SAVIOR FROM CLERICALISTS AND NATIONALISTS: Liberal-minded Arturas Zuokas, 43, is elected to the post of Vilnius mayor (pictured here on April 19, during the thriller of voting for a new mayor in the Vilnius municipal council).
VILNIUS - It seems that the cosmopolitan, intellectual and quite libertarian atmosphere of Brussels is having a positive influence on the brainwork of Viktor Uspaskich, member of the Liberal faction in the European Parliament, flamboyant Lithuanian multi-millionaire businessman and leader of the Labor Party, whose financial activity is still being investigated by a Vilnius court (Uspaskich says that the process is a political one). Uspaskich started to describe himself openly as a European-style liberal and became a mainstream politician, despite suggestions from his Conservative opponents that he can be a Russian influence agent.
Thanks to his party’s vote, on April 14 the Kaunas municipal council elected Rimantas Mikaitis of the Liberal Movement to the post of Kaunas mayor, and not Ausra Ruciene of Rolandas Paksas’ Order and Justice Party. Ruciene is known as the lawyer for the Kaunas criminal gangs and she was pushed for the post of Kaunas mayor by the Homeland Union – Christian Democrats (better known as Conservatives). On April 19, the Vilnius municipal council elected Arturas Zuokas, liberal-minded and innovative leader of the non-party movement Taip (“Yes” in Lithuanian), to the post of Vilnius mayor thanks to the votes of Uspaskich’s party, which could have chosen between Zuokas and the clericalist bloc of Conservatives and ultranationalist Poles. Poland’s chauvinist propaganda machine prematurely celebrated the takeover of Vilnius after the municipal elections of Feb. 27.
The latter bloc was blasted on the eve of voting in the Vilnius council, when the Polish Electoral Action, understanding that Zuokas had sealed a coalition agreement of 50 percent plus 1 of votes, decided not to support Raimundas Alekna of the Conservatives (who was Vilnius mayor till April 19) and to propose its own candidate, Jaroslav Kaminski. “The Conservatives and their leader, Alekna, proposed for us to cooperate. We appreciate it. We think that he is an honest politician but we cannot create a coalition with a political party which ignores the rights of ethnic minorities,” said Vanda Kravcionok of the Polish Electoral Action, reading a statement of her political party standing at the rostrum in the Vilnius municipal council hall.
On April 19, Zuokas got 26 votes in the Vilnius council of 51 seats: 12 votes from his Taip movement, eight votes from the Labor Party, five votes from the Social Democrats, and one vote from Russian cultural activist Olga Gorskova of the Russian Alliance. All of them, before April 19, announced their commitment to vote for Zuokas.
Alekna lost his post of Vilnius mayor, getting only 16 votes: 10 votes from the Conservatives and five votes from the Paksists. Kaminski got nine votes from the Polish Electoral Action. It seems that the Russian Alliance’s Viktor Balakin, a Soviet-era KGB major responsible for the surveillance of Lithuanian political dissidents who recently left the post of MEP aide of Polish Electoral Action’s leader Valdemar Tomasevski, got lost among the recent preferences of Tomasevski and the newest preference of the Russian Alliance. The vote count suggests that he voted for Alekna. However, later on April 19, during voting for mayor’s deputies from the Labor and Social Democrat parties, Balakin already voted in the same way as did the entire Zuokas-led ruli ng coalition.
According to the writings of Rysard Maceikianec, the Vilnius region-elected Lithuanian Polish MP in 1990-1992 and 1992-1996, and Audrius Baciulis, spokesman for Conservative PM Andrius Kubilius in 1999-2000 and analyst of the magazine Veidas, representatives of the Polish and Russian embassies in Vilnius have meetings to coordinate the activity of the Polish Electoral Action and the Russian Alliance before the elections to create lists of the common “Valdemar Tomasevski bloc,” seeking to get more seats (unimaginable activity for any other EU member state’s foreign service). Tomasevski would probably never be elected to the European Parliament if not for such Russian-Polish cooperation. Regardless, after the elections, the ultranationalist Tomasevski party (Zuokas compares it to the Le Pen family-led party in France) and the more moderate Russian party are free to act according to their will.
On April 19, Zuokas, who was already elected to the post of Vilnius mayor in 2000-2003 and 2003-2007 (with the same number of votes - 26) and is indeed extremely popular in Vilnius despite his criminal record for attempting to bribe a member of the Vilnius council, promised that the price of heating for Vilnius dwellers will go down by 20 percent and will be the cheapest in Lithuania. He wants to achieve this by passing the functions of fuel purchasing to the national government, which has more power to negotiate a better price with fuel suppliers.
Zuokas also mentioned another source for cheaper heating costs: the share of biofuel used for the centralized heating system of Vilnius should be increased from 11 percent to 60 percent in two years. He had more good news for Vilnius dwellers. “After four years, the average salary in Vilnius will be 3,450 litas [1,000 euros],” Zuokas said.
Alekna spoke in favor of limiting the monopoly of the Icor company (having close ties to Zuokas and better known by its former name, Rubicon Group), which has heating, sanitation and administration responsibilities for a big number of apartment blocks in its hands, although it remained unclear why he himself, being the head of the ruling faction in the Vilnius council for the past two years, did nothing to fight that monopoly. After the failed attempt to be re-elected as Vilnius mayor, Alekna was bitter. “The Zuokas movement Taip will start to crumble. Such new political formations are not long-lasting,” Alekna said.
Kaminski promised in his election speech to turn Vilnius into the city of Divine Mercy. Such rhetoric of religious fundamentalism is common to ultranationalists. During the municipal election campaign, the only concrete promise of Tomasevski, apart from his slogan “Vilnius was built by horny-handed Poles, Russians and Belarusians!,” was to construct a church to honor St. Faustina, though he did not mention who should finance the construction.
Tomasevski’s Tehran-style religious fundamentalism, which in the view of many is far from all-loving Christianity, is appreciated by the extremely unpopular Kubilius and his closest circle – such as Dainius Kreivys (he is presented wearing the clothes of the medieval Spanish inquisition on the LNK TV daily political humor show) and Mantas Adomenas, ultraconservative euroskeptic MP and head of the Vilnius branch of Conservatives (recently, both men had serious problems due to their personal financial affairs – Kreivys was forced to leave the post of economy minister while Adomenas managed to avoid being kicked out of parliament). Last month, Alekna, being the Vilnius mayor, tried to impose a ban on any public gatherings in the central square of Vilnius - the Cathedral Square – which would not have the permission of the Roman Catholic Church. This move failed to get approval in the Vilnius municipal council.
Kubilius was the first prime minister in Lithuanian history who was actively involved in the election of the Vilnius mayor, supporting enthusiastically his party’s alliance with Tomasevski and Alekna as candidate to the Vilnius mayor’s post from this bloc. It looks like religious fundamentalists tried to create municipal alliances of the parties led by their religious bigots Kubilius, Paksas and Tomasevski (during the previous parliamentary election campaign, the only concrete promise from the latter was a Poland-style ban on abortions, though at least this idea, unlike most of the other already imposed moralistic bans, has a right to exist – the fetus has no freedom of choice). Such pro-Tomasevski tendencies by Kubilius are criticized by more moderate and more traditional Catholics of the Conservative Party, such as the nation-wide popular Parliament Speaker Irena Degutiene and MP Kestutis Masiulis: they greeted the election of Zuokas as Vilnius mayor, though they are not his enthusiastic fans. They were in favor of the Zuokas-Conservatives ruling coalition, avoiding an alliance with Polish radicals.
Uspaskich is also in favor of having the Conservatives in the ruling coalition in the Vilnius municipal council. Actually, Uspaskich saved the Conservatives from crumbling. If he would support, with his party votes, the creation of a ruling coalition of Conservatives and Tomasevski’s party, some ordinary Conservative Party members, who were threatening to leave the party in case of a Conservatives-Tomasevski alliance, would have implemented their threats.
Anyway, Kubilius still cherishes his perverse affection to Tomasevski’s party. “The political force representing the Poles is close to us with its Catholic Christian views, and they were transparent and honest in the previous council of Vilnius,” Kubilius told the radio Ziniu Radijas on April 21, as if to confirm the diagnosis on him (“psycho”), made by Estonian Mark Luchin, guru of phenotypology (face reading), who is popular on Lithuanian vanity fair-style TV shows.
Kubilius can contact Maceikianec who, apart from his MP career, was also a member of the Vilnius region council in 2002-2007, to get a more insider’s view regarding the activity of Stefan Svetliakovski, Tomasevski’s uncle and Soviet-era head of the Soviet Communist Party’s branch of employees of Vilnius Lukiskes Prison, who later was the Polish Electoral Action-nominated official responsible for land restitution in the Vilnius region (by the way, there is still no land restitution law in Poland, according to the Warsaw correspondent of the daily Lietuvos Rytas), and other activists of the Warsaw-backed Polish Electoral Action. Those interested should read the bilingual Polish and Lithuanian-language Maceikianec-edited www.pogon.lt to get the real picture of the rural Vilnius region’s area which, according to Maceikianec, was turned by its ruling Polish Electoral Action into a shady reservation of the Soviet system, in the style of the 1950s.
Meanwhile, the Tomasevski-instigated anti-Lithuanian hysteria continues to be openly supported by Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Poland’s media. Baciulis wrote in the magazine Veidas that Lithuanian politicians and diplomats were told many times by employees of the office of Polish President Lech Kaczynski (when he was still alive) that the current long-term Polish ambassador in Vilnius, as well as Sikorski, might be agents of the Russian secret service (such warnings should be regarded with some caution due to the specifics of Poland’s political culture and, at least in the Sikorski case, the problem can be as follows: he is a victim of Polish education, as are a majority of the world’s Poles).
Baciulis also suggests that Janusz Skolimowski, Polish ambassador in Vilnius and Brezhnev-era graduate of the diplomatic school in Moscow (later, he worked in Libya), can supply official Warsaw with biased information. On April 19, Sikorski invited the Lithuanian ambassador to explain the article on delfi.lt, which mentions a Lithuanian school director from the town of Salcininkai, describing Lithuania’s Polish schools as Hitlerjugend (the article also mentions the inscription on a school bench in the Polish school, stating plans to bottle the heads of Lithuanians in pots, though the latter intention did not provoke Sikorski’s attention).