by Arkadijus Vinokuras
Today’s Lithuania has utterly failed to give birth to political visionaries prepared to replace society’s erroneous tolerance of legal nihilism. What other explanation could there be for president Gitanas Nausėda’s reluctance to criticize the wanton behavior of the nationalists? It seems the state has been encompassed by legal paralysis again, just as in the “good old days” of the violet criminals [apparently a reference to a pedophilia scandal in Lithuania–translator].
It requires exceptional courage to change society’s flawed tenets. Especially when a portion of citizens consumed by fear still seek strength from Lithuania’s authoritarian past.
Looking back over 30 years of Lithuanian society’s process of becoming freer, one cannot fail to see this process has become stuck. Over these years no Lithuanian political party has been able to look directly without fear at Lithuanian history in the bloody years from 1941 to 1944. No political party has been able to offer an alternative to the pre-war authoritarian nationalism which holds no respect for the principles of the legal state and the rule of law.
While the Lithuanian national anthem talks about drawing strength from the past, it’s clearly tripping up the development of a modern civic, democratic and humanist identity. When strength is drawn from authoritarianism founded on respect for the leader based on fear, one cannot be surprised there are still no brave politicians in Lithuania, nor courageous public servants/bureaucrats (with a handful of exceptions) unafraid to defend the foundations of the state based on the rule of law.
Sadly, president Nausėda is no exception. Unlike prime minister Saulius Skvernelis who said the plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika was erected illegally, the Lithuanian president wasn’t able even to say that much. Is it perhaps his advisors who have connections with the Pro Patria nationalists who are a negative influence on the president?
What can you ask of bureaucrats, even with high academic degrees, when the Lithuanian president himself, allegedly because of his wanting not divide the nation, does not join in on the defense of a state based on the rule of law? So off-topic: what does the president think about the personal ambitions of the mayor of Kaunas to seize the entire region against the will of its inhabitants? When an oligarch seeks to exploit democracy to satisfy his megalomania?
That which is happening today in the Lithuanian parliament ruled by Ramūnas Karbauskis is also a consequence of 30 entire years of fear in discussing the painful past. What does this have in common with legal nihilism? Quite a lot. The desire not to judge negatively any kind of collaboration with the occupiers effectively blocks the necessary conversations on morality, moral standards and the morality of politicians. The result is an absurd vindication of all types of collaborators, categorically refusing to evaluate their crimes against humanity based on conventions to which Lithuania is signatory. Thus legal and moral nihilism is normalized in everyday domestic relations and in politics.
Observing the parliament and the parties trying to get into it, I have to say the movements [a novel political grouping in 2019–trans.] haven’t brought forth moral politicians either. Sadly, over thirty years of independence Lithuanian society hasn’t produced a single Kazys Grinius, not a single Vladas Sirutavičius nor a Steponas Kairys. At least Lithuanian social democracy movement had to declare fidelity to the rule of law and to object to turning history over to the right-wingers and to refuse to bow down to their interpretations of history.
Sadly, there is no criticism by the social democrats checking president Nausėda, who also has taken for his own the idea of the welfare state. Even though it’s perfectly clear his unconstrained support for the urges and caprice of extremist fringe nationalists is in no way in keeping with the ideas of social democracy. So it’s not strange that the politicians are casting around and looking at the AfD in Germany, at Poland and Hungary. Because extremist nationalism is in fashion today (especially in view of its influence on the political agenda throughout Europe), our current and future politicians imagine that they will only acquire or hang onto power by supporting the nationalists.
So it’s very simple based on mercantile concerns to pat the philosopher Alvydas Jokubaitis on the back for his statement “we need an Alternative Lithuania.” There is also applause for right-wing ideologue and publicist Vladimiras Laučius for his understanding of the good and his presentation of it as the only right one. No applause for Vytautas Radžvilis because he is too academic for the taste of Lithuanians. Whether the new “Christian/Democrat” party receives applause depends on the lottery roulette: if they say them winning, they’ll bet on them. Politics as an immoral business is not news in Lithuania. That’s why people who don’t see the Lithuanian constitution as the star by which to navigate take power.
It is truly no riddle why, in the context of Lithuanian political thought, there always seem to appear from somewhere right-wing ideologues, whereas Lithuania’s social democrats don’t have such people. It’s time to remind the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party that politics isn’t just numbers and economics. The LSDP shouldn’t merely observe social processes taking place in society, they should rid themselves of the fear of expressing their own opinion even in areas of social politics that are a little bit dangerous. The LSDP doesn’t need to lynch Nausėda every time he uses social democratic symbols which are recognized by the party.
A rhetorical question: what will the president due to avoid “dividing the nation” if a “left” government stands shoulder-to-shoulder against the president’s ideas while the farmers gnash their teeth? A right-wing government having acquired power will never consent to the social democrats’ idea of the welfare state and methods for its implementation.
If the president thinks that through the Karbauskis supporters and their supposed coalition he will push through his own ideas of social justice somehow (which he discovered, so to speak, just yesterday), then clearly he has been left holding the bag. His speeches about the stability and continuity of government have gone to hell in a basket the moment the Karbauskis supporters sign a coalition agreement. But the president, if he could see further, farther and deeper, would have taken resolute action to cut through the Karbauskis knot. If you’re not a visionary, then even Ukrainian president Zelensky’s courage finds no place in attempting to avoid “setting society against itself.”
At this point one would like to ask president Nausėda: when he convoked a special Cultural Forum to Commemorate Historical Memory (what a good idea to have a unified state historical narrative, just without all those Lukashenko-eqsue ambitions), did he intentionally forget to invite Lithuanian historians and experts of Jewish ethnicity? Will the panel discuss the painful history of Lithuania’s Jews behind their backs? Nothing remains to be done except to put this probably innocent oversight by the president down again to his desire to avoid “dividing the nation.”
Anyway, you can’t punch above your weight category. After a decade of Grybauskaitė there was a desire to take a gulp of fresh air, but instead we’re choking on the petroleum fumes of neo-conservatism. Actually, I’m glad about a million people have left Lithuania. Glad first of all because they are in the West which hates nationalists, learning the democratic state and bureaucracy’s attitude towards citizens which is based on “I am the state” and “I am a bureaucrat and I serve you,” not the contrary proposition.
And second, many of those who have left will return to their country with the experience of being a citizen in a democratic state. Those who come back will demand they won’t be treated as fools by local politicians. They will not tolerate a public servant who is afraid of his own shadow and whose eyes shine with the idea of “let me on the gravy train!”
Lithuania extraordinarily lacks the caliber of politician represented by the post-war partisan commanders, that of visionary. Even as they faced death at any moment, they felt their own responsibility to pass on to future generations the vision of a democratic state of Lithuania founded on the rule of law where common European legal standards are in force. Lithuanian nationalism today stands categorically in opposition to them. Everyone and everything which the highest ruling power of today approves are exclusively political parties. Rushing to justify their wantonness as love of Lithuania. Does this pay honor to the rule of law? Not funny.
Full text in Lithuanian