VILNIUS - The conservative Homeland Union party has established a presence in the controversial video game Second Life. The Internet-based virtual world is seen as one of the most advanced social networking projects in recent years but has also attracted criticism for its largely unregulated environment.
The Homeland Union copied the idea from politicians in other countries who had done the same. The Estonian government has already created an embassy in the digital world.
Andrius Kubilius, the leader of the Homeland Union party, said that Internet campaigning was effective because it gave the party access to a very large community. He added that Lithuania is a long way behind other countries, especially the U.S., in such campaigning .
"We think the Internet is a powerful instrument to get voters interested. It gives us direct contact with people who use the Internet instead of other media and we want to be modern," Kubilius said.
Political analysts are more skeptical about the move, dismissing Second Life as "just a game." Dr. Egidijus Barcebicius completed his doctorate in electronic governance and said this is not a serious move by the party. "They want to be seen as modern and contemporary, but unless this was part of a serious PR strategy, I am a little skeptical about how it could be used," he said.
"If you are a serious party, then you should present your ideas in another way," Barcebicius added.
Kubilius explained that Internet political advertising is a way around bans of election advertising on television and radio. "We are looking for young, educated people who use the Internet. This is a way to involve people who don't usually get involved in politics 's they don't have time to read long political debates in the paper or watch them on TV," he said.
The party has been looking to pick up votes in a number of ways in the last few months. In May, the Homeland Union joined forces with the Christian Democrats. "We were both right-wing parties on the political scene, competing for the same spectrum of voters," said Rasa Jukneviciene, deputy minister of the Homeland Union party. "We wanted a strong center-right," she said.
A Homeland Union representative told The Baltic Times that the party's main voting demographic is older, more educated voters in the over-60 age bracket. They also have a strong following among adults between the ages of 30 and 45.
Kubilius, Jukneviciene and a third Homeland Union member, Audronius Azubalis, launched their election campaigns in Second Life Tuesday and have plans to expand them in the coming weeks.
Homeland Union is also using YouTube and MySpace in a bid to attract more of the Internet-voter demographic.
Characters that the politicians create will be able to move around and interact with other players of Second Life. Although the exact numbers of Lithuanian players is unknown, Azubalis said this was a new way of communication with the world and Lithuanian voters. He said it was a viable way to advertise one's country, as well as "politicians and the Homeland Union."
Second Life has not expanded unscathed. In May, U.S. Republican Congressman Mark Kirk called for denial of access to Second Life from schools and libraries in order to protect underage students from potentially negative influences. The congressman said Second Life contained prostitution, drugs and other inappropriate activities.
Asked whether simulation of life on the Second Life was in line with the conservative outlook, particularly in light of the extremely liberal character of Second Life, Azubalis said that everything depends on "what you say and what beliefs you spread."
Second Life has also been criticized for facilitating the dissemination of child pornography and other offensive materials. Azubalis responded by saying that participation in the game was a good way to speak out against these things.
Second Life was established in 2003 by Linden Research, Inc., also known as Linden Lab. Inside the game, players can transfer real and virtual currency and real estate, among other things. Elections will be held October 12.