Authoritarians and democrats | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Political ideas

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

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

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

Economic policies: Left vs. Right

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

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

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

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

Value systems: Western, Local, and Eastern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom systems: Authoritarian vs. Libertarian

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

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

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

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

Political participation: political vs. apolitical

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

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

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

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

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

Trust in politicians: personal vs. ideological

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of Lithuanian political ideas

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

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

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

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

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Politics and Law No Comments
Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.