Ghosts of "former communists"

  • 2001-06-28
The presidential ambitions of Rolandas Paksas and Arturas Paulauskas have exploded Lithuania's ruling coalition. Paulauskas has completely discredited himself by provoking the current crisis. His party will have no chances of getting into Parliament during the next elections, scheduled for 2005. However, Brazauskas, not Paulauskas, is the hero now. The world's media has written extensively about "former communists" returning to power.

The term "former communists" is senseless. Let's face facts. Brazauskas did a great deal to finish off communism in Europe.

Backed by the Sajudis national liberation movement, Brazauskas was elected head of the Lithuanian Communist Party in 1988. In 1989 his party split from the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. It is this split that is widely considered to be one of the major turning points in Lithuania's drive to independence - and therefore one of the key factors that sealed the fate of the Soviet Union.

The communists of the other so-called former Soviet republics had little will at this time to follow his courageous example. In 1989 Brazauskas' party adopted a program of Western-style social democracy, promoting a free market and a multi-party system, then considered a deadly sin by the Soviet leader so beloved to the West, Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1990, as MP, Brazauskas voted for the re-establishment of Lithuania's independence. In 1994, Brazauskas, recently voted in as president, became the first president of the Baltic states to send an official letter to the NATO secretary general requesting that his country be accepted into the alliance. His then-ruling Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) also proclaimed Lithuania's wish to join the European Union.

In 2001, the LDDP merged with the Social Democratic Party, established by Soviet-era political prisoners Aloyzas Sakalas and Vytenis Andriukaitis. These men were never members of the Communist Party. The Social Democratic Party cooperates closely with Western European social democrats, currently in power in most countries of the EU.

Lithuania's leftists do not wing as far to the left as their Swedish or Norwegian friends, who choose to preserve their state-owned telecom, oil and gas industries and some banks.

Anyway, the leftists will continue to be criticized; most Lithuanian commentators have extremely liberal economic viewpoints.

It would be naive to think that the former communists will be making major changes on Lithuania's road to NATO and the European Union. Just look at Poland. Former communist (and a good friend of Brazauskas) President Aleksander Kwasniewski is more devoted to the interests of NATO than right-wing French President Jacques Chirac. Nearly 64 percent of Lithuania's population supports NATO membership and less than 26 percent is against it. It would not be clever to act against the nation's will.

Still, Brazauskas' comeback to high politics may raise some eyebrows. The leftists were always very close to the bosses of big business in Lithuania. Some of these bosses have close ties to Gazprom and LUKoil. This might increase Russian influence in the Lithuanian economy. It is worth remembering that the Russians (like the Americans) always mix business with politics.