Campaign fever in Lithuania

  • 2000-08-17
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Parliamentary election campaign fever, with its public amusement shows and sniping mutual accusations, has finally come to Lithuania. Elections are scheduled for Oct. 8. Some contacts between the popular New Union (Social Liberals) and marginal nationalists have provoked controversy in campaign discussions.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug. 9 in Parliament, Rasa Jukneviciene, deputy chairwoman of the Conservative Party, urged President Valdas Adamkus to dissociate himself from supporting the New Union, which in her words "brings along fascist forces." The pretext for the heavy accusation against the Social Liberals was a demonstration in Siauliai on Aug. 5.

The demonstration was organized by a small nationalist organization that is a local phenomenon of the proletarian town in Northern Lithuania, littered with bankrupt factories and suffering from especially high unemployment. Some 300 angry, unemployed residents showed up at the demonstration. They demanded higher unemployment benefits.

Mindaugas Murza, leader of the National Social Party, and his followers also arrived. He condemned the social policies of the current Conservative government. Murza's party is illegal. The Ministry of Justice refused to register the National Social Party because of its ultra-nationalistic slogans.

At the same meeting, Social Liberal and Mayor of Siauliai Vida Stasiunaite also spoke. She showed sympathy for the needs of the unemployed and condemned the social policies of the Conservatives as well. Center Union MP Kazimieras Savinis also spoke along the same lines at the street meeting.

Jukneviciene said she is disgusted by the participation of the Siauliai Social Liberal mayor and Murza at the same event. Jukneviciene called this proof of a nascent "red-brown alliance, a tendency radiating from Russia."

"I urge the president to stop the fascists' coming to power," Jukneviciene said.

One of the leaders of the opposite left camp, Democratic Labor Party MP Juozas Bernatonis, expressed total support for Jukne-vi-ciene's statements against Stasiu-naite and the New Union because of alleged flirting with radical nationalists.

The New Union was quick to respond. Arturas Paulauskas, leader of the New Union, called Jukneviciene's words "an outrageous propaganda trick." Stasiun-aite said that she is not afraid to communicate with crowds of people and said, "I see no reason to flee when Murza appears in a crowd."

The Siauliai mayor said that she urged the Lithuanian State Security Department to take decisive measures against Murza and his "illegal nationalistic party."

Another reason behind the entire scandal with Murza is that Paulauskas will campaign for a seat in Parliament in the Siauliai constituency, said Stasiunaite.

"Who was Murza in Lithu-ania before [the scandal]? Just zero. Now the Conservatives are making him famous. Isn't this intentional assassination?" asked Vytautas Kvietkauskas, journalist and member of the New Union.

Murza also called a press conference to comment on the scandal. He seemed to be disgusted by Stasiunaite's attacks on him. "Stasiunaite should say, 'I'm a coward.' She is afraid of [Conservative Party Chairman Vytautas] Landsbergis," Murza said.

Romualdas Ozolas, leader of the Center Union, accused the Conservatives of creating an "Austrian scenario" myth, raising international objections against the new government after the expected defeat of the Conservatives in elections.

The Liberal Union, on the contrary, urged dissociating the New Union from various populists and extremists, mentioning that Paulauskas' party has a local coalition with another loud populist, Kaunas Mayor and leader of tiny Liberty Union Vytautas Sustauskas, on the municipal level in Kaunas. At the same time, the Liberal Union said that it would remain faithful to its coalition with the New Union.

Sustauskas has made anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and pro-Russian statements in the past and the New Union's coalition with him in the Kaunas municipality is pure populism, commented Ri-mantas Dagys, leader of the Party Social Democracy 2000.

"Foreign delegations are avoiding Kaunas because of it. Investments are not coming to Kaunas. We look like a country of baobab trees because we tolerate such radical populists," said Dagys pointing out to Sustauskas and Murza.

Dagys also was not happy about the mayor's participation in the demonstration in Siauliai.

"The French president or German chancellor would be careful and would try to avoid participating in the same demonstration with soviets or fascists," Dagys said.