During its first two years in office the right-of-center Lithuanian government faced an unprecedented number of serious challenges: the Covid-19 pandemic, illegal immigration from Belarus, the imposition of a nation-wide state of emergency, the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, massive inflation and an explosion in energy prices, China’s wrath over what it considers to be an egregious affront.
The government can boast of genuine achievements. The economy has continued to grow. In contrast to its Baltic neighbors, a recession is not on the horizon. Government debt has increased, but remains manageable. The government has increased pension and other subsidies, lowered taxes for impoverished Lithuanians despite the challenging times. It has also extended aid to struggling businesses. But the relative health of the Lithuanian economy is less the result of the ministrations of the government, and more the consequence of the ingenuity and foresight of the private sector and its ability to adjust to changing circumstances.
Efforts to control the pandemic were ad-hoc and inconsistent. At first the new ruling coalition did little, hoping that the pandemic would exhaust itself. Subsequentially it adopted draconian measures, forbidding visits among family members, banning travel between districts, closing all business that catered to the public with the exception of supermarkets. These measures angered the population, but were only partially effective. The government eventually embarked on an aggressive campaign to vaccinate the population. The vaccination rate was higher than the EU average, but much of the credit goes to the municipalities who demonstrated greater energy and imagination in fostering shots. Although he is widely believed to be of questionable competence, the Minister of Health A.Dulkys survived a motion of no confidence.
Last summer the Belarusian government orchestrated a surge of illegal migrants into Lithuania. After more than 4,000 migrants had crossed the border, the Lithuanian authorities began to force them back into Belarus, while not granting them the chance to request asylum. Frontex and other international agencies have condemned Lithuania‘s actions as inconsistent with legal norms, but the Interior Minister continues to insist despite all the evidence to the contrary that the migration is a form of hybrid warfare being waged against the country by Russia and Belarus. Lithuania‘s shameful attitude toward non-European migrants mirrors that of V. Orban‘s Hungary.
Relations with Russia have been extremely strained for more than a decade, but an irreparable rupture occurred after Russia invaded Ukraine on February, triggering a surge of unrivalled support for measures to punish Moscow and provide humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine. In April Lithuania became the first EU country to downgrade its diplomatic ties with Russia, a few days earlier it stopped all imports of Russian gas – another first. In May the Seimas unanimously adopted a resolution declaring Russia "a terrorist state" and calling Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine "genocide against the Ukrainian people.” Lithuania firmly supports plans to retake all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.
The president Gitanas Nausėda has called for increasing the defense budget to 3% of GDP. In October Lithuania announced that it will purchase eight M142 HIMARS rocket launchers from the US for $495 million. The government is trying to convince Germany to station in Lithuania all members of the brigade assigned to protect Lithuania, but is facing a push-back as Berlin prefers that many of its soldiers be stationed in Germany ready to deploy within ten days.
Lithuania needlessly provoked a conflict with China, when it allowed Taiwan to open a so-called representative office, in truth a de facto embassy, in Vilnius in November 2021 - the first of its kind in Europe. China initiated economic measures to punish Lithuania, but there is no consensus about their effectiveness. This decision is one of the reasons that its main author
The government is not loved. In many surveys only one or two ministers receive a positive assessment. Foreign Minister G. Landsbergis has the approval of about 15% of the population, less than any of any other minister. Part of its unpopularity is caused by a long-standing animus against the Conservative party, but much has been generated by willful and foolish actions, such as a sustained campaign to have the prime minister replace the president in meetings of the European Council, the challenge to China, its perceived arrogance and inability to connect with the rural population. Barring unexpected developments, the governing coalition will be soundly defeated in the Parliamentary elections of 2024 – not an undeserved fate.
Kestutis Girnius is associate professor of Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University