VILNIUS – Despite the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and the migrant crisis, the state of democracy in Lithuania remained stable last year, according to a report by the US-based research group Freedom House.
Lithuania is categorized as a "consolidated democracy" in the Nations in Transit 2023, the group's annual study on the state of democracy in the region stretching from Central Europe to Central Asia.
Lithuania's democracy rating edged up to 78 percent in 2002, from 77 percent a year earlier.
The country's score has remained substantially unchanged for the last seven years.
Lithuania's democracy score improved slightly last year as a result of its improved civil society rating.
This was "due to a multi-year trend of improvements to the legal, financial, and reputational sustainability of non-governmental organizations, exemplified by improved cooperation between civil society and the government during the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine", according to Freedom House.
Ieva Petronyte-Urbonaviciene, director of Civil Society Institute Lithuania and the author of the report, says that Lithuania managed to stay on the path of democracy in a difficult environment.
"Significant and various forms of state support, both at the national and municipal levels, were complemented by civil society actions. These demonstrated, as in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, the self-mobilizing power of Lithuania's civil society in a time of need," she said in the report.
Petronyte-Urbonaviciene told BNS that "the media also had a great impact in the context of the war in Ukraine".
"The war in Ukraine touched all aspects and was really significant," the lecturer of Vilnius University's Institute of International Relations and Political Science said.
"On the other hand, of course, there were other challenges. We had the pandemic and the refugee crisis, which is not over yet, as well as the problems that the government sees (such as) the economic crisis and high prices. All this very large and dense context did not change our democratic path," she added.
CHANGES ON ELECTIONS WELCOMED
The report says that Lithuania's governance is democratic and stable, with a system of checks and balances in place to ensure accountability and prevent abuse of power, but institutions still lack greater openness and cooperation with civil society in decision-making.
Municipalities have only limited independence, and low funding and public distrust in courts "remain concerning issues".
Freedom House also notes that "the multiple crises in Lithuania slowed the country’s progress on major reforms – namely, in civil service, education, and health provision—and even suspended others, like tax reform, altogether".
"However, the Seimas still managed to pass a number of important laws, and the government was able to execute important decisions," the report says.
"These included constitutional amendments on age and other criteria for parliamentary candidacy as well as the newly adopted electoral code. Additionally, a loophole in referendum regulations, which had opened up the previous year, was closed albeit without substantive improvements to the law."
Estonia has the highest democracy rating, at 83 percent. Lithuania is also outperformed by Latvia and Slovenia, according to the report.