each image, a link appears to a longer story of the Lithuanian locations in the area, with much additional information, history, and images.

An exmaple of the interactive map of a locality

An exmaple of the interactive map of a locality

In addition to regular zooming, the map offers capabilities to select sub-maps by the state or the city, filter the sites by category and importance level, see the street views and more.

Lithuanian sites in “Destination – America” are grouped in four tiers. The higher the tier, the more important, interesting, visitor-accessible, and authentic the place is. There are 16 Lithuanian-related sites in the top tier, 105 in the second tier and 191 in the lower tiers.

 Lackawanna Coal Mine in Scranton, Pennsylvania, once the worksite for thousands of Lithuanians and now a tourist sight where their plight may be better understood by everybody

Lackawanna Coal Mine in Scranton, Pennsylvania, once the worksite for thousands of Lithuanians and now a tourist sight where their plight may be better understood by everybody

The top tier sites should garner interest well beyond Lithuanians and includes major museums, and impressive monuments. The second tier sites provide a great Lithuanian atmosphere and are also interesting as sights. In the lower tier sites, only traces of Lithuanity remain, yet the sheer abundance of them is also a great testament to the importance of Lithuanians in America.
Moreover, the Lithuanian sites are arranged into categories by their use (churches, cemeteries, graves of famous Lithuanians, clubs, Lithuanian placenames…).

In the future, the Lithuanian heritage map should be supplemented by the tourist routes that would allow combining Lithuanian heritage and regular sites of interest in your American journeys.

The main hall of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

The main hall of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

The interactive free map of the Lithuanian heritage in the USA is accessible here: Map of Lithuanian heritage in the USA.

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Lithuanian-American heritage will be collected to an interactive map

2017 08 15. True Lithuania has launched "DESTINATION - AMERICA", a massive project to research and publish the information about the Lithuanian heritage in the northeastern USA.

The sites to be visited will include Lithuanian churches, Lithuanian museums, Lithuanian monuments, locations named after Lithuania(ns) or in Lithuanian, Lithuanian cemeteries, the graves of famous Lithuanians, and more.

The owner of the website Augustinas Žemaitis will visit the sites, take pictures and hear stories.

The preliminary plan of where the DESTINATION AMERICA volunteers will go. A distance of 3000 km will be covered in 15 days. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The research results will be freely made available online, in the form of a new interactive map of Lithuanian heritage in the USA, as well as extensive articles with online photo galleries.

Well over 100 Lithuanian locations in 10 US states and DC will be visited and described on the interactive map.

True Lithuania hopes this would make the Lithuanian heritage in the USA well known both among the Lithuanians in Lithuania and the USA, as well as the general American population, attracting more tourism and preservation efforts.

Much of Lithuanian heritage has been lost in the recent decade, with some of the largest Lithuanian churches demolished in Shenandoah and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Lithuanian-American heritage seems to lack the attention from those who protect minority heritage as well as the interest of Lithuania itself, but the DESTINATION AMERICA project seeks to change this.

An example of how the interactive map will look like. Here is a New York section with the Transfiguration Lithuanian church clicked on. The description may be expanded by clicking on the link. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The research in America will take place between September 18th and October 4th, 2017.

The project will be completed by December (i.e. the collected information will be made available online in both English and Lithuanian).

The project has won the support of the Government chancery of Lithuania as one of the best projects to commemorate the centenary of Lithuania.

Note: the map is now already available here

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Vilnius Airport closed down for a month-long renovation

2017 07 14. Vilnius airport has been closed down today for a month-long renovation of its sole runway. In theory, all flights have been moved to Kaunas, where a temporary terminal has been constructed. In practice, however, some airlines chose to cease flying to Lithuania altogether during the period, as Kaunas airport is more than 100 km away from Vilnius, Lithuania's capital.

The move to close down the Vilnius airport has been controversial from its start as it has been chosen over an alternative to perform the renovation works at night which would have allowed Vilnius airport to operate as scheduled on daytime when most of the flights arrive.

As summer is *the* tourist season in Lithuania, the renovation of the airport is expected to severely impact the income of tourist-related industries, and therefore the nationwide tax income.

Arrivals building at Vilnius airport

While the politicians who supported the closure often argued that 100 km is a short distance in the general context and it is a minor nuisance for passengers to fly to Kaunas instead of Vilnius, the reality proved different. The moving of the airport created many unforeseen inconveniences, such as, for example, a difficulty in booking flights to Vilnius and then back from Kaunas (if one's holidays begins before the reconstruction and ends during it). The booking systems of some airlines would not allow such a booking and would require booking tickets separately, almost doubling the price and reducing money-back guarantees in case the first flight is canceled. While the majority of Lithuanians know about the reconstruction, the majority of potential travelers don't, getting an unpleasant surprise of no available tickets to Vilnius during the renovation time when they would search for plane tickets to Vilnius.

Given this, many passengers likely decided against traveling to Lithuania during the time, and airlines had to cancel numerous flights due to lower-than-usual demand. The full impact of the reconstruction will be counted only after it ends. However, during June-July the numbers of True Lithuania online travel guide visitors have dropped by ~10% compared to the previous summer, likely demonstrating that fewer foreigners have been planning their holidays in Lithuania this summer.

Kaunas airport regular terminal as visible from departing airplane. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In 2016, Vilnius International Airport was the main airport of Lithuania, serving 3 814 000 passengers. Kaunas International Airport was the distant second Lithuanian airport, serving 740 000, mostly low-cost carriers aimed at Lithuanian emigrants and Lithuanian sun-seekers who fly to the southern resorts. While Vilnius has been constantly growing from 2009, Kaunas has actually declined from its peak in 2011 (830 268 passengers) as the low-cost carriers sought to relocate their business to the capital.

The Vilnius Airport is expected to reopen on the 19th of August.

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Lithuanian Games of 2017 conclude in Kaunas

2017 07 02. The 10th Lithuanian Games have concluded in Kaunas after 3 days of competitions in 19 disciplines, ranging from chess and bowling to basketball and football.

As every 4 years, the Lithuanian Games have invited amateur sportsmen from the Lithuanian diaspora to visit Lithuania for the competition against other Lithuanians, having an opportunity to speak Lithuanian.

Lithuanian Games basketball semifinal between Lithuanians from Latvia and Lithuanians from the UK. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The tradition of Lithuanian Games began in 1938 when they were known as the "Lithuanian national olympiad". The event could have become regular but sadly it was the last time many of its participants came back to their home country as Lithuania was occupied in 1940. The tradition was resuscitated by the diaspora in 1978 when the Lithuanian Games were held in Canada with some 1000 participants from various Lithuanian communities.

They were then held every 5 years in a different country that has a strong Lithuanian diaspora. Since 1991, as Lithuania became independent, the games are held every 4 years in Lithuania.

Over the time, the represented communities have changed. With the aging and assimilation of the interwar and post-WW2 communities, countries with major Lithuanian diaspora such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Venezuela were not represented this time. However, the total number of countries representing is increasing, with a few amateur sportsmen coming from among recent emigrants (primarilly from Europe).

The largest "older" communities from the Western countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia were also represented.

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Teofilius Matulionis becomes the second beatified Lithuanian

2017 06 25. In a massive event in Vilnius that was attended by thousands of locals and pilgrims, the Roman Catholic Church has beatified the Lithuanian priest Teofilius Matulionis (1873-1962).

Beatification is the second-in-status show of respect by the Roman Catholic Church towards the deceased people after Canonization (Sainthood). From now on, Teofilius Matulionis will be referred to as "Blessed Teofilius Matulionis". He is only the second Lithuanian person honored this way (after Jurgis Matulaitis). Furthermore, Lithuania also has one saint (St. Casimir).

Teofilius Matulionis was one of the numerous priests persecuted by the Soviet regime. Before the communist revolution in Russia, he served as a Catholic priest and then bishop in St. Petersburg. As such, he suffered the communist atheism well before the Lithuania itself was occupied. He was imprisoned in 1923-1925 and again 1930-1933. In 1933, he was released in a Soviet-Lithuanian prisoner exchange on the condition that he returns to Lithuania. However, once the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania as well, he has been arrested again. Afterward, he spent ten years in prisons and various exile locations in Russia (1946-1956) and was not allowed to perform his religious duties afterward as well.

The beatification event at Vilnius Cathedral square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

During the times he was not arrested, Teofilius Matulionis sought to help the people who suffered under the totalitarian regimes and genocides. While most of this suffering was due to the religious and ethnic persecution by the Soviet Union against the Catholics and Lithuanians, Teofilius Matulionis did not limit his help to his own kin as he has also saved Jews from the Holocaust, hiding them in monasteries of his diocese during the Nazi German occupation of Lithuania. Even while imprisoned and suffering tortures, he sought to be useful, secretly performing priest duties for fellow prisoners.

Teofilius Matulionis was poisoned by the Soviet secret services in 1962. As his persecutions and death happened because of his religious beliefs, he is held to be a martyr.

Year 2017 have been officially declared by the Lithuanian parliament to be the "year of Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis".

The beatification ceremony in Vilnius was attended by over 100 priests, Lithuanian luminaries and highest-ranking politicians (including the President). The mass was led by a cardinal from Vatican and included parts in the language of every location where Teofilius Matulionis lived at while alive, namely Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Belarusian, Latvian and English, in addition to Latin which was the liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church in Matulionis's times. Additioanl events took place before and after the main beatification event, including the procession that transported his relics from his church of Kaišiadorys to Vilnius and back.

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Lithuanian parliamentary elections 2016

2016 Lithuanian parliamentary election results (percentages of votes won by parties)

2016 Lithuanian parliamentary election results (percentages of votes won by parties)

2016 10 11. As the final results came for the first round of 2016 Lithuanian parliamentary elections, it became clear that the composition of government will be significantly changed from the present one.

Peasants/Greens 21,5%

Peasant/Green party shown the most remarkable performance. A party that failed to pass the necessary 5% threshold for several elections in a row, now amassed 21,5% of the vote (2012 elections - 3,88%). The success of the party may be attributed to the broad base of voters it has attracted. In addition to the peasants that the party was originally established to represent, its nature-first ideas increasingly attracted urban environmentalist electorate.

Furthermore, leftists disillusioned with the current Socialdemocrat government have voted for Peasants/Greens as the only viable alternative.

The third group of the Peasants/Greens voters likely came from the "personal politics" camp of Lithuanian political sphere, i.e. people who vote for charismatic leaders rather than the ideology. In addition to the inspiring millionaire-farmer Ramūnas Karbauskis, who puts a great emphasis on reversing the negative image of Lithuanian countryside (which can be summed up by words "alcohol-addicted, poor, and hopeless") by his own example and self-funded non-profit projects, Peasants/Greens have attracted a former minister of interior Saulius Skvernelis and some other well-known figures.

While Peasants/Greens have gained popularity in the three largest cities (~10%) the true force behind its massive show of power were still the villages and towns, where they have enjoyed the support of ~30-35% of the electorate. Peasants/Greens also managed to prevail in Šiauliai and Panevėžys (4th and 5th largest cities, respectively).

Homeland Union - Christian Democrats 21,7%

Centrist Homeland Union (the traditional arch-opponent of Socialdemocrats) may attempt to seek to form a ruling coalition after 4 years of Socialdemocrat rule, winning 21,7% of the vote (2012 elections - 15,1%).

While the name of Homeland Union has been associated with unpopular-yet-effective decisions to raise taxes and lower government handouts as a response to 2008 crisis, the party has largely renewed its top ranks, with Gabrielius Landsbergis (a grandson of Vytautas Landsbergis who was instrumental in the independence of Lithuania) now taking the lead. To some, the stunning rise of Gabrielius Landsbergis may seem to be an example of nepotism, but the Homeland Union, once considered a party "for the older people", now managed to attract the new generation of voters as well.

In the battle for these young voters, the top opponent of Homeland Union is the rightist Liberal Movement.

Homeland Union prevailed in all the top three cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipėda) where populations are among the most educated.

While considered rightist by some analysts, Homeland Union actually stays at the center of the political spectrum. It seeks to balance free market with support to the poor (tax reductions are as often on its agenda as social benefit increases, and vice-versa), as well as combining the local and Western values. The only position where the Homeland Union sees no compromise is its eagerness to integrate into the European Union, regardless of the odds and sacrifices needed.

Socialdemocrats - 14,4%

Quite a great on itself (14,4%), the performance of Socialdemocrats couldn't have pleased its leaders as Socialdemocrats are used to better results. In 2012 they have acquired 18,4% of the public vote.

Arguably, there was no single event that has somewhat eroded the popularity of Socialdemocrats, but rather a string of low-scale scandals, gaffes, and government decisions widely perceived as illogical, inconsistent or contrary to the 2012 electoral program.

Socialdemocrats are a leftist party, however, some analysts would denounce such label claiming that (just like the Homeland Union) it is a centrist party. Indeed, it has taken many decisions considered to be pro-business and pro-free market in addition to those more typical for leftist ideology (e.g. Socialdemocrats have recently adopted a new Labour code that was protested against by the labor unions).

The main difference between the Homeland Union and Socialdemocrats is perhaps in their value systems. While the Homeland Union combines Western and local values, Socialdemocrats combine Western and Eastern (Soviet). The existence of many former members of the communist party in the ranks of Socialdemocrats (and related political decisions) generally makes the party disliked by most intellectuals and the inhabitants of largest cities.

To village and town dwellers who gained less economically from the independence period, however, the Soviet connections of Socialdemocrats are less of an anathema. However, towns and villages were exactly the area where Peasants/Greens hit the hardest: Socialdemocrats came second after them even in their stronghold of Vilkaviškis, the hometown of Socialdemocrat prime minister Algirdas Butkevičius (after receiving 52,8% vote there in 2012, Socialdemocrats received only 27,06% this year). This year, Socialdemocrats gained ~15-25% of the vote in the "countryside" districts and ~8-13% of the vote in the main city districts, where their popularity remained unchanged.

Even with the setbacks, Socialdemocrats undoubtedly remained a major force in Lithuanian politics for the next 4 years.

Liberal Movement - 9%

2016 Lithuanian parliamentary election results (partition of the seats after the 1st round)

2016 Lithuanian parliamentary election results (partition of the seats after the 1st round)

Liberals were for long hailed as a party that was about to dislodge the Homeland Union from their leadership among the Lithuanian cities and youth.

However, a recent corruption scandal involving their leader Eligijus Masiulis accused of taking a large bribe from a businessman postponed such hopes. Liberal Movement came fourth with 9% and may only hope in becoming a minor partner in forming the coalition.

Nevertheless, Liberals have improved the result from the 2012 elections when they have gained 8,6% of the vote. Much of their gain was at the expense of other Liberal parties, which have folded or declined well under 5% threshold.

Liberal Movement mainly draws its support from the young and the cities (in Vilnius and Klaipėda ~17% voted for Liberals, while in the countryside merely ~6% did).

After outcompeting the other Liberal parties, the Liberal Movement has few similar-views competitors in the Lithuanian political sphere, as they are the only politically relevant party to be completely rightist (pro-free market).

Moreover, they are also the keenest on establishing the singular Western value system upon Lithuania, dismantling both the Eastern values ("Soviet remnants") and, more controversially, the local values ("Lithuanian traditions") as mostly dated.

For example, in Lithuania such Western-originated controversial issues as same-sex partnerships are typically promoted only by the Liberal Movement on the partywide scale.

Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action - 5,5%

Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action, which has appended a phrase "Union of Christian families" to its name, came 5th with 5,5% of vote.

For a long time, Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action was growing in popularity, expanding its support from just the Polish minority to also the Russian minority.

This year the party has attempted to expand outside the ethnic minorities, by also attracting the religious Lithuanians (hence the name change). They were the only party in 2016 elections to provide a truly Christian program, with the word "God" mentioned numerous times and Bible cited.

Such emphasis did not mean a big ideological change for the Poles' Electoral Action. With the Poles being the most religious ethnic community of Lithuania, their party has always greatly relied on Christian thought. Russians have also become increasingly religious after the collapse of the Soviet Union (according to census data), meaning many of them too had no problems in voting for a somewhat religious party as long as it promoted minority issues.

Still, the official drifting from an ethnic minority block to also a religious block may have alienated a few voters, and, more surely, despite a significant Lithuanian-language campaigning in Vilnius, failed to attract new voters. The popularity declined from 5,8% in 2012. It may be so that Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action is so associated with Polish or ethnic minority lobbyism, that it received an image that a Lithuanian has no logical reason to vote for it.

While Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action is the toughest at safeguarding various local and Christian traditions (e.g. proposing an abortion ban, save for certain circumstances), which may also appeal to Lithuanians, other Lithuanian Poles' Electoral Action policies directly contradict common Lithuanian agenda, e.g. the demand for an increased role of Polish language raises concern (whether justified or not) among Lithuanians as the high status of other languages in Lithuania was typically associated with anti-Lithuanian discrimination (russification, polonization) in the past. These areas of dramatically different opinions make it hard to combine religious Lithuanians (who are also often very patriotic) and ethnic Poles into a single voting block.

Order and Justice - 5,3%

A minor partner of the current ruling coalition, "Order and Justice" is one of the Lithuanian "personal parties" grouped around a single person (in this case, impeached president Rolandas Paksas) rather than an ideology. "Order of Justice" covers an entire political spectrum of opinions with members of various opinions having joined the same party mostly out of convenience of cooperating in contesting elections.

"Order and Justice" received 5,3%, down from 7,3% in 2012. Some of the voters likely drifted to Karbauskis and his Peasants/Greens. As always, "Order and Justice" was the most popular in Samogitia (the native land of Rolandas Paksas).

The future of "Order and Justice" may be at stake however as Rolandas Paksas resigned from its leadership, disillusioned by the fact that he remains disqualified from contesting Lithuanian local elections himself despite a European Court of Human Rights decision in his favor. Personal parties in Lithuania are rarely able to withstand a leadership change and often wither instead.

Parties that failed to pass the threshold

This time relatively many votes were cast for parties that ultimately failed to pass the electoral threshold. While usually it's the conventional parties that suffer such fate, this year it was the personal/protest parties.

Firstly, a peculiar Lithuanian electoral system meant that the new Anticorruption Coalition of Naglis Puetikis and Kristupas Krivickas, founded by a politician well known for protests and a crime journalist, did not make it to the parliament even though it gained 6,06% of the vote. That's because the threshold is officially higher for coalitions that combine several parties.

The biggest losers of the election were, however, the Labour party (party of the Lithuanian-Russian businessmen Viktor Uspaskich), which ended up with 4,7% of the vote. In 2012 elections this party was the first, acquiring 19,8% of the popular electorate. Like with all the personal parties, their electorate is more fluid than that of ideological ones and is quick to drift to new upcoming popular politicians.

In addition to these two parties, Freedom Union failed to pass the threshold yet again (2,1%), likely an evidence that Liberal Movement already won the competition between the once-numerous Liberal parties.

The other failures were suffered by the Green Party (not associated with peasants and supporting a more Western-styled environmentalism, 1,9%), Lithuanian list (protest party, 1,7%), People's Party (pro-Russian, 1%), Tautininkai (leftist nationalist, 0,5%) and the Way of Courage (a single-issue party established during the Drąsius Kedys story, 0,28%). Of those, only the Way of Courage had passed the threshold in 2012 (8% of the vote) but it lost popularity as its core issue has subsided in media attention.

The prognosis on runoffs that will decide 68 more seats

2016 Lithuanian parliamentary election results. This diagram combines the seats actually won by parties in the 1st round with seats they are to win in the runoffs if the first 1st round candidate would win every runoff.

2016 Lithuanian parliamentary election results. This diagram combines the seats actually won by parties in the 1st round with seats they are to win in the runoffs if the most successful 1st round candidate would win every runoff.

According to Lithuanian electoral system, only 70 seats out of 141 available are elected by party lists. The remaining 71 are elected in single-member constituencies, according to the US/UK model. However, if a single candidate fails to get 50% of the vote in the first round, a runoff with the two best candidates is needed.

This year, just 3 candidates made it to the parliament without runoffs. Two of them are members of the Poles' Electoral Action who aced in the Polish-majority constituencies. The remaining one is the former minister of finance Ingrida Šimonytė (Homeland Union).

The rest of the constituencies will undergo runoffs after two weeks, deciding the fate of the remaining 68 seats. Peasants/Greens and the Homeland Union are to have the most representatives in the runoffs. Countryside runoffs will be often contested by the Peasants/Greens and Socialdemocrats, with an occasional contestant from other parties. Vilnius and Klaipėda runoffs are mostly to be contested by the Homeland Union and the Liberals, while Kaunas runoffs will often see the fight between the Homeland Union and Peasants/Greens.

Several independents have made it to the runoffs. Alarmingly to many ethnic Lithuanians, a far left politician Algirdas Paleckis got into runoff at the ethnically diverse Naujoji Vilnia constituency. He is convicted for a denial of Soviet crimes (infamously, he claimed that Lithuanians themselves (rather than the Soviet army) shot at other Lithuanians during January 13, 1991), moreover, he is a grandchild of interwar communist Justas Paleckis who collaborated with the Soviet Union in the occupation of Lithuania. He will face a Homeland Union candidate in what will arguably be the runoff where the two candidates will have the most radically different opinions.

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The silver era of Lithuanian basketball continues

2015 09 21. Lithuanians have greeted their national basketball team as it flew back from Eurobasket 2015 final match in France where it has won silver medals for second European Championship in a row.

7th Olympic qualification in a row

Lithuanian Eurobasket 2015 result guarantees direct qualification to Olympic Basketball Tournament in Rio De Janeiro 2016. Olympic tournament is widely regarded to be the top national team event in basketball, surpassing even the World Cup in importance.

Welcome back ceremony for Eurobasket 2015 at Vilnius City Hall square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuania retains its perfect record of participating in every Olympic basketball tournament since Barcelona 1992. This is a remarkable achievement given that only 12 teams participate in every Olympic games. Lithuania is the only European team to participate in all 7 games from 1992 to 2016.

Highest ever FIBA ranking for Lithuania

Furthermore, the Lithuanian team is expected to rise in FIBA ranking from 4th place to 3rd, its highest placement ever.

Only the US (1st) and Spanish (2nd) teams will have higher rankings. So far, the US and Spanish teams are also the toughest opponents for Lithuania, with a historic win-loss record of ~20%-80%. On the other hand, Lithuania has a positive historic win-loss record against nearly every other national team.

Lithuanian games at Eurobasket 2015

In Eurobasket 2015 Lithuanians have successfully defeated Ukraine [69:68], Latvia [68:49], Estonia [64:62], Czech Republic [85:81] (all in group stage), Georgia (85:81, round of 16), Italy (95:85, quarterfinals) and Serbia (67:64, semifinals). They have lost to Belgium (74:76, group stage) and Spain (63:80, finals).

Seven out of nine Lithuania's games were decided in final seconds, making this Eurobasket especially nervous to watch for many Lithuanians. Together with the location of the group stage in nearby Riga (where thousands of Lithuanians attended games, populating the center of Riga with green-dressed people) it also increased the popularity and TV ratings of the event.

The total attendance of five Lithuanian team games in Riga was 34562, only slightly lower than the attendance of Latvian team which played at home (39490) and higher than that of Estonian team which also had many visiting fans (29134).

The final game of Eurobasket 2015 (Lithuania-Spain) was attended by more than 27000 spectators, making it the most-attended basketball game in European history.

Claims that Lithuania has too few powerful players proved wrong

Without some of its key players such as Donatas Motiejūnas, Linas Kleiza, Darjuš Lavrinovič and Kšištof Lavrinovič, and joined by 4 newcomers, Lithuanian national team was somewhat written off by experts at first. The preparation series of friendly matches started unexpectedly well however as Lithuania beaten. As the series progressed, the games became tougher and victories became hard. This trend continued throughout the group stage of Eurobasket 2015, but Lithuania still came 1st at the group and once again picked up its momentum when the playoff games came, managing to win games against Italy and Serbia where Lithuanian odds were considered to have been just 20%-40% by punters.

Initially defensive, the Lithuanian performance grew increasingly offensive as the tournament progressed and increasingly reliant on the key players.

Individually, Lithuanian point guard Mantas Kalnietis had the most assists per game in the entire Eurobasket 2015 (7,8) while Jonas Mačiulis equally prevailed in most steals per game (1,9).

Two Lithuanian players were elected to the "best 5" of the tournament (Jonas Valančiūnas and Jonas Mačiulis) together with 2 Spanish and 1 French player.

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Lithuania gives in to EU pressure on migrants

2015 07 21. Lithuania gave in to European Union pressure and agreed to accept the transfer of 325 illegal migrants and refugees, most of whom arrived in other European Union countries from Africa by boats [NOTE: since this article was published, the numbers of illegal migrants to be sent to Lithuania by the European Union were increased by some 400% to surpass 1000]. The majority of them are Black Africans and Syrians.

Lithuanian opinion polls indicate a strong Lithuanian disapproval of the measure. The first part of this measure is especially controversial, with opinion polls indicating a strong Lithuanian disapproval (for example, a 2015 06 poll by "Veidas" magazine demonstrated approval of 8,4%, disapproval at 89% and "no opinion" at 2,6%).

Among the reasons is the expected arrival of Western European troubles into Lithuania, including high immigrant crime rates, participation in riots and terrorism, putting a strain on social security, ethnic tensions, increased needs for (self-)censorship. Furthermore, the "solution" is seen to be just a temporary "reshuffle" that would merely increase the problem of illegal migration on the long term (causing EU to require its members to accept even more migrants).

The historic refugee numbers in Lithuania compared to the migrants that will be sent in by the European Union under the new program. Sizeable numbers of migrants that receive 'additional protection' (~150 per year) not shown. Data: Migration Department of Lithuania

Different immigrant situations in Western Europe and Lithuania

So far Lithuania has avoided the aforementioned problems both due to lower levels of migration and due to a different migration policy. Official target was to encourage migration from particular nations which have more similar cultures and histories (such as Ukraine and Georgia) as well as descendants of Lithuanian diaspora, leading to far less cultural friction. Moreover, skilled migrants are welcomed. Stringent rules in deciding which migrants are useful for the job market led to a more motivated and better educated immigrant population. For instance, most migrants have to have a job or a study place before arriving in Lithuania.

In Western Europe situation was very different. Many of the illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean were lured by vague stories of riches, without having the means or will to achieve them and without researching on the cultural and other differences.

Western European governments have so far relied on an idealistic notion that a well-funded "integration program" would be enough to swiftly turn anybody into a "European", regardless of cultural, economic, educational and other backgrounds.

With new migrant transfer program this notion is stretched even further: this time the migrants will be expected to integrate not even in the country they have chosen to move to, but in a country which many of them never even heard of (such as Lithuania).

Lithuanians could leave anytime, but migrants will be obliged to stay in Lithuania

The common argument in Lithuanian media for the repercussions of new EU policy being not so big as expected used to be that "Most of these migrants would go back to Western Europe anyway", using the European Union open border policy which allows leaving Lithuania westwards without any border checks.

Therefore, according to the minister of interior Saulius Skvernelis it was stipulated by the European Union institutions that illegal migrants and refugees sent to Lithuania would not be allowed to move to other European Union countries (and would be moved back to Lithuania if caught there). This will controversially mean that emigrating Lithuanians (who are free to choose their place of residence within the European Union and thus have been moving in their hundreds of thousands to Western Europe where the salaries are higher) are to be in part replaced by illegal migrants from Africa and Middle East, artificially creating a rare situation where a country (Lithuania) is both a major source of emigrating locals and a major destination for illegal migrants.

Such restrictions were put in place because although re-emigration of accepted migrants would relieve Lithuania of aforementioned problems, it would transfer "this burden" to Western European countries (which is exactly what the redistribution seeks to avoid). Moreover, it would also mean wasted resources, as the immigrants would then have little use for the taxpayer-funded "integration services" provided to them (such as Lithuanian language lessons).

Lingering memory of occupational settlements

The new measure is part of a larger relocation program that will relocate illegal migrants from Southern Europe. While many will be relocated to other Western European states, the relocation to Eastern Europe will make a bigger impact as Eastern Europe had so far very different patterns and policies on immigration and less immigration-related troubles. Almost none of the illegal African migrants previously settled there.

A common point of criticism for the "EU migrants transfer" is that this sets a dangerous precedent where immigration policies of Lithuania are dictated by powers outside Lithuania and Lithuania will likely be expected to take even more illegal migrants in the upcoming years.

The reason why it causes such a stir lies in Baltic States history. Many times occupational powers would send its own inhabitants as immigrants / settlers to Lithuania, hoping to assimilate the land. The most recent case was the Soviet settling campaign which quadrupled the Russian population share in Lithuania and also created other Russophone minorities. In Latvia and Estonia, the campaign even made the major cities Russian-speaking by 1980s. While Baltic nations made a "now or never" push for independence in the 1980s (helped by favorable international conditions) and redressed some of that afterward, the repercussions and ethnic tensions of the era are still felt today (especially in Latvia and Estonia). Estonia itself suffered rioting by its Russophone population in 2007 and has been especially wary of accepting new migrants, citing its delicate ethnic balance.

After all, despite receiving lower numbers of immigrants these years, as a result of the Soviet occupation, the northern Baltic States have some of the EU's least homogenous populations.

Major Lithuanian diplomatic retreat

While Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė showcased the decision as some kind of victory (the recently-rushed EU suggestion was the transfer of 710 migrants to Lithuania), an analysis of previous Lithuanian governmental communication show this was a major defeat under heavy EU pressure. In early 2015 Lithuania talked about accepting ~20 migrants, while several months ago the minister of interior Saulius Skvernelis still noted that "Using all its capabilities Lithuania could accept 40-50 additional migrants at maximum". Interestingly European institutions at that time suggested Lithuania to take in 207 migrants but these numbers also quickly grew.

While the refugees and illegal migrants will be nominally spread in proportion to local populations, the burden will not be equal to all the receiving countries. Hungary will not accept any, while Poland will accept half the number (per 100 000 locals) of illegal migrants and refugees Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will have to accept.

In addition to any further EU requests to accept migrants the initial population in Lithuania is likely to also expand on itself as the initial migrants will invite friends and relatives. For example, as a historical comparison, the Somali population in Finland grew from 0 in 1990 to some 17 000 today (it began as a migration of Somali students from Soviet universities, who then attracted migrants from Somalia itself).

Western Europe exporting problems rather than solving them?

Western European countries (i.e. the Europe that was once outside the Iron Curtain) have been accused of simply "exporting the problems" instead of solving them through a sustainable effort to stop the migration.

One alternative is a program similar to Australian policy whereby migrants would be resettled in safe countries comparable in the economic situation to their countries of origin (in the EU case that could be other African countries, which would get aid in return for such pledge). Australian example showed that mere initiation of such policy would severely curb the illegal migration because most of such migrants are apparently driven by economic reasons rather than seeking refuge as per Refugee Convention. Therefore, stripped of a possibility to settle down in a richer country, they would not take a risk of migration (or would stop at the safe countries en-route rather than seeking a "rich destination"). Eastern Europe, on the other hand, is much richer than Africa (even if slightly less rich than Western Europe) and therefore not useful for such policy.

Unlike in Australia, in Europe, the illegal migrants effectively get exactly what they want (a right to reside within the "rich" European Union). Those who do not prove the race-, ethnicity- or religion-related danger they face back home (a necessity as per Refugee Convention) are usually not returned anyways. As such, migration numbers more than doubled since 2014 (and have been growing beforehand). More people attempting the journey has also led to more deaths (in numbers) at the Mediterranean Sea - exactly what the EU claims to seek to avoid by "helping the migrants in the sea".

The massive growth of illegal Mediterranean migration to European Union in the recent years. It was spurred by European decisions to help migrants at sea to reach their destinations. An easier journey and seemingly welcoming attitude increased the number of migrants and also deaths. The common criticism of current policy is that it will once again send a wrong message to the would-be illegal migrants. Sources for the graph data: LA Times,

Western European leaders may feel compelled into "exporting" part of the migrants (and not allowing them back into Western Europe) because of the rising internal pressure to combat immigration and popularity of euroskeptic parties (i.e. those against further EU integration, including common migration policies). At the same time, they may feel pressure from the local leftists to "at least accept the migrants into the EU". However, it is impossible to do both at the same time as "accepting illegal migrants into the EU" raise their flows by so much that even the internal EU "redistribution" won't be able to "relieve" the situation in Western European countries which are the original destinations of migrants.

Lithuania is so far among the most europhilic countries, with euroskeptic parties never even having been elected into parliament. It remains to be seen whether this unpopular measure (which is widely seen as having benefits to Lithuania) will cause more Lithuanians to shift their opinions (immigration-related problems tend to be a key rallying point for euroskeptic parties where these parties are strong). Such prospect makes even some of the most fervent Lithuanian supporters of European Union to hold negative opinions about the migrant transfer agreement.

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Lithuania’s only scheduled airline ends services

2015 05 22. Air Lituanica - the only remaining Lithuanian scheduled airline - has ceased operations today. It served routes from Vilnius to Paris, Berlin, Munich, Brussels, Prague, Billund, Amsterdam and Tallinn and aimed to satisfy business customers.

Initial troubles at Lithuanian aviation (2004-2009)

Air Lituanica became the 5th scheduled Lithuanian airline to fold over the course of the decade.

The main problems of Lithuanian aviation sector began in 2004 when the Lithuanian membership in the European Union opened up the Lithuanian market to foreign carriers. Latvian Air Baltic (then owned by Scandinavian SAS and Latvian government) subsequently based some aircraft in Vilnius airport and launched routes to the same destinations as Lithuanian Airlines, causing Lithuanian Airlines (a.k.a. FlyLAL) to go deep into the red and eventually fold in early 2009. Lithuanian government then refused to bail out FlyLAL (Lithuanian Airlines) by buying it out from private owners for a symbolic price (together with its debts).

Air Baltic also became detrimental, but its losses were eventually covered by Latvian government directly and through lower fees at their Riga hub (the Latvian government eventually bailed out Air Baltic by acquiring 100% stake). To make matters more controversial, soon after Lithuanian Airlines ceased operations Air Baltic also closed its hub in Vilnius, cancelling the flights and re-routing passengers via Riga. Arguably, this has allowed it to survive by filling emptied-by-crisis flights from Riga with passengers originating in Vilnius (economic downturn made other airlines wary of opening direct Vilnius routes).

While such so-called "predatory practices" are formally banned in the European Union, they are difficult to prove in the aviation sector, meaning that the court case of FlyLAL (Lithuanian Airlines) vs. Air Baltic dragged on long after FlyLAL (Lithuanian Airlines) became insolvent and ceased operations.

Attempts to re-launch a Lithuanian airline (2009-2015)

First attempt to restart Lithuanian scheduled aviation was low-cost Star 1 (2009-2010), which folded mainly due to the losses at an affiliated charter company. Air Lituanica, owned by Vilnius City Municipality, was the second attempt, launched in 2013 by mayor Artūras Zuokas on the popular idea that Vilnius lags behind other Eastern European capitals in direct investments, business conferences, and tourism, largely because of the limited accessibility by air.

Air Lituanica plane in its first months of operation in Berlin Tegel airport, ready to leave for Vilnius. The airline's livery included a Lithuanian Grand Duke's seal on the tail while name 'Lituanica' reminded of the Darius and Girėnas Transatlantic journey. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Air Lituanica never became profitable, however, its municipal funding marred in political disputes. After former mayor Artūras Zuokas was not re-elected, some have already claimed that Air Lituanica is doomed with the new mayor Remigijus Šimašius not willing to continue investment. More controversially, in the recent case, Air Baltic also has launched new routes from Vilnius similar to Air Lituanica routes, leading some to make the same accusations of unfair competition as during the FlyLAL - Lithuanian Airlines bankruptcy.

Does Lithuania need its own airline?

The position of Lithuanian aviation sector tends to be greatly controversial in Lithuania. While the popular claims that "Lithuania is inaccessible by air" are gross overstatements, they were nearly correct after FlyLAL bankruptcy and subsequent Air Baltic mass flight cancellations in 2009. Today Lithuania is still less accessible by air than Latvia (despite the latter having a considerably smaller population) and such accessibility may have helped Riga gain its "capital of the Baltics" image it now has in the West. Furthermore, the majority of services to Lithuania now are by low-cost carriers, which are typically frowned upon by business conference organizers and do not provide onwards connections to other continents.

Still, the aviation market is extremely hard to enter and it is unlikely a private carrier would be launched. In fact, both Estonian and Latvian air companies are government-owned, which had allowed them to pass through crisis times. However, having a government (or municipal) owned airline is costly, and starting a new one even more so.

Therefore, the main discussion in Lithuanian society is whether the government should fund such an airline (hoping that increased tourism and related tax income would compensate the costs) or whether Lithuania should remain airline-less. In this situation (to which Lithuania has returned today), flight services are provided by foreign carriers on a purely market basis. However, this has drawbacks:
1.Vilnius wouldn't be a hub and have no transfer passengers, meaning lower total numbers of passengers and therefore fewer commercially viable routes.
2.As it is usually financially viable for the airlines to operate only from their hubs or focus cities, there can be situations where no one services a potentially profitable route from Vilnius simply because there is no airline with a hub at the possible destination (or because the airline based there has a different strategy or inapplicable fleet).
3.While the European Union may have an "open skies market" within its member states, it does not apply to non-member countries, meaning they could (and sometimes do) prohibit non-Lithuanian and non-local carriers from operating routes to/from Lithuania, even if they are based in Lithuania.

There is also a "third position" on the "Lithuanian aviation question" which claims that not bailing out the well-established FlyLAL (Lithuanian Airlines) in 2009 was a mistake, but that launching a new airline now would be a far too costly and risky undertaking to invest taxpayers' money.

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First conscripts report to the Lithuanian military

2015 05 15. Lithuania's reintroduction of conscription came to its final phase as conscripts began reporting to the centers of Lithuanian armed forces as the list of those invited has been publicized by the military two days earlier.

In total, some 38 000 males between ages 19 and 26 made it to the randomly generated list (and will have to report), but only some 3 000 will be ultimately drafted to serve 9 months. Of those some 1 000 will be volunteers (who were offered higher salaries and include females as well as older people) while the rest will be chosen from young males unwilling to serve. However, tight health limitations are expected to disqualify most: some 15% of the volunteers and 70% of those unwilling to serve are usually found to be physically unfit to service for reasons such as flat feet, scoliosis, wearing strong eyeglasses, being overweight or underweight.

Lithuania had originally abolished conscription in 2008 but has reintroduced it this year in order to enlarge its military. The decision has a popular backing in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine (and actions of the Russian leadership that indicate it still regards whole former Soviet Union as its sphere of influence). Public opinion polls suggest 51,9% support the conscription, 27,9% are against it while others are undecided.

Nevertheless, implementation of conscription has raised stir and questions. Typical issues include:

1.Conscription was reintroduced especially quickly (the law was rushed through parliament in March). Rapidly deteriorating geopolitical situation was explained to be the reason.
2.Many of the people who made it to the conscription list are contributing to the economy by working, studying and having a business, whereas many of those on the social services were left uninvited. The leftist government refused the proposal to first and foremost conscript the jobless (and those avoiding paying taxes by not declaring their job), which would have helped to solve economic problems and not to create new.
3.While the Lithuanian law protects conscripts from being fired, many Lithuanians working abroad or owning a business claimed this would not help them.
4.Lithuanians still remember practices of dedovshchina (hazing related to age, but also ethnicity, looks) prevalent in the Soviet military, asking if such practices have been surely eradicated.
5.Some Lithuanians noted that during the previous era of conscription corruption was rampant, allowing people with "connections" to avoid service (e.g. bribe a doctor to provide fake "proof of disease"). That's why a randomized lot was used now, while health is tested by military doctors and medical histories are not trusted. The list of all conscripts was posted publically online.

All in all, the Lithuanian military, which has a public confidence of over 50%, will now seek to prove to the common people that it also has what to give the conscripts and not just what to take from them.

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